Thursday, March 8, 2012

Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures

Happy International Women's Day!


International Women's Day is a holiday, originally developed in the Soviet Union, that commemorates the economic, political, social achievements of women. This year, I'm very excited to be participating in Gender Across Border's Blog For International Women's Day.  This year's theme is "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures." The question: How can we, as a culture and as members of the global community, involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way? 

When I sat down to write this, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. I thought of the need for girls to have a safe space free of violence, both domestic and militarized. I thought of the need for girls to have access to clean water and nutritious food, to be given as much nourishment as their brothers and fathers. I thought of the need for not just more schools but better schools, and the fact that we, as a global community, need to place a higher value on educating girls. I thought about how we need to have better sex education, increased access to birth control, and less slut shaming. I also thought about our media, the terrible, hyper-sexualized message it sends girls, and the dearth of positive, strong, smart women role-models present in our media (they exist, but they're not being shown!).

All of these things are necessary if we're going to involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way. But when I really thought about the question, I thought about girls I know and about the girls I'll hopefully have some day. Besides advocating for the above, what am I doing to involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way? What can I do?

The first is a shockingly simple little thing: we need to treat girls like people, not like little girls. Ever since reading Lisa Bloom's How to Talk to Little Girls, I've noticed my impulse to talk to girls about how cute they are, the clothes they're wearing, or how much I love their cute little pigtails. But as Bloom states, this is exactly the type of talk that teaches little girls that they're valued primarily for their appearance; that their worth is derived from how cute they are. I don't want to send that message to the girls I know or to my own daughters one day. We should talk to girls about reading, travel, science, and history. We should talk to them about doing things (have you ever realized how frequently children's literature/television/magazines depict girls as passive, while the boys are off running around and playing with trucks?). We should talk to them about their interests and about the achievements of other girls and women.

The second thing we, as a global community, can all do a better job of is listening to girls. When we talk to them about their interests, we should encourage and support them in pursuing those interests. We shouldn't try and curb or prohibit their interest in something because we think it isn't "girly" or "feminine" enough. We should value and include their voices in the media and feminist advocacy. We should listen to what they say they need and value their experiences as girls, as young women.

We should also support girls more as they pursue their dreams. We should value their education as much as we value the education of boys. Give them all the resources that we as a global society can give them. We should tell girls that they can be anything, that they can change the world. And we should mean it. We should stop telling women that they can't have it all. I'm the first to admit that it is hard for women, especially mothers, to "have it all." Worldwide systematic oppression makes it so. But we, as a global community, should be fighting tirelessly to ensure that when little girls grow up, they don't face the same struggles we face. We should be telling them, and showing them, that if systems suck, you should work to change them. You shouldn't just resign yourself to life as a second-class citizen.

Which brings me to the last thing we can do to educate and inspire girls: we have to be strong, smart women ourselves. We have to "be the woman our granddaughter will read about someday." I know I am the woman I am today because I grew up watching my mother work and be an awesome mom, because she taught me that it was more important to be smart than pretty, that I should serve others instead of wasting my life watching MTV, and that it was better to leave an unhealthy relationship than to stand by your man. I'm also inspired daily by the women I work with, who demonstrate that you can have a fantastic career and a family. I know how much strength and encouragement I draw from them and other women. And I hope I am a woman girls can draw strength, encouragement, and inspiration from.

P.S. This post is dedicated to my amazing mother, who showed me what feminism is, and to Kenzie J., my adopted sister/cousin. When I think about what we can do to educate, inspire, and involve girls, I think of your energy, passion, and kindness.

I love you Kenzie!


  1. Great post, Shannon! I definitely think it's one of your best. Improving the situation of women in the world must begin with raising people's consciousness at the most basic level of how we think. It's nice to hear you reiterate this crucial foundation of feminism.

  2. I agree with B! This one pumped me up!! I should print it out and show my students. --Becky


  4. Love this! Saw your call-out on GAB's website here, too!

  5. Thanks for the sweet comments Brett, Becky, and Danielle!