THE BLOG
05/17/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Alice in Wonderland: A New Look at Feminine Power

I enjoyed Tim Burton's movie, Alice in Wonderland even though I realized from the first scene that the story line was manufactured for today's audience -- and to give Johnny Depp more air time of course!

What I found even more interesting than the 3D effects was the way the three female characters used their power. The Red Queen chopped the heads off of anyone who disagreed with her. The White Queen, due to her commitment to peace and the sanctity of life, could not defend herself. Alice had to learn how to claim her power, slay evil, be benevolent instead of brutish when the situation called for compassion and above all, take charge of her own life and destiny. The distinction in the uses of power is important to realize for all women, young and old.

The story line was similar to Monsters vs. Aliens where the lead character is a naïve girl who turns into a shrewd giant and realizes she doesn't have to kowtow to anyone, especially to her fiancé. It's clear that movie makers are depicting their female characters as smart and independent, at least in the cartoons. In Shrek, the ogre's wife Fiona and her friends, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, are no longer damsels in distress. They are smart, independent, and capable of drop-kicking the bad guys.

How is this shift playing out in society? According to the Bem Sex Role Inventory, an increasing number of college-age women demonstrate qualities that are traditionally used to define masculinity, such as being self-reliant, independent, able to defend one's beliefs, willing to take risks, and able to make decisions easily. However, these women also score high on traditionally feminine traits such as sociable, compassionate, understanding, and eager to work with others. The results demonstrate that women aren't becoming more like men. They are becoming stronger as women.

Kudos to the movie-makers for helping to facilitate this shift. So what's the bad news?

As if to make up for lost time, many girls are brought up not only to feel that they are strong and capable of achieving anything, but that they are exceptional and better than their peers. If they aren't the dragon slayer, something is wrong. Coloring books teach girls It's All About Me and We Are Special, making "special" the new ordinary. In school, to be worthy they have to find what they can master, whether it is academics, sports, the arts, or all three. Liz Funk describes the dilemma of today's schoolgirls in her book Supergirls Speak Out:Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls. She says girls take on the challenge to be extraordinary with a vengeance, constantly pushing themselves to the breaking point. As they become adults, Supergirls take their crusade into the workplace, where they look to rise above the crowd quickly and consistently.

This shift has been going on for 50 years since the rise of the self-help era. We now have successful women in their 40's and 50's exhausted and asking, "Is this all there is?" One woman told me, "I've spent my life accomplishing one great thing after the other. Now I'm asking what I'm raising my hand for."

I believe it is good to help girls feel strong and independent. I coach women to fully step into their power and make life choices based on their passion and purpose. I love that Alice in Wonderland actually differentiates different types of feminine power so girls don't just see strong as physically tough or verbally demanding. However, we also need to help girls, and women, come to honor all aspects of themselves, even the parts that are not extraordinary. Isn't this authentic power?

In my upcoming book, Wander Woman, I define The Burden of Greatness that I see many women carry today. Fueled by a sense of power and freedom, they don't know when to stop. They go from achievement to achievement, looking for the Next Great Thing. Here are some of the symptoms:

• Taking on too many projects at once;
• Burning-out from taking on too much, or simply losing interest;
• Risking an addiction to work; making work the priority over family, friends and/or health;
• Restlessly searching for "something more," the work that will finally define their purpose.

The problem is that we have a hard time separating our work from our identity. When we equate our self with our accomplishments, we take ourselves too seriously. We have trouble asking for help and struggle with turning off our brains. In short, we are missing the beauty in our days and have trouble loving the imperfect parts of ourselves.

A friend once asked me, "Who is chasing you?" She saw me like a little hamster on a wheel with no end in sight.

With this awareness, I am taking steps to be softer with myself and to slow down to be more present in the glorious moments of my life. And obviously, I go to lots of movies! Do you have any suggestions to share? I would love for you to post what you do to cast off your burden of greatness.