reunions, omlettes, and bra shopping: Highlights from 2010’s LUNAFEST Festival

•June 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Last week I attended the 2010 LUNAFEST screening held by Reel Women at the Picture Box Studio. I was pleased to see that so many people – men, women, young, and old – came out to support short films made by women for women. There were 10 short films screened for the festival and while I won’t go through them one by one – let me highlight a few that moved me.

First let me talk about the short film at this year’s screening with the biggest names attached to it. I’m talking about The Monday Before Thanksgiving, directed by Courteney Cox and starring Laura Dern. The film revolves around Dern’s character, Theresa, whose anxious about how to handle the holiday season a year after her mother passed away the Monday before Thanksgiving. I admit I love Laura Dern and incidentally I have nothing against Courteney Cox. In fact I was hoping this film would be amazing and sort of explain Cox’s decision to star in Cougartown – a show that I’ve tried to watch several times, but always end up turning off within the first 5 minutes (for a review of Cougartown I recommend reading Alyx’s post at BitchMedia). Sadly, I thought The Monday Before Thanksgiving was okay, nothing horrendous, but nothing spectacular either. If you’re interested in watching the film you can view it on Hulu.

Moving on, here are 3 films from LUNAFEST that grabbed my attention:

Roz (and Joshua) is a documentary short film that addresses issues of race, poverty, and prison systems. The film follows Roz, an older black woman who was incarcerated over 12 years ago when her son was only 7 months old. In the film Roz has been released from prison and is going through a rehabilitation program. Roz hopes to reconnect with her son, Joshua, who is now 12-years-old. Though this film is very short – clocking in at a little over 3 minutes – filmmaker Charlene Music illustrates the hardships Roz faces after being released from prison. Though Roz works long hours as a janitor, she doesn’t have enough money to afford a place, and as a result she lives out of her car. Roz remains optimistic about her situation and still retains hope that one day she’ll regain custody of her son. Yet, her bleak circumstances hint that this might not happen. Here is the film, courtesy of Vimeo:

Nadejda Koseva’s Omlette, is another short film I thoroughly enjoyed. The film shows one mother’s plight in trying to provide for her family while dealing with massive inflation in Bulgaria. One of the most heart wrenching scenes occurs at the local grocery store. The mother – who is never given a name – must wait in line to place her order for eggs, flour, and other basic groceries. As she waits in line, the butcher switches out price tags for meats in a display case as prices continue to soar. The mother manages to purchase three eggs in the hope of making an omlette for her and her two children. Yet a run in with a grocery worker on her way out damages one egg, and her attempt to crack the second egg fails as the yolk and egg whites fall into the kitchen sink. In a moment of sheer frustration the mother throws the final egg against the kitchen wall. Here is a trailer for Omelette (I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but you get a feel for the film):

My absolute favorite film of the evening was Ela Thier’s A Summer Rain. The film takes place in the 1980s and follows Ellie, an 11-year-old Israeli girl who immigrates to the United States with her family. Ellie misses her best friend, Shlomit, whom she writes to whenever she can. In focusing on what Ellie and Shlomit share in their letters with one another, the film illustrates Ellie’s homesickness and the cultural shock of adapting to American culture. A Summer Rain offers several funny moments, such as when Ellie goes bra shopping for the first time, and the experience is so new and so strange that she decides to mail a bra to her best friend, who in return often mails Ellie gum from Israel. The film’s portrayal of Ellie’s wonder and dismay never feels false or forced, and her insights into the peculiarities of American culture are funny and poignant. At the very end of the film we see Ellie start to develop a friendship with the girl next door, who happens to be a Vietnamese refugee her age. Here’s a clip from A Summer Rain:

In looking over Ela Thier’s website for Thier Productions, it appears as though A Summer Rain is being made into a feature-length film. While we wait for the release of the full-length film, here is a clip from another short film, titled Foreign Letters, which continues developing the story between these two girls:

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dusting off the archives: Girls Beware . . . of victim-blaming

•June 2, 2010 • 2 Comments

Yesterday I was visiting sites and YouTube channels for various archives, since my work is figuring out how to develop a greater presence online. In the course of looking at how other archives monitor comments and tagging, I stumbled on the following girl-related video via the Internet Archive.

Released in 1951 by Sid Davis Productions, Girls Beware is an “informational” film that addresses various dangers the real world poses for girls. Directing these messages to teen girl audiences, the film presents different scenarios in which white girls end up murdered, raped, abused by their partners, and pregnant – all because they didn’t use good judgment. Offering up strange observations and dialogue, such as this line – “You can never find the right words to tell a mother that her daughter’s been murdered” – Girls Beware is certainly an odd film. See for yourself:

I think it’s interesting that the film highlights babysitting and romantic involvement with older boys/men as the two primary pitfalls for white middle-class girls. There is no mention of girls of color, working-class girls, or queer girls and the types of (sexual) violence they encounter in their daily lives. Still well-to-do, white girls don’t necessarily have it easy in this film, especially when the overall message relies on victim-blaming. The narrator even notes: “You see it’s often the things done without thinking that get young people into trouble,” suggesting that white girls with privilege can prevent sexual violence and murder if they use their heads and make better choices.

