Speak All the Louder

Yesterday we all listened to and loved Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism and gender stereotypes. As quickly as the fanfare arrived, so did the online rape threats, death threats, and website counting down the release of nude photos of the actress/UN ambassador…..just because she is a woman who dared to use her voice and suggest the wild notion that females are human beings.

The reaction of these men who use fear to promote their power is a measure meant to terrorize us to ‘stay in our place’.  To shame empathetic men and to overpower outspoken women. To stunt our thinking and growth as a society. To silence our voices.

I think this kind of man is an excellent reminder of why we must speak all the louder.

There will always be scared men out there for whom educated, outspoken women are threatening. Their fear is not our concern.

There will always be intimidated men out there for whom women are seen only as vaginas, either to sexually please them or piss them off. Their lack of humanity is not our concern.

There will always be small-minded men out there for whom achieving equality between the sexes signals a dangerous loss of power. Their discomfort is not our concern.

Our energy has to be spent on modeling for our young people what a confident woman looks like and how a strong man respects girls and women. That is the single easiest thing that you can do to bring us closer to a world in which an articulate young woman is able to make a speech about men and women being more powerful as equals instead of opposing forces, and not come home to rape and death threats.

Our energy has to be spent on truly empowering our girls, which extends beyond facebook memes and movie characters and cleverly-marketed toys. It is the daily, sometimes grueling work of instilling in our daughters an unshakable knowledge that she has worth. Everything else in the world will tell her otherwise. We have to raise our daughters in such a way that when we send her out into the world she has the heart and courage of a lioness.

Steel yourself to the idea that this will not be easy. That does not mean it is not worth doing.

Our energy must also be spent on our sons, which is an often overlooked yet absurdly obvious answer to the problem of a culture of men who threaten through internet comments unspeakable sexual crimes against women, who create a color-coded system to give girls date rape drugs, or who fail to take a stand  against other men who beat women senseless. And that’s just this week’s headlines.

Our energy must go into expanding the current definition of what it means to be masculine, so that our boys can grow into men who are allowed to be full human beings for whom having emotions and feelings is acceptable. We can teach our sons that violence is not a path to power. We can instill in our sons an unshakable truth that girls and women have value. Boys need see articulate, successful mothers and respectful, self-confident fathers working together to raise their families — and not in just the 1950’s implication of that sentence, I mean as a society of mothers and fathers who take responsibility for our collective children turning out to be good people.

Fear, intimidation, and the threat of violence have always been used to silence voices attempting to bring about change and equal rights. Yet change always comes.

Be not silent. Speak all the louder.

Emma Watson


Image Source: Gender Equality is Not Only a Women’s Issue. It’s a Men’s Issue Too.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

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Captain Brenda Berkman Made Me Cry

There are few times I meet someone and fail to offer them my friendly Midwestern smile and a “Howareya?” But this past Friday night while I was in Times Square celebrating and dancing with the Brave Girls Alliance as we watched our billboard flash on the busiest street corner in America I was rendered completely speechless.
There in the back of the large crowd gathered to cheer on the BGA stood an unassuming woman with short white hair. She was in a simple blue jacket and had her hands in her pockets, hanging out in a quieter part of our corner. She was Brenda Berkman.

Do you know that name?

Brenda Berkman, modern day hero for women's rights.

I recognized her instantly and made a bee line for her, preparing to say something witty and inspiring about the BGA and our event and thanking her for coming. But I couldn’t because the closer I got to her I felt tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. By the time I reached her all I could do was grab her arms and whisper, “I know who you are. You are a hero.”

She looked stunned. Maybe she thought I was partly crazy, maybe she isn’t used to being recognized. But I knew who she was.

She was the first female fire fighter in New York City.

She filed a landmark sex discrimination suit that changed the way women could participate in the rescue services.

She became one of the highest ranking women in the FDNY and served New York City for twenty five years. Only she and two other women have become an FDNY Captain.

She was a major force during the chaotic response on 9/11. She worked with recovery efforts at Ground Zero for a year after the attacks. After that, she gave tours at the memorial.

She has spent her time since 9/11 making sure the history doesn’t go just to the men, that the women who were there are also remembered.

And she was standing in front of me, at an event for a group that I created so that little girls everywhere would know women like her. So that little girls everywhere could grow up to become women like her without the federal law suits, sexism, and harassment that Brenda stood up to. Our girls don’t grow up hearing stories about women like Brenda often enough, but they should.

So I grabbed her hand, and I let my tears slide down my cheeks. Because in the face of a giant who has beaten out a path for me and for you and for my daughter and yours, I couldn’t come up with words. All I could do was whisper to her that I knew she was a hero.

