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Make room to feel it all: an interview with Andrea Gibson

by Maya Brown

Andrea Gibson is a feminist spoken word artist and activist. Her poems explore gender norms and identity, bullying, war, class, race, and other subjects. “I first head about Andrea Gibson when we watched one of her poems in my high school’s Gay Straight Trans Alliance, and I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever sense. I was so excited to get the chance to interview her, especially in the middle of her tour. She’s such a role model for me, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to see one of her live shows soon!”  Andrea has written two books and five albums of poetry.

via andreagibson.net

What drew you to spoken word?  What or who was your first poem about?

I discovered spoken word for the first time at a poetry slam in Denver, Co. I was immediately flooded with a feeling of, “This is what I want to DO!” I was inspired by the sincerity, the aliveness, the honesty, and fact that so many of the poems were written with the hopes of creating a more peaceful world. The first spoken word piece I ever wrote was about how difficult it was coming out to my family.

What makes you want to write? How do you decide on the topic of a poem?

I don’t know what makes me want to write. I just know I don’t feel quite like myself when I’m not writing. It’s the one place where the world makes more sense to me. It’s where I feel the most turmoil, but also the most peace. It’s the one place I look my life straight in the eye. I decide on a topic of a poem by whatever topic I’m currently finding impossible to stay quiet about.

What do you think makes spoken word so powerful?

The connection between the performer and the audience. The possibility that exists in that much transparency. The telling of a story out loud, the vibration of a spoken story. The aliveness. The anger. The faith. The sincerity. The climbing out of the grief. The refusal to be silent.

You define yourself on your website as an activist, what does activism mean to you? How do you see spoken word as a form of activism?

I have spent the last decade working with Vox Feminista, a performance group of radical artists and activists bent on social justice. Vox’s motto is “To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” I consider that every time I write a poem, and I consider that in my daily life. The year I discovered spoken word was the year I participated in my first political action, and perhaps that’s why the two have always been intertwined for me. In a culture full of so much destruction, creativity is in itself activism. That said, I’m aware when I’m writing that more is needed than our words.

In an interview with Autostraddle you mentioned that one of the things that keeps you up at night is the world’s treatment of women. Can you say what you mean by that?

I mean the world treats women terribly. I mean it is sometimes something I can not always look at without falling in on myself. I mean there are days I struggle to stay hopeful. And there are days I don’t. I mean there is so much to do, right now as I am typing this, there is so much to do, and I am often in an argument with Time. I mean we can change things. I mean there is so much possibility. I mean we are so capable. I mean all of that presses in on me, as it presses in on many of us, and it makes it difficult to want to rest.

How does your feminism impact your work? What does being a feminist mean to you?

Feminism is in every single line I have ever written. It’s the pulse of why I can’t not speak up. It’s why staying silent would bury me. I can’t put into words what feminism means to me without writing a novel. Twenty novels. The word “Celebration” would title a number of those chapters. What would the world look like if everyone of us were celebrated?

 Some of the actions we’ve done at SPARK call attention to how stereotyped “girls” and “boys” toys are for children, so your poem “Andrew” really resonated with me–like the line “Tell Barbie she can go now/ Tell G.I. Joe to put his gun down and find a boyfriend.” Could you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to write that poem?

Everyone deserves to name themselves. Everyone deserves to define who they are. Everyone deserves to live outside of definition… if they choose. Every second I am alive I am changing. The idea that we are all constantly becoming…that’s what inspires me. My growing up life was full of restriction. I want to make art that is expansive and awake with possibility. I want to live in my body that way, live in my gender that way, live in my heart that way….opening all the windows.

I found your poem “Blue Blanket” recently, and was struck by how powerful the line “Tonight she’s not asking you/ What you’re going to tell your daughter/She’s asking/What you’re going to teach your son,” could you tell me some more about this poem and why you wrote it?

When I started writing “Blue Blanket” I had one idea in my mind, “If I had a son, what would I want to teach him?”  Before I started writing I honestly thought I was going to write a somewhat sweet instructional poem. If you’re familiar with the poem you know something much different came out. I’m yet to write a poem that quickly in my life. It was definitely something I needed to write for my own personal healing, and also something I had to speak out loud into the ears of culture. In a nutshell….I want men to take active immediate responsibility for stopping rape.

Do you have a poem (either one of yours or otherwise) you think every girl should read?

For Young Women Who Don’t Consider Themselves Feminists, by Mindy Nettifee.

What advice would you give to an aspiring girl activist or spoken word artist?

Make room to feel IT ALL. Feel you grief, you joy, your wonder, your light, your dark, your fear, your hope, your falling,  your love, your rage, your patience, your panic….all of it. Let it all be the fuel that creates your amazing life and your amazing work.

