I was genetically bred to be an unruly woman. I was raised in Los Angeles by a Jewish, French Moroccan father and a Serbian mother in a Brady Bunch family of strong female figures—four sisters, two stepmothers, three godmothers, and a mom who dedicated her life to bringing up independent daughters. These were all women I aspired to become—ones who co-existed despite marriages, divorces and different backgrounds; who supported one another unconditionally, and taught me that being soft-spoken was not an option. Not at our dinner table.
When I was two, my parents enrolled me in ballet, which I stuck with until the age of 18. I practiced after school and on weekends, toured every summer and performed as often as I could. Being a ballerina was like living in a state of constant adversity. I woke up every day and dressed to blend in with my class—pink tights, black leotard, hair in a tight bun — but then dance under the immense pressure to outshine. I worked as hard as a professional athlete but was expected to appear delicate and feminine–frail even. As a young woman, I was trained to demand attention and never question my place as a woman at center stage.
Today, I live with that same demand for the world’s attention because there is no space I will ever accept less for women than center stage. All the opportunities in the world are ours for the taking and ours to be shared. I’ve made it my mission to be an ally to the women in this generation and to and create a community grounded in supporting one another. Because I’ve learned that being a feminist isn’t so much about your own voice, but how you use your stage to encourage and support other women to find theirs. Here are some of my favorite ways to do this:
Show up for women, physically and emotionally. Whether it’s sending your girls a daily text to check in, being a shoulder to cry on, calling your mother, supporting female-founded companies, or smiling at a woman on the street, be an advocate in any and every way.
Create environments for women to take up space. In my experience of hosting panels, events, talks, interviews, or a girls’ night, there’s nothing more gratifying than watching women thrive in an environment where they feel able to be themselves and use their voice.
Be transparent with each other. Be open about jobs, salaries, relationships, sex life, hardships, successes, Botox, everything. Secrecy breeds jealousy because the unknown makes us insecure. By having these conversations with each other, we empower our experiences, good or bad, and create a foundation of shared experiences that make us feel supported rather than alienated.
Collaborate, don’t compete. Competition thrives on insecurities. Identify those women you feel you’re sitting across the table from and sit next to them. Find a common ground. Wanting women to succeed without jealousy is the definition of grace.
Strive to say more than ‘You look pretty’. Remind the women in your life that the space they take up in your life and the world is not dependent on physical attributes.
Never miss an opportunity to facilitate moments of learning between men and women. It’s easy to fall victim to stereotypes by saying a man is “just being an asshole” or “men will be men” when helping women to cope with gender issues, whether it’s in the bedroom, the boardroom, or beyond. Be an active ally for both genders by advocating accountability and a level playing field.
Hire women, train women, mentor women. Be the vehicle that turns a young woman with big dreams into the badass women she is destined to be.
Carry lipstick, Tylenol or Aspirin and Tampons, always. Save a sister, make a new friend!
Step up to the spotlight. Not just as an example for others but for yourself. Take every opportunity, challenge and risk that comes your way without questioning your worth, ability or place as a woman. And once you find your light, don’t be afraid to be a little unruly.
© Olivia Perez 2018
From “Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies)”, curated by Scarlett Curtis, to be published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
All rights reserved.