uniquely, boldly girl 1.29.14
It is easy to get bogged down by the bad news out there. If you are like me, and you are trying to stay on top of what is written about girls and women, things can get pretty depressing. Despite frequent backlash and vociferous push-back, girls and women continue to be objectified in the media. Girls, as we know from the research, continue to struggle with the perceived need to be perfect – perfectly feminine, sexy, smart, athletic.
And yet, I get to see the other side.
Twice a week, a gaggle of 5th grade girls gather in my office. These girls, my advisees, come first thing in the morning – some of them well before they are expected, others running along the long hallway at the last minute, their backpacks heavy enough to jostle their equilibrium, which they adjust for with little hops and shoulder shrugs.
Five months into our school year, and I still look at them with amazement. Between the eight of them, there is no average girl. Each of them has turned out to be uniquely, boldly, her own person.
There is laconic Michelle, whose sophisticated vocabulary springs, surely, from having much older siblings. I imagine her, around the dinner table, holding her own in discussions about politics, relationships and college prospects. I wonder what it would take to ruffle her feathers and I cannot imagine a scenario. Her observations are sharp, witty and effortlessly to the point. When we play a word game, her contribution is “apothecary.”
Ruby, by contrast, is quiet, and a little shy at first. She is new to us and is clearly trying to find out where she belongs in this tangle of girls, who have instantly made my office a comfortable place to hang out. Ruby is an athlete, disciplined, as all good athletes are, keenly aware, for one so young, that hard work and practice are necessary ingredients that do not automatically lead to a win. She is finding her voice among the girls, a little at a time.
Elsie is irrepressible, exuberant and always joyful. She sings her made-up songs each time we gather. Her face is alight with the expectation of new adventures, and I imagine her, some 15 years in the future, spending time in far-flung places where she explores a scientific phenomenon we cannot yet fathom.
Kendra is proudly intellectual. So is her mother, and she comes by it honestly. Her future? Following mom’s footsteps, naturally. Celeste is quick to smile, but a keen observer of the dynamics in the room. Our therapist in the making, perhaps, she often pulls me aside to let me know what is on her friends’ minds.
Katie is mature beyond her years, with an enormous capacity for empathy. She organizes the group into an occasional game, or calls her peers to order when their enthusiasm threatens to escalate their giggles into uproarious laughter. Elise has, without fail, her nose in a book. There is not much of the human condition that surprises her anymore, her eyes seem to say. Serena is tough on herself and works so hard to be her best self – at everything she does. Will Katie lead a family, a company, or a country sometime in the future? Will Elise win literary prizes? Will Serena apply her work ethic and discipline to a rewarding career?
My group of girls is far removed from the ways in which the media portray girlhood. The homogenizing impact of advertising, movies, television, and heaven knows what else, has (so far) left them untouched. They are uniquely, boldly “all-girl.”
A part of me knows that they will be at their most vulnerable to the forces of our society – to be thin, feminine, accomplished and sexy, in short, to be quite perfect – in a few years’ time. That part of me knows that they have not fully and truly been tested. It is the part of me that expects them, realistically, to stare in the mirror with some self-doubt.
But a larger part of me has faith, deep down, that their indomitable spirits will remain just that. I have faith that we can create, indeed, have created, a space for them where they can continue to speak out with the blissful confidence they exude today. Their strength, at 11 years old, is a force awesome to behold. It is on us to ensure that they reach 15, 18, 22 and older with that strength in tact.
*Names of students have been changed.
Wednesday January, 29, 2014 at 03:15PM