Sitting in the common room of my hostel with a bunch of bummed out kite surfers (it’s raining…again) has given me some perspective how confusing my research question might be to someone who has never met me. Most of my friends and family have been able to ask me follow up questions, some have heard me babble on about it for longer than they might like, and some people are just trying to be polite. But because of the rain, the kite surfers have been asking me questions that boil down to wanting to know the difference between their perspective as kite surfers and my perspective as a student. What do I see that they don’t? What’s going on in this tropical paradise other than vacations? I’ve met a lot of inquisitive people on my journey, and the conversation usually evolves into me explaining that no, I haven’t met the next Malala Yousafzai; I have, however, had the pleasure of talking to some incredibly cool women. Here are some examples of what they are doing:
A woman who was a guerrilla during the Sandinista revolution now works to bring clean water to Nicaraguans.
A single mother in a town with a large out-migration problem teaches her son that staying in his hometown is important, that he should never hurt women, and that you can’t get a girl pregnant by holding hands with her.
A victim of childhood abuse now hosts a radio station that gives women a voice.
A principal encourages children to focus on reading in a community plagued with drug abuse.
A waitress that helps at the local women’s community center plans protests and meetings when she’s not working 12-hour shifts.
These women have no obligation to be doing this work. They simply have seen a problem in their communities, and they’re reaching out with empathy and doing what they can to try to fix it. They’re listening. They’re serving. They’re leading. Every single one of them was excited to share their story, it’s just rare that someone asks them.
This brings me to the other night’s Golden Globes. Let me explain. Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch it, but I was following it on twitter and noticed some trends that I got excited about. Normally, awards shows are a couple of hours of advertisements and some awards sandwiched in between some catty people commenting on celebrities’ outfits and asking them inappropriate questions. The questions posed to women focus on appearance: “What are you wearing?” “How did you lose that baby weight?” “You got so in shape for that role—how did you do it!?” These questions posed to talented women such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, and Amy Adams. Why not ask them questions that men are asked? Their inspiration? Their favorite book? Their first Hollywood job?
But for the Golden Globes this year, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, partnered with Miss Representation, challenged that tradition. They started a hashtag, #AskHerMore, encouraging reporters to ask women on the red carpet more thought provoking questions. Now, this campaign has the specific goal of showing the reality that our media often only cares about a woman if she’s wearing heels. But what if we “asked her more” in all situations?
In this project, I tried to be an example of that. I asked everyone questions, from the maids at my hostels to non-profit directors. My goal now is to take that with me to “real life,” as I’ve been calling it. It’s not easy, but it’s important: to listen, to serve, to be empathetic, no matter where I find myself. It’s how you make change, and how you lead it.