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Lighting a SPARK: How co-Founders Deb Tolman and Lyn Brown led the way

Co-founders of SPARK Dr. Deborah Tolman and Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown met in graduate school, where they conducted research and talked girl revolution at the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development, led by Dr. Carol Gilligan. Lyn continued her research at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where she is now Professor of Education.  Lyn’s research, reported in a series of books and articles, has moved from exploring girls’ development from childhood to adolescence, to investigating the relationship between girls’ anger and social class, to understanding the cultural phenomenon of “girlfighting,” to charting the messages that media and marketers direct at both girls and boys.  Her most recent work focuses on scaffolding girls’ resistance and activism.  She co-founded Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a nonprofit that educates about and supports girls as social change agents, and in collaboration with HGHW’s Girls Advisory Board, created Powered By Girl (PBG), a media activism website for teen girls.  Meanwhile, Deb continued her research on adolescent girls’ sexuality at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College until 2003, when she moved to San Francisco State University.  As a professor in the only Sexuality Studies Masters’ program in the US, she was also the founding director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality, where researchers did cutting-edge research on embodiment, participatory action research with community-based organizations, and the media.  She was one of the six authors of the American Psychological Association’s Report by the Task Force on Sexualization of Girls.  She is now a professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and in Psychology at The Graduate Center at CUNY.

SPARK began with a phone call. One of the Task Force recommendations was to raise awareness about the sexualization of girls; a problem that it is so pervasive, it seems almost normal or “just the way things are.” And there were the perfect ingredients: Deb’s initial plan to organize a Summit of researchers and grassroots activists to raise awareness combined with Lyn’s developing plan to build a coalition of progressive girl serving organizations committed to creative, public media activism provided the combustible material.  But it was the energy and leadership of the people and organizations that Deb and Lyn brought to the table that created the spark:  Megan Williams, co-founder with Lyn and executive director of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, Carol Jenkins, Jamia Wilson and then Julie Burton of the Women’s Media Center, Deb Levine at ISIS, among 30 organizations that convened to plan the Summit day, became the collaborative leadership team. The most exciting and important decision about the Summit was that it was going to be more than a one-day event; it was going to launch a movement.  And so SPARK Movement was born.  In SPARK’s meteoric growth in its first year, Dana Hernandez (SPARK Team bloggers’ fearless leader), Dana Edell (Executive Director Extraordinaire), and Melissa Campbell (Social Media Queen) joined forces to add to the elbow-grease and visioning that fueled the transformation from a Summit into a Movement.

SPARK’s leadership team exists to create the scaffolding for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge. We are a growing list of thought leaders, progressive organizations, media experts, and policy makers committed to creating the enabling conditions for healthy sexuality by pushing back on media sexualization of girls and young women.  Please support us.  Please join us.  SPARK Movement IS its exponentially growing partnership!