I was brought up to be a strong woman by a family full of strong women - we often joke that between my great-grandma, grandma and his 5 daughters, my grandpa long ago gave up trying to win an argument or get a word in edge-wise. My grandpa was a farmer in a line of farmers. My grandma also came from a family of farmers that traces roots back to Ireland - another home of strong women. They had 5 daughters and my mom was the oldest. With 18 years between the oldest and the youngest, my aunt was only 2 years old when I came along so I was raised sort of as one of the sisters as much as a niece.
Traditionally the boys in the family would help with the farming but since there were no boys and the girls were strong-willed and outdoor-loving, they took active roles in keeping the farm and family afloat. There were no boys to do the heavy lifting or get the tractor un-stuck or change the tire or come rescue the girls from whatever crisis might arise. So they learned how to do it themselves. Every one of the girls in my family can drive a tractor, stack hay bales on the hay wagon, shovel cow crap, run a power tool, swing a hammer, slam in a fence post, pull a feisty horse into a trailer, shoot a woodchuck, handle a gun or bow and arrow, etc.
Growing up this was so empowering to me. It felt good to know I could be resourceful when I didn't have exactly the right thing on hand. To know I could think for myself and protect myself without relying on someone else to give me direction or do it for me. When I went off to college I didn't have to wonder how I would make it work - I knew I would figure it out as it went if I needed to - and that has served me well my whole life.
As a girl and as a mother, it brings me literal pain every time I see and hear injustices to girls. The way the girls are suppressed, depressed, degraded, disregarded, discarded by other societies and other people really truly bothers me to my core. I have had moments of this in certain situations where I have felt that sort of momentary treatment at the hands of others and I can't imagine living a lifetime of it. I can't imagine not being able to stand up for my daughter and fight for her. I can't imagine selling her off to marriage, pregnancy, sexual slavery because I don't know what to do. I can't imagine my bright little bookworm not being able to go to school - she didn't even like staying home while she was sick. I can't imagine so many horrific things girls of all ages are suffering all over the world.
Oppression of women in all forms is not a thing of the past, but very much present and it even seems to be more prevalent closer to home as times continue to be a struggle. We see how badly the oppressors want to succeed - so badly that it even involves terrorists targeting small girls for their blogging. And oppressors aren't just terrorists overseas - they are the bullies, the mean girls, the gossip mongers in the office, those who would throw each other under the bus to climb the professional ladder, sisters making fun of each other's weight, the father who critiques his daughter's eating habits, the mother who is too scarce with approval of hair and makeup and friends, the teacher who has no explanation so calls the student stupid.
My daughter had a girl in her class who she had known since they were 4. It was apparent early on that this girl had family issues and was being raised by her grandparents. She took a lot of her frustrations out on classmates and was very hot/cold from one day to the next. She would often sidle up to me seeking affection and acknowledgement as I was there to drop off or pick up my daughter. When I went along on field trips she would often snuggle up to me for the bus ride. But I noticed that this some days turned to anger toward my daughter who got the affection she was obviously missing at home. As the girls got a little older I tried to explain to my daughter that "F" didn't have a family that was like ours and sometimes she might act in anger because she missed not having that. My daughter was very thoughtful about this and made extra efforts to be friendly and inclusive. One day on the bus, "F" dropped a note that she was writing addressed to her mother. At first she was very embarrassed that Princess saw this note. Then she explained that it was to her mom who was in jail and had been for a few years and how her dad had told her he didn't want anything to do with her. My daughter was so bothered by this because she could just not imagine. She sat down that night and wrote a beautiful poem to "F" as if it came from her mother talking about how beautiful and special "F" was and how much her mother missed and loved her. I did my heart good to see my child have such compassion toward a girl who had not always been very nice to her.
I have mentioned before how I admire Natalie Morales and so I was very happy to see her selected by Plan International as the champion for this Day of the Girl and I think she is a shining example to women. I hope you will join this effort and spread the word and celebrate women, not just today but every time you interact with a girl. We all face so many struggles of all kinds and you never know what the struggle inside another girl might be or how you might touch them. To follow along with the buzz on Twitter, use #bciamagirl or follow @bciamagirl. You can also visit Because I Am A Girl USA.