Girl Activists in the Americas

In 2005 and 2006, Jessica Taft interviewed a total of 75 girls in Vancouver (British Columbia), San Francisco, Mexico City, Caracas and Buenos Aires. They consider themselves leftist activists, seeing the global struggle against neoliberalism as the background for their work. Some of them participated in “pink blocs” at global protests, starting with demonstrations against the IMF and World Bank in Prague in 2000. Queer youth are visible in a “silver bloc.” Thousands of high school students walked out of classes around the world in 2003 to protest the US invasion of Iraq. [i] Taft found that Latin American girls are more aware of this kind of history of youth activism while North Americans tended to be unaware of a tradition of youth activism.

Most of the girls focus on local issues, including school governance. Taft reports that her interviewees identify as girl activists, seeing themselves as different from adults in their organizing, and often critical of adults who either try to dominate them, patronize them, or ignore them in “adultism.” Many of the girls organize their activism without adult involvement. Like the activists interviewed in Citizens in the Present: Youth Civic Engagement in the Americas (2013), the girls don’t want to be treated as future leaders but as equal partners. They also see themselves as different than their male peers, who may try to dominate discussions, not be good listeners, and aren’t as interested in creating group bonding and fun. The common pattern in girls’ organizing is they favor horizontal organizing, positive and optimistic feeling in their groups, and emphasize ongoing learning and discovery. Their groups often provide them with a network of friendship and support especially when other girls are not interested in activism. Consumer media portrays the ideal girl as loving to shop, her identity expressed by being fashionista. The “can-do” girl in the “treacherous neoliberal terrain of the new girlhoods,” is an individual achiever.[ii] In contrast, Taft’s interviewees work together to create social change and express their style with Che Guevara T-shirts and political music.

[i] Jessica Taft. Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas.  New York University Press, 2011, p. 4.

[ii] Ibid, pp. 178-179.

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