I also find it interesting that the film never mentions the words “rape,” “statutory rape,” “partner abuse,” or “pedophilia.” Yet, the film focuses on all these issues. In the Mary/Robert scenario, instead of calling Robert out as a pedophile, the film mentions (twice!) that he prefers younger girls because he cannot hook up with females his own age. I think we can read the film’s depiction of Robert as excusing the predatory behavior of older boys and men towards younger girls, especially when in the end, Mary is labeled a juvenile delinquent and sent to a facility for becoming pregnant in her abusive relationship. As far as we know nothing happens to Robert.

I think it’s easy for us to step back and poke fun at, or even mock, these types of films and the messages they convey. Yet, reports such as this one from The Nation that argue that reproductive coercion is overlooked and under-reported make it hard for me to laugh at how this film handles Mary’s situation . . . or any of the scenarios for that matter. It’s moments like these when I wish I could travel back in time to tell teen girls to beware of Girls Beware – the world is hard enough without some seemingly objective film blaming girls for the actions of rapists and murderers.

I’ll be sure to post any other interesting videos I find while trolling through online archives. Also if anyone has any girl-related videos they’d like to recommend, please leave some suggestions in the comments section.

through the eyes of a child: Mad Men’s Sally Draper

•May 28, 2010 • 2 Comments

Sally's world comes to a halt by the end of Season 3 (image courtesy of squareeyes.blinkx.com)

FYI: there are tons of spoilers in this post, please read at your own risk.

I’d been anticipating the DVD release of season 3 of AMC’s Mad Men since many of my friends mentioned that Sally Draper, the eldest child, and only daughter, of Don and Betty Draper, was allowed to shine this season. Last week I finished season 3 via Netflix and the narrative arch for Sally lived up to expectations. I finally felt as though Matthew Weiner and the writers understood how to develop Sally outside of her relationship to Don and Betty, and season 3 offers glimpses of Sally becoming an individual.

This is all great for me – not only because I’m a girls studies scholar – but because, to be honest, Sally is one of my favorite characters on the show. You see I like Mad Men well enough, but admittedly I do not love the show. I understand why critics and academic flock to the show (there were multiple panels at the Console-ing Passions Conference devoted to Mad Men) and why the show scoops countless awards each year. The show looks amazing, the cast is amazing, and overall the episodes are intellectually stimulating. Yet, I have a hard time maintaining interest in the characters’ lives and situations, and I often feel that the show focuses too much on white, well-to-do people, who seem incapable of finding happiness despite (or maybe in spite of) their highly privileged circumstances.

This season left me especially bewildered in terms of the male characters and how to read them. We have Don Draper who has slept with countless women over the course of the show, but who threatens his wife Betty and calls her a whore when she files for a divorce in the hopes of being with another man. This season is also when Pete Campbell rapes – yes I will use the word rapes! – an au pair, but then by the end of the season he’s recruited to be a partner, along with Don, Roger Sterling, and Burt Cooper in a fledgling ad agency. In those final scenes I feel that I, as the viewer, am supposed to cheer for this underdog agency . . . but I can’t let go of the fact that Pete raped a woman, and that his inclusion in this group taints an overall uplifting moment.

Between the unabashed delight in racial and class privilege represented on the show (the show drips with privilege, but there’s a moment of black-face this season courtesy of Roger) and the unsettling gender dynamics, I have a hard time finding points of identification in the series. This is one of the reasons why I gravitate towards Sally. I feel that we’re both navigating a world that we do not quite grasp. This season deals Sally some hard lessons, which resulted in one of the few moments where this show has brought me to tears.

Everything seems idyllic with Grandpa Gene around (image courtesy of tvguide.com)

The first half of this season develops Sally’s character by establishing her relationship with Grandpa Gene, Betty’s father. Gene is coerced into staying with the Drapers after his partner, Gloria, leaves him, and his dementia worsens to the point where the family grows concerned for his well-being. Gene reluctantly agrees to live in his daughter’s house, but quickly becomes accustomed to being part of the family. In the image above the Drapers and Gene attend one of Sally’s school events. A photographer asks for the Drapers to pose for a picture, and Gene inserts himself alongside the rest of the family (much to Don’s dismay). It’s unclear what Betty’s and Gene’s relationship was like when she was a child, and whether or not his attention towards Sally is a reflection of that relationship or maybe a way for him to make up for their lack of a relationship. Either way Gene makes a point to spend quality time with his granddaughter.

Throughout this season Kiernan Shipka’s performance highlights Sally’s deep desire to be loved and recognized by her family. Gene not only provides this type of love and support for Sally, but he also nurtures her rebellious side. This is illustrated in the clip above and in another scene when Gene invites Sally to eat ice cream with him in the middle of the day, though Betty strictly forbids this. Later in the season Sally steals $5 from her grandfather. Feeling guilty she creates an obvious lie to recover the money and give it back. Though Gene sees through Sally’s performance he doesn’t punish her or even broach the subject. It isn’t explicitly spelled out, but the show suggests that Gene wants to instill confidence and agency in Sally. In one of the most touching moments between these two characters, Gene tells Sally to ignore all the awful things Betty says (and will say) to Sally. For those who’ve seen seasons 1 and 2 of the show, we all know that Betty can be very hard on Sally and her disparaging remarks range from comments about Sally’s weight and appearance to comments about her behavior and worth as a daughter. These touching moments between granddaughter and grandfather build only to break the viewer’s heart when Gene dies midway through the season.

