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Heidi Stevens: Stop watching ‘The Bachelor,’ and other ways to make 2019 the Year of the Woman

The record number of women serving in Congress this session is seen as one sign that 2019 will be the “Year of the Woman.” Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens have four little things people can do to make that a reality. (Susan Walsh / AP)
The record number of women serving in Congress this session is seen as one sign that 2019 will be the “Year of the Woman.” Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens have four little things people can do to make that a reality. (Susan Walsh / AP)
By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune

A record number of women have entered Congress, Elizabeth Warren is running for president, and eternal optimists are already declaring 2019 the Year of The Woman.

Let’s make it so. In our own ways, in our own lives, in the corners of the world that we inhabit and influence, let’s try these four little things to make 2019 friendlier and fairer for the women we know and the young women we’re raising.

Give boys books that star girls. Since the beginning of time, girls have been reading books centered on boy protagonists – from “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to “Old Yeller” to “Lord of the Flies” to “The Outsiders” to “Harry Potter” and so on.

By the time they graduate from high school, young women have gone on wild adventures with countless boy characters and viewed the world through the eyes of dozens of fictional young men.

That’s wonderful. Now let’s offer the same perspective-shift to boys, who aren’t traditionally handed a whole lot of books centered on female protagonists.

“We’re asking them to grow up in a world with 50 percent girls and women,” author Shannon Hale once told me, “and we’re setting them up for failure.”

(It’s not a great setup for girls, either.)

“The idea that girls should read about and understand boys but that boys don’t have to read about girls, that boys aren’t expected to understand and empathize with the female population of the world,” Hale said, “this directly leads to a culture that tells boys and men: ‘It doesn’t matter how a girl feels or what she wants. You don’t have to wonder. She is here to please you. She is here to do what you want. No one expects you to have to empathize with girls and women. As far as you need be concerned, they have no interior life.’”

No interior life stuck with me. Books are such a vivid, rich, wonderful way to peer inside the minds of others.

If you have a boy in your life, consider handing him “El Deafo” by CeCe Bell, or “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes, or “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson, or one of the dozens of other children’s books starring a girl.

Everyone benefits.

Break up with “The Bachelor.” Every year my mom and I take my kids to eat dinner next to the giant Christmas tree at the Walnut Room, and every year when the Christmas fairy visits our table to grant our wishes, I hope for the same thing: that ABC will finally cancel “The Bachelor,” the reality show in which dozens of wine-plied women compete for the affection of a single man, who will propose marriage by season’s end.

It’s such a horrendous, retrograde, trope-laden, misogynistic pile of worn-out clichés. And yet, on it churns. Season 23 (!) premieres Monday, in fact. Life & Style magazine promised “CATFIGHTS, VIRGINS & BREAKDOWNS!” in its cover story about this season’s cast. (“The Bachelorette,” in which dozens of men compete for a single woman’s hand in marriage, is equally icky.)

Channel your inner-Connie Schultz. Politico just profiled the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and spouse of Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio, and some trolls decided to ignore the substance of the article and to focus, instead, on her body, which they deemed too large.

She replied thusly on Twitter: “If your only response is to mock my appearance, I win. I’m 1 year younger than Mom when she died. Every day is a gift & your hate can’t touch me. God bless & may joy find you in the year ahead.”

We can all give as much credence to the critics who think a woman’s worth begins and ends with her looks.

Give moms a break. Three days before Christmas, I took my son and his friend to Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier, and while I stood off to the side watching them zip around a bumper car track, I noticed a mom talking on her cellphone while she navigated the same noisy, flashy track with her daughter.

I jotted off a quick tweet lauding this mom’s next-level multitasking, what with it being Dec. 22 and all. I threw in some applause-hands emojis to make it clear that I was duly impressed.

Others were not.

Put the phone away, folks chimed in. Just sad, folks chimed in.

I don’t know. Maybe she was on the phone with the pharmacist who was filling a prescription for her sick mom. Maybe she was answering a panicked grocery store question about Christmas Eve dinner from her partner. Maybe she was nailing down one last detail for her other daughter’s birthday party. Who knows. I don’t.

I do know it was three days before Christmas and she was squeezing in a day of fun with her kid. I do know more than one thing was happening in her life at that moment. I do know that’s the very definition, actually, of mothering.

And I do know we expect modern moms to be some impossible combination of chaperone, teacher, healer, therapist, playmate, chef, butler, money-managing, gift-giving, wisdom-dispensing Pinterest user who is fun-yet-sensible, flexible-yet-omnipresent and human-yet-infallible.

And I do think we should limit the tsks tsks and offer moms – trying so hard, sleeping so little – more empathy and grace.

Those are my four. What are yours? I’d love to hear them.

Join the Heidi Stevens Balancing Act Facebook group, where she hosts live chats every Wednesday at noon.

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