If you haven’t read “A Vision of Women’s Empowerment Week” yet, please do so, to better understand this journey (it’s not very long I promise). I’ve been reflecting on the idea of Women’s Empowerment Week, how it started and how it has evolved. I’ve decided to share this journey with you.
Through most of my life I considered myself a passive feminist. I’ve always believed that women, like men, could achieve anything they set their minds to, and that no one should let their gender be a barrier to those achievements. As a gymnast I always took pride in my physical strength and was angered by anyone who added the phrase “for a girl” to the end of a compliment. Throughout my youth I’ve always been more of the “walk the walk” type than the “talk the talk” type. I’ve always avoided confrontations when ever possible, so if I was speaking up about something it meant that it had affected me profoundly.
As this past November was winding down, I came across the cutest video of girls, building a Rube Goldberg machine, set to a parody of the song “Girls”. This was an advertisement for a toy company called GoldieBlox, I was intrigued. I went to GoldieBlox’s site, it was here that I was first introduced to the idea of empowering girls. I was fascinated by this idea. I grew up surrounded by a culture of “girl power” but never before had I given much thought to the idea of “girl empowerment”.
On the surface, the two sound the same, but they are very different concepts. “Girl Power” is a philosophy that involves telling girls that they have power. “Girl Empowerment’s” philosophy is, you need to take steps to give girls power. One might argue, “If males and females are equal than why must steps be taken to give girls power?”. The answer to that is: steps need to be taken to give anyone power. Our culture empowers males more than it does females. From the time they are born we focus on ways that our sons are smart and strong, with our daughters the focus is on how they look. This means from infancy our boys are learning, they get attention for being smart and strong and our girls learn to get our attention by acting cute.
These differences are amplified and exaggerated as our children grow. When a toddler boy puts on an adult’s hat and shoes he is told that he looks like a clown. When a girl does the same she is called a fashionista. These different reactions to similar situations encourage our children to amplify these qualities. Encouragement is the beginning of empowerment. By encouraging children to engage in activities that focus on learning, creativity, strength and confidence we are empowering them to succeed in life. We, as a society, subconsciously raise our children in biased ways, because that’s how we were raised. To undo a subconscious tendency, a conscious effort must be made.
Getting back to the topic of my “November of discovery”, there was another intriguing event going on. One morning I flipped on The Today Show and I noticed that all of the anchor men were sporting beards. I looked into this and discovered that it was for “Movemver”, the campaign for men to support and raise awareness of men’s health issues, by not shaving. I now had this idea of Movemver and of women’s empowerment swirling in my brain and the inevitable collision occurred. If I were a cartoon, a light bulb would have lit up then exploded above my animated head. I had it, it was so simple, women can go without makeup, for a week, to advocate women’s empowerment.
I proudly told my completely original idea to my husband. “I’m pretty sure that’s already been done” he responded. “No”, I assured him, “If it already existed I would have heard about it!” (because obviously I am informed about everything in the world). “I know I’ve heard of no make up day before.” he protested. With a quick internet search I found “Natural Beauty Campaign” (Friday, Dec 7, 2012), “No Make-Up Campaign” and low and behold “National No Makeup Day” (4/24/2011) and (6/1/13) . I also came across “Natural Day” (2/13/14) [I feel compelled to point this one out separately because Sanah Jivani was the first person who reached out to me to offer encouragement, even though she was swamped by work related to her upcoming event. This meant a lot to me, thank you Sanah.] I’m sure if you search you can find more, the internet is practically infinite and full of ideological people.
I began to feel defeated before I started. If all these minds came up with this idea before me, and the philosophy of women’s empowerment was still buried within feminist subculture, then the idea must be flawed. But there was a ray of hope. In my search I learned that March is Women’s History Month. Yes I admit to you all that before this point, I did not know that there was a Woman’s History Month. To be fair to myself I suspected that it existed, I discovered it by typing “When is Women’s History Month?”, into a search engine. This is where I began to see the small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The ah-ha moment was the realization that if I (as I stated earlier I know almost everything) didn’t know when Women’s History Month was then the education system was failing to teach it to it’s students. So this must be where the journey begins. I realized that the vehicle to launch Women’s Empowerment Week was already in place.
Now armed with the Knowledge that Women’s History Month is in March, I began contemplating ways to inject my concept into it. The obvious first choice was to put it at the end of the month, learn your history before planning your future. I quickly scratched this, when I realized the logistical obstacles standing in the way. The end of March is filled with distractions to the cause, St. Patrick’s Day, the changing seasons, and Easter. By this point Women’s History Month will be old news. If I wanted to grab people’s attention it had to take place in the beginning of March.