The episode “The Arrangements” deals with Gene’s death and how members of the Draper family cope with the news. This episode is crucial in showing how Betty and Don fail to consider how this news affects the children, especially Sally. When the officer visits the Draper residence and informs Betty that her father is dead, Sally overhears the news, but is shut out of the house and left to contemplate Gene’s death on the front steps, alone. Later as Don, Betty and Betty’s brother and sister-in-law discuss Gene, the adults start laughing as they joke about how Gene and Gloria won’t meet up in heaven. Sally overhears the laughter and interrupts the adults, shouting “Nobody cares that he’s really really really gone!” Shocked by Sally’s explosive remarks and unable to fathom that she is grieving as well, Don tells Sally to go watch television, which she does. The camera settles on Sally lying on the floor, watching footage of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation on television, again all alone.

The famous image of Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation, photograph taken by Malcolm Browne (image courtesy of wikipedia.org)

I’m not sure how to read this scene of Sally in front of the television. I would hope the show isn’t equating Sally’s distress over Gene’s death with the rising conflict and distress occurring in Vietnam at this time. In giving the show the benefit of the doubt, I’d point out that in previous episodes Gene has Sally reads passages from the book Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and he gives Bobby a Prussian helmet of a solider he shot and killed during WWI. In his review of “The Arrangements” James Poniewozik argues that Gene embraces the idea that “sheltering kids from the brutalities of life is indulgent and unwise” and as a result he makes it his mission to “un-shelte[r] his grandchildren, exposing them to the kind of responsibility and risk–and, therefore, accomplishment–that he kept from Betty.” In this respect maybe we can read Sally’s visual consumption of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation as an indication of her growing awareness of a world outside her house, a world embroiled in wars, annihilation, and social inequities.

All eyes are on Sally (image courtesy of squareeyes.blinkx.com)

The show continues to focus on Sally’s stages of grief over the loss of her grandfather. Betty and Don are asked to see Sally’s teacher after Sally gets into an altercation with another student. There’s also an issue with the Drapers’ newest addition to the family, a son, whom Betty names Gene. Sally refuses to hold the baby or interact with him at all, which Betty chalks up to jealousy on Sally’s part. Even gifts from Baby Gene – in this case a Barbie – cannot warm Sally’s heart. In a later discussion between daughter and father, Sally reveals that she thinks Baby Gene is Grandpa Gene reincarnated. Sally states her case by pointing out that the baby has the same name and sleeps in the room where Gene used to sleep.

It is this moment in the season, this discussion between Sally and Don, where I started crying. As ridiculous as Sally’s fears may sound to adult viewers, I could completely relate. As a child my great-grandfather, whom I loved dearly, passed away around the same time my dad bought a puppy for the family. Even though the events were probably months apart, as a child all I noticed was that this puppy loved to take walks and go fishing, things my great-grandfather had also thoroughly enjoyed. While I was never outright convinced that my great-grandfather had been reincarnated into my puppy, I always gave the dog table scraps – like a piece of toast with homemade strawberry jam on it – just in case it was him, and he missed these things. Seeing another girl character have an experience similar to my own, brought back all these memories along with more than a few tears.

Season 3 ends with the Drapers filing for divorce and informing their children of their new living arrangements. As Betty and Don prepare their children for the upcoming changes, Sally is quick to blame her mother for making her father leave. This scene suggests that season 4 will be a rocky one between daughter and mother, and I look forward to seeing how Weiner and the writers further develop Sally’s character and her position within the Draper household.

P.S. Dear Matthew Weiner: Can we please follow Carla home one time this season? Can we please see what Carla’s life is like outside the Draper residence – as in can we see where Carla lives, can we see her family? I have a feeling that once Carla leaves the Drapers’ residence she has even more work to do, taking care of her own family, cooking meals for them, scrubbing and cleaning her own place. This narrative detour wouldn’t be hard to write. Maybe Carla’s car breaks down and she needs a ride. I mean if you can have us believe that Don magically picks up two hitchhikers who just happen to talk about escaping the draft (season 3), or that Don randomly hooks up with some swingers in California (season 2), how much work would it take to find a plausible reason for us to see Carla’s home?

Alas I feel that you may never grant this request – why? Because Carla is denied access to the things Betty and Don take for granted. She is denied these things due to her race and class status. More than likely her home life would reflect her lack of privilege. Her home would not have a fainting couch, or the latest in home furnishings. Her kids may not have the latest fashions, the latest toys, or say . . . riding boots (which Betty gives Sally in season 2). If you allow us to see Carla’s home, and what she is denied in comparison to the Drapers (and the Campbells and the Sterlings and on and on), then it might be difficult for us to go back to enjoying Mad Men the way we did before. I get it, but I’m begging anyway – please let us see Carla’s life beyond her folding the Drapers’ laundry, cleaning the Drapers’ dishes, carrying for the Drapers’ kids.

