Being empowered is different than projecting an image of empowerment for girls, says Colby College Professor Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.'89, author of Powered by Girl: A Field Guide to Supporting Youth Activists. But to get there may be easier said than done. Girls are inundated with messaging that leads them to believe there is empowerment in looks or in individual accomplishments — and to associate activism with celebrity. There is a danger in that, says Brown.
"Being powerful is really about engaging with the world and making the world better in some ways," says Brown, which is a difficult thing to do alone. "Activism as social change is about working with other people. It is not glamorous; it is hard work and when it is put out there as individual accomplishment or connected to celebrity, what we lose is the message to girls that they have to connect with people, they have to care about things, they have to be in it for the long haul."
So, what can adults — parents, educators — do to lead girls to a more accurate idea of power and activism? According to Brown, it's as simple as listening to their ideas, respecting what they identify as being issues, and encouraging them to notice when the world is unfair.
"If we want to really have an impact, if we want girls to be in the world, to change the world, then we have to give them the skills and the resources to do that," Brown says.
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