The Girls Are All Right
With Colbians leading the way, girl-empowering Hardy Girls Healthy Women sparks a national movement
By Laura Meader
Published January 10, 2011
On the corner of 68th and Lexington in New York City, a young woman hops onto a wall near the entrance to Hunter College. A light sweater covers her ruffled top, and she reads from a piece of bright pink paper.
“I want you to know that I am taking back ownership of my body,” she shouts, her voice rising above the city din. “I refuse to let the media affect my body image or self esteem.” A few people stop to listen, bundled against the autumn wind, and one woman smiles as Tasha De Sherbinin ’11 continues. “I’m taking sexy back and I want everybody to know it. It’s important that women everywhere know they are in control of their sexuality.”
Photo by John Meader
De Sherbinin was protesting on the street corner as a participant in the SPARK Summit, Oct. 22 at Hunter College. SPARK stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge, and 300 women and girls were trying to ignite a movement against the oversexualization of girls in the media.
But in New York City, street theater is common. How can one young woman get the people within earshot to really hear her message? How can the women and girls at SPARK change the culture of today’s media? How does one even begin?
By enlisting the help of girls, that’s how.
De Sherbinin, a women’s, gender, and sexuality studies (WGSS) major from Manchester, Mass., was one of five Colby students at SPARK representing not only Colby but also Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a Waterville-based nonprofit organization that has become a national player in programs and research that empower girls.
Hardy Girls Healthy Women (commonly called Hardy Girls) celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2010 and that same year received the Maine Governor’s Award for Nonprofit Excellence in the small organization division. Hardy Girls shows women, girls, and their communities the power of working together to create change, whether it’s implementing sexual harassment policies in their school or challenging products or ads from a large corporation.
Colby is one of the keys to Hardy Girls’ success. From cofounders Karen Heck ’74 and Professor of Education Lyn Mikel Brown to staff members Megan Williams ’04, Jackie Dupont ’04, and Allison Cole ’07 to faculty, staff, and students who have served on the board, Hardy Girls is rife with Colbians. More than 100 Colby students volunteer each year while others engage as interns.
Hardy Girls and Colby partner in civic engagement projects as well. Brown offers a practicum through the Education Program that requires students to work with girls. The Colby Volunteer Center, an arm of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, has adopted Hardy Girls as one of its ongoing programs. And in both September and January, incoming first-year students volunteer at Hardy Girls as part the C2IT (Colby Community Involvement Trips) portion of student orientation.
Megan Williams ’04 (left), executive director of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, shares the stage with Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action & the Media, during the opening session
of the SPARK Summit. Photo by John Meader
“Colby’s had a huge impact in our ability to build our capacity as an organization,” said Williams, Hardy Girls’ executive director. In turn Hardy Girls offers Colby students the opportunity to engage with a successful organization to gain real-life experience. With Colby’s support, Hardy Girls has developed and refined programs that are affecting lives across the country and around the world.
The SPARK Summit leadership team included people from six organizations that hailed from Washington, D.C., Oakland, California, New York City, Boston—and Waterville. Hardy Girls was one of two original sources of the idea to bring together researchers, educators, and program directors who are alarmed at the detrimental effects that sexualized media have on girls’ development. Brown and her research colleagues around the country, some of whom sit on Hardy Girls’ national board, knew that to gain momentum, affect policy, or get money for research, they needed to band together.
Hardy Girls also knew that SPARK needed girls as part of
the equation. “If Hardy Girls was not an active partner in SPARK,” said Williams, “we would not have girls in full partnership with adults working against this issue.”
Hardy Girls offers strength-based programs and opportunities for both girls and adults that promote hardiness, “a health psychology notion around resilience,” explained Brown. Hardy Girls’ premise is that it is our culture, not the girls in it, that needs fixing. “What makes us unique is we go in and we work with communities and with the adults,” said Brown, “but with girls front and center.”