Thank you,

a sorta fan of the show who wants more than what the show is currently offering.

LUNAFEST is actually tonight – so you can still make it!

•May 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

LUNAFEST logo (image courtesy of reelwomen.org)

Last month I wrote a post on LUNAFEST coming to Austin. Well turns out there was some miscommunication between LUNAFEST and Reel Women. The LUNAFEST site posted May 22nd as the date for the Austin screening, while Reel Women listed the 27th (that’s tonight) as the date. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when Saturday afternoon I realized that I would not be attending a screening of women filmmakers’ short films. But oh well – the point is that you all still have the opportunity to see the 2010 selections for LUNAFEST and show some love for Reel Women, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing support for female filmmakers. The festival begins at 7pm tonight at the Picture Box Studio. For more information on the screening, including the list of filmmakers and film titles, please visit the Reel Women website. I’ll be in attendance tonight and I’ll be sure to blog about the screening for those who cannot make it. Hope to see you there!

gearing up for Cinemakids

•May 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I tweeted this yesterday but wanted to give an extra plug for Cinemakids here on this blog. Cinemakids is an amazing organization that provides filmmaking skills and tools to youth who may otherwise lack these opportunities in their homes and their schools. Organized by UT Professor Mary Celeste Kearney (who blogs at Girls Make Media) the two-day program encourages youth ages 6-12 to celebrate youth-made films and participate in a free workshop focused on filmmaking basics. After being grouped together, the kids write, direct, and act in their own short film which is scripted and shot in those two days. Right now Cinemakids is asking for films, videos, and computer animations created by youth 18 years-of-age or younger. The deadline for submissions is July 1st. Entries that are selected will be a screened at a 2 day workshop in the fall for youth ages 6 – 12. Though the actual workshop won’t be until the fall, I thought I’d share my experiences volunteering for Cinemakids in case anyone is interested in participating in this year’s workshop.

Last year I volunteered on the Selection Committee and for the 2 day workshop. Being part of the Selection Committee was fantastic. It gave me the opportunity to see some amazing short films submitted by youth across the country. The 2 day workshop was hectic but ultimately wonderful. I worked with a mixed group of boys and girls, ages 8-9. I had 6 kids in my group and we had a total of 3 adult volunteers including myself.

Cinemakids is able to have youth shoot, and complete, a film in 2 days by relying on “on the spot” editing – meaning the kids had to shoot the film in sequence. There was no editing after the fact. This made a big difference in how the group had to approach everything, from set locations to how many scenes to include in the film. The workshop is held on UT’s campus and luckily there are plenty of ready-made sets including buildings, statues, a turtle pond, and the clock tower.

On the first day the youth attended the screening and viewed the youth-made films we selected. We try to select a diverse group of films in the hopes that the screening will inspire the kids and allow them to think of the endless possibilities they have in creating a film. First day we brainstormed with the kids about what kind of movies they like watching and what movies they’d recently seen in the theater or at home. This was a great way to get the kids talking with one another in a small group and to have them start thinking about common themes or stories they all liked. Turns out my group all liked sci-fi and monster films, and they built a story around these two genres.

One of the biggest things Cinemakids emphasizes is that everyone in the group should be both in front and behind the camera. This “rule” mitigates stereotypical gender roles in which boys handle the technology and girls merely perform for the camera. In my group everyone had the opportunity to direct a scene and be directed by others. Overall, all the kids wanted to occupy both roles, though I did have one really shy boy who didn’t want to appear on camera. In the end the group decided he could do voice-over work in a scene involving a talking turtle.

The volunteers and I assisted the kids with outlining a plot for their film and creating characters. This was one of the hard parts of pre-production since several kids wanted to be the hero of the film. Ultimately, we had multiple main characters and heroes (including a girl hero!) in the film. All of this brainstorming and story-boarding took up the first day of the workshop. It was hard (very hard) to get the kids to agree on a story and not add too many plot details or twists. For ex: one kid wanted to have an underwater adventure and fireworks and everything – we had to keep reminding him – “how would we be able to film/show this?”

This question in general (“how would we film this? How would we show this?”) was a great exercise for getting the kids to understand the various ways you can “show” something in a film, and the best part was that we allowed the kids to come up with these ideas themselves. By asking such questions as: does the character say they are good? should we “show” that they’re good – if so how would we show that? what are some acts of kindness, or how would we know someone is good in real life? the kids created their own representation of kindness . . . which in their film involved a zombie returning a stolen purse to the rightful owner. That first day we also went over how to use the camera and illustrated some basic camera movements such as a tilt, a pan, and how to zoom in and out.  We also helped the group figure out a consistent form of communication between the director and the actors, such as counting down “1, 2, 3, action!” – (then pressing record) and (turning off the record function and then saying) ending a scene with “Cut.”

On the first day we also scouted out locations on campus within walking distance and made a list of where we wanted to shoot certain scenes. We also figured out costumes and props. In a very DIY style the group relied on whatever the kids already had at home (including Halloween costumes) and whatever we could all put together over night with basic items like cardboard boxes, tin foil, and duct tape (both of which came in handy for the creating robot guards).

