TALKING TO TEENS
March is the month we celebrate women’s history, so I decided to engage teenage girls in a discussion of the women, alive or dead, they most admire; the woman who has inspired, changed or helped shape their lives in anyway. Many of the teenagers spoke of their mothers, aunts and teachers whom they regard as role models. Although each young woman’s response was different, they all expressed a sense of pride and gratitude when they spoke of the women who have influenced them.
“My favorite woman in history is Harriet Tubman,” said 18-year-old Tina of the late abolitionist.
Tina has admired Harriet Tubman ever since her grandmother and mother took her on a tour to Canada to visit Tubman’s house and trace the route of the Underground Railroad.
“Harriet was an extraordinary woman. She was tough. I think if it had not been for her works, black people never would have gotten the courage to work for their freedom,” Tina said. “She helped them to escape and she wouldn’t let them turn back.”
As for someone she admires today, Tina said, “My mother because she is still working and progressing. She is still working to help humanity.”
Tina compared her mother to Tubman, saying she is always doing something to help people.
“My mom is an educator and she is always advocating for students’ rights. She is always encouraging her students, or anyone, to study hard and become better educated. She says you don’t have to study formally; you can just sit up and take notice of your community and work to change it. My mother volunteers to feed the homeless. She tutors, she is politically active, and she works with teens.”
Clara, 14, said her favorite woman in history is Michelle Obama.
“Every time I see her, she is standing tall and looking great,” said the Austin Polytech Academy freshman. “I know they say, ‘Behind every great man is a great woman,’ but I think Michelle will be standing along side of her man, all the way.”
Wintana, 17, and Rickele, 19, also sang the praises of Michelle Obama.
“I like Michelle because she is the first black First Lady,” said Rickele. “She came up through adversity and made her way to the top. She was raised in a bad neighborhood, but she didn’t let her surroundings define her.”
Wintana added, “Every time I see her picture, she looks happy. I love to see her with her family and her husband. They look so in love.”
In talking with the girls, I came to realize many of them did not know much about Women’s History Month or its origin. To them, it is just another month where the weather is still cold. In an effort to share a little bit of the history, I explained the significance of Women’s History Month, which actually evolved from a day, March 8, known as International Women’s Day, which first took place in 1911. The purpose was to encourage wider recognition of the accomplishments of women internationally.
In 1978, in response to the event’s popularity, The U.S. Congress passed a resolution recognizing Women’s History Week nationally. Schools, state businesses and other entities joined in the recognition and presented various programs and events highlighting the significant contributions of women throughout the world. In 1981, by a joint Congressional Resolution, it expanded to a month-long celebration.
The course of women in America has been a difficult one. For years, women were denied the right to vote until the ratification of the 19th Constitutional Amendment in 1920. The fight for women’s suffrage (the civil right to vote) started as early as 1778.
“Well, it’s a good thing women are able to vote,” said 18 year-old Marianna. “If we weren’t allowed to vote, Barack probably would not be president.”
She also said that in addition to Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey is her most favorite woman in history.
“I like Oprah because she does a lot to help people. She did a lot for Barack’s campaign. I also like her because she is rich, smart, powerful and influential.”
Rickele said her most favorite woman in history is Rosa Parks because, “she wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in. Her actions sparked the Civil Rights Movement, and now look where black people are today – in the White House!”
Whitney, 18, said her mother has most influenced her.
“I admire her because of what a great job she has done raising my sister and I as a single mother. She was only 16 when my sister was born, yet she put us both through private school and she is now helping us go to college. My mom has always been there for us,” she said.
Amanda, a 14-year old freshman, pointed to her grandmother as the woman she most admires. “She taught me to respect my elders and to serve the Lord,” she said. “Every Sunday, the two of us would go to church and stay all day. Sometimes we still do. Because of her, I have Jesus in my life and that makes my life better.”
Several other young women mentioned their mothers and grandmothers.
“My mother might not be Oprah or Michelle Obama, but she is my mama, and she’s my best friend,” said Carol. “By watching her, I know I can do most anything as long as I continue to go to school and constantly work hard.”
Women’s History Month is a time when America stops and pays tribute to the accomplishments of a group of people who make up approximately 51 percent of its population. Many great women are serving as heads of households and heads of state while others are educating America’s children and caring for its seniors. Women’s history is constantly unfolding.