barefootsong: "Well-behaved women seldom make history." -Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (well-behaved women)
Thursday through Saturday I attended a conference at Bryn Mawr College, part of their 125th anniversary celebrations. The conference was called "Heritage & Hope: Women's Education in a Global Context" and there were many interesting, insightful, and inspirational speakers and panels. I attended because I am a 2005 graduate of Bryn Mawr and because this is an important conversation that I want to be a part of.

Bryn Mawr was founded in 1885, when higher education for women was mostly seen as a "preposterous extravagance." We've come a long way since then, at least in the Western world. As Nicholas Kristof, New York Times reporter and the closing keynote speaker, put it, it's still the nineteenth century elsewhere in the world. Women and girls suffer discrimination and cruelty simply because of their gender.

As indicated by the conference title, the emphasis was on women's issues in the world, but even here in our corner of the Western world, our work is not done. We have laws dictating the equality of women, but they are not always carried out. Sometimes this is expressed in physical violence against women and girls. But sometimes it's more subtle. After centuries of undervaluing and dismissing women and girls as inferior, that way of thinking is embedded in our culture. That's not something that goes away with the passing of a few laws. It's something we have to keep working at.

A few months ago, I was wandering around behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where they have a dozen or so statues of heroic white men who died centuries ago. And I wondered, where are the heroic women? Where are the heroic people of color of either gender? It's not just at the museums that this is a problem. You see the same heroic white men immortalized in public parks and city squares. I want there to be statues of heroic women. Not just around museums and other institutions, but right there on the streets. Women should be an active part of our culture, not just an afterthought.

As a student at Bryn Mawr, I studied on a campus with buildings that look like castles. We write our own fairy tales there, in which we are the heroes and not just damsels in distress. I am so grateful to so many people that I had that chance. Every girl should have the opportunity to write her own fairy tale. And every one of us should help her achieve that. It's not about being liberal or conservative, feminist or not, woman or man. It's about what's beneath all the labels we wear—it's about being human. Being alive in this world. Everyone deserves an education and a life free of discrimination and cruelty.

Read more. Talk more. Do more. We can make the world a better place.

Further reading:

Heritage & Hope conference website (and the Bryn Mawr College website).

"At Bryn Mawr 125th event, women's educators look at global goals" by Melissa Dribben (Philly Inquirer).

Half the Sky Movement.

The Girl Effect, in particular this short but powerful video about how saving one girl can make the world a better place.

Women's eNews.

United Nations Girls' Education Initiative.

(This is only a small selection of links to things mentioned at the conference. There's a whole lot more out there. Keep reading.)

--> See also my post "Read. SPEAK. Listen." on banned books and sexual assault.

*The title for this entry is taken from a quote about Bryn Mawr women by E.B. White.

About the girl

The random musings of a librarian with a passion for reading (duh), a vast curiosity about the world, and a penchant for noticing things most people don't (like the way sunlight falls through the leaves on a tree).


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