“By all appearances, the stars are aligned for young feminists. Armed with a well-honed sense of irony, an inventive amalgam of online and on-the-ground activism, and an intersectional lens, girl activists are getting it done,” writes Colby College professor of education and human development Lyn Mikel Brown in her new book, “Powered by Girl: A Field Guide for Supporting Youth Activists.”
Brown, who has authored five other books about gender and girlhood, knows what she’s talking about. As a proponent of girl-fueled activism, the academic is well-positioned to educate on its realities and impact.
“I think I’ve been writing this book for a long time in my head because I teach courses on girls activism,” Brown explained in a phone interview recently. As a professor, she was challenged by the lack of resources on girl-driven activism for her courses. “I pieced together things, and finally though I should just write all this up.”
She also works “with adults who work with girls,” in a way that allows the girls to lead and “be experts on their own experience. Brown says, that can be a challenge but it’s one worth undertaking. That also contributed to her wanting to write this book.
“I think adults struggle with that so I wanted to write a book with a lot of girls voices so they could say what they want and what they need so they can do this work,” said Brown. “I think one of the primary things adults need to do is to listen, and to listen to whatever it is that girls are passionate about. …Allow them to sort-of define the problems for themselves. When we can allow them to do that, they can begin to think about solutions … for change.”
For adults working with girls, it means really becoming engaged in partnership with the girls.
The book is based on a series of interviews Brown conducted both with women working with girl activists and the girl activists themselves.
“I interviewed a lot of girls I’ve worked with over the years — I think what surprised me is that I thought I knew them,” Brown admitted. But when it came down to it, she found that even as an expert she hadn’t been listening enough to what the girls really were saying they needed. “This is what I mean about really engaging in conversation and really listening. … I heard from girls — how hard it is to continue to push and to challenge and to dissent and how much they relied on other girls and women for support. That just speaks to the power of coalition and support.”
Support, Brown also learned, is crucial.
“When they knew they had [people] supporting them, it made it easier to stand up and take risks,” Brown said. “If we want to do effective social change work, we need to do it in the company of people we trust.”
For modern girls to be successful in their social movements, they need to disrupt the norm. “The reality is the way we move forward is actually challenging things and girls who are activists are disrupting notions of what it means to be feminine,” Brown said.
Brown hopes that adults will read her book, and girls will benefit from it — and be open to the help they can get from others.
“I think what girls can really benefit from is a conversation about how this really happens.
You are a much more savvy and sophisticated activist if you know it takes others to make this work,” Brown said.