By Belinda and Joshua Bauman
"There is a special place in hell" Madeline Albright once said, "for women who don't help other women." And honestly, I agree with at least the sentiment. Women need to lift, make way, lead, support, correct, lament for and most certainly celebrate each other. To not act for the progress of our sisters worldwide most certainly gives hell a strategic foothold. And once hell takes a foothold in devilish areas such as objectification of women, economic disparity, sex and labor slavery, maternal mortality and illiteracy, it is hard-pressed to let go. However, few things in this world are better at dispelling the dark than hope for true change, and genuine inspiration.
Inspiring Change is the call of this year's 2014 International Women's Day. Buried within those two little words is the most powerful weapon against the oppression of women. As a teacher, I love the sheer energy found in inspiration. As a writer, I am one of those rare birds who live for change. I have spent the last years of my life traveling to areas of the world and interviewing international women who are doing just that -- working hard to inspire change in a world where the social, political and economic achievement of women are often overlooked, if not all together thwarted. And though women are a critical key to inspiration and change, I wonder if these two little word weapons are just as effective in the hands of others. What if one of the keys to inspiring change -- groundswell, grassroots, genuine change -- was found in the hands of, oh say, 14-year-old boys?
It just so happens that I have one of those in my house. As the mother of adolescent sons, our family is working hard to create a culture of respect and honor for women and girls. We want our boys to be among those who protect, promote and applaud girls; to have girls as friends, teammates and equals. I deeply want girls to do the same for them. Empathy between sexes is not easy, but as influencers, we can do everything possible to make this a reality. I will block any images or words that hinder my sons from seeing women in any other way than the subject of their story... not the object. My husband and I have made sacrifices to take our boys to meet international-woman -- heroes on the ground in countries like Burundi, Rwanda and Cambodia. On our most recent trip to Africa, my oldest son Joshua and I were walking back to our tent listening to the sleepy grunts of hippos, when he stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at the canopy of stars above us.
"Do you ever feel stuck to the ground?"
His question was deeper than he guessed and touched off a rush of emotion in both of us. Yes, I did feel stuck, along with so many of my sisters. Stuck in so many ways it was hard to describe.
Photo Credit: World Relief.
But what surprised me was so did he. He wanted to fly, to help, to do something big to heal the hurts in this world.
"I can feel something in me. Something I am supposed to do," he said with a maturity that was beyond his years.
"A way I am supposed to be."
From that night on, we have discussed often what it means to live life for the common good, taking on the real problems of this world and working hard for the answers that last. Each time we have encountered political, social or economic issues of injustice surrounding women, he has stunned me with his thoughts.
When I asked Joshua what advice he would give this generation of boys, he said without hesitation, "There is a mind and a heart in women's bodies. A soul to be remembered and treated with respect." He stopped and lowered his voice a bit. "She is not an object, she is a human being. She is the center of her story, and her story is important not just to her. But it is important for me, too."
Then without being prompted he went on:
The more you think of woman as objects the more they become objects. The more you think of woman as important to the whole story, the more women will become important to your story. If my generation can believe this, when boys become men, we won't want stand in the way anymore, Mom. We will want to actually help to clear the way.
What if these thoughts are not just Joshua? He seems to believe pretty strongly that there are other boys who might think this way. What if his generation feels "stuck to the ground" as their culture dictates the acceptable way for men to view women? What if they want to break free from hurtful practices that hinder the common good of everyone, despite gender?
What if we, who have influence over the lives of our sons, our nephews, our students, our brothers, our friends, stopped seeing these adolescent boys as part of the problem and began to invest in them -- really invest in them -- as a powerful part of the solution? What if this generation, who is considered one of the most narcissistic and self-centered to ever exist, actually just feels stuck?
Women who have so much practice in inspiring change in each other, what if we work hard to inspire change in both girls AND boys? What if this next generation is one of "girl rising" and "boy rising" together?
Now, with all respect to Madam Albright, that would be heaven.