Skip to content

Show them how to resist: Connecting girls, inspiring futures

Today, I woke up feeling uneasy. See, it is International Women’s Day and I am supposed to be celebrating. Several people have wished me “A happy Women’s Day”. However, I cannot be happy. I do not know how to celebrate a day that media promotes through a hegemonic, universalized category of “woman”, presenting issues of women like me through racial stereotypes, dissecting the countries where women like me come from as “backwards”, as “un-enlighted”, “corrupt”. The generic woman that gets celebrated today in media fits a narrow, hetero-cis-White-normative, able-bodied, definition of woman. They fit these stereotypical notions that represent a small portion of the womanhood pie. In those rare occasions when mainstream media highlights achievements by different women, it is almost always to “Other” us, to present us as unique, a deviation from the norm, an exception. Today, mainstream media will tell us “Look at this African woman here! Look at what she has done for her people!”. Africa, the countrified continent, populated by African women, a homogenous collective devoid of differences, of nuance, of political or cultural distinctions. Or we will be told to look at this one immigrant woman! Look at her, she succeeded!, which means, she is like “us”, she has succeeded in “our” terms, within “our” rules.

And yet, all I want to do is resist. I want no part in this universalized promotion of “woman”. I want no celebration or further advancement of these mainstream values as the only desirable goal.

So, when Gender Across Borders posed the question “How can we, as a culture and as members of the global community, involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way?”, I thought long and hard. After all, I do not see myself as either inspirational or an educator. Not because I do not believe in these but because I do not think I am qualified to be either. I see both as too big a responsibility. I take them seriously. So, the only sensible way I can see to inspire or educate is through resistance.

The problem with resistance is that it is often portrayed in media as this big, terrifying thing that “extremists” do. Resistance is scary! You do not want to be seen as a radical! You will alienate people! And then you will be alone and nobody will listen… And that is precisely why I do it, because if there is one legacy we can leave to the next generation of women is that resistance is the only way to set change in motion. The only way to ensure that change happens is through active, conscious acts of resistance, no matter how small or personal.

Often we are told that in order to resist, we must participate in actions of a certain scale; resistance is not individual, it is the result of a collective effort, it should be at the service of a cause. All of these are true, however, there are also the small acts through which we can live in resistance. A few ways in which we can inspire young girls to resist:

Talk about the value of difference and live through these values. The only way to challenge the White hetero-cis-normative, able bodied dominant paradigm of “women” is by making those who do not conform to it visible. Our actions, our relationships, our ideas, our politics need to embody and reflect these differences.

Cherish the non ambitious around you. Nowadays, we are told we must succeed. To be a woman is to achieve, to aspire, to want. This, we are told, is how we are going to reach equality. However I must ask, equality in relation to whom? What does it means to succeed in a system that promotes the perpetuation of violence in the name of market expansion? Yes, the wage gap matters. But so do the girls who have no career ambitions, the ones who just want to write poems, the ones who want to create with their hands, the ones who want to live lives that do not conform to market forces or financial gains. All of them are worthy of our support and mentoring.

Value and nurture young anger. We grow up being told that anger is bad. Good girls do not express their anger, good girls play nice, they accommodate, they please. It is time we start looking at anger differently. Why are we so bent on suppressing this anger when for so many, it is the only emotion left in the face of injustice? Why should young women appear compliant and docile when they are obviously being subjected to violence or inequity? Why shouldn’t anger be a legitimate drive for our politics? Change will not come because we ask for permission, change will happen because we leave no other alternative.

Foster survival and self care strategies. This cannot be said enough and I wish someone had taught me this growing up. For many people, self care is the most radical act. In an environment that promotes that only certain lives are valuable and worthy, surviving and thriving are revolutionary.

Lead by being an example. We do what we can, not necessarily what we want. Because we are immersed in a world that makes us complicit in the perpetuation of these ills, it is sometimes easy to lose sight. We cannot escape it, that much I know. However, we can live by certain principles that become our political praxis: we do not bodysnark, we stand against racism, we value all bodies and celebrate them in their beauty and complexity, we respect people’s choices and sexualities, we are the change we wish to see. This, I believe, is one of the most valuable ways in which we can inspire and educate; not through pompous statements but through the small, every day acts of non conformity. If the personal is political, then our actions should reflect our beliefs.

I do not believe in happiness much. Or at least, not in what we are often told about happiness. To me, the idea of ever achieving a perpetual state of happiness seems too elusive, too distant. Instead, I prefer joy. Those small moments when we experience that connectedness, within ourselves or with our surrounding, with others. And if there was one thing I could give to young girls to inspire them, it would be that: to experience joy in their lives, to seek joy and to live in joy. Because the world can be a joyful place and I just wish it was so for everyone.


  1. Uh-ti-uh wrote:

    Everytime I read your posts, I feel like you’re writing from a part of me that I can’t quite articulate. Thank you.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks for that. I’m so glad this blog exists. For the past few years, International Paternalist Guilt Day for me has been mostly about dealing with people telling me I “shouldn’t complain about the compliments and homages and hypocritical date, because JESUS, aren’t these women ever satisfied? Just take the compliment with a smile, like the good girl you were raised to be, will you, sugar?”

    I’m particularly annoyed by all the praise of the mysteries of the female mind (they have their little women reasons for the strange things they do/feel/say). I’m Brazilian, but I suspect this to be universal. It’s obvious to me that, when there’s a nationwide propaganda of how women don’t make sense and can’t be understood (only loved <3), no one's gonna bother TRYING to understand anyone who's a woman, because well, there's just no reasonable explanation for what we do…


    Happy everyday for all of us.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  3. Slinger wrote:

    This was so well done that I can’t add anything other than “yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your voice.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  4. Anka wrote:

    THANK YOU for this post, especially the part about cherishing the non-ambitious! I come from a lower-middle-class/poor background, got a fancy education, have had prestigious jobs, and am enormously conflicted now about my long-hidden real desire to be an artist, especially when they predict dire fates for women who don’t work in the traditional workplace–which renders time to really do art almost impossible–on so many of my favorite feminist websites. This is almost the first time I’ve ever seen an acknowledgement that it’s OK not to want to conform to those market forces or pursue those financial gains. So thank you!

    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink
  5. Baeraad wrote:

    The second and third point really highlights how strange our values are. We are supposed to be ambitious, but we are not supposed to be angry. It is good if we walk all over anyone who gets in our way, just as long as we aren’t angry at them. We are under no obligation to *act* kindly towards people, no matter how great their need for kindness, but by damn we have to *think* kindly about every last one of them, no matter how great their offenses towards us.

    I really think that the moral paragon of our society is a Randian hero, one that “has no organ to understand the importance of other people” – someone who never hates anyone, because ze doesn’t see them as worth wasting any feelings on one way or the other. Speaking as a very unambitious and very angry person, who has been hurt far worse by other people’s apathy than by their malice, I am not too pleased with this.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  6. Fede wrote:


    There aren’t many people capable of giving such a sober account of the ills of society and still manage to inspire hope and drive for change. Thank you!

    Friday, March 16, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Permalink