My first Google search as a SWSG Boston Program Operations intern was “famous women.” Pretty uninspired, but I needed to start somewhere. Since one of my biggest projects this summer is helping to create SWSG’s 2012-2013 curriculum, my first assignment was to find women who embody the success skills our girls learn. They are the backbone of the curriculum; they are the women whose achievements have made it possible for others to continue their struggles for justice, equality, and self-expression.
Unsurprisingly, typing “famous women” into Google turns up millions of results. You don’t have to go far to find thousands of accomplished, talented women. To find strong women who aren’t as well-known, though, takes some digging. History and contemporary media have carefully groomed the most common images of womanhood we see. Often, women of color, women of different abilities, or those who spoke up against the injustices we’d rather not face go ignored. Finding these stories is harder, but it is well worth the search. We asked SWSG staff for suggestions, scoured women-focused media sites, and eventually found ourselves overwhelmed with dozens of women who fit the “strong woman” profile to a T.
For me, the best part of this research is finding strong, successful women who come from a diversity of backgrounds. I think this is where the strength of the Strong Women, Strong Girls curriculum lies. We want girls in the program to hear about women and girls of all different races, ethnicities, nationalities, occupations, ages, and time periods. We also feature at least one woman from each SWSG city to show girls the strong role models already in their communities.
It is important for the girls we serve to hear about the women they already know and love. It’s hard to find a 3rd grade girl who doesn’t look up to Michelle Obama. The challenge is finding a girl whose hero is a physicist working on a particle accelerator. So when we see just how many women’s narratives fall through the cracks—and the effort it takes to find them again—it’s no wonder the girls have never heard of Zainab Salbi or Dolores Huerta (two awesome women who we sadly didn’t have room for this year). We just don’t hear their stories.
It’s my personal hope that featuring these kinds of women shows girls that they don’t have to be on TV or in movies to be strong. Just because we haven’t yet heard a woman’s story does not mean it is insignificant. Girls need to see everyday women who look like their sisters, moms, aunts, teachers, and mentors in the SWSG curriculum. It takes all kinds of women—the famous and the almost famous—to be strong role models for strong girls.