As an outspoken feminist, one of the most fulfilling parts of my life is the volunteer work I do with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Each week, the other leaders and I teach the girls useful skills and lessons about the world they live in. So it was only natural that, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day came around earlier this month, we decided to focus our weekly meeting on educating the girls about his incredible legacy.
Unfortunately, our lesson on Dr. King’s dream for a harmonious future came on the same day that our president made his now infamous comments calling certain regions of the world “shithole countries.”
When I explained to the troop how society has progressed thanks to the work of civil rights activists like Dr. King, one of the girls interrupted with a heartbreaking concern.
Following this sad truth, the room erupted with young girls voicing their fears over the president’s words. Our troop almost completely consists of Black and Latina girls, so their anxiety is painfully understandable. Some loudly added their worries about the president’s “wall” and the deportation of Latinx immigrants. Others exclaimed that the president’s treatment of women proved that he didn’t care about girls either — no matter their race.
Their frenzy of concern was overwhelming.
It was instantly clear that every girl in the room felt that Donald Trump — the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world — hated them.
This heartbreaking realization isn’t an isolated incident. While slogans like “The Future Is Female” have become increasingly popular in a post-Trump world, studies have found that the impact of the 45th president’s racism and sexism on young girls is alarmingly measurable.
In a national Pollfish poll by The New York Times, half of the girls surveyed said that Trump’s comments have affected the way they think about their bodies. The poll also found that Trump’s presidency is impacting the future generation’s likelihood of pursuing a leadership role. Of the girls surveyed, 27% said the presidential race and current presidency made them feel less willing to become leaders in their future endeavors.
Trump’s sexism isn’t the only issue that is hurting our girls. Trump has shown countless instances of bigotry and outright racism in his policies, behavior, and speech. And — perhaps the most damaging aspect of his abusive behavior — the president has received very little reprimand from his followers because of his remarks and actions.
In a campaign appearance for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race, Former First Lady Michelle Obama explained how Trump’s racist and sexist rhetoric would impact our children. She said, “We’re telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country.” Her prediction was right. Since the election, hate crimes have risen over 20%.
With the harsh realities of our current society, it’s no wonder that girls — especially girls of color — feel they are hated by the world they exist in.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There isn’t anything we can do to stop or change what comes out of Trump’s mouth, but we can alter how our girls process the negativity they are forced to confront.
Between constant threats of gendered racism and sexual harassment, women of color have the deck stacked against us — but we can teach this next generation of girls to navigate those obstacles.
Focusing on creating a culture of women who support other women is one of the most important things we can do to elevate young girls. Society has conditioned us to compete with each other for the few opportunities that are available to women and POC. Instead of participating in this toxic competition, we can focus on building networks of support between women. This will teach future generations that we can help each other find success and create the opportunities we need.
Teaching our girls to be critical of the media they consume is also a must in a world that bombards them with information. Learning to identify content that promotes sexualization, internalized misogyny, and tokenism will also help them to identify those problems in the real world. With this critical eye, they can avoid toxic situations in their future personal and professional lives.
Finally, it is essential that we help our girls understand that the racism and sexism they face has nothing to do with who they are as individuals. The hate that is aimed at them is confusing. Some girls may wonder what they did to deserve this hatred. Some may even blame themselves for it.
That’s why we have to help them understand that they have done nothing wrong.
As mentors, parents, and role models, we have to show our girls that they are not at fault for the broken system that says they are less than. We have to teach them to find their worth in a culture that says they have none.
The girls of my troop got an unexpected lesson in the inequality of our society — but it won’t be their last.
It hurts to know that these children have to carry this burden, but, as long as I’m there to help them, they won’t have to do it alone.
While Trump is unable to perform his duties as an impartial and inclusive president, we women will uphold our responsibilities. Let it be known: The next generation of girls are getting ready to take on this world, and we’ve got their backs.