Posted by kari.petroschmidt
I was a voracious reader for as long as I could remember. I read everything I could. I went through the horse stories stage, the dog stories stage, the fairy tale stage, the scary fairy tale stage, and then one day ended up in Sci-fi and Fantasy. I ended up there because at age nine, I’d already figured out that the heroes I was reading about in my books and learning about in class were mostly boys and men. I remember learning about two women in school when I was between ages of nine to eleven [the specific audience that the Throw Like a Girl School Interactive Assembly is aimed at]: Harriet Tubman (an African-American woman who escorted escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad during the Civil War) and Florence Nightingale (a celebrated nurse during Crimean War). Amazing women, both of them. Yet, we should have learned about more accomplished women at that age. At that age, intrinsically I knew there was a disconnect somewhere. I was surrounded by strong female figures – my mother, my teachers, my friends’ mothers – but, I hardly saw them in any of the books I was reading .
What drew me to Sci-fi and Fantasy, especially those written by women, were role models I could look up to. I found complex, well-rounded, and satisfying female characters I could identify with through reading authors like Elizabeth Moon, Tamora Pierce, and Anne McCaffrey, whose characters’ fictional lives fuelled my non-fictional life as well as my dreams.
However, I shouldn’t have had to go look for such characters in fiction when there were so many real women throughout history and in the present day who I should have been learning about. Instead girls aged 9-11 learn about how best to apply lip gloss in order to attract with a sexy pucker, how to ostracise other girls because their choice of clothing just isn’t cool enough, how to make fun of girls who are more interested in study than skin care and how to eat only carrot sticks for lunch so that they are skinny enough [for what, exactly?] by the time they are 14.
When girls don’t readily see role models of their gender in their everyday lives, they don’t know how high they can aspire. Moreover, without other women to show them that can reach beyond themselves, girls may never see the possibility to aspire at all. All they see and hear are messages telling them that they must compete with each other at all costs, or else. This thought process carries on into adulthood. It is a vicious circle.
There is this thing called a Bechdel Test for movies. You can find its webpage here http://bechdeltest.com/. The test is as follows:
#1 The movie has to have at least two [named] women in it
#2 who talk to each other
#3 about something besides a man
It is seriously depressing how many moves fail this test.
I see all this as connected, from failing to learn about remarkable women throughout history and today, to bullying in school, to the media and to the basic relationships between females, both girls and women. If we can’t give girls the tools to help them get along with each other – and instead constantly show that they should be in conflict or in competition with each other, we will continue to have generations of girls and women who simply don’t have the tools to help each other out, because they haven’t been shown that it can and should be different.
As girls and women, we can do anything we can put our minds to. When we work together, well, the sky is the limit. In the case of Stephanie Wilson, an aerospace engineer and astronaut who was just here in Dunedin…no sky is the limit.
Still, we shouldn’t have to get there on our own, and we are far better off helping each other get there [wherever ‘there’ is] than constantly hindering each other and by default, ourselves.
We are our own worst enemy. But, we don’t need to be.
And that, in the end, is what Throw Like a Girl is all about.
Natasha J. Stillman is a writer, student and one of the women behind Throw Like a Girl, a start-up competing in the Audacious program this year.