There have been several posts recently about the new Young Women’s value of virtue, with people wondering what exactly it is supposed to mean and what to do with it. So I’ve kind of had that question in my head, and as a result I’ve been noticing a few possibilities for lessons I would teach if I were a YW leader (which of course is never going to actually happen IRL!) Part of the point of this post is for you to add your own suggestions for lesson ideas.
We all know by now that English virtue derives from Latin virtus, which of course derives from vir (“man”) and literally means manhood, manliness, virility. But once we get past that little joke of making manliness a young women’s value, what are some of the other ways the word was used historically? How about firmness, strength, courage, bravery, valor, constancy, resolution, gallant deeds, excellence, worth, goodness.
My first idea for a lesson, which I shared on the bcc back elist, would be to show the girls that 21-minute viral video of Rachel Esplin talking about her faith at Harvard. I just saw it for the first time the other day, and I was blown away by her poise and effectiveness. And I immediately thought, “Wow, what an incredible role model for our young women. They need to see this.” And if an adult doesn’t show it to them, the odds that they’ll see it are pretty slim.
So, having these kinds of thoughts kicking around in my head, I just today read about another impressive-as-hell young woman who would make a terrific outside-the-box role model to hold up. Selena Roberts, “Enlightening the Clothes-Minded,” Sports Illustrated (March 9, 2009): 68, which you may read here, tells the story of Bilqis (pronounced Bill-KEACE) Abdul-Qaadir. (You can see a picture of her at that link as well.) Bilqis is an absolutely sensational basketball player who is just graduating from high school. She is the first player in Massachusetts history–boy or girl–to score 3,000 points in her career. She’s a 5’3″ point guard who in her varsity debut–when she was still in 8th freakin’ grade–scored 43 points. In her last high school game, she scored 51 of her team’s 57 points.
But that’s only half the story. She has done it all in full Muslim dress. She completely covers her arms and legs and wears a black head scarf or hijab, even while on the court playing basketball.
In 8th grade she went uncovered, but upon hitting puberty she was required by her religion to cover herself in public. And she has done so, even while playing basketball at a remarkably high level. (She no longer wears cotton, but Under Armour, which she says “saved her life.”)
She doesn’t have much patience with the questions borne of ignorance, like a recent “Is that a tablecloth on your head?” But most questions are sincerely curious, and for those she is happy to take the time to explain the requirements of her religion and why she covers herself. (She acknowledges that the first few weeks in school when she did this it tested her.) She used to hear hateful screams of “Terrorist!” from the crowd, but over time as she has stuck to her principles the ignorance and hatred and anger have largely blossomed into acceptance and even admiration.
Bilqis will be the first female Islamic player in Division I history this Fall when she takes a scholarship at Memphis, and she will continue to play covered and wearing the hijab. She has already located a mosque just five minutes from campus.
We have a tradition of modesty in dress, but certainly not to that extent, and I’m not suggesting that we ask our young women to mirror that specific practice. Rather, I was impressed to the point of being moved by this young woman’s courage and determination in the face of very public and sometimes hostile scrutiny.
That’s my idea of virtue in a young woman. And if I were a YW leader, that’s the kind of lesson I would teach to instill in my girls the value of virtue in their lives.