SPARKing Change

New Book: SPARKing Change: A Roadmap for Young Feminists

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Here is a little taste…

Section One: The Issues

Body
Sex & Sexuality
Race
Religion
Friendships
Education

Section Two: Taking Action

Local Organizing
Writing A Petition
Social Media Toolbox
Intergenerational Activism
Self-Care for Activists

Introduction

 

Be sexy…but don’t have sex! You’re beautiful just the way you are… but here’s how to get flatter abs! You are bombarded with such conflicting messages about what it means to be a girl today. Ever since you were a baby, you have been praised and rewarded for being cute, beautiful, sweet. Why is the first comment so many people say to or about little girls, “You’re so pretty! What beautiful hair/eyes/shoes/fingernails!” Walk through any department store and you’ll find high heels for two year olds, thong underwear and padded bikini tops for six year olds, Playboy logos on eight year old’s tee shirts and sexy nurse Halloween costumes for preteens. Salons offer manicure parties for toddlers and bikini waxing for teenagers. Toy stores are segregated according to gender with a pink aisle dripping with princesses and make-up kits and a blue aisle filled with guns and engineering toys. There is such pressure to focus all your energy on looking “hot.” But who’s definition of “hot” are we prescribing to? How is this media-dictated “ideal” of thin and white impacting how girls see ourselves?

Girls like you are being taught that what you look like is the most important thing in your world – and this is dangerous. When we focus all our energy on looking like the images we see in magazines, on television and inside boxes of Barbie dolls (almost entirely white and thin), then we spend less time on the things that really matter – school, friendships, art, sports, family, activism and volunteer work. We look around us and notice how racism is ripping apart our communities, our families and our friendships. We notice that girls of color are assaulted, harassed and pushed out of school at a ridiculously higher rate than our white peers. As young feminists today, we are taking action. We are not just sitting back and moaning, “But that’s just the way the world is. We can’t do anything about it.” Oh no! We are definitely doing something about it. We are holding the media accountable. We are protesting toy companies’ sexist product designs. We are calling out corporations for racism and sexism. We are raising awareness about the dangers of sexualization in our schools and neighborhoods and among our friends. As teenagers and women of three generations, we are using social media (twitter, facebook, tumblr, YouTube, instagram) to launch widespread activist campaigns and we’re also taking to the streets and calling out the magazines, clothing brands, advertisements and toys that we find offensive. We’re staging theater protests outside corporate buildings and making creative and personal rallying cry videos for YouTube. SPARKing Change is our journey from rage to action, including all the detours, stop signs and speed bumps and along the way. And we need you to join us! Maybe we freaked you out by assuming you are a feminist? Well, do you believe in equal rights and opportunities for all people regardless of gender? Then, congratulations! You are a feminist!

SPARKing Change: A Roadmap for Young Feminists is a compilation of stories, activities and testimonials from an inspiring and diverse group of young feminists. The fierce writers in this collection are all members of SPARK Movement (www.SPARKmovement.org), a girl-fueled, intergenerational activist movement. SPARK was started as a solution to the rampant sexualization of girls and women in the media that we have been witnessing for a few thousand years but seems to be amplifying in recent years. SPARK has since evolved into a girl-fueled, intergenerational activist organization working online to ignite an anti-racist gender justice movement. SPARK is what happens when a few academic researchers who have committed their lives to understanding and advocating for girls meet up with a bunch of activists fighting the good fight to dismantle the patriarchy and decide that what we really need is a smash-up of girls, grown-ups, activists, researchers and artists to all get together and pool our resources, talents and passions to make the world we want to live in, to be the change we want to see. This book is our story.

As the executive director (Dana) and former program coordinator (Melissa) of SPARK, we worked with the girls in these pages for a few years and we are giddy with excitement to share their stories with you.

And here is a sample of one of the stories, written by Angela:

“My skin color seemed to be this permanent tattoo that I could never escape.”
“Why is your skin so dirty,” my classmate asked as he pointed his Dorito covered 1st grade hand at my chest. “It’s not dirty” I replied, confused by what he meant. “I showered this morning” I added, hopping to prove my point. “Oh yeah? Then why is your skin all brown and ugly like mud and no one else’s is?” I glanced around the classroom for the first time noticing something that seemed to have escaped my attention: I was the only one in the classroom who didn’t have clean, white, skin.
That night I went home with a mission; I would scrub all the dirt and grime off my skin and return to class the next morning clean and white like all the other students in my school. I spent hours in the bathroom scrubbing my skin until the dark brown color turned to a blistering red coat of welts, yet no matter how hard I scrubbed, my skin remained “dirty” and I came to the realization that my permanent dirty skin was due to powers beyond my control.

