In my teens, I became aware of women’s rights from watching the 1960s comedic sitcom on TVLand, That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas. In the show, a young woman, Anne Marie, quits her job as a teacher, moves out of her parents’ suburban home in Brewster, NY, and pursues her dream of becoming an actress in New York City. That Girl was first TV show to focus on a single woman breaking the social expectation of being a housewife.
Watching in the 21st century, I didn’t initially understand why it was so groundbreaking—I’d seen young woman living independently, both on TV and in real life, for years—so it made me realize how much progress women had made in the past 50 years. The expectations I had about my life, things I often took for granted, were actually the victories of previous generations of women’s rights advocates.
I was infused with the courage to fight for equal rights for women. While researching for my high school English project on women in politics, I learned about America’s iconic feminist leader Gloria Steinem. I found out that Ms.Steinem was, in fact, dear friends with Ms.Thomas. They had worked together as activists for women’s rights in the ’70s.
I admired these two women, because they fought for our rights and believed that we can do anything. Their conviction lit a fire in me.
In March 2011, Marlo Thomas announced on her Facebook page she would host Gloria Steinem on her online video segment, “Mondays with Marlo,” to honor and celebrate Women’s History Month. The public was invited to submit questions for Ms. Steinem. I was giddy with excitement! I submitted my question:
Dear Ms. Steinem,
My name is Megan Cahill-Assenza. I’m 18 years old and a freshman in college. I love how far women have come, and I’m excited that we keep paving the way. My question is: how can I be involved in improving women’s rights?
I gave a long, nervous exhale when I clicked the submit button. I eagerly waited for a few days to see if my question would be picked. When the video was published, I sat and watched the 30-minute video in the evening after I finished my homework. About 27 minutes in, I had started to accept that they hadn’t chosen my question.
But then: “Here’s an interesting and important question for young girls. This is from Megan Cahill-Assenza…” said Marlo Thomas to Gloria Steinem. I shrieked! I was electrified, first because Ms.Thomas said my name, and second because one of my feminist idols was going to speak to me directly!
Ms. Steinem considered my question for a moment, then looked directly at the camera and said, “When you wake up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror, look at yourself and celebrate who you are.”
I didn’t know what I expected when I asked the question, but I was certainly surprised that her advice didn’t even require leaving my house. Perhaps I thought she’d tell me to get involved in campus activism, or to fundraise. Instead, her answer was very personal, very internal. Celebrate myself.
But, I didn’t know how celebrate myself. I didn’t even know what that meant. Do I throw a party? She said I should look in the mirror; does she mean I need to believe that I am beautiful?
I shared the video with a teacher, who knew how excited I was to submit my question. She was able to explain Steinem’s message to me in a way I could understand. “She is not referring about how young women feel about their looks.
To ‘celebrate,’” my teacher said, “means to accept with love, enthusiasm, and confidence. She wants you to create a deep sense of power within yourself.”
I went back and listened to Steinem with this concept in mind, and only then did I understand her message.
To accept who we are with love, enthusiasm, and confidence sets a tone not only for yourself, but, more importantly, for all women. We fulfill our being in the world—on a college campus, in the workforce, within relationships with family and friends—through the way we think and feel about ourselves and, in doing so, serve as a model for all women of all ages.
Many young women, especially in their late teens and early twenties, are figuring out who they are and their likes and dislikes. This process takes time. If we are impatient, these questions can become doubts and fears. Becoming consumed by our doubts and fears can lead us to wallow in low self-esteem.
However, when you put the time and work into discovering yourself—what’s true, what’s irrational—you will one day reach self-assurance and serve as a role model for all women.
Young women wanting to get involved in the women’s movement of today may think joining an organization or becoming member of like-minded individuals would be the first step. Being a participant in events, discussions about the issues women face, rallies, or fundraising, would certainly be great choices, but Steinem’s message brought my focus from looking out to looking in. I needed to see that I am confident, rather than meek and fearful.
By creating for yourself a strong foundation of confidence and self-love, you will lead as an exemplary woman for other women wanting to be like that girl—continuing the movement in a positive and powerful direction for women’s rights.
Steinem’s courageous actions to make a difference was infectious to me. Her appealing attribute of “I can” encouraged me to get involved with to women’s rights and to want to believe in myself. Her message to me was to invest in self-love and self-esteem.
To this day, I’m still grateful for Ms.Thomas and Ms.Steinem to have chosen and answered my question, but I’m even more grateful that they showed me how I can make a difference and improve the rights for women. It starts every morning as I look in the mirror and celebrate who I am.
Published on Metiza November 2, 2018