Turning Silence into Action: One Boy’s Reflection on International Day of the Girl

Here I am reading a poem I wrote for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).
Here I am reading a poem I wrote for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

When I first learned that our feminism class was going to be sharing our intersectionality essays in front of the whole school for International Day of the Girl, my heart skipped a beat.  It was not that I hadn’t been proud of my work, but rather, I did not feel comfortable sharing what I had written in front of the whole school;  it was hard enough reading aloud to the class during our workshops.

But after watching a video introduced to us by our feminism teacher,  Ileana Jiménez, I looked at sharing my poem on intersectionality in a whole new way.  The video was about a girl named Malala, and as Jon Stewart put it when she was on his show, she is an “inspiration to all of us.”  When Malala came on The Daily Show, she brought a sense of enlightenment.  The love she transferred from the screen went into the hearts of many around the world.  She is so proud of what she stands for: the education of girls and young women around the world.

After watching her video speaking at the UN, I was amazed.  Her voice is so strong, even after the Taliban shot her last year. During her speech at the UN, the crowd was in absolute awe.  Her confidence and maturity are truly magnificent. After learning a bit about Malala, and watching some more clips of her speaking, I had completely changed my mind about reading at our assembly.  I realized how much change you can make by speaking up.  By spreading awareness, change can happen.  

When I was reading my poem in front of the school, I looked around and saw faces that had questions.  People wanted to learn more about girls around the world, which was the best possible reaction we could have gotten as a class.  I have been to assemblies during which people are dozing off and playing on their phones, but we received a completely different reaction.  Turning language into action feels great, and I am now more encouraged to speak up. Here is the poem I read during the assembly:

Race, class, gender

What do they really mean?

Embedded in each other

While separated by a screen

Black white, rich, poor, boy, girl, even they

Straight, cute, ugly, pretty, fat, skinny, even gay

Why can’t we all just play

Why do transgender people get killed?

Why do people rape? I simply don’t see the thrill

You can’t be a slut if someone slipped you a pill

It’s time for us to take action, I’m done sitting still

During one of our feminism classes, I was introduced to Statistics Used In Girl Rising.  One of the facts featured on this resource says: “66 million girls are out of school globally.”  I asked my teacher about the source of these statistics and felt that it couldn’t possibly be true.  What I soon found out was that these facts were all true, and that this was not the worst.

Other statistics included, “In a single year, an estimated 150 million girls are victims of sexual violence” and “a girl with an extra year of education can earn 2% more as an adult.”  I was shocked, confused, and speechless.  The first reason was because I couldn’t believe some of these things were happening in the world, and second, that I had not heard these facts before.

As I have reflected on this class, I have started to realize that if I had not read these statistics before, then neither have a lot of people.  If people do not know what is going on, there is nothing for them to change, and therefore there will be no change.  People need to take action, but we have to spread the word first.

Even by writing this blog post, I am informing the public about certain problems that I believe need to be further examined and ultimately changed. In a piece called “The Transformation of Silence into Action” by Audre Lorde, it reads,

In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear, fear of contempt, or some judgement.

African American feminist activist Jasmine Burnett visited our feminism class this fall (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).
African American feminist activist Jasmine Burnett visited our feminism class this fall (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

People are often scared to speak up because they are scared of being judged.  In the past, I have felt that I act differently in different environments.  When black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett came to our class, she asked us what we would do if we knew that no one would judge us. Some students said they would dress differently, but I think this question goes a lot deeper.  I think she was trying to ask, what do you want to do?

I know that this question sounds simple, but doing what you want to do is not simple. When a gay couple walks down the street, they have to worry about people following them and being harassed.  When an African-American walks into a store, they are often followed by staff to make sure they do not take anything.

Sometimes we let things go by, and we do not even notice them.  I have made it my mission to act. From now on, when I see something I don’t agree with, I am not going to let it slide, but instead, by putting myself in their shoes, I can make a difference.  I want to turn my silence into action.

16 thoughts on “Turning Silence into Action: One Boy’s Reflection on International Day of the Girl

  1. I like how you talk about the reaction of the audience during our intersectionality assembly. It is important to see what kind of impact our class has within our own community. We should be proud of our speaking up and spreading awareness. It is also really interesting how you say you had never heard of some of the statistics from “Girl Rising,” so you know many others probably haven’t either; even more of a reason for us to stand up!

  2. Max, I am proud of you for taking a stand on this topic. Your poem was effective and to the point. Your comments on the subject came from your heart, and I’m happy to be your grandma and can share in your outspoken opinion with confidence In what you believe in.

  3. Max, I was really inspired by your post. Your poem exemplified what is one of the most important thing to do when becoming a citizen in this world which is to question why are we oppressed for pursuing our hopes, dreams, desires even our own lives? Why can’t we just be? That is a lesson that we all need to ponder on the next time we catch ourselves making fun of someone or criticizing someones lifestyle.

