A Daydream Believer and a Homecoming Queen
“Cheer up, Sleepy Jean.
Oh what can it mean, to
A Daydream Believer and
a Homecoming Queen…”
The Monkees sang this song to the top of the pop charts way back in 1968, when words like “Internet,” “blog,” “Facebook,” and “Taliban” had yet to be invented. But I like to think that Monkees frontman Davy Jones, who died in February of this year, would be pleased with the context in which his song came into my mind this week.
For me, October 2012 has become the month of strong women – or to be precise, strong girls – showing us all the power of technology to change the world. Sometimes to great personal validation, and sometimes to great personal sacrifice.
For Whitney Kropp, a 16-year-old sophomore in rural West Branch, Michigan, the world she changed was the few hundred square yards of a football field. To the casual observer, that might seem like a pretty limited piece of real estate – but for everyone who’s lived through the teenage social status battleground that we call “high school,” we all (sometimes still painfully) recall how all-consuming and all-important that world can be.
Last month, Whitney – a self-proclaimed “not popular” girl – was stunned and thrilled to learn that she had been elected to her school’s homecoming court. (Truth be told, I always dreamed of being my school’s homecoming queen. At least I got the second part right. And I’ll just leave it at that…) But Whitney’s elation turned to embarrassment and shame when she learned that her nomination and election were the result of a meanspirited prank by classmates to publicly humiliate her.
Enter West Branch resident Jamie Kline, who was outraged by the cruel joke. She launched the “Support Whitney Kropp” Facebook page, which became an instant viral sensation, garnering more than 58,000 “Likes” in its first week. (And the page remains active, currently showing more than 145,000 “Likes.”) The local community rallied around Whitney, and social media supporters on Facebook and Twitter encouraged the teen to stand up to her bullies.
Whitney attended her homecoming court, walking onto the football field in a dress and styling donated by local merchants, and received a standing ovation from a packed crowd in the bleachers – including people who had driven in from neighboring counties to support her. Media coverage of the homecoming became worldwide, and Whitney has become a social media star, speaking out on YouTube and network television about the importance of standing up to bullying. This week, Whitney received a commendation from the Michigan state senate for her courage.
Half a world away, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai lies in an intensive care ward in a London hospital, fighting for her life after being shot in the head and neck by a still-at-large Taliban assailant. Malala was attacked last week while riding in a school bus in her hometown of Abbottabod, Pakistan.
Malala had been living under the threat of Taliban attacks since the age of 11, when she started writing a blog which detailed her dreams and struggles with securing an education within repressive Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan. One post, entitled, “I am Afraid,” described a nightmare she had of military helicopters and the Taliban attacking her. As her blogs reached international prominence, Malala herself also became a greater symbol of the rights and needs of children. Last year, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. Earlier this year, under UNICEF sponsorship, Malala took a delegation through Peshawar to talk to local politicians about children’s rights. Social media provided a worldwide platform for Malala to advocate for social change. But in the minds of the Taliban, it escalated the potency of the threat to their regime posed by a lone teenage girl.
The attempt on Malala’s life has drawn worldwide condemnation against the Taliban, but in Pakistan, there are those who have sided with the regime. These forces claim that Malala was an agent of Western powers. Such claims have, in turn, created another firestorm of criticism in the blogosphere. “Come on, brothers, be REAL MEN. Kill a school girl,” tweeted Nadeem F. Paracha, a Pakistani progressive activist, in a recent post.
Two teenage girls, almost the same age, both living in rural communities, both ostracized for daring to be different from what their respective societal norms wanted them to be. The homecoming queen and the daydreamer. Both rose to unexpected prominence through the world of social media. For Whitney Kropp, the story has a happy ending. Let’s hope that Malala Yousafzai gets the chance to have her happy ending, too.
“You once thought of me
As a white knight on a steed.
Now you know how happy I can be.
Oh, and our good times starts and end
Without dollar one to spend.
But how much, baby, do we really need.
Cheer up, Sleepy Jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.”