If you are a long-time reader of this blog, author and bi-coastal BFF Jodi Wing is no stranger to this blog. Her book, “The Art of Social War” was more than just a work of fiction but taught some lessons on social war and how women often don’t help each other — unlike men who work in a different thought and action levels.
Jodi Wing has been working on another book but also has come up with a well-thought strategy to give the younger generation a bit of the knowledge that she (and other women) .
photo by Stefanie Keenan
This is part 2 of the 3 part “essay”. This is probably the section you should read a couple times. From my sort of “white bread” life this was still a wake-up call. I did my time working in schools, battered women shelters and even teaching- but reading Jodi Wing’s experience, gave me a new reality check with life in the big city- inner and outer — because there are suburbs with similar problems.
Now, women are pretty much of two minds re other women: on one hand, we have an expectation of sisterhood and unity; on the other, we are extremely wary, due to past negative experiences. It was at just such an emotional crossroads (that tricky and all-too-familiar intersection of dread and excitement, I mean) that I attended a Variety- magazine sponsored luncheon, the theme of which was ‘The Power of Women.’
To my great delight, the event turned out to be a uniquely inspiring experience. As Sun Tzu might say, out of chaos (even the emotional, anxiety-ridden kind) can come opportunity: I had the great good fortune to be seated next to two fantastic women, Carla Sanger and Catherine Stringer, who run LA’s BEST, which is an after-school enrichment program for at-risk children in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD.) I will add more information on LA’s BEST below.
Catherine, Carla and I hit it off and Catherine told of me of a very progressive program that they had just instituted, called the Young Authors Club. She invited me to visit one of the schools, meet the kids and possibly get involved in mentoring the children as a visiting author…that was six months ago.
The second Thursday in November was my first full afternoon, and as luck would have it, the class was comprised of all girls, twenty 8 – 10 year-olds. The experience was inspiring, overwhelming, wonderful, and so so humbling, all at once. I got a thousand hugs when I left.
It was a study in contrasts for me, leaving the bubble-world of Hollywood and my usual stomping grounds and fieldwork re: social conflict in Girl World 2.0. This school—less than seven miles from my home and yet a seeming world away, zeroed in right to the heart of my particular social study: fieldwork pre-Girl World 1.0.
As Sun Tzu would say, it is essential to understand the true nature of any conflict in order to begin to resolve it, and so where better to begin studying the whys and hows of Girl World behaviors then right at the very beginning?
On first look, all seemed fairly typical: the classroom was covered in multicolored-paper, alphabet letters and numbers and positivity-enforced messaging were everywhere. I mean: 9 is 9 is 9, right? The very young, soon-to-be authors were seated at desks circled around the ‘Author’s Chair,’ a beaten up yet highly coveted director’s chair, in which a girl will sit and read her self-illustrated and bound-with-a-ribbon assignment aloud to the others, who then comment in a pre-determined, positivity-framed way: ‘I liked when you said that’ : you liked pizza/were a good sister/could do your own hair,’ or ‘I wished that you had spoken louder,’ etc. Their pride of accomplishment upon completion was palpable.
After applauding through the cycle, Catherine and I spoke to the girls, who were thrilled to have such an appreciative audience.
Us: what’s the best part about being a girl?
Universal, immediate agreement: The clothes, hair accessories, sparkly things.
Us: what’s the worst part about being a girl?
A long pause, and then Robin, age 9, said: Having to raise your baby all by yourself.
It was heartbreaking –like she was proclaiming the inevitable; it was a foregone conclusion. And everyone nodded solemnly along with her.
Then the floodgates opened:
AnnaMarie, age 8: Miss Jodi, is there lots of drama and hitting at your house?
Beth, age 8: What do you do about the gangs? My sisters (ages 12 & 14) belong to one, and they get to wear purple on Thursdays…
Right here, this is where 9 is not 9. These little girls have so little expectation of anything, and yet there is a knowingness to them, like they ‘get’ the condition of ‘woman.’ Their eyes belie their years. They are internalizing the oppression and messaging they witness in their communities. It’s like they are teetering on a precipice—and they absolutely are: the precipice of adolescence. And boys and knive
I was awe-struck. I wanted to rush in and pull them back, catch them one by one, before the cycle of statistics and oppression can begin anew.
The point of the Young Authors program is to educate and teach these girls to express themselves through words, to learn to be able to write and say what they think and know, what they can imagine and dream. It is liberating, powerful, and empowering. To learn how to use their VOICES—to advocate for themselves, to understand that they do indeed have choices, to stay in school at the very least and not join gangs. Most importantly, they need to learn about personal boundaries, and that they do have ultimate control over their own bodies…
I couldn’t help but think of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, Ariel, who at too young an age sets her sights on a human prince and the earthly world and resolves to do anything just to be with him. She strikes a brutal deal with Ursula, the evil Sea Witch:
“But you must first pay me my dues,” said the witch. “You have the loveliest voice of all of the inhabitants of the deep, and you think to enchant him (the human prince) with it; but you must give over that voice to me. I must have the best of all you possess in exchange for my powerful potion.”
“But if you take away my voice,” said the Little Mermaid, “what shall I have left?”
“Your lovely form,” replied the witch. “Come put out your little tongue and let me cut it off for payment; then you shall be given the valuable potion.”
Essentially, the Little Mermaid gives up the very best of herself, that which made her unique and special: her tail and her voice, her SELF— in exchange for a false vision of adulthood that was premature and ultimately self-destructive.
This is the end of part 2. Tomorrow we bring you part #3.
For more information on LA’s BEST, visit www.lasbest.org
“Children are viewed as individuals to be developed, not problems to be solved.
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