In the last few weeks, we have heard much about the International Day of the Girl Child. The very fact that today exists, under U.N. declaration no less, is a huge step forward for girls across the world in terms of garnering recognition and gathering momentum for real change. Girls’ Globe is a huge supporter of the International Day of the Girl Child, and we’ve previously posted about why we need International Day of the Girl Child, how to get involved as well as resources to educate yourself about the state of girls around the world.
As women, we have an especially vested interest in furthering the cause of girls around the world. Not only for the fact that we were once girls ourselves, but because the young girls of today are our daughters, our granddaughters and our successors and will be responsible for carrying on the work we have started. In 1996, Nora Ephron, known for her wit, humour and candor regarding womanhood, gave a commencement speech to the Wellesly graduating class which emphasized the importance women have in defining not only their own lives, but those of the girls following behind them.
Ephron was unafraid to admit that the world, advanced though it may now be, is still in many ways hostile towards its women and girls. Speaking to the class, she stated:
What I’m saying is, don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don’t let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you — there’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the work force trick you — there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents.
Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn’t serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you — whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.
Ephron’s ability to admit the obstacles we still face is both refreshing and intimidating. The idea that we have not yet achieved quality, after so much time and effort, is an uncomfortable one, especially when it is possible to trick ourselves into the illusion of equality through the progress some countries have made. But if we are living in a world where gendercide is still commonplace, rape victims are still blamed for their assaults, young girls are still denied an education and sexual slavery is increasing, not decreasing, we still have a very long way to go.
Walking the fine line between unflinching honesty and encouragement, Ephron spoke to the Wellesly class of ’96 about their capacity to change the world for successive generations. And although her speech was aimed at a class of young professionals about to start their careers, her words apply to all of us; graduates, established careerwomen, mothers, grandmothers, across the spectrum of class, race and nationality. We have the power to improve the lives for the girls coming after us, and with that incredible power comes certain responsibility.
Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don’t have the alibi my class had — this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: unlike us, you can’t say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead. Twenty-five years from now, you won’t have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won’t be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: you will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.
Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women. Thank you. Good luck. The first act of your life is over. Welcome to the best years of your lives.
Photo Credit for the featured image: Elvert Barnes on Flickr (Creative Commons).