These were the people at the forefront of grassroots change in 2018, proving that activism has no age limit. They’re as diverse as the causes they champion — gun control, voter turnout, transgender rights, climate justice, diversity and inclusion, clean water and immigration. And just because some of them can’t cast a ballot yet doesn’t mean they won’t start a dialogue with those who can.
“Girls cannot be what they cannot see.”
It helps to have role models. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford earned a groundswell of support from women and sexual assault survivors around the country as she pushed back against now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A record number of women ran for office in the midterm elections, and democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became a political force to be reckoned with. Today we have the most female and racially diverse Congress in its 200-year history. These achievements have led many to proclaim 2018 as the Year of the Woman.
Now, the resounding collective voice of young female activists has paved the way for 2019 to undoubtedly become Year of the Girl. Teen trailblazers like Aaron Philip, a black, transgender, disabled model and Deja Foxx, an activist student of color from a low-income background, have pushed the boundaries of civic participation and led a more inclusive view of who has access to social justice. As the fight for equality keeps expanding to involve all genders, bodies, ages and races, girls need diverse role models to take center stage now more than ever.
As Reshma Saujani of tech organization Girls Who Code rightly puts it, “Girls cannot be what they cannot see.”
And that’s a cause brands can genuinely get behind. If there’s one thing ad-buying and executive-hiring corporations can positively affect, it’s representation in media and culture. You control what the leaders of the future are exposed to. If you can hold a mirror up to society in a way that mobilizes people to make it better, you will have done your job — and made all the profits you were going to make anyway.
Always’ 2014 #LikeAGirl campaign is still celebrated as an example of a brand’s ability to redefine an insult as a confident affirmation for adolescent girls around the world. Brands today have already started to boost girl empowerment by addressing issues of self-esteem, body confidence and career choices through their products. On International Women’s Day, Mattel launched a line of 17 Barbie dolls based on historical and modern-day women who made waves across industries, from Amelia Earhart to Patty Jenkins. Dove’s long-running Self-Esteem Project partnered with the critically acclaimed Steven Universe, Cartoon Network’s first animated series to be created by a female, to release episodes around themes like body image and bullying. This year, American Girl awarded Girl Of The Year to 11-year old Latina aspiring astronaut Luciana Vega and worked with NASA to develop her product line, an initiative set to spark increased interest in STEM careers.
Business decisions like those make the irrelevance of Victoria’s Secret even more glaring, a lingerie brand whose homogeneous runway shows are often lined with straight, white, skinny female models. According to BBC overall sales dropped by 11% in 2017, perhaps a sign of the company’s failure to keep up with evolving definitions of a beautiful body.
Former Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss, though, is writing a different story. In 2015 she started Kode with Klossy, a summer camp for coding for girls interested in tech careers. “Only 13% of female teenagers consider a STEM field as their first choice for a future career,” a Girl Scout Research Institute report states. Black and Hispanic workers are also underrepresented in the STEM industries compared to other races in the U.S. workforce. Several organizations like Girls Who Code, STEM From Dance and Black Girls Code have made it their mission to encourage young women to defy stereotypes and take on historically male jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.
At ThoughtMatter we are fully committed to affirming and amplifying the messages of girls as they fight to make our future more sustainable and inclusive for all. Together they’ve demanded accountability, challenged the gender binary and sought social justice by taking protest signs to the streets and chanting their tweets. This year — in the spirit of the posters we designed, printed and handed out at the inaugural Women’s March and March For Our Lives — we worked with 16-year-old student and activist Evangelia Artemis-Gomez to make protest posters for the 2019 Women’s March participants. We want to get these posters in the hands of as many teens as possible, and support and inspire more young women to engage civically in 2019.
Girls need more role models in media, culture and tech so they can finally see what they can be. We’re inching closer to that vision in Times Square, where our bright, bold images of the girls of Girls Write Now are lighting up billboards at 729 7th Ave and 3 Times Square. We’ve worked with the organization on their 20th anniversary identity, and we couldn’t be prouder to help them empower at-risk New York City area girls as the next generation of women writers. Making girls’ voices impossible to ignore — that’s #WorkWorthDoing.