I’m embarking on a crusade, and I want you to join me. The mission? To instill courage in young women and girls. If you didn’t have it when you were younger, you know how important this is. The reason Rachel Hollis, (who, aside from my husband, inspired me to shed my fear and get my ass in gear more than anyone else), and others like her, are so successful is because there is such a need. And there is such a need because we don’t get it done early enough. The empowerment movement is on, but it needs to extend beyond women and reach out to our girls.
I don’t think boys are immune to insecurities. I constantly talk to Joe about our sensitive son and how to help him navigate the different situations he encounters. However, we can’t pretend that society does not still place archaic stereotypes on boys and girls. Many girls are still taught that in order to be successful or liked, they must please other people, take care of everyone else, or the worst – self deprecate. Being female, having my own baby girl, and a near 20-year career teaching middle schoolers, have made the need to reach young women glaringly clear.
Take what happened the other day in my seventh grade classroom. The class was writing about truth, and as usual, I asked for volunteers to share. (If you’re cringing, you must know that in order for this to happen, a teacher has set up a safe environment from the first day of school; you’d be amazed at what some students have to say.)
“Who wants to share first?” I asked. Six hands shot in the air – all boys. Surprised? I wasn’t. Despite the stereotype about our boys not wanting to show emotions to others, many love to assert their opinions and talk about their experiences. After three boys shared, I tried again and asked if any girls wanted to read what they wrote.
Finally, a lone girl’s hand shakily rose. “I’m weird, I’ll share my writing.” Olivia spoke up, God love her. She met my eyes with a shy half smile. Then she said, “It’s not that good, but I’ll just read it.”
People, if I had a dollar for every time a female student uttered that phrase over the last 17 and a half years, I’d own a penthouse or an island – maybe a penthouse on an island.
It could be that I’m heightened to these scenarios, but I noticed the next one a few days later. Every new year, my husband holds a beautiful celebration for his former students, called Alumni Classroom. If you’re familiar with Joe’s work, you know this annual tradition is a chance for kids he taught to come together and attend one more English class with Mr. Ferraro. Volunteers share where their lives are headed and how they continue to benefit from Joe’s teachings. This year, I was fortunate to be an audience member and a speaker. Not only did I have the privilege of watching my husband in action, I was able to hold court and share stories of my own. Love, community, and respect were oozing from the walls of this venue. But there was one thing missing: female speakers. Even though Joe has cultivated many lasting relationships over the years, with boys and girls, not one young woman spoke at Alumni Classroom. That’s when I knew something had to give.
Why is it that once people, girls in particular, reach a certain age, the obsession with what others think of them shatters the freedom to show the world who they are?
I’m convinced there is a window of time when girls freely behave like Charlee, my five year old daughter. She puts on concerts every night. She throws back her head and guffaws. She raises her hand. She questions. She wears tutus. She dances whether or not anyone is watching. She, my students, and the younger, insecure version of myself are the reasons I want to teach them – and my son – that there is no shame or comparison when it comes to being yourself.
When I tell people I’m a teacher, they do one of three things: widen their eyes and suck in their breath, call me crazy, or bless me and ask why. The reasons why have slightly changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: I understand young people, and I emphasize with them. One thing about teaching is that you age, but your students don’t. This makes you see things differently as times moves on. So Girls, here’s what I’d like to teach you. And Sisters, I need you to help me:
Have the courage to take risks.
Exude confidence in what you know.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
This really is an awkward stage – embrace it.
Most of what you see on Instagram is just that – an instant – not a whole life.
Someone will judge you, make an assumption about you, or take advantage of you. Protect. Defend. Tell. Stand up. Walk tall.
Take care of your fellow females. Celebrate their successes.
Move away from those who don’t do the above.
You are not weird, Olivia. You are beautiful. Share your stories.