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What About Her Achievements, Her Character, Her Voice?

22 August 2012 One Comment

Shae Keane (left) with Iqra Ahmad (right), president of East Tennessee State University Student Government Organization. Johnson City, TN.

Shae Keane
Nashville, Tennessee USA

“How are women to overcome the message that only their body matters and realize that their voice, their spirit, their mind matters more?”

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A young toddler looks up at her mother as she watches her brothers’ soccer game. “I wish God had made me a boy,” she says. Astonished by such a statement, her mom responds, “Why is that?” She points her small finger and replies, “Because I want to do that.” Her mom answers, “Well, of course you can be a soccer player, honey.” She shakes her head and continues to point. “No, I want to do what he is doing.”

She was pointing not at the soccer players, but at the soccer coach – a position of leadership. The coach was a man.

I continue to be shocked by stories like this that are still highly prevalent in the 21st century. Where in the world are these messages coming from? Perhaps the better question is: Where are they not?

The negative messages that are conveyed to women both culturally and socially are highly destructive, but in an insidious manner. Because these messages are usually omnipresent, in multiple communicative forms, they are oftentimes difficult to identify and even harder to address. It is not as if I can pull off the highway, pull over to the billboard I’d read that says, “Sometimes it is okay to throw rocks at girls” with diamonds surrounding it, and replace it with something that says, “Her spirit, her mind, her beautiful heart shine brighter than any diamond.” It is not as if I can take the Barbie out of little girls’ hands and re-mold her plastic standard of “beauty” to even begin to represent a real human being. It is not as if I can pick up the phone and call the radio station to tell them to bleep out the words of a song that are overtly denigrating to every female person such as the hit a few years ago that stated, “Shush, girl, shut your lips, do the Helen Keller, and talk with your hips.” Better yet, to request that they replace it with messages that honor women’s dignity and potential, like India Arie’s lyrics, “The next time the radio tells you to ‘shake your money maker,’ shake your head and tell them, tell them you’re a leader.” It is not as if I can go through every magazine while waiting in the checkout line and tear out all the advertising images of a woman’s body that suggests she is nothing more than  that – a body. Difficult though it may be, we can still always take action to create change in different, creative ways, but it is certainly not easy.

Messages like these hurt everyone, women and men. If a huge percent of the population is being excluded, then a huge percent of potential is being erased, forgotten, limited, and culturally misled. If a three-year-old determines that she is not a leader, what are certain gender-biased messages doing to young women who could be beginning their lifetime of leadership and contribution in the world? And how are they to discover that it is their place – that one was not created to lead while the other sits on the sidelines and cheers? How are women to overcome the message that only their body matters and realize that their voice, their spirit, their mind matters more?

"We took this because we realized how many boundaries were being crossed...a Hispanic-American woman, a Zambian woman, a Pakistani-American woman, and a Euro-American woman- representing all different backgrounds, all working united as women for the same cause."

Sustainable peace cannot be achieved in an environment of globally endemic discrimination – of any kind. Though I can speak only from my experience as a white woman in the United States, gender-based discrimination is, I believe, the most consistent, anywhere I go. Peace is based in inclusion of all sorts: of experience, of thought, of color, of sexual/ affectional orientation, of expression, of age, of religion, of political/ ideological views, of men and women.

My roommate just won student body president at our university. After the announcement of this great achievement, it was not uncommon to hear one of the male students state, “The new President is hot.” One of her first formal invitations to events was addressed to “Mr. President,” and several more of assumed gender were to follow. Some of her first congratulatory remarks were from men in leadership who said, “Who would have known our President would have such a pretty face?”

What about her achievements? What about her tremendous contribution to our university? What about her voice for peace and justice? What about her character and outstanding leadership? Her “face” outweighs mention of all of the components of what makes her an incredible individual?

Awareness is spreading, and change is happening every day, and so I join the movement, and I look forward to the day when those letterheads aren’t set in stone – when whoever sends those letters will know that perhaps the president is a man, but she might just as well be a woman. I think it is then that the world shall truly create sustainable peace; I think it is then that every small girl will look out at that soccer coach or university president or head of state, or parliamentarian or lawyer or preacher and say, “I am so glad God made me a girl. I am going to be that leader one day.”

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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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One Comments to “What About Her Achievements, Her Character, Her Voice?”
  1. Mercy Paegar says:

    Awesome work Shae.. I trust you make a difference and even better!! Joyfully awaits your arrival in Liberia so that we can work together..

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