By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 15, 2018
The story of four Grade 5 students at Archie Stouffer Elementary School being proactive in finding a solution to their conflict is an inspiring one. It was because of their efforts and support of adults in their lives that more than 50 girls came together in a supportive and safe space for the FearlesslyGiRL summit – many entered the room shyly but left with more confidence and a drive to make change and it was powerful to witness.
Kate Whitfield, speaker, author and founder of the Fearlessly GiRL school assembly program, assessed the feelings of the girls in the room by asking questions to which they would raise their hands.
“How many of you notice the things you don’t like about yourself first when you look in the mirror?”
“How many of you laugh and smile and pretend you’re OK when you’re really hurting inside?”
“How many of you don’t speak your mind because you’re worried about what others will think?”
More than 3/4 of the girls in the room raised their hands to each of those questions. Many said they had been bullied, judged unfairly, and felt that they weren’t good enough. And most said they had regretted doing something unkind to another person.
Encouraging our girls to celebrate and support each other instead of tearing each other down, and helping to educate boys, who deal with unique pressure in their own lives, how to treat girls and women, ensures our youth might just see a fairer world in their lifetimes.
We as adults – men and women – need to help. We need to support girls in their efforts, encourage them to speak their truth, remind them their voice matters and consider how our own words and actions might be contributing to the problem.
We need to think about the language we use. Let’s stop calling little girls cute and adorable – in fact, let’s refrain from making their appearance the focus at all. Let’s not tell girls that a boy hit her because he likes her, or suggest that because she’s friends with a boy, she must be getting married to him one day. Let’s not assume we know what she likes or wants because of her gender.
But most importantly, let’s think about the way we treat other adults, other women – whether it be in public, behind closed doors, in private conversation or in a public online forum – because everyone deserves respect, and because our boys and our girls are watching and they are learning.
The more we help change the narrative that girls need to be saved or rescued by boys, the more we help lift each other up, the more the next generation will, as Whitfield said, blaze a trail, stand up for each other and make some really big changes.
It was Grade 4 student Dana Kehler at the end of the conference that induced goosebumps when she said, “All of my fears about being a girl are gone.”
Our words and actions must make this a reality for girls and women – all of us beautiful, messy, complicated humans – in our own lives.