The WOMEN Edit: The Year Of The Women

2007. Mollie Rose Houston, 14. 2nd Year History Class. St Benedict's High School.

The assignment was to write a speech about a woman that changed history. Or a man that changed history.

In a class of 22 pupils, there were approximately 20 speeches on Marilyn Monroe, Christiano Ronaldo and, various other movie stars, footballers and relative pop culture figureheads of that time.

Me, being the Rory Gilmore/Hermione Granger type girl and never conforming to any standards, not because it was an act of defiance, but because I wasn't aware of external influences. I always researched and read to expand my knowledge, and I always asked why (sorry mum!), and if I didn't get the answer I wanted I'd either research to find it or create my own ending.

My speech was on Elenor Roosevelt. A woman who I had always looked up to. A woman who reminded me daily that;

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

And a woman that always was outspoken, woke, and never feared public opinion. She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees. She joined a long list of women who changed the world. And she was just one of many that my mother and grandmother would tell me about as they tucked me into bed at night. I wasn't dreaming of princesses, I was dreaming of activists.

So back to that day, in that classroom. I had spent weeks perfecting my speech, from living in the library to rehearsing it in front of my family, I was sure I had it down.

But when I walked into class that day I was asked by my friends who I'd written about, and I told them. To which, they all looked at me with a vacant expression and asked, "who?".

"Oh is she an actress?" one of my friends asked. I say 'friend' because she was always constantly having a go at me, always thinking she would trump me in anything I do. But alas she was part of a group of girls I was friends with, and I always had to put up with it.

"No, she's not. She was a politician and an activist for women's rights" I responded, dumbfounded that no one knew of one of my heroes legacy that changed the world as we know it.

"Well, I'M talking about Marilyn Monroe. You know she was super famous?" She said smugly, knowing that it meant nothing to me, but was just to make me feel inferior.

"And I'm talking about Ronaldo" our other friend chirped up. "He is the best, better than whoever Esther is".

"Eleanor." I said, a little furious.

I was laughed at. Mocked because I forewent the standard of public figures. I went to my desk upset, angry and annoyed.

It was at that point that my teacher had asked "who has prepared a speech for us today?", and after the few who shrunk into their desks, trying to not be caught by easily one of the strictest teachers in the school, got the rollicking they deserved, she then asked a question that she told us she has asked out of the class, who had prepared a speech on either Marilyn Monroe or Christiano Ronaldo.

At least 90% of the class raised their hand, looking at the room and noticing that they weren't the only bright spark with a "unique" idea.

She then walked over to my desk, looked me in the eye and said;

"Mollie. On you go"

I shook my head, already feeling the effects of the earlier mocking I endured, my confidence was knocked.

"Mollie. Now please"

I got up and I felt my body stand up straighter, my head held higher. All the women my mother and grandmother told me about, it was now my time to give one of them the respect and recognition they deserve.

"Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman who believed in the rights of everyone on a whole." I began, feeling the pride burning inside my body.

I spoke about her close friendship with another one of my heroes, Amelia Earheart, Lorena Hickok and Carrie Chapman Catt, a Suffragette who campaigned tirelessly for the 19th amendment to give women the right to vote.

I relayed her activism, and how she used her platform of being the First Lady to highlight equal rights for women and those of colour.

I spoke powerfully of her undying service to civil rights, being the first person to invite hundreds of African-American guests to the White House. She lobbied to make lynching a federal crime. She held 348 press conferences on her own to highlight her role in the new change that was brewing in America.

And even after her service to her country as First Lady, she still continued to work with the UN for human rights.

And right there something ignited inside of me. It was my duty to educate and enlighten, I was privileged to produce a speech that shone so brightly on her.

And after I said my closing statement, my teacher stood up, wiped the tear from her eye, and applauded me. To which the class followed, not really knowing what just happened, but knowing that something had just been done right.

I was asked to stay behind after the class. A line that a goody-two-shoes like me never wanted to hear.

My teacher told me that the reason she wanted me to talk that day was that she knew I would bring something poignant to the table. Something that had never been said before in her class.

She then told me to stay passionate, and never let the fire burn out. And then took my paper to make copies to use as an example for future years to come.

I always remember that day as the day I stood up for my gender and my race. The day I forewent standards that were pursued on me by my age cohort.

I have never shied away from my views and my rights as a woman.

I have been empowered by the likes of Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai, Michele Obama, Amal Clooney, Simone Veil, my list could go on and on.

I have always stood up for my rights. Shunning past sexual harassment, gender bias and the racial abuse I've suffered throughout my whole life.

My whole career I've stood up and spoken out about the unjust world we live in, knowing fine well it could cost me my job. The job's that I suffered sexual taunts, racial abuse and was paid significantly less than my male counterparts, so to me, it wasn't a job that supported my rights anyway.

That was the main reason why I left my industry and started my own. I am the power behind my own mind. I control my own destiny. But I also can use my platform to influence others. And I will never be silenced.

But last night something happened that the 14-year-old woman I used to be was waiting for.

Oprah stood up and called out the lack of equality in our world. Oprah. The woman who has been begging Congress to listen to our rights since the dawn of her time.

And last night the world stood up and listened to her.

What we saw last night was the change that women like Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai, Michele Obama, Amal Clooney, Simone Veil, and Elenor Rosevelt have given their lives to support.

What we saw was justice.

And it felt good.

With tears rolling down my face and a fire burning in my heart I ask you all to not forget what you saw last night. Do not forget the women that stood up for your rights. We all have our part to play in this movement. Focus your energy on the right kind of change.

You may think that #WhyWeWearBlack is something to jump on the bandwagon about. But remember when you wake up this morning there will still be millions of women across the globe without equality.

All sexualities. All races. All women.

Think about how your actions speak. How are you going to be a part of this change? How are you going to help?

Now is not the time to sit on the fence. Now is not the time for silence.

Speak up. Speak louder. Speak for your rights as a woman. Speak for the rights of the next generation. In the hope they have a chance to live freely without discrimination.

But most importantly speak up for your daughters.

So play your part. Stand up for change.

And make 2018, the year of the woman.



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