For a long time, I aspired to be a public relations and communications practitioner because I enjoy advocating and representing others. In fifth grade, the first time I represented others was when I became the class representative to room 17 at North Miami Elementary. I considered this my first political campaign; I made ‚Äúvote for me‚Äù fliers from the pages of my composition notebook and handed out Oreos. Two decades later, I had no idea how me aspiring to be an advocate for my classmates and one Spelman course would change my life.
On August 14, 3 days before the Fall 2016 semester began, Desiree S. Pedescleaux, Dean of Undergraduate Studies sent out an email with a list of special topic¬†courses. Last on the list of four¬†courses was Girls¬†being taught by Dr. Charania Moon, a visiting professor in the sociology department.
The course description read:
This¬†course¬†focuses on the ways girls are constructed, imagined and disciplined in both the US global content. Our point of departure is that girlhood is predominantly a modern phenomenon, shaped by and brought about by modern formations, such as capitalism, medicine, psychology and cultural politics. As such, girlhood is experienced and resisted through varying inequalities and practices of power. We will be examining processes and instances of inequality as they are directed at girls, discussing the many ways meanings of difference and identity are marked on bodies, subjects, institutions, and social processes. The¬†course¬†is divided into three sections:¬†Theorizing Girls¬†(exploring the varying theoretical paradigms),¬†Disciplining Girls¬†(examining the ways institutions and cultural practices discipline girls and¬†Resisting Hegemonic Girlhood¬†(girls resisting/redefining inequality.)
I was immediately intrigued and excited because I never heard or thought of girls as an academic interest. Needless to say, I quickly registered for the class, in 60 seconds or less‚ÄîI‚Äôm sure of it.
In the first week of class, Dr. Moon, posed the question, what is a girl? She encouraged us to ask questions about how discourse has contoured the category of girls and what is at stake‚Äìpolitically, economically, culturally in maintaining or dismissing girls as a category. I sat silently; I didn‚Äôt know the answer. I couldn‚Äôt even recall the separation between¬†my¬†own girlhood and womanhood. Following class, I kept thinking about how throughout my whole life, I had been handled as if I were already a woman, always told to be a little lady. I can‚Äôt remember being a carefree adolescent girl.
I began to ask myself why are girls rushed out of girlhood, and into womanhood? What happens in between the transition? How does it affect us as we mature? As the course went on, I learned various ways a girl‚Äôs voice can be marginalized or silenced. I also learned that many of us learned to censor ourselves early on, and that what we think and feel doesn‚Äôt matter as much as boys, men. In class, I listened with more than my adult presence, but with my inner girl. All the questions I had about why I never pursed certain things surfaced, this course answered my questions therapeutically‚Äîassuring the girl in me that it‚Äôs never to late to speak up. Thus, I spoke up often in this class, and a lot of the times it was for my younger self.
One¬†of the first things I learned was about the buying¬†and selling of girl‚Äôs bodies and sexualities globally. Girls who have darker skin are sold very cheap, and girls with lighter skin are more expensive. The younger girls go into global sex trade, but if you‚Äôre older you go into nanny work. ‚ÄúPowerful enough to be sold, powerless enough to be brought,‚Äù said Dr. Moon. It was tough to not cry in that class, and what I appreciate most about Dr. Moon is that she encouraged us to do self-care after or before discussing difficult topics.
In another class, Dr. Moon spoke about organizations in the U.S. that support girls in other countries, many of which we consider ‚Äúdeveloping countries‚Äù who work to ‚Äúsave‚Äù girls. ‚ÄúGirls in western society are seen as the symbol of cultural crisis,‚Äù said Dr. Moon. In America, we publicize and shame countries for their crises, but don‚Äôt pay attention to our own cultural crisis‚Äô and bring awareness to them the way we do other countries, such as human trafficking.
Growing up, I never thought about¬†my¬†rights as a girl, I was only taught about human rights, but when Dr. Moon, asked, ‚ÄúWhat are a girl’s rights?‚Äù I wondered, what rights did I have? She followed up with ‚ÄúIn most states a girl can consent to sex at 12. She can marry at age 18, but can‚Äôt have champagne at her wedding and in some cases need parental consent for an abortion even if she‚Äôs married.” I‚Äôve learned that girl‚Äôs rights overlap so much that she doesn‚Äôt have the right to choose, for example, parental consent for an abortion is needed in 31 states; even if the girl is married and can legally consent to sex. I‚Äôm not advocating for or against a teenager to have an abortion, but I am advocating for her to have the choice to choose for herself.
I have learned and experienced so much in Girls, so much that I wanted to share how it changed my¬†life on a platform that believes in curating and documenting girls and girlhood. Since this course, my career aspiration has changed from being a public relations professional to a political strategist, communicator, scholar and advocate on issues and causes related to girls.
After leaving Girls one afternoon, I spoke to one of my previous professors, Dr. M.Bahati Kuumba, who noticed my excitement about the topic girls and invited me to the National Women‚Äôs Studies Association Conference back in November. In the conference handbook, I highlighted, underlined and circled every panel and presentation that related to girls. In particular, I attended NWSA‚Äôs Girls and Girlhood Studies Caucus, where I met Emily C. Bent, a prominent girl studies scholar who gave me the opportunity to help with the caucus‚Äôs Facebook page.
Throughout the conference, I was able to engage in conversations about girls and girlhood because of what Dr. Moon taught me. I felt confident in each conversation. I left the conference inspired and excited to begin a deeper level of engagement with my research process on girls. In my process of researching scholars and organizations on social media, I came across the Georgia Commission on Women and Girls. After a brief introduction of myself in email, a few weeks later, I spoke with Mrs. Nellie Duke, who had been the chair for 22 years. At the end of the meeting, she gave me a Susan B. Anthony quarter-dollar and invited me to work with the commission next year on March 8, 2016 for international women‚Äôs day!
With what I was taught in Girls, the opportunity to attend NWSA‚Äôs conference and meeting with the Georgia Commission on Women and Girls, I realized that I want to be a political and advocacy representative to girls. I found the confidence to move forward with applying to be a Running Start / Wal-Mart Star Fellow. Running Start is an organization that introduces young women to role models, talks to young women about the importance of politics in their lives, and gives them the encouragement and skills to pursue a career in political leadership. Two weeks ago, I found out that I‚Äôd be one of seven women living on Capitol Hill for a semester, working in the office of a congresswoman come spring 2016.
I‚Äôm a firm believer in knowledge taking a person places and that‚Äôs what Girls has done for me. Every conversation about what I learned in this course led me to another opportunity. As I look back on my life, I realize that I have been involved in politically and advocacy-centered organizations all of my life, but allowed what I learned as a girl to hold me back.
Today, I‚Äôm a senior in college and making¬†plans for the next chapter of my¬†life, which is scary when everyone has such high expectations for you. I doubted my ability, skills and ambition, but when I finally figured it out, everything in my life came together. For me, that moment came when the fifth grader in me sat in on the course Girls, and began to unlearn the messages I was taught as an adolescent girl and begin to see my future for what I wanted it to be, which has now empowered me to make sure other girls have the right to chose her future.
-Danyelle R. Carter
Student and Activist