by Carly Seedall

On Saturday October the 30th, I opened the door to St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, with nothing in my hands except a journal and an open mind. As I strolled into the school, I was greeted by what seemed like hundreds of girls of all ages, each of their faces adorned with a smile. Grinning and giggling while signing up for workshops and making nametags at the registration desk, these girls had set aside their Saturday to assemble under one big roof. They had come to the Portland SPARK Summit, sponsored by Girls Inc. Northwest, to immerse themselves into the challenges of modern day girls and to take action on the issues they shared a common passion for.  Soon after signing in, we were ushered into the school auditorium for an initial meeting.

After finding a seat for the introductory speech, I gazed around the room, dumbfounded by the enormous amount of girls and women who had congregated in honor of Girls, Inc. Many girls were practically jumping out of their seats, eager for the event to begin. Soon afterwards, we were introduced to the Girls, Inc. team- including the fabulous teen trio Shivani, Ally, and Wallis- who helped make the event possible. Our itinerary was laid out- 1:30-3:00, 1st Workshop, 3:15-4:45, 2nd Workshop, 5:00-600, Pizza Party and Rock Concert. “Wait, what?” I asked myself, “Pizza Party? Rock Concert?? Am I in the right place?” Yet before I had time to contemplate whether or not I printed out accurate directions on Google Maps, we were rushed to our first station- mine was titled “Women in Leadership, room 306”.

To jumpstart the first workshop, several other high school-aged girls and I watched a segment of the documentary Miss Representation, which confronted the gender equality problem in the twenty-first century. Prior to watching this segment, I had been somewhat aware that modern women were misrepresented in government and leadership roles, but I was shocked to say the least at the concealed facts. According to the documentary, only 34 women have ever assumed a role of governor in the United States, compared to 2319 men. While women represent 51% of the United States population, they represent only 17% of congress. If men are making laws for the entire country, how can they accurately determine laws that concern women? After discussing and establishing the extremity of this problem, we decided to take a look at the cause of this “step backward”.

Our mentor, Michelle, had snatched ten random magazines from the school library. She distributed these to us and asked us to find examples of sexism. I was skeptical at first. How many sexist elements can you find in National Geographic, right? Yet each of these “innocent” magazines, ranging from Time to Reader’s Digest, contained some kind of sexist implication- a picture, a caption, or an article. Although some of these sexist elements were minor, the girls and I were surprised at what the media cleverly implies. In National Geographic, I discovered an image of ten or so doctors meant to represent that profession as a whole. Not one of them was a woman. Another girl found an ad for vodka, which featured a half naked model (in Time magazine!). From these examples, we concluded that the media is the source of the declining self-esteem among women today. Armed with this knowledge, we parted ways to continue onto our next workshop.

I proceeded to room 309, where my next workshop was titled “Sparking a Social Movement.” I had blindly checked off this class on my registration sheet, so I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. I then met Peggy and Jennifer, our workshop leaders, along with Ally, Mackenzie, and Shivani, my fellow workshop participants. Peggy and Jennifer presented a slide show of their latest venture, a program they created which aims to reduce childhood obesity by funding the ideas of young people. These amazing ladies met in a leadership class, where they shared their ideas and decided to take action. Their program has proved to be extremely successful, as they have provided funds for many different projects around Oregon. These ladies attributed their accomplishments to one powerful principle; collaboration.

In order to spark a social movement, Peggy and Jennifer proclaimed, collaboration is the most important part of any campaign. Through collaboration, a good idea has the opportunity to develop into a great idea. Being a teenager, I will admit that I am not the best “team player.” I hate when my success is dependent upon the work of others, and I feel bad when I fail to pull my own weight in a group project. However, Peggy and Jennifer taught me that although human beings are flawed naturally, the benefits of collaboration greatly outweigh the risks. With that, we were given a worksheet in which we were to brainstorm our own Social Movement.

At first, Ally, Shivani, Mackenzie and I had no clue what topic our social movement should involve. We began chatting about modern education, and we came to the agreement that sexual education in most schools should be taught with a “youth to youth” approach. Within minutes we founded TABOO; To Assess Blind Objectification and Oppression. This program would empower the young generation, and would openly state the facts concerning taboo topics. We exchanged contact information and agreed that we would continue to develop our own project.

When we returned to the auditorium to discuss the day’s accomplishments as one big group, I felt educated, refreshed, powerful, and inspired. The summit supplied me with the facts about modern gender issues, empowered me by teaching me to channel my skills and passions toward changing the world, and inspired me by providing a community of amazing girls and women who share my passion and are willing to support me. Can you imagine a world in which every girl received the same experience? Although the Girls, Inc. summit was only about a hundred girls strong, all of us who attended are already on our way to changing the world.