In June I discussed a little bit about my reaction to the film Girl Rising. It is an amazing film and I highly recommend seeing it if you can. My mom, my sister, and I were so inspired by the film that we decided to show it again to try and kick off a discussion about somethings happening in our own backyard. Part of why we wanted to show the film is because it is what got us thinking about the power of education and what it could do to solve a myriad of different problems. In watching the film again I came away with another important point and that is that we need female heroes and superheroes.
In many of the stories the girls discuss their power and how they were inspired by the strength of others. Many of the girls are where they are because of strength that they found from others. For some it was family, some it was a person willing to fight for them, and others were inspired by things that they read. For those that do not have the family or people in their lives then having someone to gain inspiration from seems to be super important. Now obviously these things are not completely separate, but it does emphasize how important at least one of these elements is to have.
For a girl it helps that these heroes and superheroes are female because it helps them see themselves in those characters. Now these heroes can either be historical or fiction. Historical can provide a more powerful statement because the person actually existed, but fictional can still show these girls a representation of a strong, confident female. There is a moment where one of the girls was memorizing a speech from a famous historical figure that is male, she makes the comment that she wishes she could be memorizing a speech from a woman. There is power in being able to identify with the hero of a story, true or otherwise. Many of the girls have to fight to be able to continue with school, through issues of cost and a disapproving society. These girls found strength to keep fighting and some of them found strength through the idea of heroes.
From Victim to Superhero
One of the girls stories talks about what would be a harrowing experience and flips it on its head by painting herself as the hero. In her story she is not the scared girl being assaulted by a larger, older man, she is a hero giving him a chance to walk away. They have a fierce battle and she talks about how fast she is, that while she takes wounds that her speed gives her the advantage. She eventually has him begging for his life and allows him to live. This story is so touching because you can tell that she was lured and then sexually assaulted. We see the story as she is talking to police and she makes herself a hero.
The thing that I first wondered when I heard about this is how did this girl know what a superhero was unless she had heard the concept from somewhere (since she could not read or write). The power of being able to imagine yourself as someone who can fight back, who has the power to take control can make such a huge difference. If this girl had resigned herself to being a victim she would probably be dead, but her resilience and imagination let her overcome a horrible situation. If a girl in a situation like this can find power in a superhero, how much more important can it be to make sure that a hero or superhero is accessible to every girl.
Finding Your Confidence
One of the girls in the film is named Senna because her father named her after Xena from Xena: Warrior Princess, but because he did not know how to spell it he gave her the name Senna. He wanted to make sure she had a name that gave her power and even though everyone in her family was working for the mine he never let her stop going to school. Sadly Senna’s father ends up in an accident and he passes away when she is five years old. At the same time early on he gave Senna a gift by naming her after a female warrior, even if that warrior is fictional.
Senna talks about what it means to her that her father named her after a powerful woman. She finds confidence and strength from where her name came from. Senna actually starts writing poetry and speaks with an amazing confidence. Maybe she could have made it to this same place without this connection to a strong female hero, but it can’t have hurt. The strength and power she posses and the words that she uses to talk about herself our ones of confidence not of weakness. The confidence in her shines forth to inspire and give confidence to others.
Having a Hero
There is power in having a hero to connect with and identify with. When you are looking around and constantly being told that you do not matter because you are a woman how much strength could you find seeing a woman doing exactly the opposite. Knowing that in your country it was a woman who made a difference, who spoke up, who fought for truth. Also, seeing that from someone’s imagination they can imagine a woman who is powerful and strong beyond measure. How do we know who we are supposed to be except for looking around us? If all we see are women being used and abused then we might begin to think that is normal, but if we hear of another option what possibilities that could reveal for the future.
Now in the end this works for both boys and girls, but some of the issue is that the men is often who is focused on. It is important that we take time to recognize the women heroes, fictional or otherwise. In that way we can encourage girls to be confident in who they are and have the strength to fight for what they need. Girl Rising shows the power that educating a girl does because educating a girl is something that gets passed on.