A Girl’s Pain, A Girl’s Worth

My heart broke today when I read that fourteen year old student and activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan. She survived, but it’s hard to imagine that her life — already made difficult by the hateful reactions to her advocacy of girls’ education — can continue safely where she lives now. What will she do? Go abroad? Even to the capital city of Lahore? Even if her body is safe, will she feel safe in her spirit?

Malala Yousafzai

So many images flashed through my mind. The four little girls in Birmingham. The children and teens who marched in the Civil Rights movement. Child soldiers… not for blood but for justice.

And as I reflected on all these logical things, other images popped into my mind that surprised me. Miley Cyrus with what appear to be self-inflicted “cutting” wounds on her arm. A mainly-naked Lady GaGa, who sent pictures out to counter claims she’d gotten fat, but also reflect on her long history of bulimia. Trivial? Perhaps. But in a privileged country like the US, we don’t see girls shot in the head for wanting to go to school. We do see a lot of rage and fear turned inward.

Miley Cyrus

I’m not saying the struggles of a teen pop star are equivalent with the life-or-death struggles of Yousafzai. But what comes to mind is how to connect our lives in the U.S. to the struggles of girls everywhere. Would we turn in on ourselves if we were able to contextualize our privilege? I say this not in judgment of the teen stars. I was a teenage bulimic myself — overambitious, unsure of myself, sure only that if I was thinner I’d be happier. I grew out of it, or rather I taught myself other ways to deal with fear and performance anxiety. I just wonder, in a country where so many girls turn inward on themselves by cutting, starving, or other self-inflicted harms, how we can connect to the larger struggles for self-determination and independence.

Just musing. Just sad for not just this one girl in Pakistan, but her nation and our world. What do you think?

About Farai Chideya

Farai has combined media, technology, and socio-political analysis during her 20-year career as an award-winning author and journalist. She is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She contributes to print, public radio, and cable television; and she also hosts a series of town hall meetings in both New York and San Francisco, with New York Public Radio and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, respectively. You can see an archive of her 2010 midterm election specials -- which foreshadowed some of the current political and immigration debates -- at PopandPolitics.com, which she founded in 1995.