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Beholding Ourselves

Black Girls as Creators, Subjects, and Witnesses

Erin M. Stephens and Jamaica Gilmer

The bus was full of excited chatter as it pulled up in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (known universally as The Met) on Fifth Avenue on a cold morning in January. Thirteen girls, along with invited loved ones, had traveled for nine-and-a-half hours from Durham, NC, to view their art displayed in the exhibit, “Pens, Lens, and Soul: The Story of The Beautiful Project” (hereafter, “Pens, Lens, and Soul”). First, the girls filed off the bus to take a photograph on the steps of The Met. As their family and friends waited to disembark, they laughed and shivered while posing for numerous photographs and videos on the cold steps. As they stood at the bottom of the steps of the grand prestigious museum, the impressiveness of their accomplishment was just beginning to dawn on many of them. As she walked around the exhibit one of the artists would comment, “I feel surprised because I didn’t realize it was this big of a thing and I was here and it’s a thing, it’s a big thing … we are capable of doing anything.”

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“Because There Are Young Women Behind Me”

Learning from the Testimonios of Young Undocumented Women Advocates

Carolina Silva

In this article, I discuss the experiences of young undocumented Latinas, aged between 19 and 22, in a university support and advocacy group for undocumented students. While recent research has investigated the advocacy of undocumented youth, there is a lack of attention on the experiences of undocumented women who advocate. To address this gap, I center the testimonios (testimonies) of five young undocumented women to examine their advocacy experiences. As a result of advocacy, the young women gained visibility as immigrant youth leaders, created a pipeline of support for other young undocumented women leaders, and faced disapproval from educators. I conclude by suggesting that schools and educators can foster the leadership of young undocumented women and acknowledge advocacy as a legitimate tool for social justice in education settings.

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Chalk Back

The Girl and Youth-Led Street Art Movement to #StopStreetHarassment

Natasha Harris-Harb and Sophie Sandberg

The Chalk Back movement that started in March 2016 is a rapidly growing collective of over 150 young activists from around the world. As part of a university class project, Sophie decided to collect experiences of street harassment, write them out verbatim with chalk on the streets where they occurred alongside the hashtag #stopstreetharassment, and post them on the Instagram account @catcallsofnyc. Two years later, the account gained popularity. Other catcallsof accounts opened in London, Amsterdam, Ottawa, Dhaka, Nairobi, Cairo, and Sydney. These accounts, discussed below, are just a few of those spanning 150 cities in 49 countries in 6 continents. We are two Chalk Back members—Natasha from Ottawa and Sophie from New York City—highlighting the risk, empowerment, and power dynamics of what we call chalking back by amplifying the voices of those doing this work around the world.

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Claudia Mitchell

In March 2019, I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Peter Green College at the University of British Columbia that I called “The Politics and Possibilities of Girl-led and Youth-led Arts-based Activism to Address Gender Violence.” I wanted to highlight in particular the activist work of numerous groups of Indigenous girls and young women in a current project and the youth AIDS activist work of the Fire and Hope project in South Africa but I also wanted to place this work in the context of girls’ activism and youth activism more broadly. To do this I started out with a short activity called “Know your Girl Activist” during which I showed PowerPoint photos of some key girl and young women activists of the last few years, and asked the audience if they could identify them. The activists included two Nobel Prize Peace Prize winners, Malala Yousafzai (2014) and Nadia Murad (2018) along with Autumn Pelletier, the young Indigenous woman from Northern Ontario, Canada, well known for her work on water activism, and, of course, Greta Thunberg, now a household name but then, in 2019, already well known for her work on climate change activism. To my surprise only some of these activists were recognized, so, during the Q and A session, when I was asked if there is a history of girls as activists I could see that this question indicated clearly the urgent need for this special issue of Girlhood Studies which was only just in process then. Now, thanks to the dedication of the two guest editors of this special issue, Catherine Vanner and Anuradha Dugal and the wide range of superb contributors, I can point confidently to girls’ activism as a burgeoning area of study in contemporary feminism rooted in feminist history.

