Last night I had the opportunity to see Malala Yousafzai speak at the University of Washington. Security was tight, and as a result the event started about an hour late. The space was also really warm, but people (mostly) handled things just fine.
Despite the delays and the heat, Ms. Yousafzai had the room from the start. When she took the stage, she was captivating. She spoke for maybe twenty minutes with no teleprompter or notes. She shared some of her past, but also focused on the work she is doing now with the Malala fund. She is dedicated to ensuring all girls can get a quality education, and she is a powerhouse. She won the Nobel Peace Prize, for fucks sake.
After her remarks, she sat down for an interview with Lori Matsukawa, an anchor with a local TV affiliate. And it was rough. Ms. Matsukawa seemed to think she was speaking to a child, not a nineteen-year-old activist who has been fighting for equal treatment since she was ten. She asked questions that seemed to try to paint Ms. Yousafzai as a victim and not an activist. Her delivery sounded more like an adult condescending to a child. She also made a weak attempt at a joke, trying to get Ms. Yousafzai to agree that it would be great to have speaking engagements during the school year, not on vacation. Um, are you kidding? Ms. Yousafzai’s focus is on education. She recognizes the value of it. In what world would she welcome an excuse to not go to class?
Talk about not reading the room. At multiple points Austin and I looked at each other incredulously. Was this actually happening? And yet Ms. Yousafzai managed to be utterly delightful. She was able to turn each question – even the ones I would argue were borderline inappropriate – around and offer a clever, graceful, and sometimes humorous response. She rose above the poor journalism and was able to demonstrate something that Ms. Matsukawa chose to ignore: that young women deserve respect.
So, how not to be an asshole when interviewing a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Maybe start with not patronizing her. Good grief.