Girl Power

I’m a child of the nineties.

And though that means a lot of things, for the purposes of this blog, it really just means one:

I grew up in the era of the Spice Girls.

Yes, that’s right, I caught the Spice Girls fever back in 1996, and I caught it bad. (For the record, I didn’t catch it nearly as bad as my sister did; she owned and wore out a VHS copy of Spice World.)

For the better part of my early teenage years, I was all about those five ladies from England. My best friends and I dressed up routinely as the Spice Girls; I rotated the role of Baby Spice with my blonde best friend. We learned the choreography, we made our moms record us singing their songs on cameras, and we mourned the loss of Ginger Spice when Geri left the group. While I could go on and on about the Spice Girls era of my life, the point is this:

I grew up under the banner of girl power.

And not just because of the Spice Girls (though they’re the ones who taught me the mantra.) My life was then and still is full of strong females who set the standard of what it means to embrace your girl power.

My mom is one of six girls, meaning I was raised with five amazing aunts and one pretty cool mom who modeled in their own unique ways what it means to be a strong woman. Because of those aunts, I also had the privilege of being surrounded by dozens of girl cousins who I think are pretty amazing. I have a sister and sister-in-law who I’d put in that same category. When I was growing up in student ministry, my two primary leaders were women who showed me what it looked like to live life as a Christian woman. I sit in a small group every other week surrounded by women overflowing with girl power. These are the kind of ladies I want next to me on the battlefield of life. My girlfriends are some of the strongest, most confident women I know. And in my house everyday, I’m surrounded by three girls who model the strength and heart of being women better than almost anyone I know.

In my life, the fact that I have girl power has never been a question.

But I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Someone I love recently gave me a sweatshirt with the phrase, “The future is female” stitched across the front. (For all of you who just felt your chests tighten, breathe easy. I’m not about to make any sort of political statement.) She said she gave it to me because, to her, I’m an example of a girl who is paving the way for herself in the world as a woman.

Now let me be clear: There are so many other women I know who are modeling this way better than I am (see any of the women I listed above for an example). As I type this, I’m still in my pajamas at 4:49 on a Monday afternoon. If not brushing your hair, putting on makeup, or leaving the house on the first day of the work week qualifies me to pave the way in the world as a woman, then count me in, I guess.

And that’s exactly what I told her. There had to be so many other women in her 17-year-old world who illustrated to her that the future could be female—that girl power is an option—much better than I.

“Nope,” she said. “I don’t really know anyone else like that.”

That answer shocked me. In my world, the future has always been female.

I recognize that much of the reason opportunity hasn’t felt limited to me as a woman is because of the examples I’ve had in my life. I also recognize that some of it has to do with the fact that I’m from a white, middle class family. I know that fact alone has allowed doors to open for me that are closed to so many others simply because of who they are or where they’re born.

I can think of only one experience in my life where I was made to feel less than, or told that an opportunity wasn’t mine, or that my potential, my voice, and my role were limited because I was a woman. The future most definitely wasn’t female there. That experience lasted a few years in my life, and it was enough to make me never want to have it again. My hair fell out, I couldn’t sleep, I cried in the bathroom (a lot), and I lived most days under a heavy weight of anxiety.

I remember calling my dad toward the end of that season in my life and telling him that I had to get out of it. No matter what it meant for my future or my life, I had to leave. I was suffocating.

His response? “I understand, and I think you’re right. You should go.”

I was in my twenties at the time so I didn’t necessarily need his permission, but it sure didn’t hurt to have him tell me it was okay to go. My dad’s always been the kind of guy who championed some solid girl power in this world.

While that experience was terrible, it remains the only one I’ve had like it. And in 33 years of life, that’s not bad. I know there are a lot of other girls who’ve had more experiences than that in far fewer years on this Earth. And there are far more who’ve gone through much worse over the course of their longer lives.

I know feminism is a hot topic right now. I know there are marches and movements and much more out there all dedicated to the cause of female empowerment. I get that it’s a complex subject with more layers and viewpoints than I care to dive into here.

But creating a kind of world where girls feel like the future isn’t limited to them is something I feel particularly passionate about in this season of my life. Because I can’t imagine being a 17-year-old girl growing up in a world with only one example of someone who showed you that the future was wide open to you as a woman. I could’ve given that sweatshirt to a number of women in my life, but for this girl, I was the only one.

I really care about the future of this world. I really care about the kind of girls (and boys!) who are coming behind us. I care about living out for them what it means to be the kind of woman God made me to be. I care about what God cares about, and I know that God cares about loving other people. I think His kind of unbiased love would be a great place to start in making the world a place where the future felt full of possibility for everyone.

And if I want this world to be full of examples of what true girl power looks like, then I need to be sure I’m playing my part. I need to walk the walk if I’m going to talk the talk. And not just the Spice Girls kind of girl power, but the kind that has the real strength, dignity, and beauty that is being a woman in this world.

The kind that listens. The kind that takes risks. The kind that uses her voice on behalf of others. The kind that prays. The kind that values and nurtures other people. The kind that’s funny.  The kind that’s bold. The kind whose heart is the most beautiful thing about who she is.

That’s the stuff of true girl power… that and so much more! That’s the stuff I see on display in the lives of the women I know. And it’s the stuff I want to put on display in my life every single day. That’s the part I want to play each and every day.

Because I think the future is a lot of things, and one of them is most definitely female.


Sara Shelton