Moxie: A Five-Letter Word With Oomph

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Upward bound in an elevator in a Tel Aviv hotel, I shared a lift with an Israeli preteen chattering in Hebrew but wearing a t-shirt that announced “Hear Me Roar”. The reference on her shirt was of course a reference to the Helen Reddy song of 1973. I wondered how those lyrics made it to a kid’s t-shirt in Israel. It was a forthright announcement in bright blue sequins, and some 45 years after the song had hit the charts. Is this lioness-like brag exclusive to precocious Israeli girls?  Or is it a broader, more pervasive, feminist wave empowered by a whole new generation? Did we have the courage then to move the needle just a tad in terms of valuing women?  I thought about asking: “Kid, where’d you get your moxie?”

Then I remembered that every Israeli girl and boy serves two years in the army and learns to use an Uzi. What an extraordinary confidence-builder that must be for girls, I thought. Not so much the military training, but the chance to have opportunities and expectations equal to those of our brothers. I began to think about moxie, where it comes from, and what it means for a girl who is growing up to be a “voice” in the clatter of a today’s noisy discourse.  The idea of moxie began as the name of a soda pop introduced in the Twenties.  It became so popular by the Thirties that it rivaled Coca-Cola with its unique flavor. It was such a spirited drink that the word “moxie” soon became synonymous with the phrase “distinctly different,” meaning “creative,” “energized,” “adventuresome” and “full of beans.”

Women with moxie had a voice. They could speak up. They could express their ideas. They could test their mettle. They could be leaders in distinctively different ways.

Now me, I was just a kid from the Rockaways.  So in terms of moxie, I asked myself: “where’d I get mine?”  I got it from growing up in a beach town during the war, fearing that German submarines were coming across the Atlantic; I saw the danger. I got it from my mother, a teacher; she was bossy like most teachers. Not a perfect role model, but she made her voice known. I recalled getting a call from a government colleague asking: ”Do you know where your mother is?” My colleague warned: “She is here at Borough Hall sitting on the floor with 100 other women in a protest.” “Geez Mom. What were you thinking?” Then, all too soon, the good old guys gave moxie a bad rap, calling a gal with moxie “brash,” “audacious” and “nervy.” We’ve seen this tactic before. If you don’t like it, give it a bad name and hopefully it will go away. It was an effort to keep women’s voices modulated and to create a mold for women in the workplace as genteel, ladylike and yes, boring. So, ladies: if you’ve got moxie, use it and use it with dignity, humility and humor. Use it to be heard, to be taken seriously, to be a presence, to be part of the conversation. Let your light shine from under a barrel. Don’t let anyone say in your earshot: “Who does she think she is with all that moxie? Nip that one in the bud for you and all women who dare to be distinctly different.

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