By Natalie Wight
Photo by Crystal Rivera
Art by Mariposa Art Company
Every person’s voice and story deserves to be heard.
Allowing space for the unique perspectives of those who have been silenced opens the door to enormous personal, social, and political growth, and is an integral part of creating equity for future generations.
This was the main lesson I learned during a women’s study course I took last year before graduating high school.
According to a survey by writer and radio producer Jake Halpern that looked at the impact of celebrity culture on attitudes among high school age youth, 43.6 percent of girls chose working as an assistant to a famous singer or movie star rather than becoming a Navy Seal, a senator, a CEO or the president of a major university as their career choice.
This troubling statistic is reflective of the commonly held belief among too many women: they can’t become successful or hold leadership positions. It is a view that stems from societal perceptions of what women should be that are perpetuated across communities and generations.
“As far as we’ve come, all too often we are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave,” wrote former President Obama in an essay published in Glamour Magazine.
In it, the president explains his feminism, saying, “In my lifetime we’ve gone from a job market that basically confined women to a handful of often poorly paid positions to a moment when women not only make up roughly half the workforce but are leading in every sector, from sports to space, from Hollywood to the Supreme Court.”
Maybe even president.
But the biggest and “most toughest” change, he says, is “changing ourselves.”
Which is why integrating women’s studies – and other social science classes like ethnic studies – is so important.
Did you know that during the American Revolution a sixteen-year-old named Sybil Ludington rode twice as far as Paul Revere in stormy weather to deliver the message that the British troops were on their way? Ludington has received little to no recognition in history classes while Paul Revere is a household name.
By taking a women’s studies class I learned about her and many more influential women in U.S. and world history, as well as the social issues that affect women. Our discussions around teen pregnancy, drugs, healthy relationships, and bullying have all had a huge impact on my perception of the world, and I know these discussions have profoundly affected other students as well. Many of my classmates came from families where such topics are rarely, if ever, talked about.
There are those who argue that including women’s or ethnic studies classes to school curriculum is an unnecessary expense, or a distraction from the more traditional courses like math and science. But I disagree. Including these classes will allow students to learn about others like themselves who have accomplished monumental things.
As Dee Myers, the first woman press secretary of the White House, wrote, “Seeing is believing.” Sometimes all it takes to inspire the next transformative leader is the confidence of knowing that someone with a similar life experience has helped changed the world.