Girly-Girl or Wonder Woman?

Can we be both frilly and fierce?

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Caleb Woods/ Unsplash
Caleb Woods/ Unsplash

When I was three years old, my mother put me in frilly dresses. At 10, I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher. I loved arts and crafts and baking. I had a huge collection of Barbies, complete with clothes and accessories. I confess: I occasionally dressed my brothers’ GI Joe doll in Barbie’s tutu. Perhaps, on some level, I was battling gender stereotypes.

Then we women became “liberated,” and I was plunged into AP classes, suits with big shoulder pads, a job in financial services (ugh!), and a seat at the table with the big boys. I learned to toughen-up, to speak up and to (quite honestly) man-up to the challenge.

Now I’m finding myself wanting to get back to the frilly side. That doesn’t mean I will lose my voice or my drive. But, to quote the Rodgers & Hammerstein lyrics, “I enjoy being a girl.”

What does that really mean in our era? Can we be soft, sexy, silly and still smart all at the same time? Can we pursue meaningful careers without feeling compelled to reach the C-suite? Do we need to prove ourselves as “tough” in our youth so we can be both frilly and fierce as we age?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions. I just know that in my 60’s I’d rather be kind, happy (in both work and life), healthy, and madly in love with someone who accepts me as I am rather than have that corner office.

The upside of aging is that we can own who we are. I am no longer afraid to express vulnerability, show my scars, and wear frills when I want to.

I think many men are really confused about how to relate to women these days. I recently received a compliment, followed immediately by, “Can I still say that?”

Ringing in the new year in frills

The next generation of women has more choices. Technology enables them to do meaningful work from anywhere. Generation Z (both women and men) seems to be way less wedded to gender roles and definitions than those who grew up before them.

But my generation (women over 50) are re-thinking the lessons we learned in the 1980s and redefining womanhood. What we wear is not as important as living with authenticity, vulnerability, and confidence.

In the words of one woman:

“Being feminine isn’t a weakness but a strength when I fully step into it and own it. Being a woman over 50 allows me a unique perspective that includes a wealth of life experience, one that includes all the beautiful and powerful qualities inherent in being a woman.”

Catherine Grace O’Connell, 57,former corporate executive and founder of Forever Fierce Media
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