Malala and Me
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published in October 2014.
I sat here crying as I watched Malala Yousafzai talk about wanting to get an education and follow her dreams. She talks about how she decided to speak up against the Taliban because she didn’t want to be locked away in her house with no education, forced to marry at 13 or 14, and I can’t help but cry because it hits too close to home.
I know what it feels like to fight for an education in a culture that thinks girls shouldn’t get one. That believes girls should be married off young with no skills and little education beyond primary school. I know what it feels like to want more and to feel the weight of everyone around you writing off your dreams as a silly fantasy.
No, I didn’t have the Taliban forcing me home, and like Malala, my parents made sure that I had an education and encouraged me to follow my dreams. Who sent me to college, and who didn’t think that I had to marry off young and become the property of my husband.
I was lucky though.
There are so many girls stuck in the conservative Christian homeschool culture who aren’t so lucky. The stay-at-home daughter movement popularized by Doug Phillips and Vision Forum teaches that the proper place for a daughter is at home under her father’s authority until she’s given to the husband that her father has selected for her. Stay-at-home daughters are often given limited education, and dreaming of a life away from her father or husband, an education and a career, is unthinkable.
I remember going to hear popular homeschool speaker Little Bear Wheeler speak when I was in middle school, hearing from him that girls should be left as malleable clay to be shaped by their husband to best suit him as a helper. Her talents and interests don’t matter, only what her father and husband want from her.
For girls like Maranatha Chapman, long touted with her husband Matthew, as a fairy tale example of courtship and betrothal, that meant being married off as a 15 year old child to a 28 year old man. Matthew and Maranatha’s daughter Lauren was married off to a 26 year old man at 16, and I have to wonder whether it would have been sooner if Texas hadn’t raised the legal marriage age from 14 to 16.
I knew girls who started hope chests at 13 or 14 because they fully expected to be engaged or married by the time they were 17. Education? That would depend on whether their husbands decided to let them pursue it.
I’ll never forget the day that I overheard moms at homeschool skate talking about how their daughters didn’t need to learn algebra because, “they’re only going to be wives and mothers.”
Do you have any idea how hard you have to fight to hold on to a dream in that world?
I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was fourteen years old. I can’t count how many people I told that dream to who completely discounted it. How can I be a lawyer when I’m supposed to get married young and be a wife and homeschool mom to my dozen kids? No, that’s a suitable goal for your brother who has no interest in law, but not for you, you’re a girl, you need to stay home and work on your homemaking skills so you can have a parent arranged courtship.
No, I didn’t have a gun pointed at my head for daring to dream, but when Malala talks about facing a future as an uneducated child bride and rejecting that future, I understand.
It’s not just in places like Swat Valley in Pakistan where girls are being denied an education. It’s happening in America too, sometimes we give them reality shows on TLC and People Magazine covers.
I’m often asked why I keep fighting for homeschool children, why I care about this when there are so many other problems in the world.
I fight because every child, whether in Swat Valley in Pakistan or in the heartland of America, deserves an education. There’s a reason why Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for speaking out, it’s because educated girls and women are a threat to the status quo. If they weren’t, no one would be trying so hard to keep them uneducated and locked away at home.
I hope that somehow Malala Yousafzai’s words find their way through to all of the stay-at-home daughters. They deserve a chance to dream.