Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What we're talking about: Bright Young Things

Heard around the office today?  Disgust and analysis of Victoria's Secret new product line aimed at middle school girls.  According to to The Black Sphere:  

"the risqué brand will launch an undergarment line aimed specifically at pre-teens and young teen age girls. And lest you think that Victoria’s Secret has toned down their recognizably racy style to appeal to this younger demographic, think again.
The new brand called, 'Bright Young Things,' includes lace black cheeksters with the word 'Wild' emblazoned on it, green and white polka-dot hipsters screen printed with 'Feeling Lucky?' and a lace trim thong with the words, 'Call me' on the front."

Unfortunately, this is just one more example of how institutions in our country reinforce the message that a girl’s value is based on her appearance by objectifying her sexuality. When girls internalize these messages, they make decisions that compromise their emotional and physical health.

We were heartened by this letter from a father to Victoria's Secret. We applaud him when he says,

"I want my daughter to know that she is perfect the way she is; I want my daughter to know that no matter what underwear she is wearing it does not define her.  I believe that this new line 'Bright Young Things' thwarts the efforts of empowering young women in this country. 'Bright Young Things' gives off the message that women are sex objects. This new line promotes it at a dangerously young age."

This exploitative marketing is a stark reminder of the essential need to continue efforts to empower young women. We invite you to join us in helping strong girls become strong women.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Why we should listen to youth

Women are a powerful force, as individuals and in solidarity.  Do we celebrate the survival skills, accomplishments, dreams, and actions of women under 18?  It is part of my consciousness to challenge adultism (my own included) and it is part of my job.  As the program manager at Powerful Voices, a girl-serving organization in Seattle, I want to engage folks to not devalue or tokenize youth; to listen and give them a platform to be heard.   This is important because they are valuable, active, contributing members of our society that will be running things and making important decisions on behalf of everyone in the not too distant future.

In our society, youth and their incredible activism efforts are not reflected back.   Anti-oppression and organizing workshops should be taught in schools to include young people of all ages to be part of the discussion and solution. Youth are unified as an oppressed group by adults and systems, that perspective is one we need to hear so we don’t continue to silence a large percentage of the population just because they are under 18.  
Utilizing their perspectives through allowing them positions of power and equitable exclusivity will shape solutions and shake up the way we do things.  This is hard for adults because it incites some fear, asks them to change, and requires that they give up some power and control.  But by excluding them, we are disconnecting with current and upcoming issues and needs, we are missing out on their creativity and problem solving skills, and we are not preparing them to be the ethical, compassionate leaders that we yearn for.

When I think about all the young women that have impacted me, I remember their struggles - poverty, neglect, abuse, rape, racism, sexism, homophobia, being sexualized and criminalized at a young age, and forced through systems that make decisions for them.  Then I think about how I am inspired by their ability to write, dance, sing, share, learn, unlearn, mentor, teach, celebrate, laugh, love, fight, cry, listen, grow, want, need, and flourish with so much grace and strength it breaks my heart and mends it back together at the same time.  The young women I know are not ordinary women.  They are extraordinary.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

This isn't just about Steubenville

Witnessing the media coverage around the rape of a sixteen year-old girl from Steubenville, Ohio fills me with sadness for this young woman and a generation of teenage girls who are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.  I am horrified by the actions of the rapists.  I am horrified by the people/media who are perpetuating a rape culture by sympathizing with the rapists and allegedly threatening the victim.   

It is natural to be sad.  It is natural to be horrified.  It is harder to ask ourselves, what can we do to stop rape culture?  Days like today, make me very proud to be part of Powerful Voices, working toward a world where girls can be safe and strong.  You don't have to work at Powerful Voices, or another organization to dismantle rape culture.  We all have a part to play.  We saw this in the past month as we advocated (successfully!) for institutions to enact more just policies, through the Violence Against Women Act. We also dismantle rape culture as each of us use our personal power to shift the ways we relate to other people and the ways we act in our community.  

Based on the practices used by the staff and volunteers of Powerful Voices, here are three suggestions of how we can work together to stop violence against girls:

1.  Talk about consent.  When was the first time you learned about consent?  I was twenty years old the first time an adult explained consent to me.  Twenty is much too late.  I want my child to know about consent, long before a relevant situation arises.  Education about consent is part of how Powerful Voices teaches girls to make decisions about their safety and health.  Let's take the conversation about consent out into the world.  We need to teach everyone, not just girls, that silence means no.  Drunkenness means no.  And “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” means it is time to stop.  

2.  Build positive girl culture.  As I read the news that a 15 year-old and 16-year old girl were arrested for allegedly threatening and harassing the 16 year-old rape victim via social media, I couldn't help but think of "horizontal violence.”   One of the trends Powerful Voices sees in girls is the internalization of sexist, exploitative and demeaning dominant culture norms.  Girls act out through gossip, spreading rumors, backstabbing or freezing each other out.  At Powerful Voices we dismantle this horizontal violence by building positive girl culture.  This means we model positive female relationships and encourage critical thinking about media and internalized sexism.  You don't have to run a girls group to do this.  Think about how girls in your life see you talking about your friends. Look critically at the media that girls in your life consume.  Ask girls questions about how they interact with other girls.  You have the chance to go deeper and engage them in critical thinking.  We can all do this with the girls in our lives. 

