Girlhood Project Educates Girls on Tough Topics


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Cole Disorbo's picture

 On Tuesdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Lesley University hosts the Girlhood Project in two classrooms of their Wolfard hall. The program's goal is to expose middle school girls to their girlhood, and all the culture and social problems that come with it.

The program was started in 2008 by Lesley professor Amy Rutstein-Riley, and now runs along side her Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture course. College students from this class serve as mentors this program.

The college students aim to educate girls about tough subjects that they might not get a chance to learn about at home, such as body image, girlhood, drugs, sex and sexualization of the media.

The girls themselves come from Summerville East and West Middle Schools, and through this program takes place after classes are let out, mentors shy away from the teacher-student model of education. Meetings are largely activity based, followed by a discussion lead by one of the college students.

Meetings always start with a catered dinner. The night I went consisted of chicken, potatoes, summer squash and salad. The girls in the second room, however, were considerably more interested in picking the lemons out of the ice water and eating those.

I spent the first half of the night with group one as there are enough girls in the program that they can’t realistically fit into one classroom. They were starting with an icebreaker, the human knot, which involved taking the hand of one person as you introduce yourself, and then, as you say something you like about yourself (most of these were about articles of clothing the girls wore) and take the hand of another in a less than straightforward way.

Needless to say, they were quickly tangled up. They showed some commendable teamwork, struggling together for many minutes without considerable shouting. They eventually decided to move on, but their determination was impressive. One girl declared, “Win some, you lose some.”

They moved on to circling up on the floor to have a discussion they didn’t finish last week, about drugs, alcohol, sex, boys, and relationships. The girls were not eager to comply. Getting answers from them was like pulling teeth. They were much more content to suck on lemons.

Eventually a few of them started volunteering answers, say they didn’t want to talk about because they’re too small, or sharing something about an uncle.

Sensing the hesitation in the room, the college students switch tactics, pulling questions from a survey box they took earlier. The first was about the inappropriateness of music videos.

The girls were much more animated when talking about this, even though they still found specific parts of anatomy bad or gross, through the context of music, they were willing to try talking about it.

Some of the girl-generated questions didn’t shy away though, asking about the birds and the bees, and where babies come from. The college students handled the outbursts that came from the group easily, and turned it into an informative and age appropriate conversation.

They ended the night looking at ads from magazines, and talking about how they almost perpetually portray women as sexual objects. A Burger King one of a woman, wide-mouthed, about to suggestively eat an elongated burger was the main topic of discussion. The girls didn’t quite understand the innuendo, but it made them uncomfortable none the less.

They came to the conclusions that they ads are made for men, because men are attracted to thin white girls who have been heavily photoshopped.

The other group worked with magazines as well, clipping them to make collages of themselves.  They were to find models that looked similar to them in some way, and add them to their piece.  

They quickly came to the conclusion that it's to difficult to do. Even simple things, like finding a model with glasses, was near impossible, because, as a glasses wearing girl pointed out, contacts are more beautiful.  

Girls with dark skin and curly hair found this task impossible. They found either one or the other, never both together. They commented on how being tan is considered good, but dark is bad.  They called advertisers out on using a single person of color in a sea of white, just to claim representation.  

They argued that body positivity did not exist within the pages, as all models are extremely skinny, and not like the body type of the average woman.

One girl spoke up about this, quoting her father, saying that they need to create the change they want to see. The media wants you to feel less than about yourself, so you go out and purchase beauty to overcome these feelings.

These kind of ideas are the ones the Girlhood Project is trying to crush.

For more information, see