To Be Or Not To Be…A Girl

Take at International Day Of the Girl Conference: Girls Speak Our
My high school feminism classmates at the Girls Speak Out event at the UN for International Day of the Girl.

In my high school feminism class so far, I have experienced feminism through a different lens. Instead of interpreting feminism and feminist issues through myself and peers, I have begun to relate these issues to girls all over the world.

On October 9, I joined seven of my classmates from my high school feminism class at the International Day of The Girl Girls Speak Out held at the United Nations, where a group of girls performed a play where they read letters from girls around the world. Each letter was from a different girl from a different country with a different culture; and with that different culture was a different meaning for what it means to be a girl.

The letters came from Canada to Kenya. I heard stories about female genital-mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and girls education. Each of them were heart-wrenching stories about the injustices that girls face every day. 

For the girl from India, being a girl meant listening to her father and brothers, remaining silent when she was being sexually assaulted, and being invisible in the presence of men.

Though the girl from the United States was bright and persistent, being a girl meant being passive because “men don’t like girl leaders” and being a leader meant that was “being bossy” to others.

Hearing so many personal stories about being a girl made me reflect and ask myself, “What does being a girl mean to me?” What I found is that there are different rules and standards for being a girl depending on where I am and who I’m with.

Between my parents, there are different rules and standards for being a girl. When I’m with my traditional Colombian father, to be a girl is to “respetar,” to respect and whatever papi says goes. I have trouble with this rule because I am stubborn and I love a good debate. Our most common dispute is about how late I can stay out. This is a popular argument between teens and parents, but since I live in New York City, so it feels more complex. My father’s argument is that taking the train after 9 p.m. alone becomes more dangerous because he believes I am more at risk for being assaulted or raped. As a result of his theory, when I am staying at my father’s house, if I am staying out past 8 or 9, he must pick me up.

To be a girl with my father means that I am fragile and vulnerable. Often heard phrases from my father include, “siera tus piernas,” close your legs; “sientate bien,” sit properly; “portate bien,” behave yourself; and the famous deep sigh and the drawn out “Amaliaaaa” when I fail to follow his instructions. Under my father’s roof, there is a pressure to be proper and polite.

When I watched the documentary India’s Daughter with him, a film about Jyoti Singh’s brutal rape in India, he was so appalled at the extreme levels of misogyny and rape culture that he shed a few tears.

At one point in the the film, one man says, “we have the best culture, in our culture there is no place for a woman,” my father mumbled “que horrible,” how horrible. At the end of the film he told me in Spanish, “Now you understand why I don’t let you stay out at night, look what can happen.”

Last week when students from China came to visit the my school, LREI, and sat in our feminism class, we asked them what it meant to be a girl or boy in Shanghai. I provided the example of what it means to be a girl when I’m with my dad and a student explained that Chinese customs and values sound very similar to Colombian customs and traditions on issues of gender. I found it interesting how countries on opposite sides of the world have the same rules and standards for girls.

In my mother’s house, being a girl is completely different. My mother is a strong, brave, powerful, independent woman and single mother. From an early age, I was always exposed to feminism and she made it important to me. From a young age, my mother taught me that some things will be harder to achieve as a girl and woman but that I could achieve them with hard work because she had. Because of my mother, I have become the don’t-take-shit-from-nobody type of person because that is exactly what she is. She has taught me that I have to do my best at everything I do to prove that I can do anything a boy can do. It was my mother who encouraged me to try new sports and to be involved in student government.

From living mostly with my mother, I learned to always be myself no matter what people think of me. When I’m not trying my best in school she reminds me of the privilege I have as a girl who is receiving an education from a progressive private school. To be a girl with my mom means I am brave, powerful, and independent.

He Named Me Malala movie Poster
     He Named Me Malala movie poster (photo credit:

Earlier in October, I went with my mom to see the documentary He Named Me Malala about the life of Malala Yousafzai, the famous activist who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out about girls’ education and is now winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  I went with my mom because she is a strong believer in equal education for girls and boys, and is also a professional in the field of education.

At the end of the film, I turned to my mother and watched her wipe away tears. She told me that she could not imagine living in a place where my education would be deprived solely based on my gender. The conversation about our feelings towards the film continued. After asking my mom what her favorite part of the movie was, she said, “It wasn’t a specific scene but showing how powerful young people can be really got to me.” My mom encourages me to be a powerful young person like Malala.

In the film, when Malala says, “there is no difference between a man and a woman,” I believe that my mother lives by those words. I can easily say that without my mother’s kick-ass attitude and stubborn nature,  I would not be the outspoken feminist and activist I am today.

There is no set definition to what it means to be a girl and even in our modern society, a girl doesn’t need female genitalia to identify as a girl. To be a girl (or boy) is not only about gender but also about we act, speak, sit, walk, live, and love. 


8 thoughts on “To Be Or Not To Be…A Girl

  1. My favorite part of your post is where you quote your mom saying, “how powerful young people can be really got to [her]” because in this course I have learned about the power each of us possess. When I heard Malala speak at the Global Citizens Festival in Central Park, her words inspired me to tap into my (girl!) power. I feel that as high school students we often told by greater society that we cannot make changes or that we do not know enough but we can and we do!

  2. what you say about what your fathers ideas of what a girl is made me think a lot. and a lot of what he says are things that you would do in response to something else. I don’t know your father, but I know a lot of other girls who just know about oppression but don’t know what to do about it say to be polite to men because nobody knows what they can do to you. it sounds like he’s trying to protect you, it sounds similar to the idea of teaching girls how to not get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape. we need to change this mindset though.

  3. Amalia, your post is so empowering. Just by reading it, I can feel how intensely personal this is to you. I love your analysis of the gender roles you have grown up in and how you were able to connect that to the experiences of girls all around the world and then to “He Named Me Malala”. Ending with your mom’s words on how powerful young people can be was so powerful.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog post because it gave several examples of what it means to be a girl in the world. Your blog post really shows that there is not set definition to being a girl and the personal stories that you included shows how in between one family, everyone can have their own meaning and interpretations of how a girl should act, what a girl should do, and much more.

  5. I really liked the contrast you gave between your father’s house and your mother’s house. I could definitely connect to the argument of the train being dangerous for girls after 9pm in New York City, because me and my mom have this argument all of the time. I find as I get older, though, my mother seems to realize more that I’m not as fragile as society, and a lot of men, see women. I wonder if that will ever happen with you father, or any father who feels that way…?

  6. Love your blog post! I’m really intrigued by the drastic contrasts between your mother and father’s understandings of how girls should be treated. I really liked the way that you emphasized that your father’s sexism stemmed from genuine concern, while also analyzing why that concern exists in the first place.

  7. I loved how you showed how unique each girls experience as a girl really is! You showed how different others opinions can be about how a girl should act and be treated. Its shows there is no one true way to be a girl. Using your own life as an example was also really powerful.

  8. I love your post! I really like your personal examples in this piece. Talking about the differences in views between your mother and father in raising a girl and how girls should act. I also think its brave of you to talk about how there is not just one type and definition of a girl.

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