Ms Rachael Christopherson, Head of Beanland House
We touched down at the old Delhi airport very early on a December morning in 2015. Fifteen Year 10 and Year 11 girls, two teachers and the Antipodeans guide waited in the pick-up zone of the airport for our hotel transfer. It was dark, dusty and the city’s haze of smog added an orange glow to the murky morning. Two underfed dogs were wandering lazily past the food stalls across the road where a few men were squatting beside the road, smoking and talking. Some taxi drivers waited for work. The air smelled of a blend of cooking oil and rubbish. One of the Year 10 girls started to cry quietly. She said to me, ‘I’m just feeling overwhelmed; it’s a bit confronting.’ My answer was something like this: ‘Remember that we are all together; you will never be alone. You might be scared but we are all here with you. We’re going to face this challenge together.’ The student was able to calm down, the other girls drew more closely around her, and she continued on to enjoy the challenging but exciting experience of the Antipodeans expedition in northern India.
We have heard the mantra many times: ‘Courage is not the absence of fear; it is acting in spite of it’ (Twain, 1894). As our girls embark on the exciting yet arduous journey of their secondary education and developing independence, there has never been a more crucial time to be brave. In one of the first Beanland House assemblies this year, I reminded the girls of the importance of rising above stereotypes and having the courage to be themselves and chase their dreams. I showed them the Always#LikeAGirl clip, which aims, ‘to keep girls’ confidence high during puberty and beyond’ (Always, 2018). Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video was eager to be part of the campaign, reflecting, ‘In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand.’ Similarly, motivated by the courage and vision of our namesake, Sophia Beanland (Principal, 1882 to 1888), who facilitated the incredible expansion of Girls Grammar’s facilities and curriculum in those early years, I endeavour to inspire the Beanland girls with her strength. This year, the Year 12 Beanland girls embraced Sophia Beanland’s egalitarian ideology creating the motto, ‘Growl Louder. Girl Power’ to guide their focus for the House in 2018.
Strength for young women often involves standing up to assumptions and expectations about their gender. I love to share the story of past student, Ashley Holloway (2009) who walked into her first computer-programming course at Queensland University of Technology, only to be asked by the lecturer if she was lost (Bita, 2015). Not discouraged, Ashley graduated with First Class Honours, and is now working as the Digital Project Manager for Burberry in the UK. Ashley remembers her Girls Grammar education fondly, saying ‘during school I learnt to never give up, and to strive for what I want. I loved to play sport, and Girls Grammar was so encouraging and supportive of this’ (Our Grammar Women, 2018). In fact, team sports and individual sport have been identified as one of the key components contributing to the development of self-efficacy in adolescent girls (Fitzimmons, 2018). Not surprisingly, the Australian Government’s ‘Girls Make Your Move’ campaign recognises the importance of team sport as essential to the development of both physical and mental strength in young women:
‘Girls Make Your Move’ is about inspiring, energising and empowering young women to be more active regardless of ethnicity, size or ability. Studies show that young women are twice as likely as boys to be inactive. In addition to greater energy and improved fitness, regular physical activity can help manage stress, alleviate depression and anxiety, strengthen self-esteem, enhance mood and boost mental alertness. (Australian Government Department of Health, 2018)
In her recently published photo-essay, Strong is the New Pretty, author Kate. T Parker interviewed young girls across the United States asking them how they defined being a girl, and what she discovered was, ‘strength’:
‘For me, being a girl means being part of a group of smart, excellent people. When people think of girls, they generally think of make-up, heels, and perfume—but girls aren’t all that.’ Zoe, age 10
‘True beauty is the result of the persistence, resilience, and confidence that comes with being a strong woman.’ Sophie, age 17
‘Strong girls never lose. They only learn, and come back stronger.’ Kylie, age 12
Kristen Visbal’s immensely popular sculpture, The Fearless Girl, a bronze statue of a defiant girl standing hands on hips, facing the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street, New York, installed on International Women’s Day in March 2017, captures this idea of strength. Part of State Street’s campaign to pressure companies to add more women to their boards, the statue has quickly become a powerful symbol of empowerment and women’s rights. Yet, being brave is more than defiance. It is about being willing to take risks, to fail, to admit that you are afraid, to ask for help, and above all to continue on, regardless of your fear. Post-millennials such as Malala Yousafzai (advocate for gender equality in education) and Emma Gonzalez (anti-gun youth activist) are both survivors of violent crime (Lestor, 2018). Despite their traumatic experiences, both have chosen to speak out in favour of education, tolerance, equality and compassion. Both are working with the support of like-minded young people to generate change in their world. And both have come up against powerful organisations but have demanded to be heard. A defining aspect of Yousafzai’s ethos is hope:
Some days are hard—but I refuse to believe the world will always be as it is. Progress is happening. I believe we can see every girl in school in my lifetime. If we want a brighter future—for them and for ourselves—we must invest in girls today. (Yousafzai, 2018)
In my role as Head of Beanland House, I have become increasingly inspired by the strength of the Beanland girls but also conscious of the need to further empower the girls to be brave. Beanland girls manage illness, injury and family changes, drawing on both their inner strength and their wider support networks to maintain the routine of school and hold fast to their vision for their future. They still put their hand up to volunteer for service activities, try out for sporting teams, and sing in the choir—despite challenges they may be facing. Their courage inspires and moves me. Yet, I am aware of my responsibility to continue to encourage and develop independence and fortitude in the Beanland girls. When I meet with a student, in our conversation I try to assist them with developing a plan for responding to a problem, whether it be academic, friendship or organisational, so that she is more autonomous in dealing with the challenge. It is my hope that students will feel empowered by taking steps to respond effectively, and when faced with a future problem, will feel better resourced in how to manage it.
I hope that our life experiences make us stronger. My response to that frightened student at Delhi airport was not only a consequence of my training but also of my own experience. I’ve also faced that ‘first time in a developing country’ fear, where the chaos of a foreign culture can be overwhelming. I drew on the support of friends and my own resolve to get me through that initial fear, and I have continued to travel internationally over the years, sometimes on my own. I wonder if Sophia Beanland was a little frightened when she arrived in Brisbane in 1882 to commence the extraordinary task of overseeing the newly independent Brisbane Girls Grammar School. I’m sure she was, but she got on with it and her legacy endures not only in the Beanland girls but in all Grammar girls. She was a brave woman of determination and strength, and we are all the better for it.
Always. (2018, February). #LikeAGirl: How it all started. Retrieved from Always: https://always.com/en-us/about-us/likeagirl-how-it-all-started
Australian Government Department of Health. (2018, May). About this campaign. Retrieved from Girls Make Your Move: https://campaigns.health.gov.au/girlsmove/about-this-campaign
Bita, N. (2015, August 1). Star techies blazing a trail for girls to follow. The Weekend Australian.
Fitzimmons, D. T. (2018). Driving gender equality in Australia and New Zealand: it’s time! Fearless Girls. Strong Women. Adelaide.
Lestor, A. (2018, April 30). Generation Z: politicised by necessity and already changing the world. ‘Good Weekend’, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 – 29.
Our Grammar Women. (2018, May). Retrieved from Brisbane Girls Grammar School: https://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/community/grammar-women/alumni-stories/
Parker, K. T. (2017). Strong is the new pretty. New York: Workman Publishing Co. Inc.
Twain, M. (1894). Pudd’nhead Wilson.
Yousafzai, M. (2018, January 15). Who Runs the World? Girls! Time, 24.