As a seventeen year old girl, I have struggled with bulimia for the last seven years. I have friends who have struggled with depression, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and more. All of my friends and I have been cat-called on the street. This is just our reality. Sharing these painful stories with all of our peers is something we never thought we would do.
Earlier this fall, my feminism class led an assembly for our entire high school, Elisabeth Irwin High School. We touched on a lot of topics, such as #BlackLivesMatter, global education, and toxic masculinity. The section of the assembly that I worked on, and that made an impact on me the most, was on body shaming and rape culture. There were a few girls, including myself, who shared personal stories about being a girl today. The stories ranged from being molested to street harassment to my story about my struggle with bulimia. Reading these stories in front of 200 people was not only nerve-wracking but also empowering.
Sharing stories that other teenage girls and boys could relate to felt like I was really making a change in the world. After our assembly, I had friends coming up to me and telling me how powerful our stories were and how much they felt they could connect to them. I even had one of my friends tell me she had to walk out of the room because she was so moved.
The next day, ten of us girls from our high school feminism class went to the Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl. There was a group of teenage girls from the Working Group on Girls who ran the event by reading letters and personal stories sent in from girls around the world. I now realize how powerful and moving it must’ve been for my friends and teachers to hear me share my story during our school’s International Day of the Girl assembly.
I’ve heard students in my school tell personal stories during assemblies before, and sometimes they’d make me feel sad or happy, but never felt like I wanted to get up and do something about the issue they were talking about. Listening to these girls’ stories from around the world made me want to do something in that very moment. The stories that were read fell into about six different categories: education, gender equality, health and sanitation, climate change, violence against girls, and girls leadership.
The stories that pulled me in the most were the stories that had to do with rape culture and body shaming. 1 in 5 women have been a victim of rape or attempted rape in the US. Though I knew rape and rape culture are critical issues in our country, and I’ve even experienced it myself, I didn’t know it was that common. It made me angry.
Shannon Ridgway talks about rape culture being directly connected to the way we think about rape in our society in an article she wrote for the blog, Everyday Feminism. In our society, “situations in which sexual assault, rape, and general violence are ignored, trivialized, normalized or made into jokes.”
At the Girls Speak Out event, the girls talked about how rape, which happens all too often, is not being taken seriously. The girls also made it known that this issue not only happens in this country but also around the globe.
Throughout the event, I wrote pages of notes with quotes and statistics, each one fueling my anger while making me sad at the same time.
But as I sat there and looked over my notes, I realized I also felt empowered. I felt the urge to get up and do something about the issues they were talking about. In that moment, I suddenly realized how the audience at our school assembly felt while listening to our personal stories. When one girl said, “I am not just a girl. I AM A GIRL,” I felt like I could do absolutely anything.
Looking back on both our assembly and the Girls Speak Out event at the UN, I noticed there were a lot of things we did similarly when it came to reading our personal stories.
Though we were not as confident and theatrical when reading our stories, we each read them with emotion that, I think really transferred across the room. Both events also used the power of numbers and statistics intertwined with personal storytelling.
I loved the Girls Speak Out event because it allowed me to hear global girls’ stories. But in some ways, our International Day of the Girl assembly was more powerful because it made an impact on our friends. Some of them are our best friends. It’s always hard to hear the struggles your best friend has gone through.
Both events made me realize that, no matter how nerve-wracking or uncomfortable sharing your story is, it’s important. Otherwise, there will be girls around the world thinking they’re alone, and they’re not. The issues will continue, and nothing will get solved if we don’t speak out and use our stories to change our society.