In the early '90s, I was visiting a girls school, when I spotted two third-graders engaged in a heated exchange outside their classroom door.
The school director made no attempt to intervene. "We encourage our girls to 'take it outside' when they have a disagreement," she said. "We want them to learn how to hash it out."
For me, that was a stop-in-your-tracks moment. Like many women of my generation, I was raised to get along and to smooth over conflicts as quickly as possible. That often meant apologizing for my opinion or keeping it to myself, which makes you feel wrong even when you're right.
Watching those two little girls eventually agree to disagree and seal it with a hug lightened my step that day. Clearly, I got over my reluctance to express my opinion. Still, I often have wondered how much misery I could have saved myself had I been encouraged to stand my ground at a younger age.
Last Sunday, I had another stop-in-your-tracks moment, during NBC's "Meet the Press," after Alex Castellanos tried to treat Rachel Maddow like an excitable girl on national television. If I had my way, every girl age 10 or older would watch Maddow's response.
During the interview, host David Gregory turned to Maddow, a liberal talk show host on MSNBC, and asked her how to frame the discussion about female voters. I've been on the receiving end of her burrowing interviews a number of times, so I wasn't surprised to hear her answer. Or her attempt to answer, I should say.
"Policy," she said. "It should be about policy. And all of our best debates are always about policy. And it should be about policy that affects women specifically. The Romney campaign wants to talk about women and the economy. Women in this country still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. So if--"
That's as far as she got before Republican consultant Castellanos butted in.
"Not exactly," he said.
Maddow turned to face him. "Women don't make less than men?
Castellanos: "Actually, if you start looking at the numbers, Rachel, there are lots of reasons for that."
Maddow: "Wait, wait. No."
Castellanos: "Well, first of all, we--"
Maddow: "Don't tell me what the reasons are. Do women make less than men for the--"
On it went. Castellanos kept interrupting her. He smiled. He chuckled. He shook his head. The whole exchange felt way too familiar to too many women.
After Gregory insisted, twice, that Maddow be allowed to answer, the former Rhodes scholar finally did what she does so well, which is to drill down on policy.
"Given that some of us believe that women are getting paid less than men for doing the same work, there is something called the Fair Pay Act," she said. "There was a court ruling that said the statute of limitations -- if you're getting paid less than a man, if you're subject to discrimination -- starts before you know that discrimination is happening, effectively cutting off your recourse to the courts. You didn't know you were being discriminated against. ... The first law passed by this administration is the Fair Pay Act to remedy that court ruling."
After she finished taking Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to task for voting against that act, Castellanos smiled.
"It's policy," he said, looking at Rachel. "And I love how passionate you are. I wish you were as right about what you're saying as you are passionate about it. I really do."
Maddow's response: "That's really condescending."
I was not the only woman who stood up and cheered in her living room.
Now, I understand the bigger issue here is the continued disparity in women's pay and the Republicans' decision to declare this injustice a myth. What a curious strategy to woo women who know better.
As the mother of grown daughters, though, I want to thank Rachel Maddow. Time after time, she says what millions of other women of all ages are thinking, and she does it with grace and a fistful of facts. She doesn't back down; she doesn't make nice; and she doesn't grin her way through somebody else's insults.
In a lot of ways, Maddow is like so many young women I've met across the country who've had it up to here with politicians who want to rein them in like wandering chattels.
In a way uniquely her own, she is making clear that those days are over.
I watched her and felt hopeful all over again.
My feet still haven't touched the ground, I swear.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist. Email Connie Schultz at con.schultzyahoo.com.