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K. Sujata

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Have A Very Feminist New Year

Posted: 01/05/12 12:07 PM ET

Happy New Year! That means it's time to consider your resolutions for 2012. In that tradition, I have suggestions to enhance common resolutions and make them more woman-positive.

1. Lose weight.
Health and fitness top the list of common resolutions, but for women that's often combined with a weight loss goal. While more good foods and physical activity are a good idea, negative emotions about our own bodies are not. Set a mental goal to feel unashamed, confident and proud in the body you have with a daily meditation or affirmation. It may sound corny but it's effective: positive self-talk can have real emotional and physical payoffs (it's not just me, the Mayo Clinic says so), plus body-positivity counters the media and beauty industries' narrow definition of what's "good enough." The NOW Foundation's annual Love Your Body Day has great information and tips. You should also watch Miss Representation, a new documentary about mass media's frequently twisted (or nonexistent) portrayal of women, now showing on the OWN network and at community screenings nationwide.

2. Get a new job or a raise. This is a difficult resolution, especially for women, but not because we don't want to get ahead. Recent studies debunk the myth that women don't "ask" at the same rate men do -- we do, but men are more likely to be rewarded for potential success while women have to show a proven record. Once again, women have to work harder to achieve equality: When you want a promotion or pay raise, focus on networking with your colleagues and tracking your accomplishments so you can make the case for yourself. Take credit for your successes -- or someone else will. While fighting for the recognition you deserve, think about how you can improve women's economic security on a broad scale (pun not intended).

As of November the national unemployment rate had dropped to 8.6 percent, but among single mothers unemployment has continued to grow and is up to 12.4 percent. Oppose government cuts to services that support mothers' ability to keep jobs, such as early childhood education, public transportation and anti-violence programs -- plus, since women are the majority of public sector workers, keeping budget cuts at bay retains their jobs, too.

3. Kick a bad habit.
In addition to quitting smoking, cursing or chewing your fingernails, why not quit using words and phrases that belittle women? For example, how often do we use "whore" or "bitch" as negative verbs? We know there's nothing wrong with throwing or doing anything "like a girl," so try kicking the habit of gender essentialism in your everyday speech and actions, including holiday toys. Watch the viral video starring four-year-old Riley, whose toy-aisle rant about princesses and superheroes proves that kids are influenced by gender-specific marketing but can also be savvy to it, and then read a moving essay by a first-grade Milwaukee teacher who changed the way she taught and spoke when a gender-variant student joined her class.

4. Spend less money or get out of debt. This is one of my favorites: If you're vowing to brew your own coffee or pay off your credit card bills, add in one more component: save for retirement. Women earn lower wages, own fewer assets and take on more caregiving duties than men do, all of which lead to women having smaller retirement plans and lower Social Security benefits. Plus, the gender wage gap only widens as we age. Saving a little each paycheck can make a big difference come retirement, and the younger you start the better. A recent survey of women shows that although we are more involved than ever in managing personal and family finances, fewer than two in 10 women say they feel "very prepared" to make wise financial decisions. Do your research, make a budget and include retirement in your planning. I'll just nag you if you don't.

5. Volunteer to help others.
Giving back to your community is always a worthwhile pursuit, and I urge you to help out programs that focus on women and girls. As I wrote in December, a very small proportion (about 7.5 percent) of charitable giving goes to work that's intentionally designed to benefit women, even though we're more than half the population. Volunteer time is welcome, but as any women's nonprofit will tell you, donations are always needed.

Change that trend: save change! Fill up a jar and donate it to a woman-focused nonprofit . You can also augment your change by chipping in more when you feel moved. Throw in a few extra quarters or dollars every time you read a news story about girls and women that either inspires you or makes you angry (try cable news for help there). Put the jar on your desk or in your work break room and ask your coworkers to help. You'll have a sizable donation in no time... as long as you don't filch quarters for laundry or vending machines.

I hope these resolutions inspire you to have a wonderful 2012 -- for yourself and all the women and girls in your family, community and world. Give yourself a high five and then get to work!

 

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