Last Thursday I attended the 5th Annual Conference of the Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The theme was "Girls can change the world" and the day was filled with talks, workshops and informal discussions of the state of girls and women locally and worldwide. I attend a number of conferences each year, but this one is always a favorite. This year the conference was held at The Ellis School, a girls' school where I have done programming about girls and activism, so it was really the perfect location. Throughout the day (and since then) I contemplated the importance of having a community of people with shared values and visions for the world.
The Girls Coalition brings together various girl-serving agencies with the goal of "improving the lives, health,well-being,opportunities and futures of our girls." This results in a group that is incredible in its heterogeneity but united by a shared passion. Conference attendees include women and men, adults and teens, college professors, artists, social workers, entrepreneurs, psychologists, teachers, athletes and more. This leads to an amazing experience where individuals were interested in learning from each other and celebrating different perspectives, while not being afraid to be authentic or feeling the need to apologize or defend their positions. Within a workshop presented by a social worker from Gwen's Girls (an agency which predominantly serves African American/Black girls) we explored issues of privilege and discussed ways that counselors with various ethnic/SES/gendered identities can best work with this population. I also participated in a workshop hosted by my former student, Aliya Khan, the founder of Yinz Feminists. She opened the conversation by asking who in the room identified as a feminist--almost all hands went up. This allowed us to spend the time doing creative activities to explore the depth and variations of feminism, rather than defend it against old and boring stereotypes. People were encouraged to write a newspaper article chronicling early experiences which impacted their journey toward feminism, to write a letter to a feminist mentor, to create posters about one's feminist manifesto (or manifesta according to Baumgardner and Richards). We also talked about the value of the space we were in--many people acknowledged that in other places in their life they are not "out" about their feminism.
All of these experiences made me think about how important it is to have communities like this. The goal is not be exclusionary or secluded, but to be strengthened within these spaces and take what we learn back out to the rest of the world. Being at the conference I felt excited and energized--there is an invisible weight lifted from my shoulders when I am not guarding myself against the negativity that is often directed at me when I say "I am a feminist." But I was also challenged in this space in a way that helps me to grow--as a feminist, a psychologist and a person. Conversations where "I am a feminist" or "I have white privilege" are the starting points--not the end points-- are AMAZING! They allow me to explore on a deeper level the joys and struggles that accompany these insights. They remind me why I do the work I do, what really matters to me, how to choose my battles and how to be more effective at promoting social change.
I am so grateful to the Girls Coalition for providing me with some much needed vitamin-F and a vibrant community.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.