I’ve recently been given the opportunity to take women who have hit just about every stumbling block in life-addiction, abuse, poverty- and support them through a life changing transition into sobriety and law abiding behavior. In preparation, I decided to Google the phrase “real women success stories.” I was hoping for inspirational testimonies from relatable women. Instead, I pulled up page after page of results listing weight loss programs and products.
(Before I continue, I do want to acknowledge that there are very admirable individuals who have taken on the difficult task of becoming healthier people. There is reason to celebrate this feat. My intention is not to belittle their personal achievements, rather, to argue there are far too many successes our world is altogether failing to recognize.)
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results. It’s no secret that our culture, especially in the United States, measures success by external appearances and superficial qualities. Regardless of this well-known observation, I was insulted. Maybe it was the feminist in me, or maybe it was simply my disgust with marketing tactics that shame people using the guise of personal empowerment.
Out of natural curiosity, I next typed in “real men success stories.” What I found left me both relieved and angry. Men too were targeted by the same weight loss programs as women, though not as excessively. I was relieved because it revealed females were not the only gender feeling pressure to conform to such empty terms of success. I was angered, however, because as a nation we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that only certain successes are worthy of public praise.
I disagree with Google, or at least the relevance of the results it provided. If I’m charged with the responsibility of advocating for women in their pursuit of progress, I don’t want examples of the superficial. I want proof of the extraordinary resilience and determination of ordinary people.
Women who shatter the stereotype that engineering is men’s work and design bridges like the best of them are successful. Men who sacrifice every earned comfort to care for sick loved ones are successful. Women who patiently teach and reteach children with autism how to socialize and communicate are successful. Men who guide the development of tolerance and diversity in our systems of higher education are successful. Women who travel half way around the globe to promote the unifying benefits of visual art are successful. Men who spend days on end in arid climates to drill water wells for those with access to none are successful.
These are the successes worthy of public praise. This is the proof of the extraordinary.