Powered by Girl

Kenny Brechner -- September 29th, 2016

Okay, so Lyn forgot to ask if we had a screen for her Power Point. No problem. That’s why we have the emergency sheet.

It  may have a good deal to do with being in a rural area, but DDG’s most dynamic kids’ events tend to stem from community networking. That was certainly true last week.

One of the more awesome people in central Maine is author and professor Lyn Mikel Brown.  Why am I on solid ground saying that?  Apart from her being a good egg in general, the answer lies in Lyn’s remarkable ability to bring her scholarship to meaningful life in the community.  And what is her scholarship, you ask? Here’s Lyn. “My scholarship and praxis focuses on understanding the conditions that enable girls’ healthy resistance and dissent in the face of oppression. I also develop feminist, anti-racist curricular materials and scaffold the online girl-developed and driven magazine, Powered by Girl.”
Lyn has brought her research to life both by writing books and by co-founding girl empowerment organizations such as Hardy Girls Healthy Women, SPARK Movement, and Powered by Girl.” We’ve had a number of great events with Lyn over the years and when I heard that Lyn had a new book coming out from Beacon Press, Powered by Girl: A Field Guide For Supporting Youth Activists, I signed her up right away. The first thing I asked was whether her book was appropriate for both girls and women. She said she would love to do an inter-generational presentation. I networked with the wonderful University of Maine at Farmington-based girl power activist Karol Maybury. Thanks to Karol, when Lyn arrived for the event we had a store filled with 40 attendees evenly divided between girls and women, mainly mothers and daughters, with a few elder stateswomen and some college students peppering the mix.

Lyn’s presentation was riveting. She had two major points to make.  The first had to do with the role of adults in supporting girls’ activism. The term she used is scaffolding, not just because it’s a good metaphor, but also because it conveys that the primary dynamic engagement in the activism should come from the girls. The adults’ role is to provide support to help make their vision come to life. The most important responsibility a scaffolding adult carries is trust: trust that they will respect the sensibility and opinions of the girls. If an adult thinks a movie embodies bad values but the girls don’t feel that way, it is a moment for respect, not a sales pitch.

This led us to a really important point that I had not considered, the use of a kind of false exceptionalism in the media to make it seem that successful activism projects done by girls, which were done as a team effort, were actually the result of one incredible girl who had done it all by herself. This promotion of unrealistic super powered individual girls has the effect of making activism seem unattainable in real life.

She gave a great example: the Spark Movement petitions to Seventeen magazine to stop photo-shopping their models. The credit all went to 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, who was a Spark leader to be sure, however Julia was very upset that the whole team supporting the petition drive, pictured to the right, was not given credit.

The idea that activist efforts by girls take a village was further illustrated by the Spark Girls’ action to work with Google to make their doodles diverse. In analyzing Google Doodles featuring historical figures, for example, the Spark team found that of 445 historical figure themed doodles 368 were men and 77 were women. Of those 368 men, 329 were white. After doing some extensive research the team made this terrific video which it sent to Google.

Interestingly there was a female Google executive that had been pushing for change to the doodles prior to the Spark girls’ video, but without success. The video provided a tipping point and succeeded in making real change. It didn’t stop there as the Spark team went on to make a new Google app for women’s history to incorporate into Google’s field trip app. Good stuff!

After the presentation there was a great Q&A. One of the girls asked about what to do if you are being stereotyped. Lyn took it back to the trust and scaffolding issue. She told her to “gather people who see what you see. Then come up with projects with your friends. You are the experts. Then get adult help.”

It really was a terrific evening. I think everyone in the room had learned something and felt inspired to take some kind of action, including normally frivolous minded individuals like myself. After some reflection a plan formed in my mind. I would spread the word about Powered by Girl and encourage other bookstores to bring it to their communities. Hmmn, it’s like Lyn told everyone about taking on a project that seemed too daunting. “Just do it.”

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