Why We’re Afraid of Fearless Girl

Happy May 1st.

Who’s your favorite “Fearless Girl?”

If you know my book, Cease & Desist, you know my favorite FEARLESS GIRL is Cease de Menich. But, I want to know who you’d chose to be your favorite FEARLESS GIRL. Maybe she’s a friend from school who’s done something awesome. Maybe she’s one of your kids? I’ll be asking that question all this week on my blog. Please tell us what it takes to be a FEARLESS GIRL in our society today.

On Wall Street there’s a bronze statue of a girl who looks about the same age as the sixth graders in the middle school that I teach. She looks pretty fearless as she’s standing up to a raging bronze bull; and she’d better be, it doesn’t take much to see that bull represents men, greed and the lack of women in positions of financial power. The artist Kristen Visbal, maintains that the statue of a child posed with her fists on her hips represents “the power of women in leadership.” Many feminists who don’t like the statue claim she’s a cheap corporate-centric ploy to hide the real issues like equal pay and reproductive rights (the piece was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors).

Everyone loves the image of empowerment represented by a girl standing up for herself in the ruthless, financial jungle our world has become. But, how would some of us men feel if it were a woman standing there? Pretty intimated, right?

But the problem goes deeper than that for men, women and children.

We aren’t just angry at Fearless Girl. We’re afraid of her, afraid for her. We’re afraid because we know in our hearts her future is imperiled. She doesn’t stand a chance alongside a President who is being mocked as “the pussy-grabber-in-chief”; but also brags his daughter (or is that his wife? Even he often gets them confused) is a model–not just for the latest issue of Maxim–but for longer maternity leave. Will our fearless young women be devoured by the wave of sexism that many attribute to the president’s base? Hillary Clinton recently claimed that she lost the election because of misogyny, that America is threatened by having a woman in the oval office. I don’t believe that a majority of us feel that way. I watch young girls stand up for their rights every day in my classroom.

The real problem isn’t just emanating from the oval office. The truth is, Fearless Girl doesn’t stand a chance against the mixed messages the media sends all young women. We want our daughters to be strong, but don’t we also want them to look gorgeous in revealing bikinis? The media thinks so. And the truth is, we who call ourselves “feminists” don’t even know what that word stands for anymore. The most progressive and intelligent young women I talk to at my school don’t consider themselves feminists, because they think it stands for a woman who doesn’t like men and doesn’t enjoy being herself.

To speak against feminism is to speak against basic human rights. But it’s time for someone to admit that the type of feminism that once worked–or at least, forced people to take notice–has changed. Young women aren’t weaker than they were a generation ago, but they’re a lot more confused about how their voices will be heard. Fearless Girl doesn’t just need a woman mentor, she needs an interpreter who can help separate the truth from the bull. 

Our Bold New Virtual World.

When we read something outlandish in a novel, we think that could never happen in real life, and we break that willing suspension of disbelief that makes reading fiction so enjoyable. When we witness a horrible event in real life, we doubt our senses, and a part of our brain tries to convince us that what we’re seeing isn’t entirely “real.” Scientists say this is the way the brain protects itself from the enormity of horrible events. The soldiers who were the first to discover concentration camps at the end of World War II felt this. Many people who watched the first plane hit the World Trade Center, felt the same way.

Questioning  “reality” is an essential part of our education, I tell my students. The internet is far from truthful. Fake news is the latest example of a reality that many people have come to accept as part of the unreal world we live in. But the problem goes a lot deeper than most people think; young people have trouble determining what’s real because they were brought up on video games and reality TV that achieves verisimilitude with a seductive allure to the senses that few great novels can achieve, at least, for those who don’t make reading a habit. What happens when your sense of reality becomes so blurred with the virtual you stop questioning the real all together? What happens when RealityTV becomes interactive and you’re allowed to tell willing participants what you want them to do and say?

A lot happens, and none of it is good. Soon young people won’t just be temporarily duped by the unreal, they’ll be convinced it’s the way life works. Interactive, RealityTV will soon present programming that will allow people to vote for and recommend real sex and real violence.

Can’t we can put a stop to this? Not necessarily. Remember the only censor for live, streaming digital, broadcast is you, the viewer. You can turn the channel. You can write your congressman. Or what you see will appear so horrific that you’ll convince yourself that it can’t possibly be real.

There are laws against that sort of programming, aren’t there? Maybe, but tell that to a young person that’s been given an order to do something that could make them the Queen Bee or most popular boy to millions of viewers. Should we hold young people responsible for “following orders?” And some of those orders will probably be given by adults who are watching and want to see them “go all the way.” Remember, those people in the Milgram experiment were just “following orders.” So were the Nazis. In the coming months you’re going to see this sad reality come to pass. I’m writing to ask you to do two things when you witness the real and try to dismiss it as just a virtual photo-shopping of the perverse.

First. Don’t blame young people. Sure we’d like them to read more and question authority. But young people didn’t create these games. We did.

Second. This bold new world of interactive entertainment isn’t going to go away. There may be finger-pointing and hand-wringing by concerned adults at congressional hearings. But in the end, the only censors will be those of us with the courage turn the channel.