Owning a home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, you can't walk down the street without coming across memorabilia honoring Katherine Hepburn and the grand residence she lived in until her passing. Although many famous people have lived in this sleepy little town throughout its history, Katherine Hepburn is the most celebrated by far.
Frankly, I adored her as well, and for many of the same reasons every one of her fans did, but especially for the voracious, confident, and practical way she chose to live her life. Raised by a strong mother who also rivaled convention, Katherine Hepburn mirrored and reflected an example most women of her time could barely conceive -- let alone mimic. Yet, for Katherine, it was her mother's influence that led her to become the character she was known to be both on and off screen.
It was Katherine Hepburn who said, "I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex."
I suppose that statement made a good many onlookers shudder at its brashness back in the day. Truthfully, though, I'm not so sure how different those days are compared to now. The mixed messages girls receive these days seem to become even messier with age. It can be all so confusing, and for a mother committed to raising strong women, disheartening.
Being a single mom to three teenage daughters, I certainly have come across my fair share of people who don't practice Katherine Hepburn's philosophy. That said, considering the likelihood that so many of our girls will become single moms themselves someday, not understanding the profound nature of these particular words is frightening. The ramifications can be exceedingly severe.
Empowering our daughters from the moment they leave the womb can mean the difference between lives of freedom and lives of servitude... lives of fulfillment and lives of struggle. Without equipping them with a confident demeanor, a steadfast education and the knowledge that they can stand on their own two feet "come hell or high water," we are condemning our girls to futures dependent upon the decisions of others. That's not a fate I'm willing to condemn my daughters to and neither should you. For us moms, it means that, like Katherine Hepburn's own mother, we need to lead by example. We also need to display that unwavering belief in our daughters that we expect them to fully adopt as they move into womanhood. That's not always easy, especially when people who also exert influence over our daughters aren't on the same page or when our girls make poor decisions while going through phases that leave us shaking our heads in absolute disbelief, confusion or disappointment.
One of the most memorable examples of this for me is a story about my daughter, Jacqueline. Jacqueline is severely dyslexic. School for her was a tremendous struggle. Each day brought a new challenge -- one Jacqueline would inevitably face with great determination and an even wider smile. This combination would win her many friends and the respect of an equal number of teachers, both of which helped in keeping her ego intact and her disposition steadfast.
As Jacqueline progressed in her studies, she began to master her dyslexia, allowing her to join her classmates in more mainstream classes. However, when Jacqueline wanted to take French in the ninth grade, her request was flatly rejected as the school was concerned that Jacqueline would not be able to keep up and so they would stand in her way of "trying" -- the wrong decision for all the wrong reasons.
A former teacher myself, the position I took on this matter was rather different. It was one of support for my daughter, mired in faith in her abilities and general fortitude. I wanted my daughter to realize the extent of my admiration and belief in her, even if her school was faltering. Thus, I sat down with her special education teachers and came up with a plan that would allow Jacqueline to take French while giving the school administrator the comfort she needed in the event that the this woman's concern became a reality.
Ultimately, it did not. Today, Jacqueline can speak just as much French as her friends and is heading to the University of Rhode Island in September, where she will be studying biomedical engineering. I'm rather proud of my daughter and, if Katherine Hepburn were still alive, I have no doubt she would be cheering her on as well.
In the world we are raising our daughters in currently, there is no place for doubt in their minds or in their lives. "Doubt" is a plague that will slaughter generations to come. We must prepare our daughters -- and our sons -- to be able to take care of themselves and their children with or without partners. It's a serious reality and, although, we hope for the best when it comes to love and marriage for our girls, we must make room in our minds for the worst so that we prepare them properly and realistically. It's a side of our jobs we can't take lightly.
No doubt, we all want our little girls to live "happily ever after," but what that means today can be quite different than what it meant in Katherine Hepburn's time or during moments not so long ago when we lulled our daughters to sleep with stories of princes, princesses, white stallions and large castles. It's a brand new day, and with a lack of fairy godmothers in sight, we moms must do everything in our power to ensure that our daughters live the royal lives they so deserve whether or not their princes show up at all or for a lifetime.
We must give our girls the license to write their own stories and write them well. It's no different than when we raise our boys... but it may be even more important than ever before!