Today I saw two young women who appeared to be living entirely different lives in different environments…and yet they had one striking thing in common – they seemed unwilling to voice an opinion.
In one case, the girl remained mostly mute when asked to give an opinion. In the other, the girl was actively engaged in conversation, but after a minute I noticed that she was doing just enough to get the other person to offer her an option which she immediately said yes to.
But this isn’t about the girls I saw today – it’s about what we do to our girls.
As a junior in high school, I was chosen as one of four representatives from my school to attend a government-in-action program called Girls’ State. There was a Boys’ State held at the same time and four of our male classmates were chosen to attend.
During the Girls’ State mock government session, the organizers had us debating bills that were not at all pertinent to our lives as teenagers – I believe it was a bill about Medicare. We hadn’t been given any time to learn the issue, so we had no idea what we were talking about. My friend Julie and I got it into our heads that we’d try a different maneuver – we’d introduce our own bill for something that we cared about: merging Girls’ and Boys’ State into one larger event that would more accurately represent the world we lived in.
The response that we got from organizers wasn’t good. But the response we got from our fellow delegates was downright astonishing!!! I will never forget the young woman who stood up and said, “I can’t sit next to boys during a debate! I’d be so worried about whether my hair is combed and my lipstick looks good that I wouldn’t be able to participate.”
To say I was floored would be a vast understatement.
What is it about teenage girls in our society that is so threatening? That’s the only thing I can come up with that would explain why we teach them to so thoroughly muzzle themselves. And we do a darn good job at teaching them that lesson because they practice it well. Some young women unlearn it but I think there’s a far larger portion of women who never do.
So where is the miracle? I suppose part of it is that despite all efforts to the contrary, I am one of the lucky ones who unlearned (and continue to unlearn on a daily basis) that lesson.
Another is that I saw these two beautiful young women today – and even though they won’t know that I’m doing it, I can hold the vision for them that they will stand up and take their place as fully present and opinionated members of society.
Ah – but here’s the thing, and I just realized it as I was typing this – in this moment I’m able to appreciate that girl I was in high school who had such high ideals that I was able to stand up in the midst of craziness and say, “This isn’t right. Something needs to change.” And even though nothing did change in that instance, I took the opportunity to stand and be seen.
Here’s to you, Julie! Here’s to us. We did good.