The last thing we did that first day was have the kids each create a title card. The title cards not only introduced the name of the film – which was Opposite Day – but they also set up the complex backstory involving multiple planets and technology gone haywire. Each kid was able to create a title card with their section of the prologue and then do the voice-over work for their title card at the beginning of the film. Writing all of this down I’m amazed at how much was accomplished this first day!

On day two the kids filmed the entire thing from start to finish. The volunteers and I would sometimes act out a scene to help the kids be aware of blocking and how to position their bodies so that their faces could be seen on camera. Though the kids had scripted their scenes and knew the overarching narrative, the majority of the dialogue was created on the spot. Therefore, each scene was rehearsed three times prior to filming so that everyone could remember their lines and their places. At one point the kids couldn’t agree on how to film a battle scene where the three heroes defeat the robot guards. One group member suggested disarming the robots with the a joke – “Why should you never sleep next to a pig? Because it will hog the bed!” – and everyone enjoyed that unique and unexpected touch.

At the end of day 2 of the workshop, my group was surprised at how much work went into making their short film. Originally they were hoping to create a 20 minute film over the course of the workshop, and they all thought this would be easy. It was fun to show them how much time and effort goes into setting up each scene, practicing each scene, filming the scene, and the regrouping to another location and repeating the process. In the end Opposite Day was only 3 minutes long! Months later Cinemakids held a screening where each group could see their finished film along with the other films created during the workshop. For a short film Opposite Day packed a punch in every second. The film ended up involving aliens, zombies, superheroes, robots guards, a talking turtle, and a ninja! As is often the case, if you foster kids’ creativity you will not be disappointed (or bored) by the results.

Overall, Cinemakids allowed these kids to see that media is highly constructed, from the costumes, to the sets, to the dialogue, and the story. By pulling back the curtain and showing the inner workings of the filmmaking process, and placing those same skills and tools in kids’ hands, Cinemakids prepare youth to think critically about media and popular culture. And if we’re lucky, Cinemakids inspires youth to continue documenting their visions and stories!

what does girl empowerment look like?: My Interviews with Alexis Brown and Julia Manship of Girls Inc. of Santa Fe

•May 20, 2010 • 3 Comments

As a feminist who is more familiar with the academic world than girls’ daily lives, I often wonder how feminist theories of girlhood and girl empowerment can be translated into practice. When we talk about girl empowerment, about girls having agency – what exactly do we mean? what does girl empowerment look like? and what tools or skills do we consider essential in order to achieve girl empowerment? One way we can approach these questions – and indeed maybe even answer some of them – is if we step outside the walls of academia and turn our attention to girl-supportive non-profit organizations, such as Girls Inc. of Santa Fe.

I wrote a brief post a while back praising the work of the national organization Girls Inc. After posting a link to the entry on Facebook, I received tons of positive feedback as friends, and friends of friends, recounted their experiences working with girls through local Girls Inc. affiliates. It was through a friend on Facebook (heya Ricky!) that I came to know Alexis Brown and Julia Manship, two women who work with the Santa Fe affiliate of Girls Inc. I was fortunate enough to coordinate interviews with both women and I gained tremendous insight into their organization’s various processes and programs for fostering girl empowerment.

Alexis, who serves as the Director of Fund Development and Communications, provided the background history of the national organization and the inner workings of the Santa Fe affiliate. Alexis noted how the first Girls Inc. was founded in 1860 and was actually called Girls Club. The organization was created as a support system for young women who worked in the factories around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Over time the program evolved and the focus become instilling girls with certain skills, such as proficiency in homemaking in the 1950s. In its current iteration, Girls Inc. offers research based programs that provide girls with what I would call tools rather than simply skills. In every program, from Operation Smart to Economic Literacy to Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy to Media Literacy, Girls Inc. promotes girl empowerment by giving girls the tools to succeed in school and life, and by encouraging girls to become advocates for themselves and others in their communities.

The Girls Inc. affiliate in Santa Fe was founded in 1955. Alexis noted how early on it was difficult to convince parents and guardians that the organization was more than a childcare program. As everyone began to see the positive effects of Girls Inc., they soon realized that the organization was, and still is, carrying on the legacy of change and hope for a better future, a future that improves girls’ lives and as a result improves the community. The Santa Fe affiliate has expanded over the years and currently employs 8 full time staff members and utilizes 25 facilitators. In the interview Alexis shared the affiliate’s goals for the future. She noted that in 2005 Girls Inc. worked with over 250 girls in the Santa Fe area, and that by 2008 that numbered jumped to 405. By 2012 Girls Inc. of Santa Fe hopes to work with 10% of the girl population, which would be approximately 800+ girls. In working towards that goal, Girls Inc. of Santa Fe opened a second center, allowing more girls to participate in the summer camps and the year-long programs.

In discovering how Girls Inc. of Santa Fe supports and empowers girls, I also interviewed Julia Manship, who is a program facilitator with the affiliate. Below is our Q & A in which Julia discusses the program Sticks and Stones, why she volunteers with Girls Inc., and the ways in which she’s seen  Girls Inc. improve girls’ lives.

