Sharing Female Empowerment With Fifth Grade Girls

I make part of my living as a professional "speaker" -- that is I get to travel across the country giving lectures, primarily to college students. Mostly I am invited to address issues in contemporary feminism, sexual assault and numerous other gender injustices, and how to move our activism from a grand suggestion to personal, tangible gestures. In other words, I have become quite comfortable speaking in front of friends, foes and strangers. Talking recently, though, in front of ten fifth grade girls gave me great pause.

I had been invited to meet with The Girls Project, a decade's old New York City program focused on girls' empowerment. Specifically, they asked me to talk generally about "women" -- usually my specialty, but how to make "women" appealing and approachable to "girls" presented a challenge. Plus, how could I address this grand topic without either being too celebratory or prematurely burdening them with present realities that may or may not become future frustrations? For starters, pay disparity and the work/life balance.

Scrapping much of my usual material, I resorted to "Women" might feel abstract, but the stories of women when they were once girls could be relatable.

I started by showing my favorite snippets from MAKERS, focusing first on those videos that highlighted girlhood or the experience of women when they were once girls – Maria Pepe being denied access to the sport she loved (baseball), Condoleeza Rice being a devoted pianist long before she became a global force, and Judy Blume, though not captured in her girlhood, a beloved creator of girls' fiction. Then the girls took over:

"Can we see the one about Martha, because my name is Martha?"

"Can we see the one about the tennis (Billie Jean King) because I go to Forest Hills every summer to see tennis with my family?"

"Can we see the girl boxer (Marlen Esparza) because I have never seen a girl boxer before?"

"Can we see Tavi Gevinson because I love fashion?"

The more the girls watched, the more the girls wanted to watch.

In the days and weeks after our time together I ran into a few of the girls and their mothers. The mothers thanked me and told me about how the entire family watched more of the videos at home. The daughters smiled at me and approached me gleefully as they would a friend. MAKERS worked. The videos exposed them to the women they could become. It helped break down potential age and generational divide, and it brought us together in a common bond of girlhood. What I wanted, I got. Plus, I left them inspired and not bored.

Those smiles of recognition were enough of a thanks, but then a few weeks after my visit they made my day by sending me personalized thank you notes.

You can view the wonderful notes at the top of this article by clicking "View Slideshow."


Fifth grade girls in The Girls Project thank Amy Richards for teaching them about MAKERS.

...Specifically boxer Marlen Esparza.

... And Martha Stewart.

Tags: Amy Richards