Make it Happen is the hallmark banner of tomorrow’s 2015 International Women’s Day. There is nothing so motivating to an advocate than the thought of “getting it done”. At the roots, the idea of “making it happen” breathes life into those who believe there is another real and true, cross your heart and hope to die, way to live in this world. One that sees men and women of any and all ages living to encourage, uphold and if needs be, sacrifice for the dignity, equality and support of each other.
But who are the ones to do the hard work of making change happen? Are we, as advocates for women, overlooking one of the brightest and boldest places to find friends? Brave friends, who when informed and empowered, will neither dumb down nor shrink away from complexity or set back?
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 make it happen 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 our friends are numerous in a camp that is too often left untapped, untrained and un-empowered. What if one of the keys to making it finally happen– groundswell, grassroots, genuine change– was found in the hands of, oh say, 15 year old boys?
It just so happens that I have one of those in my house. Last year, my son Joshua and I partnered together to write about inspiring change for the 2014 International Women’s Day. Joshua, to his credit, has grown much over the last 365 days. He has bravely read, prayed and spoke to his peers about his friends who are girls and women. Our conversation that began last year is as relevant today as it was then, and we have decided to post it here again with a few after-thoughts that reflect our growth as advocates, and even more, our dedication to being devoted friends to the great cause of justice for women worldwide.
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.
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 in 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 felt 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?
Since working on this piece a year ago, Joshua has continued his education and consideration of difficult problems that plague women and girls. He is determined to be a good friend, one dedicated to working toward a solution, and not dumbing down the issues to complex problems such as gender based violence, slavery, economic disparity, equal representation before the law, and keeping mom’s and children safe and healthy. These are tough places to understand for anyone. It will take time and teaching to raise up a generation of 15 year old boys who do not feel stuck, but educated and empowered. Is that not our responsibility to them?
It is time to raise the bar for young men with abundant energy entrusted to make their part of the solution a reality. At a time when we think we can use all the Face Book or Twitter friends we can get–
maybe, just maybe, these young men are the kind of friends we need to finally make it happen.