Tagged as: Girl Empowerment

Title IX and the Right to Wear Shorts to School

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By Michelle Riddell—On a Monday morning in June of my 6th grade year, right after we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America the Beautiful, the principal came over the P.A. system and announced that several articles of girls’ clothing had been found in the library over the weekend, and anyone with any information as to how they got there was to see him immediately.

Our teacher, Mrs. Ross, was very pregnant at the time. Very pregnant. She was hoping to hold off giving birth for four more days and complete the school year, but it wasn’t looking good. We’d had a sub all the past week while Mrs. Ross was out with Braxton Hicks contractions, and after hearing the principal’s announcement about the clothes, she held her belly and winced. “None of you know what he’s talking about, right? Good, get your math books out.”

In the cafeteria at lunch, though, it was all anybody was talking about—and on the playground at recess, and in gym class, and in line at the drinking fountain, and on the bus. By Tuesday morning, rumors about the discarded clothes had snowballed into outlandish tales of forbidden lust and a secret rendezvous—more like 6th grade boys’ fantasies than plausible scenarios. The thought of someone not only undressing in the library, but then forgetting her clothes was too scandalous not to gossip about, and the principal’s scant announcement left plenty of room for speculation. Talk of the clothes crescendoed for four days without anyone coming forward, until Friday afternoon, when the final bell of the school year rang, and it stopped. Mercifully. For, had it continued, one of us would have cracked, and the truth would have come out.

On that Monday morning in June, when the principal made his announcement, my three best friends and I froze at our desks because the clothes found in the library—four skirts neatly folded atop the World Book encyclopedias, to be exact—were ours. We had taken them off in protest of the dress code during our afternoon library period, the Friday before. At that time in public schools, girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts—boys were, but girls weren’t—and we didn’t think it was fair. Knowing we would be having a sub that day, we wore shorts under our skirts and ditched the skirts, fully intending to retrieve them later. Being that our library period was late in the day, our act of civil disobedience went largely unnoticed, but that was fine. What mattered was, we bucked the system and got to wear shorts on a hot afternoon.

That four skirts found in the library was considered a serious matter surprised us; that everybody assumed something sinful had taken place was chilling. My friends and I hadn’t formally agreed to a pact of silence, but after hearing what was being inferred by our classmates, we had no choice. As the hours and days of that last week of school passed, and the rumors became more scintillating, confessing seemed like a dangerous option. While we weren’t guilty of what they were saying, we weren’t entirely innocent, either. Fortunately, the principal hadn’t been specific about the clothing when he first made his announcement, and no one had made the connection to our shorts protest. The best thing to do was lay low and wait for summer to save us, which it eventually did. We said goodbye to elementary school with its antiquated dress codes and never saw those skirts again.

Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, was signed into law in 1972, and yet, seven years later, when I was in 6th grade, our public school was still following a gender-based dress code. I’m not sure when, how, or why they finally updated it, but I like to think my three friends and I planted a seed of change. Whenever I’m discouraged by how far we have to go in our quest for gender equality, I look back on this time, when girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts, and I marvel at how far we’ve come—quite a long way, baby.


About the Author

Michelle Riddell

Michelle Riddell lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs in rural mid-Michigan, where she writes, edits, and teaches elementary school. Her hobbies include trying to stay positive, convincing her daughter to taste different foods, and anything outdoors in wintertime. Find her work on Facebook @ReaderWriterRunnerWife and Twitter @MLRiddell.

Our Mother-Daughter Book Club: A Touchstone in New Territory


By Emily Carpenter—Almost a year ago, my friend Stacy asked me and another friend of hers I didn’t know to meet at Panera to talk about the possibility of forming a Mother-Daughter Book Club. Where did she learn about the idea? Pinterest. She introduced Marianne to me, and showed us the book, Her Next Chapter. All three of us had eldests that were in 3rd grade at the time—we were journeying together. On my drive home that night, I felt a tiny tectonic shift into a new territory of parenting. Acknowledging our 8-year-old daughters were growing and sponging everything up and now interpreting it through different lenses, deciding to form this book club as a touchstone for them is something for which I’ll always be grateful to Stacy. The girls were even more excited than we were. My daughter Zoe was drawn in because this meant she could “go out at night like a mom.” For the first few book club meetings, the moms had to do a lot of modeling of conversation, taking turns, asking each other questions, and so on.

girlsoncouchAs we looked forward to each month’s meeting, the girls were paying so much attention to different aspects of the book as they read because they knew they’d get a chance to explore all of it at book club with friends. One really fun part was noticing foods they ate in the book and then each of us picking something applicable to bring to eat at book club! I think the most interesting thing we ate was the “cut-up” we made from Turtle in Paradise. In the book, all the kids bring something—anything!—to go into the “cut-up”: avocado, onion, papaya, potato, banana, pineapple, lime juice, and hot sauce. We duplicated it! (It was one of those things you’re not sure you like but you keep eating to figure it out.)

