3 Teen Girls Paint Their Vision For A Truly Equal World
To celebrate International Day of the Girl, we asked three teen girls to paint their picture of a perfect, equal future. It's a sobering look at how far we still have to go—and an inspiring view of the young women who will lead us there.
The future feels bleak sometimes. How do we become the progressive, equal, respectful society so many of us dream of and aspire to, when our daily lives feel like an endless stream of insults hurled by Twitter trolls set to the soundtrack of seemingly intelligent people yelling over each other?
When 84% of Puerto Rico is still without power, and the horn of Africa is battling famine on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, it's easy to feel crushed under the weight of all that's wrong in the world. But the future could be brighter—and more compassionate. It could be led by clear-eyed girls (and boys) with visions for a much more equal, inclusive world.
To get a glimpse of that world, we partnered with Girls Write Now, an incredible community that pairs accomplished writers and editors with high-school-aged girls to help them hone their craft, develop their voice, and find unique ways to express themselves.
We asked three of their mentees to share their visions for a truly equal world—the one we might all live in in 2031, twenty years after the passing of the U.N. resolution declaring the observation of International Day Of the Girl (it's today, btw). That's just 14 years away, but by then, these girls will be adults, leading us into a future that doesn't have to be entirely bleak. As one of the mentees in the program, Havi Pham points out, “women continue to show what we are capable of as we do what we do, every day.”
Read ahead for the small victories and the big ones these girls hope we'll win for them. And then, let's get to work. We have a better world to build—we owe it to these girls.
On my way home from work, I do something I never dared to do as a teenager— I walk through the alley. Ever since the national laws against sexual assault were more strictly enforced following the 2028 election, I’ve been able to walk straight from the subway to my apartment through an alley that was once saturated with crime. I used to walk the safer way, which meant going around the entire block where the street was more populated. Sometimes, I wonder how much total time I could’ve saved if I had been cutting through the alley my whole life instead of avoiding it.
But until now, the alley was never an option. I got a horrible feeling whenever I walked past it; I knew that women were attacked there but I never heard about it or saw it on the news. Now, even in the shadiest parts of New York City, emergency help stations are on every street corner. When I was younger, I never would’ve imagined a world where it would be easier to report attackers than to keep it to yourself and live with the trauma.
When our president decided to invest billions of dollars in protecting people from sexual violence, voices from all around the country thanked her. Today, rape reports are dealt with immediately and no longer swept under the rug. Judges are no longer allowed to pull a “Brock Turner” and let rapists off the hook because they are privileged. All the ignored rape kits stored in labs have finally been tested and the rapists were held accountable for their crimes, even if it happened years ago. Women and girls all over the country finally feel like their lives are being taken seriously. Women are no longer being treated like disposable bodies that are just something to offer men. Boys in school are no longer taught that they can get away with dehumanizing girls through unintentionally sexist behavior. Sex education is now being funded to undo sexist education that embedded harmful ideas in people’s minds at an early age.
The leadership of our president is bringing our country in the right direction, even though a handful of people oppose her. Her actions have brought justice to millions of American women and created a safer country for our daughters to grow up in. Male victims of sexual assault have been given the same protections, as well as an environment where sexual assault is taken seriously regardless of the victim’s gender. People of all genders, races, and financial backgrounds are equally protected, and people who try to threaten those protections are held accountable.
When I get home after my nightly commute through the alley, I turn on the TV and watch the news. It’s October 11th, 2031, and it’s 76 degrees outside. Genital mutilation is finally illegal in all 194 countries, young people are able to afford homes for the first time in decades, and the worst news in the city is that a Domino’s in the Bronx caught fire. I wish I could go back and tell my 17-year-old self that she’d survive the dark ages of the he-who-shall-not-be-named administration. Everything ended up improving when the country united against him. He may have tried to take away the dignity of women by challenging Roe v. Wade and defunding Planned Parenthood, but we didn’t let him. We came back stronger after he left office, and we knew as a nation that we’d never make the same mistake of electing a misogynistic leader again. We restored the equality that was lost and expanded it even more. If I could tell my teenage self one thing, I’d tell her not to give up on advocating for what she believes in. Her voice has the power to transform the world into a better place for women and girls.
Gia Deeton is a third-year mentee in the Writing Mentoring Program, working with mentor Lindsay Zoladz. Born and raised in New York City, Gia is currently a senior at Baruch College Campus High School. She has been recognized with a Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Silver Key for her writing, which focuses on themes of feminism, sexual assault, and mental illness.
When I was in seventh grade, I had to do a group project analyzing the novel Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men, but my group was composed of people who didn’t appreciate compromise so I often felt like my thoughts were not considered. I tried to reason with my group and I had wanted to include more about social movements and the geographical movements of people. The group settled for something that took less effort. The final project we turned in ended up being good, but it took a lot to get to that point. I remember feeling so frustrated at working with people who were not very open-minded—and the experience made me wish people would look at multiple perspectives before choosing a course of action. That’s why I believe we could make a better world for women if people would simply take the time and effort to understand each other instead of squinting and misinterpreting others’ words and mannerisms without asking questions and listening to the answers.
