When your girlfriend announces her engagement, you know what to do. For months leading up to the big day, you text, you call, you send thoughtful cards and gifts. You might even help plan pre-parties, organizing friends to put together personalized decor and games. And when the big day comes, you happily devote your vacation time and savings to attend.
Maybe you’ve done something similar when a friend announces a pregnancy – planning a shower, sending diapers, setting up a meal train and offering to help out in any way that you can.
But women’s milestones today extend far beyond marriage and motherhood – getting a promotion, starting a business, paying off her student loans, buying her own home. So why is it that our traditions for supporting them haven’t evolved accordingly?
To some extent, it’s just further evidence that we’re still living in a deeply patriarchal society that closely links women’s value to men. We pay lip service to “women’s empowerment” but when it comes to where we spend our time, money and energy, the proof is in the three-tiered cake.
But part of it might be a simpler problem – that even when we want to practice more progressive values, we just don’t have a predictable script for where, when and how to celebrate women for their other achievements.
So here are some tips for recognizing your friends and family members for all of their wins:
1. Respond to her social posts about her accomplishments with enthusiasm.
As trivial as it may seem, many women have noted that their pic of that famed ring finger received more engagement than anything they’ve ever shared about their professional lives or solo travels.
Beyond hitting the “Like” button, consider messaging them with a longer note expressing interest or praise, and invite her to share more with you if she wants. Every time we acknowledge (or fail to acknowledge) something, we reinforce our values as a society.
It’s also likely that a woman feels especially vulnerable when sharing a personal victory, and if the response is lukewarm it might feel isolating and sad, even prompting her to doubt her potential or take fewer risks in the future. By reaching out and validating her, you’re saying, “Your hard work is worth it, and you can define your own value.”
2. Shout her out on social media.
It costs nothing, takes barely any time, and has the added benefit of letting everyone in your circle know about her success so that they can congratulate her too. It could be something as simple as, “I’m so proud of (friend) for finishing her Master’s degree in public health and putting in hundreds of hours becoming an expert on women’s access to birth control. Such an important topic and so excited to see what you do next!”
3. Leave her a positive review on her website, podcast, or relevant product pages.
This is especially helpful if she’s launched a business or completed a creative project (and it goes without saying that you’d have to buy her product to do so, assuming it’s within your budget). But it can also mean writing her a LinkedIn endorsement if you’ve ever worked together in any capacity, even an unpaid one like a group project in school or volunteer gig.
4. Send her a card that’s tailored to her achievement!
(Shameless plug: we have a line of them that include cards for work wins, new homes, and more). Just writing that you’re proud of her and see how hard she’s worked can go a long way. As a fun way to jazz up your card without jacking up shipping costs, throw in some high-end stickers that align with her sense of humor or political views, with a note that you hope she enjoys dressing up her laptop or phone case, water bottle, or notebook cover. Temporary tattoos also fit nicely into envelopes.
5. Ask her friends or relatives if anyone would like to go in on a bigger group gift that’s relevant to her situation.
For instance, if she’s been working super hard, a gift card to a massage might be deeply appreciated (pun intended).
6. Coordinate a totally free group gift by soliciting encouragement and words of wisdom from people who care about her.
You could have people record themselves and send you the clips, or send you written thoughts that you compile into a slideshow or print out into an extra big card for her. This is commonplace for weddings – why not for work?
7. Go old school and give her a bouquet of flowers or baked goods –
both of which can be picked up at the grocery store on your way to her home (or put together in your garden/kitchen). If you’re far away, you can send a cake through a company like Bake Me a Wish, or a floral bouquet, though these can be very pricey so you may want to split the cost with others. You can also look into local florists for better prices and to support a small business.
8. Offer to make an introduction to someone you know who could be helpful in her situation.
So much of life comes through informal networking and if she just got promoted to management, she might benefit from talking to some other women in leadership positions. If she just bought a home and needs furnishing tips, introduce her to your friend with great decorating style. Sending an intro email takes minutes and could lead to a life-changing opportunity or relationship.
9. Throw her a party, complete with a registry for people to buy her relevant gifts for her new home, new job, etc.
If she’s the kind of person who loves a gathering and doesn’t mind being in the spotlight, tell her you’d love to plan something and defer to her on how casual or big she’d want it to be. If someone has launched a small business, you can use a company like Shine Registry to set up a wedding-style registry for them.
10. Set up a meal train for those who care about them to bring them food for a period of time.
People often do this for new parents, but there are so many times in a person’s life when she might feel too exhausted and bogged down to cook, from getting through a busy season at work to finishing a degree to moving.
11. Plan a bachelorette-style weekend with a few of their other close friends.
We don’t think twice about dropping hundreds of dollars and flying to Vegas or Nashville for bachelorette parties, so why not for other occasions? This might be especially meaningful for the woman who has never been married and doesn’t have plans to on the horizon. Imagine how it’d feel to attend party after party for other friends and never get one of your own just because you haven’t entered a legally sanctified relationship. If you know someone in this situation, identify something she’s proud of and plan a weekend around it that’s exactly as “big” and thoroughly organized as a bachelorette would be (just maybe leave out the phallic drink straws…). If you’re centering it around her career, you could even have a tongue-in-cheek “PowerPoint Party” in which attendees put together slideshows based on inside jokes or topics relevant to the honoree.
So often we unintentionally dismiss people simply by not appearing very interested. As one of our guest author’s Paulette Perhach wrote about, “When I came back from that solo trip to South America, my self confidence beaming, I found myself in a group of women, where I was asked a single question about how my trip was before the conversation turned to baby teething and chewed up nipples. It felt like in one flight home, I had diminished in value as much as the Colombian pesos still in my wallet.” As much as a gift or symbol can say, few things are as meaningful as genuine attention. By asking open-ended questions and simply allowing space for someone to share, we can show that we see and care about their achievements.
Ultimately, what matters is not what we do to honor the women in our lives, but the fact that we do anything at all. It’s less about cupcakes and tiaras and more about recognizing all of our holistic identities. By celebrating one woman for her creativity or hard work, we’re effectively sending a message to all women that their accomplishments matter, moving our culture forward little by little. And if you get to enjoy some cupcakes in the process, that’s also pretty sweet way to contribute to progress.
Annie Midori Atherton is a writer, content producer and parent living in Seattle. She’s interested in exploring how our broader culture impacts everyday life and questions of why we are the way we are.
Image: wera Rodsawang/Moment via GettyImages