Throughout the course of this series, as well as the on-going discussions of sexism in the YA — and larger — world, I’ve struggled with what it is I wanted to end “About the Girls” talking about. For a while, I thought doing a piece on mentoring would be worthwhile. How often are we seeing depictions of mentorships in YA fiction, where a teen girl has a solid grown-up female in her corner? There are some, but there certainly aren’t a whole lot of them.
Then I wondered about how worthwhile it would be to talk about how we build those sorts of relationships with the teens in our lives. How can librarians, educators, and those who are advocates for teenagers arm girls with the knowledge and power to become strong, independent, vocal, and ready for what lies ahead? We can model, we can teach, and we can empower them by talking about our own experiences with adversity and how we stood up and kept fighting.
But what happens when we as adult females, those who have the ability to help mold and shape future girl leaders, are ourselves struggling with these very questions? If we ourselves are fighting with feeling inadequate, with feeling as though the battle is not worth continuing, with hitting wall after wall after wall, what sort of encouragement remains to share?
In the last month, I’ve received numerous threats. I’ve had incredible feminist friends and colleagues share with me similar stories, that they’ve received threats. In the midst of it, I’ve wondered about my role in all of this. Whether speaking up and using my voice is even worth it when I know there will be consequences for doing just that. For doing the thing I encourage other people to do in order to make any strides toward change. Just this week, a man took it upon himself to write a lengthy blog post talking about my choices, my decisions, my words, and my actions, calling for me to be fired from my job for simply … doing my job.
I’ve struggled with a lot of fear over the last few weeks. Not just for myself. Not just for those friends and colleagues who’ve been supportive of me and who’ve told me what they’re experiencing. I’m fearful that, no matter how many steps forward we do make, that the change we want to see won’t happen. That, even when we are able to point to instances of sexism, our voices will still be summarily dismissed. Because we’re female. But also because those we most want to change, the ones we point to as illuminating the problems, aren’t going to be convinced to do so no matter how loud we shout and no matter how hard we fight. Those who are benefiting from the system don’t want to step back and assess the privileges that allow them that power.
Yet, in dismantling that fear bit by bit, I’ve come to discover what’s worth talking about and what’s worth wrapping up this series with, and that’s this: things can, do, and will change loudly and quietly, on the daily, in ways we see, and ways we won’t.
This is how: for every one person who makes a sexist comment and is called out for it, more than one person is seeing that discussion and reassessing how they’re talking. They’re rethinking each word they’re using when they type a comment on a blog post or they’re reassessing what voices they’re amplifying in their social spaces. They’re stepping back and listening much more closely to women, to people of color, to those with disabilities, and anyone from a disadvantaged class of people.
The root of change, big and small, comes from people willing to listen, whether they’re loud or not.
Those who are making changes, who are reconsidering their words and actions, aren’t immediately quantifiable. Being a good ally comes in many forms.
As much as it’s not fun to be called every name in the book, and as much as it’s not fun to go into a discussion knowing that you’re not going to change the minds of those arguing with you, perhaps it’s easier to do so going in with the knowledge that change isn’t always immediately visible and those who aren’t actively speaking may still be affecting it in the ways they can.
Thousands and thousands of people read the “About the Girls” posts these last two weeks. They were shared hundreds of times. But there were only a few comments, comparatively. If a single post has 15 comments in one day, that looks great, especially when the comments are positive, thought-provoking, and encouraging. But when you know the post had over 7,000 hits in that same day, that 15 looks like a tiny number.
So what of those over 6,000 some readers that day?
They’re being changed, too.
Whether they’re capable of speaking up about it, whether they’re capable of putting new thoughts into actions immediately, is something that’s impossible to know. But it’s not impossible to believe it. Perhaps some didn’t speak out because of fear. Perhaps some don’t speak up because they’re sitting back and listening. Perhaps more are doing what it is I hope for when I put this series together: they’re finally asking the question “what about the girls?” and inserting themselves and their experiences, their powers, and their understandings into being the sorts of mentors and role models that the younger girls in their lives so desperately need.
I’m still fearful when I speak up. I always hesitate when I call something out. There’s almost always some sort of repercussion for doing so, most of which comes privately and in ways that aren’t going to be out there for general consumption.
But when I speak up, I do so on behalf of those who don’t, and I do so to show other girls, my contemporaries and those who are still growing, be they younger or older, that speaking up matters. That the act in and of itself is a powerful and empowering one.
Even if change isn’t obvious.
Keep asking about the girls.
Keep wondering how we can do better so that they, too, can do better.