Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Girl With a Book

"I don’t get it.  What do kidnapped Nigerian girls have to do with chick lit?"
This was the comment from an acquaintance of mine when I told him I planned a blog post today dealing with the Nigerian school girls held captive by terrorists.  I had three distinct thoughts in response.
One:  This guy clearly doesn’t read my blog.  It’s not all Bridget Jones, chardonnay and stilettos.
Two:  This guy could very easily wind up with the heel of a stiletto between the eyes, as he’s apparently assumed chick lit is all I am qualified to discuss.
Three:  Girls abducted from their school, reportedly to be sold into slavery, really does have something to do with chick lit.  Everything, in fact.
Let me explain.
It’s been nearly one full month since more than 270 teenaged girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamic militant terror organization Boko Haram.  That’s a group whose name, roughly translated, means, “Western education is a sin.”
This situation is a clear case of backlash by small-minded people against the progress of both women and nonviolence in the world.  It is the last desperate gasp of a dying breed, an eerily pure display of the way violence is used not by the strongest among us, but by the weakest.  Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has waffled tellingly in proclaiming the purpose of the abductions.  First he said Allah had instructed him to sell the girls into arranged marriages and sexual slavery.  Then he indicated he’d be willing to exchange their freedom for that of insurgents.  So much for Allah’s instructions, it seems.
For now, it’s a waiting game.  With a twist.  The only reason I am discussing this story today may be the social media hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.  While critics have derided the effort as “cheap hashtag activism,” the truth is that the world was not paying much attention to the plight of the kidnapped girls until the story began trending on Twitter and other social media sites.  A hashtag won’t bring anyone home, but global attention has spurred the Nigerian government to embarrassed action, which is a step in the right direction.  Mere hours ago, US surveillance planes began an air search of the remote areas where it’s believed the captives are being held.  Britain, France and China have sent teams to assist.
This is huge.  The world understands that the safety of female students in Nigeria has an impact on us all - and politicians, celebrities, and ordinary folks like you and me used social media to focus attention on a situation that might otherwise have remained on page three of a newspaper, soon to be forgotten.
And yes, I write chick lit - yet for better or for worse, social media gives me a voice equal to that of any political commentator.  I’ll use that voice here to argue that any writing by women and for women has value.  Chick lit is escapism, sure.  It’s a light aimed at the funny, sexy and irreverent aspects of life as a woman.  It’s a counterbalance to the harsher truths of female experience.  It’s a luxury, and we come to it the same way we come to any of the luxuries we earn in life: through education and personal empowerment.  The wingnuts in Boko Haram and other pseudo-religious terrorist groups know this.  In the words of Malala Yousafzai, “Extremists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book.”
Sylvia Plath.  Jennifer Weiner.  Erica Jong.  Candace Bushnell.  Eve Ensler.  Emily Giffin.  Adrienne Rich.  Anais Nin.  I wish all these authors, all their wonderful books depicting the dark and the light, into the hands of those Nigerian school girls.  I wish them the freedom to read what they choose, to dress as they please, to dance and laugh and grow.

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