Rising Above

May 03, 2013

Posted By: Bozemama

For any Bozeman girl over the age of 10, Tuesday night at the Emerson was the place to be. A veritable who’s who of multi-generational humanitarians turned out for a screening of the new documentary Girl Rising , which – by telling the extraordinary stories of nine girls from different countries – trumpets the importance of educating girls around the world. As one might expect, given the movie’s theme, the audience was predominantly female: bright, wholesome, optimistic teenage girls and their supportive, altruistic mamas.

These are conscientious, philanthropic women who shop locally and think globally and are passing the baton to their activist daughters, who are members of the anti-bullying Project X initiative at the high school and the Million Ways club at the middle school and hop around the globe doing good with the Traveling School. It was inspiring and uplifting to see these beautiful women and their girls buzzing around like so many queen bees leading not a colony, but a movement.

But – as I sat there watching the movie in my overpriced Seven For All Mankind jeans (yes, I paid more for the butt-lifting technology), belly full of delicious pasta from the Emerson Grill and surrounded by healthy, thriving women with lush hair, strong white teeth and gorgeous handbags (the screening was partially sponsored by the Meridian boutique, after all) – I couldn’t help but wonder, “How dare I feel good about doing so little?”

Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Robbins ( Operation Homecoming ), the movie’s tagline is “One girl with courage is a revolution.”

As Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe points out: “Wanting to get across its message — and attract an audience to get that message across to — Girl Rising needs to walk a fine line between the grim and the upbeat.” Yes, the movie can be heartbreaking at times, but watching it is no real hardship. It’s an hour and forty minutes of gorgeous cinematography, florid prose and feel-good endings. There’s a reason for this, of course. The filmmakers don’t want to alienate audiences. But, really, how courageous is it of me to show up to a glossy movie narrated by actresses like Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and written by women such as Edwidge Danticat of Haiti and India’s Sooni Taraporevala and open up my checkbook?

And then, of course, it ends.

We mothers gathered up our young teenage girls, who declared the film “amazing,” and earnestly announced that they would never complain about going to school again and that, “Being born in America rocks!” This is the response we (and undoubtedly the filmmakers) were hoping for, right? My own Hermione solemnly pledged to do more than just donate money. Grabbing the Traveling School literature, she started rambling seriously on about volunteering in HIV clinics and helping Zulu orphans. Awesome.

So, why am I surprised and disappointed a few days later when I hear her complaining about how her enormous homework load is keeping her from exercising? I almost find myself saying, “You want to exercise, huh? How about carrying your little brother around on your back for eight hours a day like the girls in the movie? How’d you like that, huh?!”

Now, this probably won't surprise you, but here’s where I make a painfully embarrassing and cringe-worthy admission: I am the mom who sometimes says things like, “Eat your dinner, fercryingoutloud! Don’t you know how lucky you are to have fresh, delicious food? Think about the poor starving children in Africa! Or the girl who was a slave in Nepal!”

Yes, I am that cliché. When I admit this to my friend and co-blogger Bunnyfufu, she bursts into laughter and can’t stop. We talk about why it’s so absurd. “Because it’s too big a disconnect,” she says. “It’s an abstract concept – your daughter is never going to be a slave in Nepal,” she says.

My friend Sarah is brave enough to admit that she’s laid the starving-children guilt-trip on her kids before too. “And then I realize that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever said, because it really isn’t relevant to our children. It’s apples and oranges. Mentally, they can’t really grasp it.”

Sarah continues: “The point is to make sure that, as we get sucked into daily life, we find little ways to remember to help and to be thankful. Our kids want to be involved and – with our help -- they can be.”

Anyway, I guess I can’t beat myself up too much. The fact is that I come from the count-your-lucky-stars style of parenting genetically. When I was a kid and we would come across a less fortunate soul, my mother could always be counted on to say, “There, but for the grace of God, goes you.” Really? My 14-year-old self would wonder, because I’m not exactly sure how I feel about God and I’m pretty sure I’m a giant pain in the ass and so why not me? And once, when I was in my early twenties and struggling with job stuff, my dad – I think in what he imagined was an effort to show support and commiseration – actually said, “Well, honey, it could be worse. You could be Monica Lewinsky.” Hmm.



To read Mark Feeney's excellent review of Girl Rising in the Boston Globe , click here .

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