Every night thereafter, I would kneel by my bed and pray that I would wake up with clean skin like my friends, neighbors and the celebrities on television had. Every morning I would look in the mirror and cry when I saw that my skin was just as dark and dirty as before.

The portrayal of black people on television did little to help my growing sense of distaste towards my race. The popular television shows and cartoons that I watched had few, if any, black characters and when black characters were shown, they were often stereotyped as lazy and uneducated.

By the time I was in middle school, I had perfected my “non black” alter ego. I spent hours after school memorizing the dictionary and reading the New York Times so I could “sound educated” when I talked. I saved up my allowance to by polo shirts and pressed pants so no one would think I was a “slob.” Parents of friends were addressed as “Maam and Sir” and “thank you and please” were a must.

My insecurity with my race manifested itself in almost every facet of my life. I often daydreamed about having a family filled with little blond haired blue-eyed babies and in art class when we were supposed to draw a self-portrait, I drew a picture of a girl with beautiful ivory skin and pale blue eyes much to my teacher’s confusion. “That’s me!” I promised her. When, for my 10th birthday, my mother bought me a black Barbie doll I cried because I believed the black Barbie was far uglier than the white Barbie. The motto crucified in my mind and reinforced by the society I grew up in was that “black was not beautiful.” To me, this statement was an axiom and I allowed its falsehood to govern my every action.

When I was in 7th grade, my friend Leslie had a birthday party and invited all the girls in my grade over to her house. After we had sang happy birthday and cut the cake, all the girls went to Leslie’s room to watch her open presents while the mothers stayed in the kitchen and drank coffee. I had to leave the party early to attend a soccer game and when my mother, who hadn’t attended the party called, I rushed back to the kitchen to grab my jacket before heading out. As I was heading down the stair, I heard the accented drawl of Leslie’s mother.

“I grew up in Little Rock, during the time when the black folks were trying to get their rights and let me tell you, things were miserable. I used to throw rocks at them with my friends. Ha, like black folks deserve an education. Even today I can’t stand them. They are just so lazy, illiterate and undeserving and all they do is steal our tax money- Did you see that little black girl running around here? I went and hid all my fine jewelry. I’m telling you, you just can’t trust those people.”

I could feel the walls of her house caving in and the room began to spin. I dashed out the door; all thoughts of retrieving my jacket were gone.

The next day in school, Leslie brought my jacket. “It’s a shame you had to leave the party. It was a lot of fun!” I nodded my head while I silently disagreed about just how “fun” her party was.

“My mother said you can’t come over our house anymore though because you were too loud at the party,” she said laughing, as if it were a joke and I would laugh along with her.

“Oh” I said, not altogether all that surprised that I was being banned from her house but at the same time shocked by the reality of the situation.

I looked down at my feet, trying, with no avail, to stop the tears in my eyes from falling. I wasn’t sad, or angry or upset, rather I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed that my skin color gave people a reason to judge who I was without getting to know me. I was embarrassed that my skin color seemed, to others, to be a better judge of character than my actions. But most of all, I was embarrassed that my skin color seemed to be this permanent tattoo that I could never escape.
I wish I could say that after ten years, there was a moment that changed my perspective on my race. Perhaps the great light bulb moment where I would be standing on the top of a skyscraper in the pouring rain screaming, James Brown’s famed lyric “I’m black and I’m proud.” That however was not the case.
Even now, after all these years I am always hyperaware of my race. I’ve made an effort however to seek out positive representations of race in the media, and I’ve written letters to show my appreciation for television shows that defy racial stereotypes. I’ve found myself cheering on the interracial couples in television shows and movies and I encourage all my friends to watch and support media that depicts strong independent blacks who are not subject to false stereotypes.
For me, it is so easy to passively accept things I cannot change. I cannot change the fact that I am black but I can change the way I feel about my race and whether or not I allow society to characterize me based on my race.

My race does not define me. It does not tell me who I am or who I will become. My race does not say whom I can be friends with or where I can sit at lunch. My race does not predict my future nor measure my past.

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