Why the future should be female. By Michele Norris

Our writer says it's time for women to reject inferior status, demand equality, and unapologetically revel in their ambition and success.

When I headed off to college, my mother gave me a piece of folded-up paper with a message she thought I would need. She wrote it longhand on a page torn from one of the little notebooks she kept by the phone.

It said: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

It’s a quote widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, and it was a wonderful gift for a young woman setting off into the world.

I wish I’d kept that tiny piece of paper. For a time it was in my wallet, and then, after it got frayed and kind of dingy, I put it inside a sparkly bobby pin and kept it in a dresser drawer with jewelry and keepsakes. After several years and several moves, I lost track of it—but I’ve always tried to cling tightly to the idea that we have the power to reject any attempt to make us feel small or subordinate.

The key word is “feel.” As an African-American woman, my mother was acutely aware that a person, and a woman in particular, could be shoved into a lower rank in a very real and profound way. Laws could dictate where you could live or work and whether you could get a business license or own property or vote. Customs and social mores and self-appointed status checkers could keep you out of the boardroom or the clubhouse. But no one actually has the power to reach inside your soul and turn down the dial on your self-confidence.