Stronger Together

From his pink cheeks and the way he walked with his head down, I could tell he was ashamed of himself for losing to a girl. We had just competed in the mile run. I knew I beat him fair and square, but it did not feel like it. When his friends teased him, I knew he was mad and embarrassed that he was beaten by a girl, beaten by me. Even I felt bad that I beat him. I found myself thinking that I should have let him win, so that I could play the role of the girl and he could play the role of the boy. I was conflicted, but I should have felt mad.

I was still thinking about that as we sat in class listening to the list of affinity groups. When our teacher got to the end of the list, I couldn’t believe my ears. Maybe he skipped one, or they forgot to put it on the list. Did they really think thousands of years of patriarchy had been magically erased, and my generation is living in a post-patriarchy paradise? Well, I didn’t agree.

After class, I asked my teacher whether it was still possible to start a new affinity group, one for girls. He said it was a possibility, but it wouldn’t be easy. My mind jumped straight to a quote from Bayard Rustin: “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” I thought about that quote for a long time. I realized that I can be mad at the world for not understanding what is wrong and what is right, but that just wastes time that I could be spending making change. So I went home and started to do my homework.

That night when I shared my dilemma with my family, my sister shared with me how important her FEM club was to her and the other girls in it. She said that at every meeting, she felt she was making the Sidwell community a better place. I knew what I had to do. The next morning during first period I found out how to start an affinity group: I would have to get a group of girls together and propose the idea to the club organizer. I was confident and determined that the girls in my grade would feel the exact same way I did. I first talked to my good friend Zoe, and she said she had thought about doing the same thing. Clearly, I was not alone. After that, every person Zoe and I asked gave the same answer, and they also wanted to change the way the world viewed women.

We presented our proposal to the club organizer. She said that she liked the idea, but that people might not join this late in the year and it might be hard to find someone to supervise the meetings. So she suggested that we do a test meeting.

While planning our first meeting it was important to consider that some girls had other parts of their identity that were very important to them which were reflected in other affinity groups. So we wanted to make sure that there would not be any conflicts. We also wanted to have the opportunity to explore the intersectionality between gender, race, and religious affinity groups.

Twenty to thirty students showed up to our first meeting. I was nervous. My friends and I had some discussion topics that we wanted to share with the group. At first, everyone was hesitant. We talked about women in the workplace and how girls our age are inclined to quit sports due to peer pressure and feeling self-conscious. When they started to open up, I started to feel how my sister felt at her club meetings. Like her, I felt like I was helping to build a community of girls who wanted to change the world.

I first got a taste of Quakerism and the SPICES when I was in kindergarten. I learned about simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship, but at the time they were all just words to me until we started doing service projects. I was always eager to cut the vegetables to make a stir-fry for a charity, or stir the lemonade to get money for children’s books. I knew I was making change and that I was helping in my community, but I was not sure how any of the SPICES related to cutting vegetables. I soon learned how they were connected: these are our pillars to live by and it is how we engage in service work that portrays our values. Now the way I make change is influenced by Quaker values. When we decided to create this affinity group, we did not make it just to benefit ourselves; we wanted to make it so that girls who are lacking confidence could find a group of people that they trust to lift them up when it may be hard to find that confidence within them.

This community has played such an important role in my life since I started it. Especially when the new group of girls joined us this year, because whenever they confide in me and our community and share their problems with us, I feel like I can help them and they do not have to feel the way I did when I had no one to guide me. I also feel more comfortable at school because I know I have a community of girls standing with me and I have more confidence because of them. That is how I knew the change that my friends and I made was important and meant something to everyone in the affinity group, not just us. Now when I beat a boy in a race, I know there will be other girls cheering me on, and I hope the boys will just be motivated to run harder next time and not care whether they are competing against a boy or a girl.

Read more: Student Voices Project 2020

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