By Avery Park
And there she was. One of the most powerful, admired and famous women in the world. A would-be first female president of the United States.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was billed as the keynote speaker at Ozy Fest, a two-day festival in Manhattan’s Central Park that represented a fusion of diverse talks and performances from Malcolm Gladwell, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Laverne Cox.
Rose McGowan, the outspoken actress and representative of the #MeToo movement, had spoken just two hours before with a highly charged speech about her harrowing experience with Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood. It seemed like a warm up act to what Hillary Clinton would inevitably address—the need to rally the women’s movement forward. So, I was eager to hear from the oracle of feminism herself. What words of wisdom would she impart to my generation of girls?
I do not know if I speak for all teenage girls, but I have felt disoriented with what feminism of my generation represents. We live in a country whereby all other nations around the world are envious of us for our democracy, freedom, equality and opportunity. Yet, we have lagged behind many countries in never having had a woman lead. Even my country of origin, South Korea, which has been known for its misogynistic culture, elected its first female president in 2012. (Though President Park Geun-Hye now serves in prison on charges of corruption, but that is another story in and of itself.)
The girls of my generation are growing up at a time of the Women’s March, which was fueled by the upsetting results of the 2016 presidential election and the crowning of the complete antithesis of feminism in Donald Trump. In our social media world, teenage girls are also barraged by the messages of #MeToo, which portray women as victims in an unfortunate matter that most of us are still too young to comprehend. Maybe every major social revolution has had to be incited by victimization and anger. But, I think teenagers need positive and empowering messages for a change.
So, I was eager to hear that message from Clinton that day. In the minutes leading up to her speaking, the attendees at the festival stampeded towards the stage, anxious to hear from the enigmatic figure beckoned from Chappaqua. And, there she appeared with Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, who would interview her. The two women were seated in plush white chairs next to each other on a narrow platform and engaged in a Q&A in front of hundreds of onlookers. The topics covered at length Clinton’s thoughts on the separation of migrant families, Russia’s ongoing hacking of the elections, Putin’s manifest destiny, Trump’s Supreme Court nomination and the importance of the upcoming November elections. But, much to my surprise, was what she didn’t talk about—that rallying feminist call to action.
Reflecting back, I realize that her non-message said so much more. Clinton was a powerful example of those non-words when she ran for president. She seemed not to have a care in the world that there was no campaign rule book on how to run as a woman. She looked beyond the gender biases and lenses and ran as Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state and former U.S. senator from New York. She did not wave the banner of feminism in our faces. She ultimately anchored on what she genuinely believed—that her qualifications spoke for themselves and it was not about her being a woman—and therein established her supreme confidence.
I hope to spread that wise lesson to all teenage girls to leave our perceived “feminine” doubts by the door. Maybe we need to stop identifying ourselves by our gender, race, religion, politics and economic status. If we perceived ourselves as capable individuals regardless, we could simply roll our eyes at the naysayers predisposed by those biases. We individually have our own unique missions in life based on our God-given talents and ambitions, and we should just pursue them without pause.
So, girls, let us do more than just lean in and assert. Let’s just jump in and lead.
Avery Park is a sophomore at North High.