The Global Ring of Girls' Voices

Back in the early 80’s, I was involved with the Harvard Project of the Development of Girls and the Psychology of Women headed by psychologist Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice.

It was a heady, exciting intellectual time. Previously most psychological research was based on all male participants, the assumption being that what applied to men obviously applied to women. To be studying GIRLS was completely uncharted waters and nothing less than revolutionary. The profound finding of this project, that around 12 years old girls were in danger of losing their voices, was an eye opener for parents, educators, and society at large.

During one of my weekly meetings with Carol, she talked about this critical time in a girl’s life and the social pressures they faced to succumb to some external standard of what it means to be a woman at a personal cost to their integrity.  As I listened to her, a bell went off in my head, a memory recalled.

I was twelve years old, a girl who liked herself, who thought she was both smart and pretty.  I was standing in my living room practicing aloud a poem my father had written for me that I would be reciting at a Lithuania gathering. My father listened as I recited it and then he stopped me and said, “Your voice is too low. You don’t sound like a girl. Raise it an octave.” Being the good girl that I was, I did what I was told but it was a bitter pill to swallow. In fact, it felt like a pill that had got caught in my throat, that I could neither spit out or swallow.

When I told this story to Carol, she leaned back and said, “You lost your voice not only metaphorically, but literally!”

That was the first of many such demands to change myself, from my father and society at large. This pressure to be what others wanted me to be in order to be accepted ultimately led me to a divided self, the good girl and the bad girl.  Remembering this moment in that office with Carol felt surprisingly liberating, like an invisible tether had been cut. I was able to reconnect to that confident 12 year old who liked exactly who she was.

I tell this story to explain why the Girl Effect Project moves me so, to tears at time. It moves me to see the Harvard Project on the Development of Girls go to a global level. It moves me to see the watershed time of the twelve year old girl to be use strategically as a global intervention.  It moves me and humbles me to see that for so many of these girls, it is not just about losing your voice, it’s about losing your life.

The Girl Effect is one of those projects that small actions can have a huge affect. When we protect girls, we break a chain of abuse, poverty, despair, not only for girls but for everyone.  Allowing girls to have a life of their own and to realize their potential has a ripple effect that spreads throughout the community.

Eve Ensler of Vagina Monologues once said, “(There is) nothing more important than stopping violence toward women—that the desecration of women indicated the failure of human beings to honor and protect life, and that this failing would, if we did not correct it, be the end of us all.”

It begins with girls. Let their voices and desire to be whole resonate in us all. 

Start by checking out  The Girl Effect and write your own blog on


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