How to make 2019 the Year of the Woman

For one, stop watch­ing ‘The Bach­e­lor’

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Bal­anc­ing Act

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 — to see what scares them, what de­lights them, what fills them with rage, what fills them with hope.

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.

Ev­ery year my mom and I take my kids to eat din­ner next to the giant Christ­mas tree at the famed Wal­nut Room restau­rant in Chicago, 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 man, who will pro­pose mar­riage by sea­son’s end.

It’s such a hor­ren­dous, ret­ro­grade, trope-laden, misog­y­nis­tic pile of wornout cliches. And yet, on it churns. Sea­son 23 (!) pre­miered 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.)

It’s hard for me to imag­ine a cul­ture that keeps pro­duc­ing and devouring this junk re­ally and truly tak­ing women se­ri­ously.

Politico just pro­filed the Pulitzer Prizewin­ning 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. Three days be­fore Christ­mas, I took my son and his friend to Winter Won­der­fest at Navy Pier in Chicago, 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 nextlevel 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. “I am sorry,” a re­ply popped up im­me­di­ately, “that is not moth­er­ing.”

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 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, wis­domdis­pens­ing 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. (Es­pe­cially, as a rule, moms spend­ing the day at Navy Pier.)

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 1 p.m. East­ern.

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