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Struggling with Mixed Messages

One of the wonderful things about learning and participating in an all-girls environment is that we see our girls blossom. They are encouraged to take risks, to advocate and to believe in themselves. We do, however, as staff need to ensure that our girls are aware that outside our all-girls environment they will most certainly face many times when they have to prove to others that they are as capable as- if not more capable than- their male counterparts, and they need not apologize nor shy away from challenges.

On Wednesday, Dr. Foster and I attended a lunch with colleagues from other girls’ schools to meet Megan Murphy, the new Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls Schools, an international organization of girls’ schools from around the world. It was a great opportunity to gather and discuss issues our schools and young women face. While we talked about our own schools, two recent issues that have been affecting women internationally came up. It was helpful to discuss them, as I have been struggling with how to clarify mixed messages to ensure that our girls continue being optimistic, courageous advocates for themselves as women in light of some disturbing incidents.

The first situation involves the ongoing media attention and highly critical opinions of the brief maternity leave time that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, has chosen to take. I find it disturbing that so many people don’t recognize that this is a choice for individuals and their families alone. As reported in The Globe and Mail in an article by Omar El Akkad, some in the industry were critical that Mayer was setting an “unrealistic standard for other female executives”. I think it is important that we encourage women to support one another in making choices that make sense for them rather than suggesting that they should measure themselves against what others are doing. The bottom line is that each individual is living the experience.

This brings me to the other even more disturbing event. The shooting of Malala Yousafzai, aged 14, because she believed in, and vocalized the importance of, education for girls was sickening. While we remind our students that there are differing viewpoints and perspectives that must be considered, this occurrence is, in my mind, simply unjustifiable.

We want our girls to grow to be outstanding women who are intellectually curious, courageous and compassionate- to continue being leaders all their lives- as our alumnae always have. I believe in this wholeheartedly but can’t help feeling saddened and frustrated that we, as women, are still faced with so many seemingly backward situations. I have every confidence that when our girls leave us they will have the courage to stand up for what they believe; however, events last last week can’t help but give us a moment of pause and a reminder that the road we thought was well paved has many bumps and ruts. Ironically maybe it is these mixed messages that will ensure that our students and graduates will lead the way in the important fight to ensure equity for women.

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