Q: Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your role/involvement with Girls Inc. Santa Fe,

JM: Well, I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana but I went out to New Mexico to go to college.  After graduating, I worked a real basic retail gig.  I saw a sign for Girls Inc and was compelled to research further.  I interviewed and got a job for the afterschool program.  I’ve been at Girls Inc of Santa Fe for about four years now.  It’s been a life changing experience.

Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges girls currently face in society? What are the unique challenges for girls in Santa Fe?

JM: In society, girls face a lot of the same issues they faced in past decades.  The use of their bodies as sexualized backgrounds for products and media is a big hot button issue for me.  It creates a binary world for them.  Hot or not.  Smart or dumb.  Athletic or lazy.  Girly or tomboy.  Virgin or slut.  Pushover or bitch.  This society creates such a bubble of an existence.  I hear my girls say “I’m punk/goth/emo/tomboy, which means I can only like this” or “Well, we can’t be friends because she’s blonde and popular.  She’s too girly”.  So many “I can’ts” or “Too hards”.  They don’t realize that there’s a whole world available to them.  They can be girly and still love sports.  They can stand up for themselves and still be kind.  They can be goth and like pink.  They can be a girl, a woman, a female and not be open business for ogling and harassment.  That was a huge challenge for me.  It’s a huge challenge still.

In terms of unique challenges for girls in Santa Fe, well, it’s hard for me to really say.  I wasn’t raised here.  I know the big ones.  Teenage pregnancy and sexual education is an enormous issue.  Race is also another subject we discuss a lot in our groups.  What does it mean to be Hispanic?  What does it mean to be Mexican?  Where do you fit in if you’re mixed race, if you’re black, if you’re white?  I’ve found that relational aggression is a big problem in the schools.  Teachers don’t engage.  It sounds like they’ve given up or have run out of options.  My girls are always coming to the group saying “Someone brought a knife” or “I saw a fight today” or “Someone started a fight with me and I got in trouble for defending myself”.  If they don’t fit the status quo, then they are a problem.  But relational aggression is a national issue, not just a local one.

Q: Why did you all create the Sticks and Stones program? What needs does this program address?

JM: Sticks and Stones was started before I began at Girls Inc.  A former Program Director started putting together a curriculum.  When I started, Sticks and Stones was little more than a few sheets of paper discussing slurs.  So we wanted to expand on that and bring it up to date.  We serve girls ages 5 to 15.  The activities needed to be age appropriate and needed to get to the roots of problems.  And we also wanted to discuss all facets of diversity.  Race, of course.  But gender, sexuality, families, religion and mental/physical differences all come into play.  This needed to be a building block for discussion.

I think that Sticks and Stones, in terms of needs being addressed, opens up lines of communication.  They are allowed to learn about race as a current subject.  It’s not just something that happened when people sailed across the ocean in wooden ships, wore powdered wigs and fought wars with cannons.  Just because a books says that there are equal rights doesn’t mean that racism and prejudice vanished.  It’s real.  It’s important that they know that their experiences aren’t singular or irrelevant. They have something to contribute.  Their lives are worth sharing.  Actually, they also got to experience this when we did the She Votes! program during the election.  We went over the history of voting and the girls learned that some American citizens were unable to vote well into the 1980s (the Voting Accessibility Act was passed in 1984!).  They need to be educated on these topics.  Sticks and Stones can help answer those questions.

Q: Please tell me a little bit about the process of developing this particular program. What age group did you start with and how do you decide how to improve the program? How do you evaluate the effectiveness of a particular program or workshop? How much are actual girls involved in this process – for instance are they asked to give feedback about a program or workshop, or do they have a hand in developing it?

JM: Kim Brown, our Program Director, Melissa Willis, our Site Manager and Madonna Hernandez, our Site Coordinator wanted to expand Sticks and Stones.  Thomas Griego and I were asked to try it out with our girls.  They were the two oldest groups and both Thomas and I had been there long enough to know how the programs worked.  We broke it up by types of diversity(i.e. Race, Gender or Family) and explored how to make the curriculum as experiential as possible.  We didn’t want it to be a lecture.  We didn’t want it to scare them or make them sad.  We wanted them to have A-ha moments.  So we would do an activity and if it failed, we’d sit down and figure out why.  Did it not apply to their local paradigm?  Did we get too academic?  Did we lecture too much?  How do we make this relevant to our community of girls while still making viable for a national community?

Age group wise, we started with 7 to 10 year olds.  Once we went through the first round and wrote down all the activities, I typed them up and tried to adjust for age.  Obviously, what excites a 9 year old won’t excite a 5 year old.  With the teens, you’ve got to be willing to be honest and not push them.  You want to give them the chance to explore.  And you’ve got to be subtle.  If you go in saying “Okay ladies, this is really important and you need to learn it and blah blah blah” they’ll shut down.  So it’s still a work in progress on that front.  Which is great!  We’re learning a lot about the program this year because all our activities are going to be tweaked and refined even more.

Evaluation wise, I stated earlier that we would go back through and talk about how an activity worked or failed.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  I might be really proud of an activity that I created but the girls despised it so I have to ask myself why.  And with this being a fledgling curriculum, we don’t have pre or post-surveys built for us by national.  We made our own to see how things shifted but it’s really done each day.  We talk with our girls, ask them what they think, what they learned, how they will apply this to their lives.  You can see a shift in how they talk to each other.

