“It’s Women’s Day, Rudy.”

7 03 2012

I’ve hardly had time to put away the decorations from last year, but once again, International Women’s Day is upon us! Before we get started, am I the only one who thinks of that episode of The Cosby Show when Rudy gets her first period, and they all go out for “women’s day?” Just me? All right.

The theme this year is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” To which I say: cha-ching! I love those things!

I might have mentioned once or twice that my favorite work to do is with my teen girls’ groups. These groups are fun, challenging, different each time, and important. There is something special about bringing a room full of teen girls together and telling them that what they have to say really matters.

Feminism is an integral part of working with girls. We can act like it’s an option, but it’s really a requirement. Trying to help them deal appropriately with their anger, improve their self-esteem, make good choices, have safe sex, live peacefully with their parents, or anything else would be a lot easier if they weren’t already considered a bit less worthy, simply because they are girls.

It seems especially important since we’re living in a country that is still debating birth control. You know, that stuff that lets you have fewer than seventeen kids? And in which a man with millions of listeners saw fit to publicly declare that an intelligent, civic minded, possibly sexually active law student was a “slut” and “prostitute” because she thinks that universities and employers should not have the right to determine what medications the insurance she pays for will cover.

I just need to get this out, and then we can move on. The entire thing is bull shit. The next person who says, “Well, why should I pay for your birth control?” is getting a foot directly in the ass, as that is the orifice that they are talking out of. We are talking about INSURANCE COMPANIES, not taxpayers, paying for medication. We’ve had enough sexism and misogyny, we don’t need outright lies. Taxpayers do pay for birth control–it’s called Medicaid, everybody. The country hasn’t crumbled into the sea and been sucked into the fiery pits of Mordor just yet, so I think we’ll survive a private insurance mandate.

Oh, and I don’t care if you say birth control is not preventive medicine. Doctors say it is. Insurance companies cover it when not blocked by squeamish employers. That’s kind of it.

I’m also sick of all the false information being spread about birth control. Our kids are misinformed enough, we do not need politicians and drooling radio hosts further confusing them. It’s been said a million times now, but apparently it hasn’t sunk in. IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW FREQUENTLY YOU HAVE SEX, IF AT ALL, YOU STILL TAKE ONE BIRTH CONTROL PILL PER DAY. Rush Limbaugh is thinking of condoms…or Viagra…or those other pills he’s known for being so fond of, I’m not sure.

But way to mislead young people, and make them ashamed for taking control of their reproductive health. Yes, better to just have sex without protection. We wouldn’t want people hearing about my prescription.

Whether or not our girls have ever even heard of Rush Limbaugh (I’m sincerely hoping they haven’t) they are living in a society that has given him a platform. In a society that punishes women for speaking out about their rights and sexuality by shaming them for being sluts. A society that publicly admonishes a woman for daring to have sex, because that’s bad, but then says she should let men watch, because it’s cool when men do it.

Or something. It’s so convoluted I have trouble keeping up.

Working with girls to get them to recognize their own value and worth as women in this society is often an uphill battle. It is complete with peaks and valleys, which I present to you now.


14 y/o: “Wait, you can say you were raped even if you’re married? That’s stupid.”

Yes, so silly. If you say yes once, you say yes always, everyone knows that! And your body is there to be used by a man as he sees fit! I’m going to rock in the corner for a bit.

13 y/o: “My teacher was saying that like, if you get pregnant, it’s your responsibility, so like, you have to have the baby. So that’s why abortion is illegal.”
SJ: “OK. That might be what your teacher feels. But we all know that abortion is legal, correct?”
13 y/o: “No, I don’t think it is.”
SJ: “It definitely is. It’s been legal in this country since 1973.”
13 y/o: “Really? That doesn’t make sense, how is that possible?”
SJ: “I’m not saying you have to run out and have an abortion. But it’s really important to know your options.”

Teenage girls in America, many of whom have mothers who have had abortions (trust me) don’t know their rights. That is how demonized and muddled this issue has become. Scary.

15 y/o: “Miss, if a girl is giving head in a stairwell, she’s a slut! It’s ok to call her that!”

Fine. Now we’ve degraded her, and remained suspiciously silent about the boy involved. Are we better people yet?

“You should consider what people are going to think if you dress a certain way, because you might get a reputation. People will think you’re a certain type of girl.”

That was from my co-leader. Because if there’s one thing teen girls need to consider more, it’s what others think of them. And there are very few, very clearly defined types of girls.


15 y/o: “Do you guys notice that we get in more trouble for fighting than boys do?”
13 y/o: “Yeah, they expect them to be aggressive but we’re supposed to be perfect angels. It’s not fair.”

Wait…yes! That’s a double standard! And you’re noticing it on your own!

16 y/o: “Sometimes I think girls say they just got caught up in the moment and had sex because they don’t want to say that they wanted to do it. Like, because people will think they’re slutty. But that’s not slutty. And if you think about it and prepare then you’ll use condoms.”

No shame in wanting to have sex, and condom use?! High five!