If people could set aside the stereotypes and gossip swirling around them like smoke, they might be able to build stable relationships with people they would not otherwise approach. However, to do so would require them to step away from the pool of other people’s opinions and go through the experience of getting to know new and different people themselves. They could share the experiences of the small smiles and awkward eye contact—and then, the sigh of relief when you realize the encounter was not quite as bad as it seemed. Solely relying on other’s opinions without formulating your own is incredibly dangerous, especially in a society where everyone is yelling to get their ideas noticed, and not everything that is said is right or accurate.
But in 2031, I’ll be 31 and the world will be different. I will have more opportunities to flourish as an engineer or neurologist and inspire other women to do the same. In an equal world, I would be able to flourish in the STEM field—not because of a sudden rush to get more tokenized women into STEM but because I had earned my place there. I would want people to get into these programs based on their merit and that equal opportunities to earn your place in the designated field would be given to both genders. Although there are efforts to include women in the engineering and medical fields, I believe that there is still contempt for women who pursue careers over getting married and having children. Any comments from extended family who feel they are doing me a favor by asking about marriage and possible suitors is perpetuating the old system of women being confined to the work space. I personally believe my career and supporting myself is more important and in 20 years I see myself supporting my family and making them proud with an honest and well-paying job.
It is hard juggling children with jobs and the pressure to take care of them often falls on the women due to patriarchal structures that still exist. I saw my mother give up the possibility of employment in order to be there for me and my younger sister and I know the sacrifices she made as a bright student who had her whole career ahead of her. If she was able to compromise and split her responsibilities with my father it would have been much easier for her to have the best of both worlds. However, she choose us and I will not let her sacrifice go ignored as I strive to be successful and happy with the job I will pursue. If women would be able to talk about the goals they have in mind rather than conform to someone else’s plans, there would be more diversity in various fields—as well as a greater tolerance for women in these fields.
But we can’t get to that world unless we listen to each other, and really hear each other. By communicating and finding compromises, women and men would not be confined to one space or the other but rather be allowed to flourish in any career that they put their minds and hearts into.
Tasnim Tarannum is a second-year mentee in the Writing Mentoring Program and a senior at the Baccalaureate School for Global Education. Tasnim was born in Bogra, Bangladesh and currently resides in Queens, New York. She often writes about womanhood, politics, and personal change, and enjoys drinking hot chocolate with her mentor Nan Bauer-Maglin.
In the Women’s Marches of January 2017, women worldwide gathered in major cities to protest restrictive legislation and fight for more rights for women. To promote the marches, pink “pussy” hats were distributed among participants. However, one of the things activists may not have considered was that they were mostly advocating for the rights of white women.
Not all pussies are pink and not all women have pussies. This stems from a lack of representation of minority and trans women in popular movements. To better understand how we can have more inclusive conversations in feminist spaces, we have to look at a few examples non-inclusive feminism so that we know what we’re up against.
First, “feminist” policy often doesn’t take race into account. The 19th amendment, for example, gave women the right to vote but didn’t allow black women to do the same. In the deep south women were sometimes required to be literate or to have a certain form of education in order to vote. This access to education was already inaccessible to black women and gave poll workers an excuse to deny them voting rights. It wasn’t until the 1960s, 40 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, that black women were able to access the right to vote.
Throughout history, people of color have consistently been missing from pro-women demonstrations and policies. Their voices have been either suppressed or ignored by white feminists who sometimes completely rejected the idea of having non-white women participating alongside them—even as they were fighting for the same things. In 1916, Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood to provide reproductive health care and education for parents. However, Sanger was known to believe that black women should not be able to have children . Sanger favored birth control as a means to rid society of its “undesirables.”
Such ideology is obviously incredibly problematic and is even more so now that white nationalist leader Richard Spencer has aligned himself with Sanger’s support of abortion as a form of eugenics. As writer Elliot Kaufman of the National Review so eloquently puts it, “They don’t oppose abortion because it’s good for racial minorities; they support abortion because it kills them. They hate black people and think America would be better if fewer of them were born.”
Since the beginning of women’s activism, minorities have been consistently excluded from the spotlight. In recent years, some feminists have branched off, calling themselves “womanists” or women fighting for all women. It’s a rapidly growing movement that calls out white women for their “white fragility” when it comes to addressing race. Some African American women such as writers Alice Walker and Gloria Watkins (a.k.a. bell hooks) refer to themselves as womanists because they refuse to separate their race from their gender. Other non-black women are also donning this new title to protest white feminism’s exclusion of minorities.
How to avoid exclusion? “Check your privilege” with three exclamation points. The reason white activists sometimes overlook minorities completely is because of their privilege. Their experience of likely being white, able-bodied, literate, and upper class prevents these activists from seeing that not everyone has the same natural privilege. It’s almost a guarantee that people of color have suffered some level of oppression or ill treatment just because of their skin color or because English may be their second language. When we learn to listen and apply equality to all women, especially women of color, they will have access to opportunities long denied them. In this future world, derogatory terms that belittle women and lower their self-esteem will be just a faded memory. Women won’t have to worry about being judged for everything they do, or for being thought of as too pushy when they are trying to assert their ideas. The future for women can be bright, but only if we push for it starting today.
Jacqueline Thom is a second-year mentee in the Digital Media Mentoring Program working with mentor Ashley Mannetta. Jacqueline currently lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a sophomore at Stuyvesant High School. She enjoys reading, listening to music and playing Assassin's Creed, and hopes to have a career in the sci-fi film industry. Her poetry has been published by Scholastic, and her other works can be found on Wattpad and AllPoetry.
Words: Neha Gandhi