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Empowering All Aspects of Women’s Lives

You might have heard about the fight that happened between a group of teenage girls in a Brooklyn McDonald’s the other week. WICB’s Jamie Swinnerton and Riley Ludwig explored why instances of girlfighting happen and how we can combat this issue.

By Jamie Swinnerton and Riley Ludwig

This scene may sound familiar.

“How many of you have ever felt personally victimized by Regina George?”

Girl on girl aggression doesn’t just happen in movies, like Mean Girls. It happened just last week in a Brooklyn McDonalds.

A group of teenage girls, some as young as 14 years old, attacked another girl in the middle of the fast food restaurant. So far, six girls have been arrested because of it. Video of the incident has been circulating social media sites and the news.

This fight is just one instance of a serious cultural trend. Lyn Mikal Brown is a professor of Education at Colby College in Maine, and author of the book “Girlfighting”. She says that female on female violence happens when girls lack emotional outlets.

“It became really clear to me that girls, because they feel so unable to express a lot of their anger directly to adults or to boys, they often take it out on one another because that’s a much safer outlet.”

And the safe outlet that’s available results in violence. Brown says modern consumer culture has created a market for girlfighting. Pitting girls against each other sells products, and has become a form of entertainment.

“I think that we live in a consumer culture in which we consume not only products but ideas and values. And I think that we interact all the time with a whole range of messaging, right,” Brown says. “Certainly from our families and our communities. But also the kind of, you know, sort of messaging we’re getting all around us about what’s important.”

The current culture promotes competition, which prevents girls from working together. Brown’s work is challenging these ideas in our society.  There are also groups trying to change these messages as well as promote women working side by side.

Take GirlTrek, for example, a non-profit health organization aimed towards encouraging African-American women to take control of their lives through walking. Nicole Hubb, the National Field Director for GirlTrek, says the non-profit unites women across multiple generations through exercise.

“We do that by looking at women, mothers, grandmothers, things like that, and using them as models for their daughters, and other people in their community, in order to encourage them and to empower them to take back their health, take back control of their health.”

Working intergenerationally gives older women the opportunity to help younger age groups, by being mentors and role models.

“We give them back the power and let them know that they are the ones responsible for their health. And once they take responsibility for their health, then they have the ability and they’ll be in the position where they can inspire their daughter to do the same and inspire the people in their community to do the same as well,” Hubb says.

But the road to empowerment doesn’t come without obstacles, which can be different for every woman. Hubb says one obstacle for GirlTrek walkers is often safety.

“You know, a lot of our cities, of the fifteen cities that we have, they are in predominantly African American communities, in cities where it might not be the safest neighborhood.”

But they found a way around that.

“But when you have a core group of women, and a sisterhood of women who all have the same idea, and all want to walk together, then you can empower that person who doesn’t feel safe walking alone, and you two or three women, and then all of a sudden they’re able to do what before they were not able to do.”

Feeling empowered can go a long way. Hubb says empowering one person can spread to the people around them.

“I think that feeling empowered is important for women because it gives them a sense of purpose… They can be a light to those people they encounter every single day, then that gives them a greater sense of purpose. It gives them meaning that is deeper than themselves.”

There are numerous ways for women to find stability in their lives-  financial independence being one of them. In her new book, “Smart is the New Rich: Money Guide for Millennials,” CNN anchor and correspondent Christine Romans gives financial advice to women and younger generations. As far as money goes, her advice can be applied to anyone.

“You have to save your money. Always remember to spend less money than you earn. Put something away for the future. And that is the most important way to protect yourself all the time, just do not live over the edge.”

For women, though, being smart about money allows them to have more opportunities in their future.

“You don’t have to take that stupid job, if you have a little bit of money set aside. Ten years from now when you’re already in the labor market, already in the job market… and I don’t want any woman to be in that situation where they can’t make choices, because they don’t have resources.”

Romans also recognizes that times are different now, and that Millennial women are given more choices than those of past generations.

“I think it’s progress. I think it’s the march of progress. You look at two generations ago, most women stayed home and took care of babies,” Romans says. “Over the last two generations, women have lots of choices, and the result of all of of those choices is your generation choosing what you want to do, and it’s more fair.”

Even though there are significantly more options for women today, instances like the brawl in Brooklyn show that women still face adversity.

Girlfighting pushes women towards violence as an outlet when they cannot fully express themselves. To eliminate this obstacle, women need to be encouraged and given more opportunities to take control of all aspects of their lives.

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