This year, I’ve been really lucky to have the 10 to 12 year olds.  I ask them all the time how I can make this activity better for them.  How do they enjoy learning?  For example, one of the activities was building a poem about diversity. The activity had specific directions that I wrote down last year but when I was with my girls, I wanted them to have a say in the matter.  Should we write separate poems?  Should we write one large one?  You want a large one?  Okay, should it be one consistent voice that describes itself in all types of skin tones or should it be clear that each line is a new person?  One consistent voice?  Okay.  What else do you want to do?  You want to have a collage of skin tones and body types all around the poem?  Awesome!  What else?  The girls are crucial in building curriculum.  They get a big chance at the end to build the curriculum. The culmination of the Sticks and Stones program is the Advocacy Project.  The girls get to vote on how they can get the message of diversity out to the public.  One year we made buttons and the girls designed them and made them and gave them to their friends and family.  But each year they find a different way to advocate for diversity.  Making a protest or doing a letter writing campaign or making a ‘zine.  They determine how they affect change in their community.  They learn that they can.

Q: How have you seen Girls Inc. improve the lives of girls in Santa Fe?

JM: Well, my second summer at Girls Inc, I was trained as the Economic Literacy specialist.  When I got to the 9 and 10 year olds, we were discussing pay inequity and how it’s still a problem.  The girls got very upset.  These are moments that counselors should really utilize.  I asked them if they wanted to write a letter to Governor Richardson and his wife about pay inequity.  See, my father was an editorial writer and my mom worked for the state government so I was taught that I could affect change in my local government with my words.  So we wrote a letter.  The girls dictated their primary concerns and we built a very matter of fact letter to the governor.  I just wanted to show them that there was nothing stopping them from asking, “Why is this happening”.  You can call politicians to task.  You elect them.  They are supposed to serve your interests.  Even if you are 9.  Especially if you are 9.

Well, he wrote back.  And he really wrote back.  It wasn’t a form letter.  Governor Richardson answered specific questions they asked.  He told them about things he’s done to lessen the pay gap.  He told them things he wanted to do to lessen it even more.  He signed it with a pen and everything.  Those girls got to see that their voices mattered.  They saw that people in power were listening.  I was so proud of them.  We got to do something similar this year with writing a letter to the editor about relational aggression and how it’s real and how it’s scary and how it can be stopped.

Q: Why is it important to have Girls Inc. – both in terms of the national organization and the local chapter in Santa Fe?

A: All girls are at risk.  Girls Inc. is a safe space.  They are allowed to ask questions. They are allowed to make mistakes.  They are allowed to strive.  Across the country, girls are reading the same magazines and watching the same shows and going to similar schools.  They’re all getting the same messages: Their worth is measured via their bodies.  Not by intellect.  Not by achievements.  They have to be perfect little dolls.  Don’t get dirty.  Don’t fall down.  Don’t play with bugs.  Don’t explore nature.  It’s a world of “don’t”.  But at Girls Inc., we love them for just being them.  Scraped knees and all.

Locally, we’ve tried worked hard to unify our families into a community.  Outside of our usual camps, we offer P.A.P.(Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy) workshops for girls and a trusted adult.  We host game nights where families come and play games and have some food and we do a door prize raffle where everyone walks away with something.  We do outreach to the schools we can’t directly serve at this time.  Actually, we’re hoping to build a viable outreach program where we could go to the schools and the girls could choose to be a part of Girls Inc. as an afterschool activity.

We also collaborate with some really fantastic local non-profits and organizations so the girls get to try new things.  We’ve done self-defense classes and art classes.  We’ve had the chance to introduce them to things like training assistance pets and saving birds of prey.  They get to do ropes courses and rock walls and rock climbing.  Photography classes, making a magazine, putting on a play.  All of this is possible because we collaborate.  We build relationships with amazing people and fantastic organizations.   Santa Fe is a perfect place to do this.  It’s a community-oriented city.  I know I’ve been using the word “community” a lot but that’s how we work.  We couldn’t function without honoring the space in which with operate and live.

What I love most about Girls Inc. is that it provides girls with choices.  When I was growing up, we were all being told that we could do anything a boy could do.  Great.  But what does that mean?  Girls Inc. shows girls what that means.  A lot of my group is heading to middle school and they are trying on lots of hats and wearing lots of different personalities.  There are days when they fight me about doing science experiments or they are furious that I hate Bella from Twilight.  And I really have to watch my music.  So I’m just honest with them.  I say, “Hey, I’m not here to tell you that you have to be an entomologist.  I just want you to know that you have choices.  My job isn’t to make you change your life to suit my ideals.  Tell me why Bella is your heroine.  I really do want to know.  I’m here for you.  I’m listening.”