3.  Be an ally, not a bystander.  I was reminded of this when hearing the words of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, "One of the lessons of life is we have to take care of each other, and we have to try to help people and we have to do what's right." This isn't just about Steubenville, this is about our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our schools.  When we witness violence against another person, we have a choice.  Will you be a silent bystander?  Or will you use the power of your voice to stand up and speak out?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Being An Adult Ally"


Some months back, Powerful Voices was contacted by a former adult ally of our employment programs, with an awesome opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing. I can remember the announcement being made at our weekly program team meeting, and the rush of excitement that I had about it.  Molly, our Program Manager, asked, “Does this sound like a project any of us are interested in taking the lead on?” I sat for a while…okay, more like a few seconds, before my hand flew up uncontrollably. “Me! I will!”  

Beginning in 2009, the University of Washington and the School of Information have hosted a conference dedicated to providing professional development opportunities for students interested in the realm of youth work. This conference is called iYouth. This year, the theme of iYouth was “youth advocacy” and Powerful Voices was so graciously invited to host a workshop on “Being an Adult Ally.”

The week leading up to this workshop, my nerves were trying to get the best of me. I was thinking "Oh no. What did I sign up for?" When the day arrived, I felt the same way. Luckily, I had the support of an awesome co-facilitator in Caroline, and a few pieces of decadent chocolate filled with caramel. It felt good to give this information to others, some of them sharing that this workshop was their first introduction to the terms "Adultism" and/or "Adult Ally." It was beyond rewarding to know that Powerful Voices had a hand in sparking some of the initial awareness of others in the community. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Powerful Voices: Shaundriqua

As part of Women's History Month, we will be highlighting girls and alumna of Powerful Voices who are making history right now. Today we want you to meet Shaundriqua (Riqua) Webber.  During her work with Powerful Voices, Riqua presented a workshop on the topic of Teen Prostitution at the 2012 Girlvolution Conference and collaborated with DYVAS to create A Chosen Generation, a zine published in 2012. Riqua has returned to Powerful Voices this year to speak in our programs about her experiences. Thank you Riqua for allowing us to share your words and work.

Riqua's biography from the DYVAS Zine

"Powerful Voices has made me realize that my voice can make a difference! It has made me realize that no matter how much women are looked down on in this society, I still matter. I still have a voice, and I do realize it is powerful and my voice can actually take me far in life. After every session I had at Powerful Voices, I always left with more confidence, something new that I didn't know about the world, most important a sense of belonging. I would suggest this program for the whole world to sit down and be in, just because it IS that powerful." - Shaundriqua Webber

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Race and Seattle Public Schools

Two stories caught my attention this week concerning social justice and Seattle Public Schools. 

Earlier in the week I received an email from the Non-profit Anti-Racism Coalition telling us about an opportunity to advocate on behalf of a race and social justice curriculum suspended after a parent complaint.  Powerful Voices' curriculum (which we deliver in SPS middle schools) has a strong race and social justice component.  We talk about gender.  We talk about race.  We talk about identity and privilege.  The very things the suspended curriculum talked about.  We know, from 18 years of doing this work that when students understand institutional, interpersonal and internalized oppression they increase their self-confidence and increase their ability to gain skills they need to have healthy relationships, a successful educational experience and to become strong women who can lead the social change of today and tomorrow.

Then, I read this story in the Seattle Times about a federal investigation into whether SPS discriminated against African-American students by disciplining them more frequently and more harshly.  Unfortunately, this didn't surprise me.  Powerful Voices exists because of the racial and economic disparities faced by the girls we serve.  We purposely provide our services in institutions, like public schools and juvenile detention facilities, that were not historically designed to address girls' needs.  Powerful Voices believes that safety and equity are basic human rights within the school system and it is essential to promote a culture shift within these systems.

Two stark reminders of the need for a Girl Justice movement.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Gather Consignment raises $2,000 for Powerful Voices

What a fun night!  You can't go wrong with good food, good wine, good company and a little shopping.  Thank you to Gather Consignment for hosting a Ladies Night on February 21st benefiting Powerful Voices.
Shoppers raised $2,000 to benefit the girls of Powerful Voices.  

What can $2,000 do for a girl?  It can support two young women are able to access case management services this year.  Powerful Voices helps these young women identify their goals around basic needs, education and employment. Then Powerful Voices' staff act as a bridge to help girls' achieve their goals. Some of my favorite days at Powerful Voices are when I hear that one of the girls has raised her grades from a C to an A, or when another young women has been offered her first job.  These success stories are now happening because of you.
We are so grateful to everyone who donated and especially to Dan and Megan McCabe and Earl and Doreen Harper for organizing this event. 

Check out this Seattle Times article profiling the event.