This is the second article of our new series, “Lessons to My Younger Self.”
In some ways, I think my younger self could tell my older self a lot of good things. That said, however, there’s much that age brings other than wrinkles. I would advise my younger self that the most important thing for her to do (other than stay out of the sun) is speak up.
When I was growing up in the early sixties, our country was in the dark ages. We didn’t have cell phones, let alone answering machines. Microwaves were a figment of some crazy scientist’s imagination, as were personal computers. Pantyhose weren’t invented yet. Sanitary napkins had belts and clips. Want ads were separated by gender, and women could not have their own credit cards without the consent of their husbands. Let’s not even discuss the lack of Starbucks.
The word feminism had been coined, but it wasn’t used, except if you wanted to really scare someone, or talk about Simone de Beauvoir, or both. Women and girls had their place, and it was primarily in the home, making people happy, expressing opinions only rarely.
Things have changed, thankfully (although feminism is still a scary word to many). But one “female attribute” that was true back then and still lingers: failure to speak out. Women and girls still tend to keep their thoughts to themselves. I know I was scared as a young girl to speak my mind. I felt that I had to be a good girl and that meant keeping my mouth shut.
This lasted into my thirties. I was frightened that I would “say something wrong,” or appear unintelligent. While this is not a gender-specific trait, I do believe that being quiet and subservient is a socialized behavior in women: we are taught, in very subtle ways, to be silent.
If I could talk to my younger self, I would say to her: speak. Don’t be afraid to let people know who you are and what you think. Your opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s.
If what you say is not heard, say it again, or say it to someone who will listen. If what you say is disagreed with, is wrong, or brings disapproval, who cares? Be proud of what you think and who you are: the world needs to hear the voices of everyone. You have a lot to share, and life is too short to wait.
Now seemingly in overdrive, I am speaking my mind in my cartoons (and elsewhere) as if trying to make up for lost time. And while speaking from the standpoint of age and experience is a good thing, I bet that if I had started younger, I would have had more practice, and be better at it. I’ll never know, but what I do know is that I left the good girl in the dust.
For more in this series, check out: Lessons To My Younger Self
Liza Donnelly is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker Magazine, writer, and public speaker. Her cartoons have appeared regularly in The New Yorker since 1982, at which time she was the youngest and one of only three women cartoonists at the magazine. Donnelly’s work has appeared in many other national publications, including The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The Nation, Glamour, and more. Donnelly is founding editor for World Ink, on dscriber.com, and cartoon editor of RevolvingFloor.com. Her blog is whendotheyservethewine.com.More from this Author