**Thank you again to Alexis Brown and Julia Manship for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights on working with girls through Girls Inc. of Santa Fe.

wrapping it up: my thoughts on the 2010 GRRL WRAP Festival

•May 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Over the weekend Grrl Action hosted the 2010 GRRL WRAP Festival at The Off Center, in which girls who participated in the 2009-2010 year long Grrl Action program showcased their work. The Festival ran both Saturday and Sunday, and while I wish I could have attended all the events, I was only able to attend Sunday evening’s performances. Based on the small sample of installations, exhibits, and performances I witnessed on Sunday I’m sure the entire Festival was amazing.

The final night of the Festival started promptly at 7:45. Before sitting down to enjoy the first performance, I walked over next door and perused the art installation titled “Victorian Gothic” by Charlee Koonce. The installation involved a room, decorated in what Koonce refers to as a “pseudo Victorian” style, in which there were Victorian-styled furniture, including lamps and mirrors. The room also acted as an exhibition for Koonce’s art pieces, including a graphite on paper art piece titled “Shut Up + Listen” which shows a girl with her mouth sewn shut. The drawing is unsettling, especially displayed amongst the Victorian styled set pieces. One of the most arresting pieces in the installation was a miniature doll house, and the level of detail noted in the piece – down to the decorate stencils on the 2nd floor windows – was amazing to see close-up. Koonce decided to incorporate her smaller art pieces into a larger installation project in order to invite people to interact with her art. She even encouraged people to pick up items and hold them, and help themselves to the sandwiches and treats displayed on the table. This particular art installation is the first of a four part series, in which Koonce will create an additional room each year. I for one look forward to interacting with each additional piece.

Back in the main building, I took my seat for the first of 3 performances for the evening. First up was a play titled “Suicide Sister” written and performed by Eliza and featuring local actors Jodi Jinks, Chell Parkins, and Aron Taylor. This first performance was somber to say the least. The story follows the tragic events leading up to the death of a young girl, Chelsea, and the play touched on issues of rape, drug abuse, poverty, prostitution, suicide, and murder. The subject matter was so heart-wrenching, and presented in a brutally honest/raw fashion, that Grrl Action posted disclaimers at the entrance to The Off Center noting that the first performance might not be suitable for everyone attending the Festival. Overall, Eliza and the rest of the cast did an amazing job bearing their souls and telling this story with minimal props, costumes, and space. Moreover, it was touching when Eliza talked about how she wrote the play based on her own experiences and the experiences of friends, and how she hopes to continue shedding light on issues of drug abuse amongst youth.

From the somber to comically fretful, the second performance titled “Esperanza’s Science Experience” was written and performed by Alma. The premise involves a young girl who tries to study the night before a big science test at school, only to accidentally fall asleep and wake up in a panic. In trying to calm herself before getting ready for school, Esperanza’s mind rushes all over the place and she thinks about everything and anything – from how the earthquake in Chile shifted the Earth’s axis, to the paper she wrote about women’s movements from the 1970s and 19990s in South America. The performance addresses the pressure girls feel to succeed in school, while also highlighting the ways in which girls find that strength and self-confidence at the last minute to rise to the occassion – including taking a time-out to dance around in their bedrooms to relieve stress.

The final performance of the evening titled “Songs,” showcased Chloe’s voice as she sang two cover songs and performed two of her own songs. Meg Sullivan, one of the Program Directors for Grrl Action, helped set the mood for the audience by decorating the stage with red lights and flower petals. For the first two songs, including a cover of Alicia Keys’ “Falling,” Chloe performed them a capella. For the final two songs Chloe was joined on stage by her mentor, Erin Ivey, who sang backup vocals and played an acoustic guitar. With her soulful inflections Chloe’s performance was beautiful and touching. Given that we’re so used to seeing contemporary pop stars require an entourage, designers, and tons of costumes and props to pull of an engaging performance – it was powerful to see Chloe outperform many of those singers with just a microphone, her notebook, and her voice.

After the final performance I spent the remaining time visiting the exhibits on display in the main building. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to spend on each exhibit, but I appreciated Georgia’s piece titled “Joan of Ocean Manga.” which incorporated the first several panels of Georgia’s graphic novel along with a song she created for her novel. The exhibit was setup so that visitors could put on headphones and listen to an original song Georgia composed for her graphic novel in progress, of which there were several preliminary panels on display.

Overall, the performances, exhibits, and installations were amazing. I can’t quite describe the joy and elation I feel watching these girls perform and showcase their own creative work. Or how gratifying it is to see so many people give up an hour of their Sunday evening to support girls and this incredible non-profit organization. It’s not just the fact that they are teenage girls and are utilizing multi-media platforms to express themselves, the works themselves are truly incredible and equal to anything I’ve ever seen by so called (adult) professionals. Maybe the experience is still fresh in my mind, but I feel as though I can’t quite express how it feels to attend this Festival and see these works of art. Instead of groping around for the right words or expressions, I’d like to quote Jill Dolan, who blogs at The Feminist Spectator, and her thoughts on attending a 2006 performance associated with Grrl Action:

“As a spectator, I had little investment in the performance . . .  I hadn’t paid for my ticket. I was giving up 90 minutes of my time. And yet my experience was filled with moments of hope, moved as I was by the work these girls’ had done, and touched as I was by our presence listening to them. I believe that their experience with Grrl Action changed their lives. I know that seeing them perform changed mine.”

I couldn’t have said it better.