#LetGirlsLearn It’s no Longer (Just) a Man’s World

This article is part of our Election 2016 Anthology.

And as I’ve traveled the world over the past six years, I’ve seen time and again how our young people — particularly our girls — are so often pushed to the very bottom of their societies.

Everywhere I go, I meet these girls, and they are so fiercely intelligent, and hungry to make something of themselves.

Michelle Obama, Mar 3rd 2015 Launch of the 'Let Girls Learn' Initiative

On the presidential campaign trail this week, girls and women around the world felt that all-too-familiar sensation of being pushed to the bottom of their societies.

As soon as Donald Trump’s lewd 2005 Access Hollywood video tape started swarming the airwaves and assaulting our senses, women were once again reminded how, in some circles, they’re still measured only by their looks.

Once again, the primal male impulse to ogle and subdue clashed with the rising female desire to use her voice and lead.

Once again, we’re seeing female victims step out of the shadows to cry foul, to join a growing chorus of women who have had their spaces invaded and bodies violated.

And in a match-up only karma could have orchestrated, the first female presidential nominee of a major American political party is having to summon every ounce of her woman-power reserves to defeat a brash and unapologetic alpha male.

How do we move through this latest ick factor in what’s already been a toxic campaign? And what larger story needs to be championed here?

A coarsening of our culture

In a recent conversation with historian Nancy Cohen, TV anchor Dan Ashley described the lack of decency in this election cycle as yet another instance of the coarsening of American culture.

And in an attempt to defend Trump’s lewd 2005 comments, one of his supporters chided Hillary Clinton for idolizing Beyonce despite her explicit song lyrics, to prove that the response to Trump’s comments was overblown.

Notwithstanding this Trump supporter’s flawed logic, civil discourse does seem to be fading. Tempers seem to be just that bit shorter, and online abuse seems to be getting more vicious each day.

Our collective resistance to this onslaught of coarseness is wearing thin. So thin, in fact, that many voters are willing to overlook Trump’s cavalier comments because they believe he can fix the ailing political system.

I’m all for electing someone who might be able to do the job, but are we compromising a little too much here?

I’m a human being who still believes in championing human decency, who hopes that world leaders are elected not just for their capacity to govern, but for their ability to model behavior we’d want to emulate.

It requires a healthy ego and tremendous bravado to run for president. It also requires a high consciousness and tremendous self-restraint to conduct oneself in the highest office in the land (and world).

In a grand twist of irony, former President Bill Clinton’s sex scandals showed America that a lack of restraint in his personal life hadn’t stopped him from governing well. Even though Donald Trump displays similar tendencies, I believe it can’t and won’t be enough to turn some voters off. According to this New York Times report, support for Mrs. Clinton has not jumped noticeably, a sign that many Republicans still do not see Mr. Trump as morally unacceptable — at least compared with the Clintons.

So, for the sake of argument, if American culture is now coarse enough to tolerate Donald Trump’s lewd comments and alleged sexually violent behavior, what other moral ground can we stand on to gain a broader perspective?

First Lady of the World

Donald Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood tape was released on Friday October 7th 2016.

Four days later, on Tuesday October 11th 2016, the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl.

In the middle of a week where at least 8 women stepped forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual harassment, First Lady Michelle Obama marked the International Day of the Girl with the premiere screening of the #LetGirlsLearn documentary ‘We Will Rise’, as well as a heart-to-heart Skype conversation with hundreds of teenage girls in Africa, the Middle East, the UK and North and South America.

During the Skype conversation, one question surprised and delighted the crowd:

Q Hello. My name is Nasra Abdallah (ph) in Tanzania. I would like to start by thanking — international and the U.S. Embassy for giving me this chance to talk with you, the First Lady of the world and the global students.

MRS. OBAMA: I like that promotion. Thank you. (Laughter.)

Whether it was a slip of the tongue or an earnest compliment, every American President and First Lady is held in high regard on the world stage. They don’t just carry the hopes and dreams of their fellow Americans. They represent the entire world’s morals and desires. They reflect where the world is and where it wants to go. Far beyond its status as a military superpower, America’s soft power drives our global consciousness and sensibility. As America goes, so goes the world.

President Barack Obama listens as first lady Michelle Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, to announce their 'Let Girls Learn' initiative. The Obama administration is expanding efforts and directing a variety of federal agencies to work with other countries to help young girls worldwide attend and stay in school. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)And when it comes to the issue of supporting girls’ education around the world, the Obamas officially began carrying the torch on March 3rd 2015 by launching #LetGirlsLearn to help the more than 62 million girls around the world who are not in school. It’s a concerted effort to tie together all previous governmental efforts in this area into a single, coordinated strategy.

The yin and yang battle

On the presidential campaign trail this week, we witnessed the timeless battle between the darkness of the Trump tape and the light of teenage girls finding their voice.

We saw the contrast between Trump’s rage in taking the GOP down with his campaign, and Michelle Obama’s resolve in lifting 62 million girls up with her cause.

We experienced the isolation of Trump’s declining poll numbers, and the community of Michelle Obama’s growing #LetGirlsLearn triumphs.

See, on Tuesday, at the White House, we celebrated the International Day of the Girl and Let Girls Learn…I had the pleasure of spending hours talking to some of the most amazing young women you will ever meet, young girls here in the U.S. and all around the world. And we talked about their hopes and their dreams. We talked about their aspirations. See, because many of these girls have faced unthinkable obstacles just to attend school, jeopardizing their personal safety, their freedom, risking the rejection of their families and communities.

So I thought it would be important to remind these young women how valuable and precious they are. I wanted them to understand that the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.

And I told them that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I told them that they should disregard anyone who demeans or devalues them, and that they should make their voices heard in the world.

Michelle Obama, Remarks at Hillary for America Campaign Event in Manchester, NH, Thursday October 13th 2016

When Michelle Obama has her druthers, #LetGirlsLearn will become a persistent megaphone for those girls’ voices to be heard in the world. In time those voices will, with equal doses of love and courage, drown out the lewd and subjugating forces that want to keep them quiet. They will be the chorus that banishes Donald Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood comments and all comments like it. And they will be the undeniable force that assures us we no longer live in just a man’s domineering world.

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About the author

Maya Mathias

Maya Mathias is a global leadership veteran, with a life and career spanning 3 continents and 5 inspired self-reinventions. She is a peaceful leadership advocate and mentor, bringing her unique blend of East & West to her leadership development and innovation management practice. Maya’s life began with a lower-middle class upbringing in Asia, surrounded by poultry & vegetable farms and the ‘simple life’. She doesn’t forget her humble roots, and her body of work seeks to bring more equality, justice and personal purpose in troubling times. Learn more about Maya here.

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