After a few moments I composed  myself while my friend Cynthia from the amazing site Women You Should Know explained to those standing around us why I was so overcome and who Brenda was. And then I told Brenda about Pigtail Pals and Redefining Girly and all of the wonderful women and girls who make up our group. I told her about the Brave Girls Alliance and what we were doing in Times Square. She smiled, and her eyes smiled, and she said, “Isn’t that something. Well done.”

I guess if you are going to meet a real NYC super hero, those are some pretty awesome words to hear.

Frogs and Feminists

I’ve gotten a couple of emails from some of the “elders” on our page about the big discussion yesterday involving feminism and the expression of sexuality vs objectification. There were many, many opinions expressed but one I saw a few times was that some of us might just be “too old” or “too prudish” to “get it”.

I am 35 years old. To some that will seem old. To others that will seem young. I have a wild & well spent youth behind me, the kind that makes the corners of mouth my turn up into wicked smiles on the days I don’t find motherhood very glamorous, sexy, or exiting. It was the kind of youth that allowed me to grow into my own woman, so that I don’t need every day to be sexy or exciting because I have other markers upon which I define my worth. I don’t know it all, but in my 35 years I have learned that it is smart to listen to the folks who have already walked down the road you are traveling.

Someone said to me today, “…it frustrates me no end to have to hear/read younger women not even realising that older feminists really do try to reach across the years, but feel rebuffed when we hear the same old same old that we have been hearing ever since we started our journey. It is like boiling a frog: our hypersexualised society is the pot of warming water and our kids are the frogs.”

Here is what I DO know for sure: Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.

I was asked yesterday how to stay calm and answer the people who don’t see it. You cannot force them to see. All that you can do is know your truth and control the clarity of your voice.

For those of you, old, young and in between, who did some reaching yesterday, it is appreciated. For those of you who are older than most of us, who have been down this road and are watching us figure it out, thank you for your patience, your sisterhood, and your guidance.


My blog post yesterday about having a different perspective on how I will raise my daughter to face and take on the world has me receiving lectures that I do not understand feminist issues, that I deny problems the girls in our world face, and that I am too naive and too white and too privileged to understand what it is I think I’m talking about.

I’d just like to point out, while these women lecturing me were sitting in their classes learning about how to belittle the rest of the world on things like intersectionality and privilege, I was sitting in Africa in a tin shack with a dirt floor, holding the hands of young women while we talked via translator about hunger and AIDS and rape. 

So please, save your lectures. I’ve seen and read extensively on the ways in which our world harms its girls. I’ve talked with the women who live in the world’s shadows. Yet, I choose to face the sunshine. I choose to be an optimist. I choose to teach about love and light. I choose to love men, not hate them. If that makes me unfeminist, I’m okay with that. Maybe I don’t want to be one.

There are enormous, systemic issues facing the women and girls of the world.

I choose to raise my daughter as a force of nature, so mighty and set in her belief that all girls, all life has value, so that when she encounters evils she is deeply shaken to her core and because it is so contrary to what she has been taught that she knows no other way than to take that evil head on, to fight injustice with fury, and turn the world upside down.

That is how I choose to raise my girl. Facing the sunshine. Not because we ignore or deny or don’t care about the girls in the shadows. But because the only way to make a shadow less dark, is to spread light.

The Feminist Mom and the Princess Party

A guest post, by Dana Hernandez.

Dana's daughter desires a princess party.

“Mommy, I want to have a princess party this year for my birthday.”

Suddenly the air was sucked out of the room and I waited for the oxygen masks to deploy from the ceiling as the living room nose-dived.

“What?” I coughed out, wide-eyed to my 4-year-old daughter.

“A princess party!” she smiled, cheekily. “And I can dress up as a princess for Halloween!” She took off in a happy spin as I plummet to the soon-to-be-memorial ground below us. 

Welcome to my surprising life as a stay-at-home mother of two daughters, who is grasping at the label “feminist” with all her might. I thought my role as the Coordinator for the SPARKteam, which stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, and Knowledge, provided me with a shield that protects against anything that is sexualized, pink, princessy, and stereotypical for girls. I was wrong. Really, really wrong.

Let me introduce you to my 4-year-old. She’s the oldest and most graceful of my daughters, with beautiful long, curly locks that bounce down her back. She loves wearing her black tennis shoes, running through mud puddles, playing with cars (especially Lightening McQueen), soccer, swimming, watching baseball,  and drawing. Oh, and she wants to be a princess when she grows up. (Yes, I am clawing at the oxygen masks and the under-the-seat life preservers as I gasp for air.)

