Only 15 days in, this month has already seen quite a dramatic series of events when it comes to the conversation surrounding women’s issues and the resistance against gender discrimination. This week brought young women from all over the world to the forefront of the political conversation, seeming to act as a direct answer to recent scandals such as President Donald Trump’s controversial defense of Fox News host and alleged sexual assaulter Bill O’Reilly coming just days after Trump’s declaration of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
The week began with an image of 25-year-old Saffiyah Khan standing nose to nose with a visibly aggravated demonstrator from the English Defence League (EDL) going viral, her unbothered expression being cited by many as a symbol of bravery.
The group, which identifies itself as part of the “the struggle against global Islamification,” has a history of events ending in violence. Khan has since said that she acknowledged the possibility of the situation physically escalating, but remained unintimidated.
“He put his finger in my face. It was very aggressive.”
Khan elaborated on what had halted the potential violence.
“A police officer was there and the man took his finger out of my face. I wouldn’t have responded violently.”
According to her interview with BBC, Khan (who was not part of any organized counter-protest) was walking through her hometown of Birmingham when she came upon the scene. She then took it upon herself to intervene after seeing that the far-right protesters had surrounded a young woman dressed in a Muslim headscarf, causing the men to then focus on Khan instead.
“A group of 25 quite big-looking EDL lads, they surrounded her,” she said. “She was 360 surrounded… I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them.”
The confrontation then attracted the attention of nearby photographers, who captured the pictures that would quickly catapult Saffiyah Khan to icon status.
The incident came as an almost perfectly timed parallel to the rollout of Pepsi’s instantly unpopular ad which featured model Kendall Jenner ending a protest by giving a can of soda to a police officer. The commercial (which was criticized for being socially tone-deaf and exploitative of the Black Lives Matter movement) inspired many memes mockingly comparing Pepsi’s empty attempt at contemporary appeal to the widely praised photographs of Khan.
Later in the week, young women continued to take charge of the political conversation across the pond as well, when 16-year-old activist Deja Foxx made headlines after swiftly deconstructing Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s stance against Planned Parenthood at a town hall meeting on Thursday.
The Arizona senator was among 50 other Republicans (including Vice President Mike Pence, who wielded the tie-breaking vote) who voted to allow individual states to withhold Title X funding from any abortion-providing organization in spite of any other medical services they may provide.
The action, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Thursday, reverses a rule written on President Obama’s second-to-last day in office that previously barred state and local governments from withholding federal funding for family planning services related to contraception, sexually transmitted infections, fertility, pregnancy care, and breast and cervical cancer screening from qualified health providers.
Women’s rights advocates, as well as those worried about the law’s potentially harmful impacts on low-income individuals, immediately voiced concern over the bill, with Deja Foxx’s careful articulation of these concerns to Senator Flake quickly establishing her as a popular voice among the resistance.
“I’m a young woman; you’re a middle-aged man. I’m a person of color, and you’re white. I come from a background of poverty, and I didn’t always have parents to guide me through life; you come from privilege.”
After establishing her personal reliance upon Planned Parenthood, as well as the senator’s evidential lack thereof, Foxx continued to politely question Flake’s stance, earning roaring applause from her fellow town hall attendees.
“I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why is it your right to take away my right?”
While Senator Flake initially attempted to communicate his own personal hardships as a comparison, he ultimately agreed with Foxx’s characterization of his institutionally fortunate position.
“Privilege comes in many forms,” the teenager stated in response to Flake pointing out that he had paid for his education on his own.
“You bet it does, and I’ve had a lot of advantages that others haven’t. What I want is to make sure that everyone can realize the American Dream that all of us have been successful in.”
Foxx, who lives with no parents, permanent home, or access to insurance, continued to argue that Planned Parenthood was essential to her pursuit of the American Dream, quickly earning her popularity among her concerned constituents and even an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon.
Considering the wild amount of politically polarized twists and turns this month has already seen, the meteoric rise of these young women as stars of the resistance comes as no surprise. With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement that the famous “Fearless Girl” statue would remain despite protest, one could argue that it is just life imitating art.
[Featured Image by Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]