I am infinitely blessed by The Girl Effect. As I look back through the generations of my family, I see it rolling toward me, through me like a wave.
I am sure it started even before my grandmother stole her parents’ car with intent to drive by herself from Austin to Chicago to see the World’s Fair in 1924; I just don’t have much history to work with prior to that. We called my grandmother Sissy, and she was anything but. She was the first female real estate broker in Ft Worth, Texas in the 1950s. Sissy wasn’t patient or snuggly like most grandmothers, but with her infamous words, “Cut your own damned waffle!” she taught me the importance of self sufficiency and believing in yourself. She didn’t wait for a man to bring her what she wanted – she earned it herself. (and slept with a gun under her pillow)
My mother, her daughter, continues to amaze and inspire me as she now blossoms into her mid 70s. My Superhero travels to third world countries to dig ditches and build bunk beds with her church and still participates in multiple half marathons yearly. I hope to be just like her when I grow up.
Mom didn’t start out life with oodles of self confidence, but a divorce and the pressure to raise three kids called to surface a woman of incredible strength, intelligence, grace, and business savvy. She pulled us up from lower middle class to a six figure income in just 6 short years, all on her own ambition. She never lost her authenticity, individuality, or integrity to her career in sales either.
Through her example, I saw hard work, commitment to personal growth, open mindedness, and a belief that you have the strength and ability to shape your own life. I witnessed the power of knowing that you’ve earned your way, and nobody can take advantage of you unless you allow it.
It’s hard to say how profoundly these women shaped my own beliefs about myself, but it speaks volumes that I knew from a young age that I was smart and would make whatever I wanted of my life. I certainly never failed to try at something for fear that it wasn’t a feminine endeavor, and at no time have I believed myself incapable of achieving simply because of my gender.
Because of the accomplishments and personal discoveries of my mother, grandmother, and untold numbers of women before me, I have greatly enjoyed the freedom to do, act, and speak as I please. I eventually grew into my own potential by completing training as a medical doctor and certified professional co-active coach.
I was a teenager the first time I learned about countries where women are enslaved and subjected to genital mutilation. I simply couldn’t fathom it, couldn’t even think about it. I told myself it was media hype and couldn’t be true, except perhaps in a small isolated, primitive tribe somewhere. I couldn’t believe that these practices are the cultural norm for millions of women. The idea that a woman can be owned by a man and refused the right to an education, to own property, to earn money, or to travel anywhere by herself is tantamount to mental, physical, and emotional torture.
I could try to ignore that my complacency amounts to turning a blind eye to my sisters dying under the burden of poverty, oppression, HIV, and war, but is this what I really want to do? Is this what I want to model for my daughter, that we abandon others when it hurts too much to look at them?
I am still working out in what ways I want to further The Girl Effect.
I have been privileged to work with women prisoners of political and gender torture to help them gain asylum in the U.S. The courage I’ve seen in these oppressed women, who’ve grown up enduring unimaginable violations of their human rights, to finally refuse mistreatment and strike out on their own to a completely alien land, blows me away. They leave everything and everyone they know behind to survive. It is a small comfort knowing that I’ve helped a few special individuals, but I want and need to do more.
I know the United States cannot care for every abused woman on the planet. But what we can do is educate. It’s got to be demonstrated to the men governing these countries that they will always be poor and riddled with war and HIV if they rob themselves of the benefits of one half of their adult brain power, one half of their adult work force. When women are kept ignorant and helpless, unable to contribute intellectually and economically, everything else falls on the men. When women stand in partnership with their men, everyone grows and benefits.
I don’t know how to open this dialogue. I am not a policy maker, politician or mediator. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for ways to serve my underprivileged sisters. (What I’d eventually love to do is travel to third world countries and poor communities in the U.S. and teach basic hygiene and self defense to women and girls.)
My daughter is growing up learning the value of courtesy, respect, and earning your way. I am doing my best to foster her confidence and independence through her attendance in an excellent school and participation in martial arts.
A confident, independent, empowered, creative woman is a force to be reckoned with. Who knows? Maybe she’ll be the one to move this conversation forward, bringing about lasting change for women worldwide. If nothing else, she’ll continue to pass along The Girl Effect for those who come after her.
Melanie Lane is a family physician who blogs at The Doctor Weighs In.
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