Last night I attended a gathering of about a dozen homeschooling Moms who are interested in learning more about empowering their pre-teen and teen daughters. It was held at the lovely home of a woman I'd "met" online. She runs an e-mail list for homeschoolers in my area (a great resource), and she's also a devoted reader and fan of this blog (which, dear readers, is very flattering indeed!). And, in one of those "Maine really is a small state" moments, it turns out that I worked with her brother for years! They're both smart, witty, kind, and really fun folks.
Anyway, she hosted a talk by a young woman named Megan from Hardy Girls, Healthy Women (HGHW), a group founded by author and activist Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown. It's based in Waterville, Maine. HGHW has been around for 11 years now, and their mission is to empower girls to be strong and confident in the face of a mainstream culture that urges them to focus primarily on their looks and the latest fashions.
The first part of the talk was sobering and disturbing. Despite the feminist activism of the past 40 years, some things are getting worse for girls and women. Recent research by the American Psychological Association shows in detail how the sexualization of girls in the media is increasing, and the damaging effects it has on their still-forming world view and self-esteem.
The empowering part was that research also demonstrates how these negative effects can be dissipated when girls learn to think critically about media images and gender stereotypes. This is particularly so when they work together with peers and with mentors close to their own age. HGHW has a whole list of programs that put girls together in groups (run by these same girls, and young women a bit older), not only to help them understand and deal with these cultural biases, but also to empower them to become activists themselves and work to make changes in their communities. They also have a whole lot of fun in the process.
It looks like the hostess of last night's gathering, who is very involved with HGHW, will be starting a group for girls ages 11-14 (or so), and I'm going to see if it's something that ElvenTiger and her friends would enjoy. She's adapting it a bit from the usual school-based programs, so it will be more useful to homeschoolers. The program will most likely be art-based, which is right up the girls' alley.
I'm so thankful I went to this event, not only because this is valuable and fascinating work, but also to finally meet the hostess in "real life." There were four or five of us Moms in attendance who are part of the new Thursday homeschool co-op, too, including the Mom of one of ElvenTiger's new friends, so that was cool. I'm also grateful for the work that Megan and the others at HGHW are doing. I've included some links in this post, in case you want to check it out for yourself and the young women in your life.