Now, I know she is too young to read our blogs at Spark Summit that battle against the sexualization of girls and counter the whole princess-movement for children. I also haven’t read her the Holy Grail of parenting books, “Packaging Girlhood” at bedtime either. And she’s too young for programs at the city non-profit Hardy Girls Healthy Women that I work for.  (Not much longer, I’m sure, once they see me hosting a fucking princess party.)

“She is so pretty,” is the most-often heard compliment I hear about my first-born. And yes, she is. Very. Much prettier than I was or ever will be. She reminds me of “Missy,” the most popular girl in my high school class that had the perfect curly hair and the just-right clothes. You know, the one I was taught to dislike because she was so perfect.

Let me make this clear as I brace for impact: I do not own one princess movie. My daughters’ favorite movie is Cars and there are more matchbox cars, books, and musical instruments than any other toys in our home. I admit, we do own various Tinkerbell fairies and her fairy friends. (Yes, Tinkerbell has lots of skinny, perfect looking friends, too, with perfect hair. Don’t hate.) But, each fairy has a talent and show bravery and courage at various times throughout the films. I also believe it teaches girls about friendship and forgiveness. So where in the hell is this princess shit coming from?

Get this: A book. One stinking old princess book in a huge box full of books on Craigslist that we bought for $10. It’s like giving Kool-Aid to a baby and expecting her not to like it. Seriously, one look at that dress, that damn carriage, and the dancing with the prince at the end and suddenly everything changed. It’s as if Disney created the brainwashing technique for the United States military. Who can battle a singing mermaid, a fairy godmother, a prince, and a beautiful blue dress with glass slippers?

I never called myself a real feminist before my work with SPARK. I mean, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. I believed that real F-cards were handed out to career-or-nothing-types, until I discovered feminists who taught me about real feminism.

SPARKteam Blogger Stephanie Cole said it best in “The Loaded F-Word” when she redefines a feminist as someone who “keeps an open mind, and tries to always be aware of patriarchy and sexism wherever it occurs. She or he also tries to educate others who are unaware, as well as speak up and take action against inequality.

And my friend Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown, co-founder of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, put me in my place when I questioned if I could be kicked out of the feminist club for allowing my house to become a pink castle. “Feminism gets a bad rap as being one very strict thing, when there are so many ways people are feminists,” Brown said. “My feminism is one that doesn’t turn people away from the honest struggle you are having.”

But, how can I be a feminist and a stay-at-home mother at the same time? Especially when I have failed in the princess debacle?! The answer is simple for me. I follow my gut. I was once on a path to save the world as a high school teacher. Yet, everything changed once I met my daughter. Everything. I left my career as a teacher and moved across the country with my husband to become a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. (Full disclosure, I suck at the homemaking part, but I’m a damn good mom.) Two years later, I had daughter #2–an identical piece of sass with curls.

It was a gutsy move and the best decision my husband and I ever made. I honor the fact that we’ve bloodily scraped by on a one-salary income so I can host play dates, kiss boos-boos, find blankeys, and read stories at naptimes. The monotony of my days is often monstrous and hard.  Though it’s not for everyone, I know it’s something I will always treasure..(Seriously, I don’t really know how “working moms” do their jobs either.)

I have activism in my blood. When I look deep enough, my feminism and my loathing of inequality has always been there. Am I political? Yes. Opinionated? Yes. Strong-willed? Yes. (My husband would say “Hell YES.”) I feel feminism is inherently found in the voice of a mother raising her children, too. I am fighting so hard for my girls to be strong, focused, secure, loving, and determined young women. I abhor a media that labels my girls “tom boys” because they love a good play in the mud or cars.

Real feminism is about choice, right? The choice for me to instill in my girls and others how powerful their lives can be, even if they choose to be stay-at-home moms who let their daughters dress as princesses.

“Why do you want a princess party?” I later asked, when I felt the crash landing had aborted.

“Because I want to be a princess,” she answered.

I shrugged, “But what do they doooo that you like?” I asked, drawing out the verb and trying to crack the code.  My daughter shrugged, “They’re princesses, Mommy! They wear those dresses and are pretty. Do you like princesses, Mommy?”

I think she already knew the answer… “I think they’re kind of boring. They don’t run and play sports, have fun or draw like you do.”

“Then I can be your princess, Mommy,” she said with the biggest smile in the whole wide world. “I can be all of it.”

Yes, she can.

I learned four lessons today: First, I have no idea what I am doing. Second, I am doing a pretty damn good job at it. Third, I just may be hosting a “You-Can-Be-It-All” Princess/Cars party in my future .

And last, my daughter is one awesome princess.

And yes, I am a feminist.

 Dana Hernandez is a feminist, a stay-at-home mama to two, writer, activist, and SPARKteam Coordinator for SPARK Summit.