By the time we got to My Life with the Chimpanzees (our 7th month of book club), the girls wanted to answer the call to action Jane suggests at the end. They all decided to write to Hillary Clinton as a strong woman leader. (The theme for that month was Chapter 10 from Her Next Chapter: “Girls Are Leaders! Laying the Foundation for Future Adult Female Leadership”). We explained that just because they don’t hear back from her doesn’t mean the message won’t be read—she has lots of letters come her way. Well, to our surprise, two of them had their letters published on the Letters to Hillary Tumblr. You can see them here at #10 and #33.

Beginning in October, the girls asked to take the reins. Each one has chosen a month and a book and is writing the questions and leading discussion. As a mother, the part I cherish most is that, regardless of temperament on any other given day at home or at school, they always seem to arrive at book club open and willing to share. I have found our Mother-Daughter Book Club an invaluable resource in raising an empowered, informed, and educated daughter.

I daresay, this may go down as the biggest Pinterest-win of all time!


About the Author


Emily Carpenter is a bit of a Jill-of-all-trades: blogger, organizer, digital media creator/ producer, and mother of three very different humans. A graduate of Penn State with a BFA in Musical Theatre, Emily also teaches music and performs, and most importantly never turns down a cappuccino with lots of froth on top. You can find Emily on Instagram and Facebook. You can follow her book club blog here.

Try To Be A Rainbow In Someone’s Cloud

By Erin Tarr—“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

As I sat in the stuffy arena, mortarboard atop my head and polyester gown flowing around me, surrounded by hundreds of other eager graduates, I heard Maya Angelou utter these words as our university commencement speaker.

I was so green, young, naïve, and ultimately clueless.


Despite my 4+ years at university, I really had no idea what my mission, passion, or true calling in life might be. So, although the phrase sounded nice, I hadn’t a clue how to be a rainbow for anyone else while I felt I was doing the best I could to navigate my own cloud.

Let’s rewind a bit though, all the way back to junior high….

I don’t know about you, but the middle and high school years were rough for me. Sure there were pockets of good and fun-filled times, but I always felt like I was just a little … I don’t know… not.quite.there.


I felt like pretty much everyone else had it figured out, and I was just doing my best to fake it.

Everyone else seemed…

  • better dressed
  • more confident
  • more mature
  • more in style
  • more athletic
  • to have better hair
  • to have better friendships
  • to understand the world so much more
  • smarter (I was the average student in the high classes.)

I felt like I was constantly working to try to fit in, but in my head I was woefully and acutely aware that I never would.

When popular girls paid any attention to me at all, I was simultaneously giddy that they thought I was worthy enough of their attention and completely tongue-tied and nervous that I was going to say or do something to reassure them that I was not in fact worth their time.

popular girls

I was so ridiculously awkward!

I often wonder, even now, if any of what I was feeling was felt by the popular girls as well.

Did they, too, need reassurance? Were they also as self-absorbed as I was, simply trying to fit in and maintain their social status? Did they struggle with self-esteem? Did they worry about … anything?

I also wonder whether guys had these issues during those same years.

Looking back now, I just wish I had someone to tell me that…

  • these feelings were normal and I wasn’t the only one.
  • that it would all be ok, and I could chill out.
  • constantly worrying about all of this was a waste of my time and energy.
  • everyone feels like an imposter sometimes.
  • if you stop focusing on all your own insecurities and start contributing to building others up in your community—you will all
  • if I had specific insecurities, they would be a safe person to talk to and help me work through them.
  • having a boyfriend was not the answer to fitting in (or anything else).


I wish I had known that being the rainbow for someone else (teachers, parents, the popular girls, whoever!) would have made all the difference to my own spiral of negative self-talk, self- doubt, and insecurities.

I wish that I had a Maya Angelou (or someone like her) to speak truth and wisdom into my life. I wish I had a “non-mom mentor” who I could have turned to, or even who would have butted in and given me unsolicited advice to consider with each turn in the road.

This is why I exist

…so someday fewer girls have to look back with these wishes listed above.

…so they can walk more confidently into their future with a better understanding of who they are, and their place in this world.

…so they can embrace their uniqueness, and be a rainbow every day to make this world a brighter and better place, both as a young girl and as they grow into womanhood.

Today I can confidently say that I’ve changed my mindset, I’ve embraced my own uniqueness, and I love myself. Doe to all of this, I am able to be a rainbow today in someone else’s cloud almost every day. I hope you can too!


About the Author

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Erin Tarr is the founder and Head Confidence Coach at Be the Benchmark (www.erintarr.com). She is a speaker, writer, and mentor to young girls ages 8 – 18, coaching them in small groups and 1:1 to help them become the best version of themselves. A mother – she considers her own three girls her primary “clients.”

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