By Tasnin Khan
On average, a little girl is just six years old when she stops dreaming and thinking that she can be anything that she wants to be. Six.
At the tender age of six, girls start to believe that boys are smarter than they are.
Societal limits have silently, but consistently, pressured young girls into corners for way too long. But we live in an era when women are pushing back against that more than ever, and doing so as a united front.
There are four women in particular who embody solidarity who gave speeches at the United State of Women Summit in early May, and I can't get them out of my head.
The premise of the United State of Woman Summit is to bring real, tangible change out of exactly these kinds of uncomfortable truths about how girls and women are treated. The glass ceiling ain’t gonna shatter itself, and, after all, barriers were meant to be broken—as the summit’s tagline and organizers remind us.
While I wish I could’ve been in sunny LA to partake with my sisters from all over the country to hear all the incredible activists, authors, actresses, entrepreneurs, and other girlbosses speak in person, lucky for us, their wisdom was broadcasted to all on their livestream that impacted my life as I sat watching thousands of miles away.
Here are a few gems that I took away from this year’s gathering:
1. A conversation with Olympic fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who inspired the first hijab-wearing Barbie doll.
Ibtihaj Muhammad has contributed to breaking the norm that I so clearly and disappointingly remember about my childhood: shopping for pretty Barbies modeled after tall, skinny, white women with blonde hair that looked nothing remotely like me (shocker!).
Not only is she an Olympic fencer, but she also proudly rocks hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf. She’s the inspiration behind the first hijab-wearing Barbie doll. This is an amazing win and mark of progress for us because it’s so important for young girls to see themselves being represented and to provide them with role models.
Not only this, but seeing a Barbie that is accomplished—be it as an Olympic fencer, a graduate in cap and gown, a news team anchor, or a scientist among other new Barbies created—allows girls to visualize themselves in positions of power in their future and shapes their worldviews differently.As Ibtihaj Muhammad stated as her message to young girls during the Summit, “Everything starts with a dream and you have to know that you have everything inside to achieve it.”
Modeling dolls after incredible women like Ibtihaj will carry this message and shine light on all that young girls can aspire to become themselves.
2. Yara Shahidi's and Brittany Packnett's message on the power of social media to embrace intersectionality
A common theme at the summit was the need to embrace the experiences of all women despite differences in race, religion, sexuality, and what have you.
Teach For America’s Vice President of National Community Alliances, Brittany Packnett, noted “I’m not free until all of us free” and quoted an Aboriginal activist, Lilla Watson, who said: “If you have come here to help me you’re wasting your time. If you have come here because you realize our fates are bound up with one another, then let’s work out together.”
Brittany Packnett spoke about how social media has allowed her to meet and connect with women that are different than her, hear their stories, learn more about where they come from—women whom she would normally never have been able to meet. She emphasized that through learning about these women, she has been able to stand with and for them.
Yara Shahidi echoed how social media allows us to form an “impenetrable support network for one another” and talked about her belief that the intersectionality is already there. It was refreshing to be reminded that we can use such platforms at our fingertips for social justice.
3. Michelle Obama’s message: 'Practice who you are every day.'
My favorite speaker was, of course, our former First Lady *tears.* She reminded us the importance of investing in young girls and reiterated the fact that while we have come some way, we have to be ready to roll up our sleeves and continue to do the work beyond this summit to change the opportunities that are available to them ten years and more down the line and prepare them to go into that world with capes on.
She reminded us to encourage young girls to find their voice early on to “practice” who we want to be every day, and to surround ourselves with the people that we aspire to be like and learn from. The Summit set a tall goal to spur 1 million actions for gender equality by the end of 2018. This may seem bold to many, but hey, if not us, then who?
Do these women and their charges inspire you? Who else do you draw inspiration from? Let us know in the comments below!