On Halloween, The New York Times published a column by a 10-year-old girl about the importance of encouraging girls to raise their hands in class.
Alice Paul Tapper (Yes, the daughter of CNN’s Jake Tapper) said she thought girls struggled to do so because they felt embarrassed if they got the answer wrong and feared not being seen. She found it was a common problem among all 12 of her Girl Scout friends.
Reading the column made me both happy and sad.
Happy because Alice and her troop took initiative and created the “Raise Your Hand” Girl Scout badge that has been adopted by troops across the nation. (To get it, the girl has to pledge to raise her hand in class and recruit three more girls to do the same.)
But sad because after doing some digging, I found this was a common problem even in university settings. And I knew this to be true. I thought of my last year of college, when a girl in my media law class whispered loudly for all to hear that the question I had asked was “stupid.”
I wanted to confront the girl about it, but I hesitated. I weighed the pros and cons. I wondered if I was being too dramatic and thought maybe she was having an off day.
But I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m not going to let it go.
There are too many girls like Alice who deserve a better school experience. And I’m guessing there are too many moms with similar memories.
We need to encourage girls to raise their hands, not shame them for it.
People like the girl who called my question “stupid” are the problem.
But that doesn’t have to be the end of it. If your daughter comes home with a story similar to mine, understand that it doesn’t have to scar her. It can motivate her.
But you have to know how to pave the path.
The comment should have hurt my feelings.
The girl didn’t know how hard I had worked to feel comfortable asking questions in class.
She didn’t know that each time I failed to understand something, the try-hard inside me crumbled.
She didn’t know that over the summer I read inspiring books to build my confidence. (Highly recommend “Big Magic” and “Daring Greatly,” by the way).
Her scornful comment should have hurt me.
But truth be told, it just pissed me off.
You see, what she did not know was that I had enrolled in a fair share of women’s history classes throughout college, and I was no longer raising my hand for myself alone.
What she did not know when she slighted me was that I carried the strength of every pioneering woman I learned about.
What she did not know was that I was armed with their tenacity and fueled by their oppression.
Mean comments don’t have to hurt your daughter, either.
I was and still am sick of the research that shows gender stereotypes persist.
I’m sick of that fact that men’s confidence outweighs women’s, even when they’re wrong.
I am sick of the fact that 54 percent of Americans think men are better sports coaches.
I am sick of the staggeringly low number of women in leadership positions.
And I am SICK of little girls like Alice Paul Tapper feeling like they have to be right before they can even fathom being heard.
What the girl did not know that day she hurled the insult at me was that I was raising my hand for all women before me and all women ahead of me, including her.
I would be damned if I ever resisted asking a question out of fear of retribution.
So to every mom looking to pave the path for her daughter’s resilience: Empower her with education. Let her know what she’s capable of. Teach her about the women who worked hard for her to be able to raise her hand. Tell her to never let them down.
Remember why we can’t let it go.
Comments like “that’s a stupid question” affect more people than the individual it’s directed toward. Those comments hurt anyone who hears them. It instills a lingering fear of judgment. It keeps people from asking break-through questions that change the world for the better.
While I feel my studies have made me resilient, to presume that I could never be affected would be naive. I’m proud of how strong I stand, but I know I am where I am because of other women who raise me up.
I truly hope that girl finds similar support.
Because she and all young girls today should know:
- The race to the top does not have to be a narrow one.
- Success is not a zero-sum game.
- If you learn to value yourself unconditionally, words won’t sting quite as much.
But when mean girls persist, here’s what the rest of us will do.
We’ll follow the likes of Alice and her Girl Scout troop.
We’ll make our ways to the top, and when we’re there, we’ll turn around and extend a hand to them, too.
We’ll teach our sons and daughters to be resilient in the face of adversity and compassionate in the face of vengeance. We’ll let go of anger and hope mean people change and never, ever give up on them.
Because that’s what strong, smart women do.