Finding My Voice: My Fight for Women’s Rights


Ale Lewis '23

My muscles tense as I hear the closing words of my classmate’s speech.  It’s my cue to walk to the podium.  Legs shaking, I look out at the blank faces of the audience.  As I approach the stage, I try to recall my Declamation, but instead, I’m flooded with the memory of a cold December day when the air made my nose an unwanted red as my snow boots sunk into our slushy driveway.  I watched as the slow-moving school bus inched down the street.  The old, rusty, paint peeling off, and grubby black doors rattled from left to right.  My bus moved closer and closer before stopping right in front of me.  A rush of warm air greeted me as my bus driver, Rena, opened the doors.

“Good morning,” she said with a big toothy smile, her hair held back in a high ponytail, and her gold hoops shimmering.  

“Good morning to you too,” I replied cheerfully.  The melted ice stained my socks and soaked my toes as I navigated through the chaotic aisle of scattered backpacks, feet, and old Dum Dum wrappers.  I scanned the seats looking for the one cheetah print backpack amongst the wave of emoji backpacks.  As always, I found it across Phoebe’s back in the last row of the bus across from Jack and Dylan who wore neon green Nike socks and shorts that fell below their knees.  The 20-minute bus ride forced Phoebe and me to have conversations with Jack and Dylan. Our discussions ranged from our favorite ice cream flavor to who was smarter or who knew the biggest words.  It was a bitter-sweet friendship without the sweet.  I attempted to gracefully slide in next to Phoebe, but she wouldn’t budge.  Before I had the chance to refuse, the bus lurched forward and caused me to trip over my snow boots.  With nowhere to go, I surrendered myself to the universally rejected window spot. 

On this morning, Jack and Dylan appeared to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bus.  Dylan turned to me with no hesitation while I was in the process of climbing over Phoebe.  

“Are you Christian?” he spat.  

Startled, sitting on Phoebe’s lap, and somewhat wondering if I described myself as Christian, I said “yes?” 

“Is Jesus a boy or a girl?”

 “A boy,” I said as I wiped his spit off my shirt. 

 He looked at me with a huge smirk on his face, “Exactly.” 

Wow, I thought. He must have been crafting that zinger for hours.  I attempted to mask my frustration for falling into his trap, but it didn’t work.  I felt my cheeks flush to a bright shade of red as I turned to Phoebe for backup.  Instead, she gave me a little squirt of her new Purell like that would do the trick.  Ginger spice floated through the air and, I have to admit, it did put my mind to ease.  

Our slow-moving ride wasn’t getting any faster.  A couple of minutes passed before I overheard Drummle and Orlick talking amongst themselves about the difference between boys and girls.  They worked their way from a women’s role in the kitchen to why girls shouldn’t play sports.  I was trying my best to ignore them but my dignity got in the way. 

“You know girls can play sports just as well as boys.” 

Jack looked up, surprised at my interruption. “Boys play more sports.” 

“Well, I play four sports.  Soccer, basketball, tennis, and swimming,” I said proudly.

“And I play squash,”  Phoebe said with an infectious giggle, because we both knew that wasn’t true. 

“Boys are stronger and more athletic.  It’s just genetics.” 

I tried to imagine his argument:  boys are genetically stronger.  In my head I had a million responses; more muscle mass doesn’t mean they’re better athletes; women are just as hardworking and capable as men, women give birth–isn’t that the most incredible physical feat?  I wish I could have said any of those to him.  I wish I could have told him about the struggles women have had to overcome just to get some of the same opportunities.  I wished he could feel the way I felt when he said those words.  Inferior.  Useless. 

But the only words I could muster were, “No, that’s not right.  Boys and girls are equally strong.”  

Sadly, Jack did not fall silent.  My brilliant show-stopping comeback didn’t even register in his mind.  Beaming with arrogance, Dylan turned to Jack and they both burst into hysterical laughter.  Sweat trickled down my face, and no amount of Purell could stop the tears from swelling up in my eyes. The bus came to a halt and Dylan and Jack pushed us out of the way, racing off the bus to end our short-lived conversation. Little did I know, years later, I would look back at this moment as a pivotal point that marks the beginning of my fight for women’s rights.   

I might not have found my voice that day, but four years later, my eighth-grade Declamation gave me the perfect opportunity.  Last year, I stood up in front of my grade to discuss women’s rights.  Declamations gave me the platform to spread awareness about gender inequality in athletics.  

I described the pay gap, income inequality, gender roles in the workplace, the trailblazing work of Lilly Ledbetter, and the effect the U.S Women’s Soccer team will have on the next generation.  I was standing behind the polished wooden podium, looking at all the fascinated faces when I realized that I was a part of something bigger than myself.  I finally had an audience who cared.  I would no longer turn my head and ignore injustice.  I stepped out from behind the podium.  With each step, I heard my voice getting stronger.  It might have taken four years, but I finally had the ammunition to fight back against those small-minded boys on the bus.  What I couldn’t say to them that day, I proudly said in front of dozens during Declamations.  

“The US women’s soccer team won the 2015 World Cup against China with 27 million Americans tuning in, making it the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history.”