A popular topic of conversation recently has centered on the influence media and pop culture have on our youth. If you are among those who worry about the future of young girls, however, look no further than Smart Girls at the Party and all faith will be restored. The brainchild of Amy Poehler, Amy Miles and producer Meredith Walker, this online community has created a safe place for girls of all ages to “cultivate their authentic selves.”
The site may be aimed at a younger demographic, but that doesn’t mean it’s only for teens. The overall message is wonderfully universal- and I think it’s most evident in my favorite aspect: Operation Nice. It’s safe to say Smart Girls is making a huge impact on the lives of an entire generation of girls.
And best of all, it’s an impact overflowing with positivity.
Smart Girls at the Party is absolutely revolutionary. The Internet is known for being snarky and downright mean, so how have you managed to carve out this niche of kindness, and more importantly, how did you encourage young girls to embrace it?
We simply try to be positive influences. As Amy has said, her concern for girls is that being snarky and commenting on things has become more normal than participating in things. We try to speak and post in realistic language, rather than marketing words – you won’t ever read “tween” or” learnings” on our site. We believe that our authenticity and openness let our viewers know that we respect them.
What advice do you have for a young girl who feels lonely or uncomfortably different from her peers?
There is a thing in psychology known as the Adolescent Fantasy. It is the belief that nobody knows how you feel and that you are all alone in that feeling. Smart Girls doesn’t try to say anything about the Adolescent Fantasy; we simply try to let girls know that, even though they feel alone, their feelings are shared. We understand that loneliness and not fitting in aren’t to be taken lightly. We have been there – and it is awful. We know for sure that platitudes do not work at all. When people would say things to us such as, “Well, you don’t want to be friends with people like that anyway,” it didn’t help us feel less uncomfortable. We encourage young girls, and everyone really, to find the activities that hold their attention and help them feel participatory in the world. Knowing what that feels like can be a game changer. When you participate in life, doing the things that matter to the best part of you — that will make you feel less lonely.
How do you define “feminism”? How do you think this definition will continue to evolve with future generations?
I think it is important for all of us to figure out what being a feminist means for ourselves. For me, being a person should afford the freedom to be yourself, without having to follow any particular set of roles or expectations that come from society. My parents were the ones who first showed me what this looks like. One day my mother and father realized that they had just sort of evolved into something different when they noticed that Mom was working on the taxes and Dad was making a cheesecake for somebody’s birthday. Nobody told them they couldn’t do that. Sure, they were both brought up in an era where the roles were clearly and sadly defined. They just didn’t do them.
So, for me, Smart Girls is the encouragement to be yourself in a world that needs to be encouraged about that. Being yourself takes on a feminist quality when being denied the ability to be yourself is being done to you because you are female. For example, a guest on our show was interested in glass blowing, but was told by a male glass blower that it really isn’t for girls. She went right ahead, took classes and became a glass blower.
Many women before us did the heavy lifting for women’s equality, but there is still inequality for women all over the world. The basis is that you are being denied the ability to be yourself. We need to be able to make choices that can lead to a really different life if that is what we want.
How do you think we can make a difference in the world?
We make a difference by being curious about each other and ourselves.
What women inspire you?
My mom: Liz Walker, because she was the first Smart Girl in my life – brains, a killer sense of humor, curiosity, and kindness, the late Barbara Jordan, Pema Chodron, Anne Lamott, and every single person who has ever been on Smart Girls — those young women inspire the hell out of me.
What books or media have made an impact on your life?
Don’t Bite the Hook by Pema Chodron helped me wake up to the fact that my reactions are what affect my outlook and feelings – so stop reacting. Linda Ellerbee’s And So It Goes made me realize I wasn’t a weirdo for being unconventional – it is something to embrace and take into the world.
Do you have a Lean In moment?
My most mindful Lean In moment was when I accepted an invitation to give a talk at a large conference. Being best friends with Amy and the daughter of a gifted speaker, I’ve seen the power of words when delivered with intelligence, compassion and humor. I grew up hearing that my father’s words had comforted people or caused them to rethink their opinions, and Amy’s words have done the same. That definitely informed my decision to say YES when I was approached to give my first talk.
It was frightening though, because unlike the two of them, I didn’t have years of public speaking and improv and interviews under my belt. I knew there was a huge learning curve between your first talk and when you feel comfortable.
It required a lot of preparation on my part. I have attended countless seminars, workshops and talks where the person just didn’t say anything that seemed real. I heard an astronaut give a talk, and she never said, “IT WAS AMAZING! I was in SPACE and I was looking at Earth and I saw things I can’t describe!” Based on experiences such as that one, I knew that I had to put a lot of time and work into developing my authentic voice.
I was nervous. I was bombarded with self-doubt. Who am I to be up there saying anything to these people? I knew that I had prepared and I knew that I cared deeply about the content, so… I felt the fear and did it anyway. Sometimes people approach me after a talk to let me know it helped them feel more comfortable in their own skin, and I know I leaned in the right direction.
Follow Meredith on Twitter @meredeetch.