The Maine Girls' Academy held its first community evening last week, gathering together educators and activists. The discussion proposed practical ways girls could get involved to change the ways they are misrepresented in media, boardrooms and classrooms.
The monthly program, called “Girls Who Care, Girls Who Lead,” featured Colby College professor Lyn Mikel Brown, an activist and author who has written six books about gender and girlhood. She discussed the relational lives of girls at the intersection of race, class, and gender, the impact of media, and girls' creative forms of activism.
Brown had visited the school 10 years ago, when it was called Catherine McAuley High School. (It became the Maine Girls’ Academy in July.) Brown has been working with girls for 25 years and is the author, most recently, of “Powered by Girl: A Field Guide for Supporting Youth Activists.”
She spoke about activism as distinct from the typical ways that people think of female leadership. Building on the model of Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote “Lean In,” Brown said, “It’s more than just leaning in. We need on-the-ground activist work. The message is that we need more women at the top. That’s true, but we need more women everywhere. And women didn’t get the vote because men had a sudden change of conscience.”
Brown cofounded three grassroots organizations, including The SPARK movement (Sexualization Protest Action Resistance Knowledge), a national group involving 35 girls (ages 13-22) from 14 U.S. states and other countries that assists with girl-powered initiatives. One such effort had a group of girls taking on Google, to get the media giant to look at their daily “doodles” on the home page, which highlight white males, for the most part. They started a petition at change.org pushing for a more balanced representation. They even inspired a new app called Field Trip to help travelers find “Women on the Map,” with more than 200 stories of females who made a difference.
Brown warned against the “commodification of girl activism,” offering examples that ranged from Riot Grrrls to Spice Girls, and included Pussy Riot, the band that had members jailed for two years in Russia because of their guerrilla protests. “They covered their faces so they couldn’t be commodified,” she said, and warned that even women’s magazines tend to skew their content through a male lens. Her work has focused on reshaping these norms, offering a local example of the change that’s possible on a national level: Julia Bluhm and Izzy Labbe, two Maine teenagers whose online petition garnered 84,000 signatures and pressured Seventeen magazine to stop photoshopping body shapes.
After her talk, Brown shared the stage with local activists Emma Spies of Lemonade for Angels (benefiting Angel Flight North East) and Julia Hansen, founder of The Yellow Tulip Project.
Spies, who attends MGA, started selling lemonade seven years ago when she was 10, setting up shop with her neighborhood friends. From the beginning, she wanted to spend the profits of something that really mattered. She credits her parents for supporting her efforts, which have sponsored 48 angel flights, bringing patients in need to distant medical help.
Hansen, a junior at Casco Bay High School, told the audience about her work, borne out of tragedies. She lost two close friends to suicide within a year. Bouncing between despair and rage, she turned her grief into a powerful cause. She created and launched the “Yellow Tulip Project,” planting “hope gardens” to raise awareness of people battling depression and other mental illnesses. Like Spies, she said her parents inspired her to start her project. “They gave me a non-judgmental environment. When it’s more open, I am able to learn who I am,” she said. Passionate about bringing attention to mental illness, Hansen sees herself continuing in the field. Spies agrees, and applied the hope garden analogy to her own efforts. “I want to keep it going,” she said. “It’s been growing over the years, bringing more attention to the Angel Flight program. Even the smallest thing can make such a difference. A bunch of little kids can start something that’s a lot bigger than it seems.”
- Published in This Just In