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Hopeful, Harmless, and Heroic

Figuring the Girl Activist as Global Savior

Jessica K. Taft

There has been a notable increase in the public visibility of girl activists in the past ten years. In this article, I analyze media narratives about several individual girl activists to highlight key components of the newly desirable figure of the girl activist. After tracing the expansion of girl power discourses from an emphasis on individual empowerment to the invocation of girls as global saviors, I argue that girls are particularly desirable figures for public consumption because the encoding of girls as symbols of hope helps to resolve public anxieties about the future, while their more radical political views are managed through girlhood’s association with harmlessness. Ultimately, the figure of the hopeful and harmless girl activist hero is simultaneously inspirational and demobilizing.

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The Inheritance of Activism

Does Social Capital Shape Women’s Lives?

Supriya Baily, Gloria Wang and Elisabeth Scotto-Lavino

In the call for proposals for this special issue, activist networks were defined as virtual or in person communities devoted to social change. The impact for girls active in these networks has been shown to promote identity development and de-marginalization/empowerment/reclamation of political spaces where girls are marginalized, intergenerational collaboration among women, and community building among feminists. In this study, we seek to explore how women at different generational points reflect on and remember their engagement in social activism. Understanding how these generational shifts affect the impact of social capital on the lives of these women and the changes we might see as they mature into leaders will provide a platform to better understand the influence of belonging to such networks during girlhood.

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Negotiating Girl-led Advocacy

Addressing Early and Forced Marriage in South Africa

Sadiyya Haffejee, Astrid Treffry-Goatley, Lisa Wiebesiek and Nkonzo Mkhize

Increasingly, researchers and policymakers recognize the ability of girls to effect social change in their daily lives. Scholars working across diverse settings also acknowledge the key influence of individual, family, and societal structures on such activism. Drawing on our work with girls in a participatory visual research project in a rural community in South Africa, we consider examples of partnership and collaboration between the adult research team and the young participants. We highlight their agency in mobilizing adults to partner and support community and policy change to address traditional practices of early and forced marriage in this setting. We conclude that collaborative engagement with adults as partners can support activism and advocacy led by girls in contexts of traditional leadership.

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Passing the Talking Stick

Resilience-Making through Storytelling

Tammy Williams

Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia. 2019. Treaty 6 Traditional Homeland of the Metis People (Saskatoon, SK): Self-published with support from York University, McGill University, and Networks for Change and Well-being: Girl-led ‘from the ground up’ Policy Making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa. To order a copy email yiwutopia@gmail.com.

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Personal, Powerful, Political

Activist Networks by, for, and with Girls and Young Women

Catherine Vanner and Anuradha Dugal

“Today I met my role model,” tweeted climate change activist Greta Thunberg on 25 February 2020, captioning a picture of herself with girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai, who also tweeted the picture, proclaiming that Greta was “the only friend I would skip school for.” The proclamations of mutual admiration illustrate a form of solidarity between the two most famous girl activists, who are often pointed to as examples of the power of the individual girl activist in spite of their intentionally collective approaches that connect young activists and civil society organizations around the world. These girl activists have garnered worldwide attention for their causes but have also been subject to problematic media representations that elevate voices of privilege and/or focus on girl activists as exceptional individuals (Gordon and Taft 2010; Hesford 2014), often obscuring the movements behind them. For this reason, this special issue explores activism networks by, for, and with girls and young women, examining and emphasizing girls’ activism in collective and collaborative spaces.

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Emily Bent

Stories about girl activism circulate as exceptional narratives of individual girl power causing intergenerational partnerships and community collaborations to become invisible and apparently unnecessary to girl activist efforts. At the same time, practitioner-scholars attest that sharing authentic stories about intergenerational feminist praxis is difficult to do since it requires us to write with intentional vulnerability exposing the failures and tensions inherent to girl activism networks. In this article, I provide an autoethnographic exploration of the intergenerational processes involved with organizing Girls Speak Out for the International Day of the Girl at the United Nations. I draw inspiration from Lauren J. Silver’s methodological remix of youth-centered activism, and in doing so, reassess the impact and experience of leveraging girls’ political voices in spaces of normative power.