OPINION | A girl’s worth


What is a Girl Worth in Minneapolis? This provocative question was the headline of a successful capital campaign that the YWCA of Minneapolis launched in 1927. The women raised $1 million in 10 days to build the first building on our current downtown site at 12th Street and Nicollet Mall.

I think of the answer to that question often-what is a girl worth? As a mother of two sons, I know the answer is not whether girls or boys are more valuable. But as a woman I know that the answer is different for me than it is for a man. And it is different for a white woman like me than it is for a woman of color.

I think all women understand sexism and have experienced it in their own way. It happens in the boardroom, at the hospital, at the bank and at the car dealership. Sometimes we speak out, and sometimes we stay silent. Confronted with sexism, all women choose their response. However, a woman of color doesn’t get to make the choice of what it feels like to be judged, simply because her skin is not white. She can’t take it off; she can’t step out of it or over it. She is faced with all the assumptions someone has made about her simply because of race. Although my hair color signals certain assumptions someone could make about me, including congratulating me on my advanced age and dignity, it never triggers fear. It never triggers that my value and my worth are being informed by a history of racism and hate.

I’m indebted to Gloria Steinem’s view that the fight against sexism and racism are one fight never to be separated. Those who would think you could own someone because they are female would also believe you could own someone who is of color. Our work for gender equity is always tied to our work for racial equality. Simple. Powerful. True.

So, what is a girl worth? I say every girl is priceless. And if we treat every girl as priceless, this is also how we will treat the boys. And perhaps someday we can justly answer the question “What is a Girl Worth in Minneapolis?” with this answer:

She is worth all of our best efforts to fight for her education, her health and her safety. She is worth reprioritizing how we spend our public resources. She is worth fully funded access to basic health care and immunizations from the day she is born. She is worth access to high quality early childhood education so that she is fully ready to succeed in school and her career. She is worth freedom from hunger and access to safe housing. And she is worth freedom from fear of violence and imprisonment.

She is worth everything.

Becky Roloff is the president and CEO of YWCA of Minneapolis. www.ywca-minneapolis.org

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