Let this general discouragement serve for each of those who solicit me for his own advantage; let it be understood from this day forth that if anyone dies because of me, he does not die of jealousy or misfortune, because she who loves no one cannot make anyone jealous and discouragement should not be taken for disdain. Let him who calls me savage basilisk avoid me as he would something harmful and evil; let him who calls me ungrateful, not serve me, unapproachable, not approach me, cruel, not follow me; let him not seek out, serve, approach or follow in any way this savage, ungrateful, cruel, unapproachable basilisk. For if his impatience and rash desire killed Grisostomo, why should my virtuous behavior and reserve be blamed?
–Marcela in First Part, Chapter XIV
This is part of the lovely Marcela’s speech to the angry crowd at the funeral of Grisostomo, who killed himself because she wouldn’t return his advances. Why should she be to blame if someone becomes infatuated with her? Why should she feel obligated to bend to his will and give up her freedom?
This section made me think of the nearly 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped on April 15th in northern Nigeria by members of the extremist Muslim group called Boko Haram.
“These girls, ages 15 to 18 and Christians and Muslims alike, knew the risks of seeking an education, and schools in the area had closed in March for fear of terror attacks. But the school had reopened so that the girls–the stars of their families and villages–could take their final exams. They were expected to move on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers. Instead, they reportedly are being auctioned off for $12 each to become ‘wives’ of militants,” Nicholas Kristof wrote in the NY Times on May 3rd.
In his column a week later, he asked: “Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.”
Girls and women across the globe must come together to take charge of their destinies by defying the forces that keep them submissive. This may be as easy–or as risky–as opening a book.