It was Laura Ingalls Wilder, boldly blazing her way across the prairie. It was Ramona Quimby, always coloring outside the lines. It was Nancy Drew, outwitting criminal after criminal. It was Samantha standing against child labor. It was Kit reporting on the Great Depression. It was Molly putting on a USO show to benefit the troops in World War II. It is me voting in my first presidential election. It is generation after generation of women deciding to get off their couches and do something that defines the term American Girl.
Fourth of July has become my favorite holiday. There’s no controversy, no pressure of gift giving, and everyone is celebrating. It’s one giant glorified pep rally, and as a former cheerleader I’m all about a pep rally. Last summer, I painted my face, I listened to “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” on repeat, and I waved my flag like there was no tomorrow. I assured everyone I saw that there ain’t no doubt I love this land. But until the moment I put pen to paper and checked off a candidate, I was speaking empty words. How could I be proud to be an American when I had not done anything to BE an American? I admit to you, with some shame: I was not planning on voting. I read the news articles, watched the debates and generally kept myself updated. But when it came to forming and acting on an opinion, I was basically an ostrich burying its head in the sand. I avoided the people posted on campus asking me to register and I stopped talking when my friends brought it up. It wasn’t that I did not want to vote, I was just indifferent, which is the worst thing an American can be.
I live about a fifteen-minute walk from my campus, a walk that I truly cherish each day. It’s my guaranteed me-time. I call my mom, I talk to God, or I give myself pep talks. I live in a safe place, but I’m not stupid. If I’m on campus at night, I try to make sure I’m with someone who can give me a ride back, or I walk with friends that live near me. But last Tuesday, I lost track of time and found myself walking back at night, alone. I was thinking about the election and the candidates and my body got shivers when my brain got to Trump. Most of what the candidates talked about were just words to me, never issues that intersected with my life. But there is one topic that grabbed my attention that night and took it for a ride. I am a small girl in a big world, and the horrifying truth is that if a man decided to rape me, there is little I could do about it, and there’s no guarantee he’ll get in trouble for it. This is not just a me-problem. This is every woman who has learned to hold her car keys pointed stabby-side out. This is every can of pepper spray ever bought. I realized that any president that is okay with this is not okay with me. And I realized that if I don’t do anything about what I’m not okay with, I’m letting down the American Girls I mentioned earlier. I’m letting down future American Girls. Most important, I’m stripping away my right to call myself an American Girl.
Two days later, I voted.
Being an American Girl is not wearing red, white, and blue. It’s not being able to make the perfect apple pie. The quality of our citizenship is not determined by whether we sit or stand or where we put our hats during the National Anthem. It is not determined by wearing a sticker that says “I Voted!” but instead, it is determined by the action behind the sticker. The test to being an American girl is simple: all you have to do is do.