Now I had the how; Women not wearing makeup (as this idea has evolved ‘no makeup’ has become just one of many hows), and I had the when; the first week of March. I quickly began to feel overwhelmed again. I’ve never taken on anything like this before. I didn’t know how to begin getting something like this off the ground. I decided to reach out to one of my original inspirations. I sent a message to GoldieBlox asking them to take on this endeavor. Very shortly after contacting them I received a very positive response. They responded “Thank you so much for your words of support. This is a fantastic idea, and I bet you have more resourses than you think. I can’t give you a yes or a no right now, but can I circle back with you in 2014?” What was I thinking! I contacted a toy company, on the verge of becoming a national sensation, just weeks before Christmas and asked them to take on a campaign of this magnitude. But the encouragement in their response gave me an extra nudge, to believe that maybe, just maybe I can pull this off. After all a toy company, on the verge of becoming a national sensation, took the time, just weeks before Christmas, to encourage me.
So with my new-found confidence I created a Facebook page. I slapped together an image of Rosie The Riveter spouting my slogan and got to work trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. I designed some memes to visualy get messages out. Most of my efforts so far had been Facebook-centric, since this was the form of social media that I was the most accustom to using. [I’m currently trying to branch out, I’ve opened a twitter account and I am in the process of figuring out how to use it (if any one could help me with #wearemore or #WEW I would be extremely grateful), I’m looking into getting a true website and hey look, I’m blogging!]
At first I was just pestering my friends. I thought if I could get all of them to share my message, then more of their friends would share and it would spread by seeping along. The seepage quickly spread as far as it could and sat, as a stagnant puddle. Luckily while educating myself about issues facing the modern feminist (and searching for content to share with my nearly dozen followers) I came across some wonderful sites. Here comes the name dropping of a few that I recommend to anyone who wants to look into the struggles they address. Miss Representation & The Representation Project, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Pigtail Pals, Rethink Pink, Beauty Redefined and A Mighty Girl. These are just a few of the many sites I’ve been following and sharing from.
While meandering through many sites and taking in all their angles, my vision, of what Women’s Empowerment Week could be, began to evolve. Women’s Empowerment Week shouldn’t be about one single project, it could be a tool used in constructing every project! If we make Women’s Empowerment week about education and awareness, then members of every group along the feminist spectrum, along with those who fall outside it, can use it as a tool, to help shape their campaigns.
Armed with my new vision I began reaching out to whom ever I came across. Since I’ve reached out in this way the likes on my page have nearly tripled (I’m currently at 29, who wants to be the lucky number 30?) and I had received some promising responses. Although the numbers were still small, the jump within less than a week, was encouraging (I’ve already pointed out what happens when you encourage me). I believe that the flexibility and ease of implementing this program, are what will make it work. The implementation of Women’s Empowerment Week doesn’t take any money, just people. All people need to do, to make this a reality, is want it and encourage others. So Please, all I’m asking you to do is show support, by talking, typing and sharing. Lets put Women’s Empowerment Week in place, then shape it into what ever we need it to be.
I want to leave you with one last thought. I started this journey with little hope. Whenever I hit an obstacle I felt defeated, but at every tripping point along my journey someone offered me encouragement. This encouragement was the fuel I needed to keep powering through (i.e. empowerment). A little empowerment goes along way, and then leads us to find more of it. Thank you for taking the time to understand the journey that this campaign has traveled in just 3 months.
Update 3/6/14: the journey continues
I have run into a few people, who support the goals of Women’s Empowerment Week, but don’t like the idea of asking people (mostly women) to forgo makeup. This has caused me to spend a lot of time contemplating the objective behind the concept, and ponder other ways to achieve it. The true aspiration behind this aspect of WEW is to have people visually make a statement: “I am more than my appearance”. By visually making this statement we create awareness and start conversations. I still maintain that not wearing makeup is a great way to make this statement, but these discussions have caused me to think deeper on this topic. Many paths can lead to the same destination, so what could be some other ways to show support for WEW? Let’s brainstorm, you could: Change your profile picture to reflect something other than your appearance, wear something (t-shirt, button, sticker) reflecting this message, you could write WEW with lipstick across your forehead! Anything someone does, as long as they are not hurting anyone, to help raise awareness, show support and start conversations is what it’s all about. As the first unofficial WEW is coming to a close I am already planning for next year (hopefully the first official WEW), So please, while this campaign is in its infancy let me know your thoughts. Together we can shape WEW into something that will appeal to the masses, furthering its impact on the next generation of women.