  4. My favorite lines in the blog post were “I want to turn my silence into action” and “It’s time for us to take action, I’m done sitting still” from your poem. I love how Malala was an inspiration for you to get up and read your essay. I was surprised to hear that you were nervous because it seems like you are not afraid of big crowds. I look forward in reading more about the actions you are taking.

  5. I’ve probably told you before but I like your poem and all the intersectional issues it brings up in such a small amount of space. I think you do a good job of high lighting people’s differences and the action you want to take against discrimination. The action you want to take is clear through the entirety of your post.

  6. I can definitely agree with with wanting to take action. There is nothing more empowering than even telling someone calling someone a “slut” for example is not okay. We all hear that a single person can make a difference but it takes true guts to believe it and act on this belief.

  7. I was also very terrified about sharing my piece in public and the pressure seemed intense but our Feminism class being on stage together lightened the weight. In terms of International Day of the Girl, Malala is amazing. As you quoted in your piece she is an, “inspiration for us all”. I admire her fierce advocacy for universal education for females despite the consequences she might face from the Taliban. She embodies what it means to be truly empowered.

  8. Great post Max! I was also very nervous to read at the assembly, but I am so happy that I did. I feel like as a class we really transformed silence into action! While I enjoy reading it again, I think it was very powerful when you read it at the assembly because it made people really start to think about intersectionality on a more personal level. It is so important to take action when you see injustice, but sometimes it can be very difficult to do so. The fear of how others will react can often cloud our judgement. I hope in the future we both will be able to stand up when we see injustice and live our lives as if no one were to judge us.

  9. Great Post. I think your poem was a really crucial part of the assembly we did. I’ve said it before in class but there are certain things that offend us in a good way. When we were reading “If Men Could Menstruate” there were pats that were really powerful and really offended me. Your poem had the same feeling in a sense. It was so powerful and so out there that you just had to listen because everything you were saying was true and you were not going to wait for someone else to say it.

  10. I can relate very well with your story. Meeting the audience’s approval, or even simply capturing its attention, is the greatest struggle for a speaker; I think that the amount of stimuli and information that we continuously receive in this situation play in our disadvantage. I agree that the statistics are astonishing and that most of us are not aware of them unfortunately; how can this happen, given the numbers they involve? Shouldn’t we be able to see it directly? Wouldn’t more people be concerned about them? One can hide in his own ignorance, or in the lack of participation and interest that he perceives in others. These silences, in the confusion of disorganized information, are where one can hide, and it is essential to eliminate them. I admire that you made it your mission to act; I think that the next step is to develop an effective way of communicating what matters to you the most about the issue, making it stand out with your interest and dedication. Your passion and the example of your poem may inspire others as you were inspired by Malala’s confidence and courage.

  11. I know that you were very nervous about speaking at the assembly and I am glad to see that you pulled through. I find it very moving that you have decided to take on such a large role in issues that may directly effect groups you may or may not be apart of. I think through your piece readers can see that activism for many different issues have many different supporters and that there isn’t a cookie cutter activist. I also really like that you are using your gift of words to turn your silence into action.

  12. I really like your determination to turn silence into action, and it’s really interesting to see this piece through a boy’s point of view. It’s almost as it you’ve finally woken up and I feel the same way. I really like the last line in your poem: “It’s time for us to take action, I’m done sitting still” and I could not agree more.

  13. Max, I really appreciate your passion for turning silence into action. I think that you are leading by example, and your courage to be apart of the fight for equality for all of those who are oppressed, is very inspiring. Your poem is also very touching and I can tell that you really meant what you wrote. I also find your article engaging because I often hear about feminism through the lens of women, and hearing your perspective as a young man is a nice change.

  14. Your poem? EXCELLENT! I admire how you have been and continue to use your voice for change and have made it your “mission to act.” It takes a lot of awareness to notice oppression and inequality, and even more courage to speak out against it. I agree that is time to cease “sitting still.”

  15. I really appreciated your line, “If people do not know what is going on, there is nothing for them to change, and therefore there will be no change.” I completely agree with this, and I, too, was inspired to speak out by Malala’s strength, as well as her pride in what she stands for. I think you did an incredible job of “turning silence into action” with your poem, which is both informative and captivating. It is also a great example of how we can use music and other forms of media to spread awareness, and therefore be a part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem.

  16. Max that poem is fabulous! I think it embodies so many issues that we are trying to fight and also how society portrays them. Even though you don’t say a lot in class I believe you have so many interesting thoughts to share and this poem really shows it. I also think its so great that your taking this class. All boys should take a feminism course. You are taking the first step to understanding oppression that girls experience and you want to change it. I think it is so great that you have made it your “mission” to make a change. You should be proud of yourself!

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