Why is the world afraid of educating girls? Because we grow up into educated women and the world has no idea what that looks like. We expect girls to fight for their education, but how can we tell them to fight a losing battle? They might work hard, get the grades, and yet still end up in a career making less than their male counterparts. Why should they bother, when the world is telling them that a pretty face will get them much farther? When they learn that girls who speak their minds in class are seen as bossy and callous? That they are valued for their interest in makeup more than their interest in science or the arts?
When a girl is young, it is easy to tell her how pretty and adorable she is. And it may be very well true, but it creates a precedent of what girls should be valued for from those around them. So why are we confused when these girls drop out of school? When it isn’t a priority for them? When they are taught the lessons in high school of: laugh at the jokes, look for a husband, but don’t seem too smart. When girls around the world are expected to clean the house, work part-time, take care of younger siblings AND go to school, is it really any surprise that only 30 percent of girls in the world go on to receive a secondary education?
In our country, it is vital to give girls the expectation and opportunities to seek an education. Here, we have to stop telling our girls that they need to be smart, but not smart enough to stick out. We need to have our teachers value their students based on education. We can’t say that pretty faces always win, because they don’t. Pretty faces fade. An education cannot fade or be taken away. Girls shouldn’t have to fight to be recognized for their hard work: we should fight for them. With the pressures of family and friends, girls could use our support in discussing their education and their rights as human beings.
But what if we turn to look at the world? In America, most girls are expected to at least graduate from high school. In other countries, education takes a backseat very early in life. But simply helping girls receive an education can drastically reduce child marriage, even with only 7 years of education. A basic education can give girls in developing countries a three times less likely chance to contract HIV. We have to think about the girls in our own country, but also we have to look for a world created by and for girls’ education.
We can’t just look at access to education as the problem. The climate of society is not in favor of girls. When women are being mutilated and killed in Juarez, Mexico and 80% of human trafficking victims are girls, something has got to give. When we are willing to turn a blind eye to what is happening to girls around the world, we enter the dangerous zone of being accomplices. We should not be the accomplices of human traffickers or murderers, we should be the helpers of educating these girls. We cannot change the world on our own, but we sure can help take steps in that direction.
I was always a bright student that worked extremely hard in school, but I grew up in a society that is confused by smart women. I began to realize that I wasn’t expected to be smart; it wasn’t the most important part of who I was. People began treating my education and my hard work as a bonus to being “such a cute little girl.” But somehow, the smartest boy in my class was not treated any different. I fight for recognition of my brain instead of my body each and every day. And many days, I failed. It’s an exhausting battle, and all we want is an opportunity—a chance to put our brains on display. To grow, to learn, to become the best us we can be.
A friend of mine was told as child that she shouldn’t be able to read books ahead of her grade level because “if we let her get ahead, she will always be ahead.” There was an acquaintance I knew in high school who always said, “There are beautiful girls and nice girls in this world.” When I was upset about a test that I thought didn’t go well, a former boyfriend told me, “Don’t worry, you’ll succeed in life because you are a pretty face.” I spent my high school years having my words ignored but my body objectified; I could argue a brilliantly about civil rights in one class and be catcalled or touched without permission in the following passing period, no matter what I was wearing. After graduating from high school in the top five in my class, I was repeatedly asked, “So…are you going to college?” On the TV show “House,” Dr. House tells Cameron that she was hired because she was a beautiful girl who decided to become a doctor; she had to be damaged in some way. I reject these thoughts. I reject the idea that my worth as a human being is determined by what society has to say about my appearance. I reject the idea that my education should be determined by biology or by a narrow set of standards for my gender. Because:
I am not damaged.
I am not an anomaly.
I am not just a face.
I am not just a body.
I have a soul.
I have a heart.
I have a brain.
I am a human being.
And I deserve to be treated as such. And so do you. And so does each and every girl that lives on this earth. I hope you’re ready. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to win. If nothing else, it’s for the girls.