Challenge cynicism on the International Day of the Girl

It doesn’t take much effort to find feminism cynics out there. In fact, it’s pretty darn easy to find cynics of every variety. Sometimes it’s hard to even see past the blanket of cynicism that hangs over nearly everything. It’s easier to say feminism (or healthcare reform or food stamps, etc.) is unneeded, unwarranted, overblown or downright evil than it is to accept that we live in a challenging world that requires us to examine our beliefs and behaviors and move out of our comfort zones to make life better for others. I get that. It’s tough, and the evidence is everywhere.

What did surprise me though, was a feature on Malala Yousafzai on BBC radio this week. The first half of the report included people from her hometown in Pakistan talking about how her reputation was overblown, raising suspicions about whether or not the girl who was so famously shot in the head for standing up for her right to go school was even injured at all, and generally stating that she shouldn’t come back. While their cynicism was shocking enough, as the BBC reporter transitioned into her interview with Malala, she said she was actually surprised to discover what a poised, sincere and believable young woman she was.

Really? You’re surprised that a teenager who stood up for girls’ right to education against the Taliban, faced an assassination attempt, recovered from a bullet to the head and is still actively campaigning is a sincere person? That is a surprise? In what world could such a person be anything but?

Today, for International Day of the Girl, we’re asked to think about human trafficking of women and girls, the oppression of rights and a great deal of suffering. None of it is easy to consider. It is easier to believe that it doesn’t really occur, or that it’s not really that bad or that there is nothing we can do to change it if it does. If we can do one thing to honor International Day of the Girl, it should be to challenge this cynicism. It should be to allow ourselves to believe in the sincerity of these struggles and those are fighting against them.

I we would be amazed by the difference that could be made by simply opening our minds. Just believing that struggles of others exist and that they are not the fault of those struggling. If we can give this day the benefit of the doubt, perhaps we can learn to apply that to all areas our lives. Maybe we can recognize the struggles of others as an opportunity to make the world better, not an affront to our own comfort. Maybe then, after we’re able to wrap out minds around it, we’ll start moving toward becoming a world about which we can say sincerely, rather than cynically, that this kind of suffering and inequality doesn’t exist. We’re just not there yet.

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Feminism in the wild: When to speak up, and when to roll your eyes

It’s super easy to be a feminist on the internet. It goes like this:

See something objectionable in the news/Twitter/any other stop on the Information Super Highway
Determine if it is the work of trolls/bots/attention seekers/ebook promotors if not,
Write a clever blog, tweet angrily, Facebook rant, etc.
Done! Follow up with finding others who have written similar blogs/tweets/posts to validate feelings of victory.
In the wild, it’s not so straightforward. Like, what if the super drunk owner of a not-to-be-named restaurant stops by your table to chat, and after he has already proven difficult to shoo away, he launches into a anti-feminist rant? And he’s so super old? Is this the equivalent of an internet troll, who can be ignored because he just doesn’t matter or have any influence in the world at all? Or should you really just not let people say ignorant things in front of you ever, and take him to town?

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