Over the past few years, the words “girl power” have been used as a rallying cry for empowerment and strength in the ongoing fight for women’s equality. I feel goosebumps spread on my arms when I say these two words with power and gusto—like many other feminists, I am enthralled with the idea that girls deserve to be just as heard and recognized as their male peers.
To me, “girl power” also suggests bringing a youthful set of eyes to challenging gender norms—and instilling a sense of power in our rising generation of future feminist leaders. Girl power does not have to just be a saying. For girls everywhere, it can be a way of life.
I have three major pieces of advice for girls looking to find their power—from one young feminist to another.
#1: Start with self-acceptance.
The first step to igniting social change is self-acceptance. For girls, being your own biggest fan isn’t just a good way to boost your self-esteem—it’s a survival mechanism, and one that defies social norms. While young boys often receive affirmation and praise from their parents, teachers and peers, this is not always the case for girls—many of whom face criticism or even punishment for being true to themselves, which can lead to self-doubt.
If girls learn how to trust themselves and see what makes them special, instead of listening to outside voices, their confidence and spirits will soar. This mindset allows for greater success, whether it be in making friends or proving your point. For me, this all started when I began to take satisfaction in my wins, however small they were. Once it became a habit of mine to pat myself on the back, I was better equipped to face the world.
#2: Start standing up for yourself.
As young women, our gender and age are often used by others as excuses to ignore our ideas and opinions. That means we have to be fighters.
Girls learn early on that if they do not defend themselves, no one else will brave the battle for them. It’s unfair that girls have to work harder than boys to be seen, heard and respected—but nevertheless, we must persist and we must do it, because our words and perspectives are just as valuable and necessary as anyone else’s.
In just my lifetime, the world has witnessed a rise in strong, powerful female leaders bringing their voices to the masses. But high-profile activists and Washington heavyweights like Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—and even stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Yara Shahidi and Kesha—had to challenge others, and learn to fight for themselves, in order to smash ceilings, brave the odds and reach the influential positions they have today.
Girl power comes from recognizing that you are unique and being true to yourself, even in the face of trolls and critics who will try to put you into boxes. I have been told that I do not act like “other girls.” What does it even mean to be like “other girls?” Does it mean being submissive, quiet, clean-cut and well-behaved? If so, that’s fine by me—I embrace being inquisitive, opinionated and bold.
Society should be able to handle your unfiltered, true self. Resist the instruction to bend to their will—insist instead that others figure out how to handle you as you really are.
#3: Support your sisters.
It’s still true: We’re stronger together.
Girls like us must support each other if and when we challenge the world. Part of being a feminist leader is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other women as they take a stand. Two years after women rallied behind Hillary Clinton, helping to deliver a historic popular vote win to the first-ever female candidate for president, women voters staged a sequel—and elected a historic number of women to office across the country.
When we support each other, society changes. When individual action becomes collective action, girls everywhere see changes. Girl power must go beyond our own empowerment—our goal must be to create real change once we find our voices.