She was a girl about 11 years old. She was walking with who I assumed was her mother. She had a backpacking pack strapped on to her as she walked up a steep hill in her neighborhood. I imagined she was preparing for an upcoming camping trip, possibly her first hike into the true wilderness. The thought made me smile.
I was on my bike just coming off of one of D.C.’s trails. I was quickly approaching the girl and her mother. That is, until I hit that steep hill they were on. My pace lessened a bit, but I raised myself off of my seat, and kept pushing, asking just a little more from the power of my own two legs, letting sweat drip down my face and my heavy breath accent the redness of my face. In time, I was biking alongside the girl and her mother. As I slowly passed, something happened that I haven’t been able to forget.
The girl paused her walk, turned to look at me with a humbling sense of awe in her eyes, and said aloud as her gaze followed me up the hill, “Wow.”
I experienced a brief moment of feeling like the world’s strongest, most athletic woman to ever bike up a hill, but then that moment was taken over by something ever more powerful. It dawned on me that this was a girl seeing a woman doing something outside of the gender norms our society had set for us. And it was clear that that’s something this girl wanted to do too. Somewhere along life’s ride, I had now become one of the women who had originally initiated my own sense of girl power.
A week ago, I had the privilege of seeing the documentary film She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry screened at the E Street Cinema. The film’s description explains it best: “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement from 1966 to 1971.”
I attended the film with two other female friends, and throughout the 92 minutes it played, each of us found ourselves moved, surprised, educated, enchanted, disgusted, and reflective. As we exited the theater, there was one thing in particular that we could all agree on—we couldn’t believe how little of the history we had actually known. I felt embarrassed for my own lack of knowledge. I felt grateful for this opportunity to dip my feet into the history. I felt galvanized to learn more, to discuss it with friends, and to continue the good fight that so many other women had bravely set forth for us.
The women in this film were the ones who stood as living examples to girls at that time that they could grow up to be something more. And those girls did grow up to be something more—and, in turn, they became the women that held the eyes of the next generation of girls. I have so many thank yous to give to these women.
To all of the women who are beautiful when they’re angry, I thank you for giving me the chance to connect with other women intellectually, spiritually, and professionally.
I thank you for Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book my mother gifted to me when I was a teen. I regretfully admit that at the time, I rolled my eyes at it, as the sheer embarrassment I held for my own body caused me to shy away from the knowledge it held. I understand now the true gift it is to be allowed to educate myself on my female health and sexuality and to relish and cherish it instead of shying away.
Thank you for vocalizing to the world that it’s not ok to simply call me “toots” and dismiss my ideas and aspirations.
I want to express my thanks for all of the things you did that must have felt so scary at the time in order to ensure that I could go to college and be taken seriously by my professors.
Thank you to the film’s director who didn’t back down when it became hard to find funders for the movie. Thank you for giving this movement and these women this moment.
To these women, I thank you for getting angry to the point of taking action.
I thank you for giving me a reason to say, “Wow.”
And I thank you for the thousands of others things I have to be thankful for that I just can’t fit into this essay.
In the film’s final discussions, the women interviewed explained, “You can’t retire from this movement.” They expressed that each generation can take it further.
When they said this to us—the audience, the next generation—I thought of the girl with the backpacking pack and her reaction to seeing me bike up that hill. I was biking up that hill as a woman in charge of her own life thanks to the women whose actionable anger made something beautiful happen. But I was also biking up that hill as a woman living as an example for other girls. For, one day, girl power transitions into women’s empowerment.
We can’t retire from this movement, as there are always little eyes watching what we do. I’m not just biking up a hill because I enjoy doing it, but also because I’m showing other girls that it’s something they can do too. We have to ensure the next generation knows its potential and its worth. We have to keep speaking up as we’re faced with continuing challenges to our reproductive rights and with the epidemic of sexual violence. We live this movement not just for ourselves, but for all women. We do it for all people, so that we can make of this anger a more beautiful world not just for some, but for all.
Now, please, go see She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Just do it.