A 21st Century Woman is first and foremost an heir of feminism. We stand on the shoulders of courageous women before us who fought for and won the rights we enjoy today, rights so natural to us we may even take them for granted. A 21st Century Woman never forgets and is always indebted to the feminist movement.

How we transmute the movement is our contribution.

Equal rights with men was a necessary first step, but it only brought us so far. Focused as we were on competing with men, we emphasized the assertive, masterful, powerful aspects of our nature. We pushed aside the softer, more feminine, more vulnerable aspects as liabilities in the battle.

The beauty of 21st Century Women is that we push nothing aside because there is no battle. We can be assertive and feminine, powerful and vulnerable. Men are our complement not our enemy.

Twenty-first Century Women possess a number of characteristics that set us apart from our contemporaries:

  • We take interest in the world outside us;
  • We educate ourselves on topics important to our lives;
  • We step outside the echo chamber where everyone already agrees with us politically, spiritually, and economically;
  • We examine ourselves and our beliefs with an openness to ever Truer North as we encounter it;
  • We consciously choose our course in life, and when that course goes awry, we re-chart;
  • We take responsibility for our lives, our choices, and our actions, never labeling ourselves victims, and;
  • When we know what we stand for, we stand for it no matter what.

We no longer view men as the adversary. Now the only adversary we have is the voice in our head. The voice that says we’re too fat, too aggressive, too passive, too bitchy, not as pretty, not as rich, not as happy, not as popular as the other gal. The same voice that’s saying exactly the same thing in almost every other woman’s head.

It’s a tricky, tricky voice. Although it’s our own insecurity speaking, we hear the voice say she should stay home with her kids, she should be nicer to her husband, she should lose some weight; she is too family focused or too job-focused, too nurturing or not nurturing enough. But it is our own voice, our own insecurities; the voice is ours to control. The decision how to live our lives is ours to make.

We all—and here I’m going to invoke Iyanla Vanzant and call a thing a thing—just want to be liked. It’s what we wanted when we were three, thirteen, thirty, and fifty. Fortunately we seem to need it less as we mature, but give us enough estrogen, and we’ll always want it.

Two of the most profound lessons taught to me in this life, both about being liked, were taught to me by my mother and a male boss.

Mother: “Do you know how to get people to like you? You like them first.”

Boss: “No matter who you are, 10 percent of people won’t like you so don’t waste your time on those people.”

Notice the marked difference, both in approach and implicit message.

My mother was teaching me that being liked is so vital, there’s a strategy to it. More importantly, it’s something I can manipulate through my behavior.

My boss was teaching me a far more liberating (not to mention realistic) message; You can’t make people like you, so just be yourself.

We 21st Century Women have all been raised with varying proportions of the above messages. We have some degree of confidence in being ourselves and some degree of insecurity that nobody really likes us. Now that we’ve agreed to jettison the scaffolding that holds us back, we will begin to see ourselves more clearly. What will we do with the light and beauty that emerges?

I’m glad you asked.

Whereas feminism (last time I’ll use the word, promise) pushed women toward the universal goal of freedom from men and children, 21st Century Women refuse to be molded by anyone else’s expectations; instead, we freely choose the life we want. And we certainly don’t need everyone to agree with us to be confident in our choice.

Some of us will be barefoot and pregnant for twenty years, some will fly jet planes, some will wrestle gators, some will teach ballet, some will bring home the bacon, some will fry it up in a pan, some will marry women, some will marry men. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else does; it matters only that we seek our own True North.

In a perfect world, or maybe even in this one, there is only one True North. The problem is, everyone thinks they’ve found it, and none of us agree. So don’t waste your time fretting or trying to convince others they’re wrong. We all do the best we can with what we have. We don’t need to be right, and we don’t need to make anyone else wrong. We just need to be sincere.

If that’s not a surefire recipe for more light and beauty, I don’t know what is.  Even better, it’s the best defense we have against the ever more intense cascades of cultural change around us. It doesn’t matter where we sit on any spectrum; we’re all in a rock tumbler right now.

It is almost unfathomable the variety and complexity of issues we face today. Gone are the days of good guys and bad guys. They’re both still around, but they’re not as identifiable, and, complex as things are, they might be wearing white hats one day and black hats the next.

Experts contradict each other, politicians lie, one man’s “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” is another man’s “Thank You For Your Service.” Pluto was a planet, then it wasn’t, now it is again. Maybe.

If you plan to turn to God as your True North, good luck. There isn’t a religion on the planet—not Islam, not Mormonism, not Catholicism, not Protestantism—that agrees completely with any other religion. Abraham Lincoln said both the North and the South believed they were on the side of right, both prayed to the same God and read the same scriptures. God may guide you, but you’ll still face disagreement about what God said or says regarding cultural issues, even within your own faith.

The good news? Especially for those who believe in God but a general benefit for anyone who seeks after it; sincerity is power.

When you know who you are and know what you believe—and why—you’re rock solid. You can disagree without becoming disagreeable. You can hold to your religious or political standards in the macro yet have compassion and empathy for loved ones in the micro. You can ponder different points of view because your goal is True North, not perfection; if you find more truth in a new idea or point of view, let it in.

In short, a 21st Century Woman is whatever she wants to be.