14 y/o: “Slut is such a stupid word, can we please not use that in here?”

We should TOTALLY not use that stupid word in here!

15 y/o: “You know, I think I finished an entire bottle of ranch dressing in here tonight, but I don’t even care.”

It’s not groundbreaking, but comfort is important.

14 y/o: “Yeah, but whatever you do and however you dress someone is going to have something bad to say about you, so you might as well do what you want.”


The valleys, the downfalls, the moments that make me want to tear my hair out, have so much value, even though the peaks are what keep me going. Without that being presented, we can’t counteract it effectively. Feminism, and challenging the status quo, is a point of view that these girls are really not hearing.

A lot of lip service is paid to what in my day was called “girl power” (even when I was 13 and the Spice Girls were massive, I thought it sounded a bit silly.) You’re tough, you’re strong, girls rock! While it’s fun, a lot of it is meaningless. People are very often not talking about the real issues with girls, and educating them on issues that affect them. These girls aren’t stupid. They’re young, they’re easily influenced, but at the same time they’re smart, and they know on some level when they encounter inequality. Talking to them and introducing the idea that things actually can be different is an amazing gift for all of us.

So please, let’s try it this women’s day. For Rudy Huxtable, if no one else.

I rule.

17 10 2011

If there’s one thing social workers love, it’s cake empowerment. We talk about it all the time. Every one of those staff meetings I so adore come back to questioning how we can further empower our clients. Self-determination! Let them formulate their own goals! Include their input in the planning process! Have them choose their own seats!

Am I allowed to decide when I get a haircut, or should that be left up to the clients to vote on?

Teen group follows the same principles. Yes, they’re kids, but they still have ideas and goals that should be included in our work. That is to say, what they want to get out of group is just as important as me wanting them all to improve their self esteem, be able to talk to their caregivers without screaming, and write a list of the pros and cons of every major form of birth control in under seven minutes.

This starts from the very first session. Particularly when working with teens, what’s most important?


As fun as we like group to be, we need rules. Have you ever had a roomful of thirteen to sixteen year old girls? You’ll want to impose some order, if your goal isn’t to leap screaming from a second floor window.

Now, telling them what they are and aren’t allowed to do is not particularly empowering. It comes from the group leaders, not the group, and it’s negative and sounds like school.

So we start by having them talk about what they want in group.

“Friends.” I like that. Nice.
“To talk to people who know what I’m going through.” Excellent. I’m so on board.
“Sex.” What the hell?! “I said snacks.” Oh thank God.  Yes, those will totally be provided.
“Can we go on trips?” Well, we can try. Money is a little tight. Does Target count as a trip?
“Oh, I want to go to the mall. Like, if we’re good.” Yeah, I think this is getting away from us.

Let’s talk about what we don’t want in group.

“No boys.” All right, I think we’ve done it. Also, refreshing sentiment.
“No cursing.” Is that realistic? “No cursing at each other.” I hope we can all do that.
“No gossipy bitches.” I think we’re going to have to reframe that. Confidentiality?

Speaking of which, nothing polishes those reframing skills like a group of teenagers. I am the spin master. (I’m being told that this means I’m not welcome on the O’Reilly Factor, which is good because I’d embarrass that guy horribly.) There’s nothing I can’t turn.

“Miss, if this girl does not stop talking shit, I’m gonna slap her.”
“So you’re feeling frustrated with the way she’s addressing you, but you’re recognizing your own limits, and trying to keep things from escalating? I appreciate that.”
“…oh. Well. You’re welcome.”

This is an important skill, for many reasons. Especially when working with people in large groups, especially when those people are teenager, there are rules that you ned to lay down in order to get some work done. And it really helps if you can make people feel that those rules came from them.

SJ:      “Who has a suggestion for a rule?”
Teen:  “No interruptions.”
SJ:       “Yes! I love that. Let’s talk about why.”
Teen:   “You’ll miss what other people are saying?”
SJ:        “Absolutely.”
Teen:    “People will feel disrespected?”
SJ:        “Yeah, definitely. And I think something that goes along with that, wanting to be respectful, know what others are saying, is getting here on time. And being here every week. So we’re not missing things. What else can be an interruption?”
Teen:    “…what?”
SJ:        “Who has a cell phone? Let’s turn them off now. Great rule.”
Teen:   “I said all that?”

I have to, with that last one. A teenager will not suggest a no cell phone rule. They don’t understand that texting while someone shares the details of her latest suicide attempt just isn’t the best way to show you care.

So we’re all set for group, it seems. What happens in group, stays in group. (Unless you’re talking about harming yourself or someone else.) Call if you can’t make it to group. (You think your grandma worries? She’s got nothing on me.) Push yourself to share. (Not too much. Unless you need to get a good cry in, in which case go for it.) No cell phones. (Except for SJ’s, because there’s no clock in the room. And how else am I supposed to live-Tweet?)

With rules like these, clearly laid out in magic marker, how could anything go wrong?

I’ll keep you posted.