Progressive Girls’ Voices 2012 a Success
| July 26, 2012
The Women’s Media Center’s New York City office came to life this past weekend as staff members prepared for the WMC’s Progressive Girls’ Voices (PGV) event. PGV is the premier media and leadership training program for girls in the country. Through a series of presentations, workshops, and discussions spanning the course of three days, the WMC enabled ten young women to better understand the media landscape that surrounds them as they prepare to deliver their messages in a fast-paced world.
“Women are the majority of the population in this country, but we are a minority voice in government, business, and the nonprofit community,” Chris Jahnke, media trainer and founder of Positive Communications said. For the past 20 years Jahnke has helped women prepare for public appearances, including First Lady Michelle Obama for her International Olympic Committee speech.
“PGV is a very exciting opportunity to help girls and young women learn how to speak out effectively. These skills will help them build successful careers and lives, and will also help the women’s community further a progressive agenda,” Jahnke said.
The young women involved in PGV are eager to ensure that their voices contribute to the changing landscape of feminism and media, largely owing to the negative effects that the media can have on girls and young women.
“We are educated about how polluted the world is but we never question how polluted the media is. Young girls are consuming without questioning, and this leads to dangerous ideals that carry throughout their lives,” Katherine Lazo, a 2012 PGV alumna, said. “Young girls deserve to be media literate.”
For these young women, the most important tool to help them change the media is their collective voice. The PGV workshops were designed to show them the many ways they can contribute to the media on their own terms. WMC Vice President of Programs Jamia Wilson started things off by introducing public storytelling, elevator pitching, and girls owning their expertise. Elisa Kreisinger, video content manager for the WMC, spent Friday afternoon teaching PGV trainees about video remixing, and showed the girls how they can put their own spin on sexist content by editing and changing the dialogue to produce the message that they want to communciate.
On Saturday the girls were educated on how to deliver their messages in person via a media interview. Jahnke worked with the PGV trainees to educate them on how to handle the media landscape, how to develop and cultivate their media messages, and how to conduct themselves during an interview. The girls were able to practice one-on-one with Chris on camera to see how their style translated on screen. “I’m excited to use the public speaking skills that I developed in the PGV program. Being able to voice the message I want to send in a clear, effective way will be a tremendously powerful tool,” Emma Axelrod, a 2012 PGV alumna said.
The girls also learned how to deliver their messages through the written word. WMC staff members Jamia Wilson and Madeleine Gyory, programs coordinator and social media associate, both gave presentations on how to effectively maneuver the growing social media landscape. Wilson informed the girls of the different social media platforms available to them and how to best utilize each one to achieve their goals and leverage media opportunities, while Gyory educated the group on internet safety, how to combat cyberbullying, and tools to deal with online harassment.
WMC Communications Manager Rachel Larris provided the girls with the ins and outs of op-ed writing, a tool which can prove especially useful considering the demographics of our PGV trainees. Larris encouraged all of the girls to submit their own op-eds, as even the editors of the most elite publications lament that they don’t receive enough content from young women and teens.
“The most important lesson I took away from the program is that the media really needs to get the voices of teen girls and that I am one of the people that can help change the face of the media,” Margaret Heftler, a 2012 PGV alumna said of the weekend’s workshops. “From taking part in the program, I feel empowered to get my voice out there, have the tools to do so, and recognize how important it is that I and girls like me take action and get involved in shaping the media.”
The girls were then able to participate in a distinguished intergenerational media panel, featuring Anaheed Alani of Rookie magazine, Shelby Knox of Change.org, Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing, Amy Rose Spiegel of Rookie magazine, and Julie Zeilinger of TheFBomb.
“I read feminist blogs, such as Feministing and Jezebel, and felt that a voice was missing from teen feminists and I sought out to fill that void,” said Zeilinger when asked why she launched her feminist blog, TheFBomb. At only 19-years-old, Zeilinger was a perfect example of what these girls can accomplish with their determination and new skill set.
Mukhopadhyay spoke on how it is often more difficult for women to get their voices heard because people tend to focus on other parts of their body: “You have to prove you belong there—that you look good enough to be there, and then that you know enough about the subject matter.” But she did not want that factor to deter young women.
“This was a whole generation of women missing. If we want our activism to be recorded as players in the feminist history, we have to tell our stories,” said Mukhopadhyay.
But this weekend was also about allowing these girls to explore their connections to feminism in a safe space. On Saturday the girls viewed the HBO documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words about the life of Gloria Steinem. In a discussion following the film, the girls were asked to define what feminism means to them and the role that it plays in their lives.
“I guess feminism means being viewed as an individual rather than a woman—being viewed as what you bring to the table rather than what gender you are. When [Gloria] was writing, she was being assigned all of these pieces based on her gender and I feel like when we have a fully feminist world she would be seen as a writer,” Axelrod said.
As the girls filed out of the room Sunday afternoon, it was clear that this was not the last we will be seeing of these inspiring young women. When looking back over the weekend’s events, 2012 PGV alumna Taylor Palmer said that the most important lesson she took away from the program was a newfound confidence in herself and in her views.
“Just because I don’t have a degree or have numerous awards or credentials doesn’t mean my views are invalid or meaningless. I can also make a difference and change lives just by owning my expertise,” Palmer said.