What would you say to a girl, or anyone, who is afraid that what they have to say won’t be heard?

Don’t push away that fear. Let it exist. Let the fear be part of your story. Make room for it so it never gets in the way of you raising your voice. We are all terrified of not being heard. We are all terrified. And we all have something to say that could save someone’s life.

One last question, I’ve heard from reliable sources that your dog, Squash, travels with you when you’re on tour. How does she like the traveling poet’s life?  Any funny stories?

Squash is a 9-pound terrier rescue from a shelter in Denver. She is also my beating heart with fur and legs. She likes to wear baby onsies with trucks on them and she is a master traveler. Her favorite part of the day is coming out to the merch table after each show to get snuggles from all the people. That said, I’m fairly certain she’s not a fan of poetry. She lays down at the sound booth and sleeps through all of my shows.

 

To find out more information about Andrea’s current tour, click here.

SPARK at the UN!

We’re super excited that six of SPARK’s activists are girl delegates at the 2014 Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations!

The Commission on the Status of Women meets at the UN every year to report on and evaluate gender equality and progress for women across the globe. At the 2014 CSW, the focus is on the Millenium Development Goals set in the year 2000–what’s worked? What hasn’t? And what will we do in 2015 and beyond? You can read about the goals in full here. In brief, they are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDs, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Establish a global partnership for development
This week, SPARK girls Annemarie McDaniel, Ria Desai, Mehar Gujral, Montgomery Jones, Sam Holmes and Cheyenne Tobias will join hundreds of other girls from across the world in reporting on how these MDGs affect their lives and the lives of girls and women around the globe. We’ll have a full report from after the event–until then, you can follow along with these incredibly important conversations on Twitter using the hashtags #CSW58, #UNgirls, #GirlsRights, #GirlDelegates, and #WGG2014.

#ReadWomen 2014: A love letter to Tamora Pierce

This post is part of #ReadWomen2014.

by Anya Josephs

Tamora Pierce has written a number of series of books for young adults. Most of them are set in one universe, a sort of magical alternate history in a place called Tortall. Her first series, The Song of the Lioness, focuses on a girl named Alanna,  who disguises herself as her male twin to train as a knight instead of learning courtly mannners like a lady is supposed to. (Her brother  doesn’t have to crossdress for eight years like Alanna does, just disguise himself for the journey and then learn magic at the convent Alanna was supposed to go to). She, however, has to remain in disguise for the years she is a page. She then becomes the squire to the crown prince, her good friend Jonathan. She learns magic, defeats an evil sorceror, and then goes on a quest to find a mythical jewel.

There’s a lot of amazing things about the series. Alanna is a great example of empowerment for female characters. She relentlessly pursues her goal of being a knight, she overcomes all sorts of practical and personal hardships, and she becomes physically and mentally stronger than any of the boys she trains with. She’s naturally small in stature, and has to work harder than the others to make up for the fact that she’s physically weaker, but she still becomes the best of the knights.

Alanna is also an interesting and complex character. She’s flawed, but not in the typical “quirky” way we see with a lot of young adult heroines. Alanna’s major flaw is that she has a terrible temper. She also has difficulty accepting some things about herself, a problem she has to overcome in the books. Alanna was born with the Gift (basically magic powers) and she’s very afraid of this aspect of herself. She also has to learn how to accept herself as a woman even though the traditional path of early, arranged marriage wasn’t for her. Despite being surrounded almost exclusively by men because all the other pages are boys, she seeks out and develops friendships with women.

She’s good friends with George, the King of the underground Court of Thieves, and goes to his mother for advice when she first gets her period. Eleni Cooper, George’s mother, also teaches Alanna how to wear makeup and wear dresses when she chooses to (although this has to be in secret because she’s disguised as a boy). Eleni also gives Alanna a magic charm that acts as birth control. In a scene I found really realistic, Alanna at first has no intention of having a sexual relationship, saying that she’ll be too busy maintaining her disguise and achieving her dream. However, she takes the birth control charm as a precaution. A few years later, she enters into a healthy sexual relationship with Prince Jonathon.

This first romance fizzles out because Jonathon pushes her to marriage, which she isn’t interested in, and she briefly flirts with her friend George before leaving on the aforementioned quest for the Domionon Jewel. On the way, she meets Liam, basically a wandering martial arts expert, and they become lovers on the trip. However, he’s intimidated by her, and the relationship ends. Alanna ends up happy with George, but what’s significant about all these romantic relationships is the tropes in literature, especially young adult literature targeted at girls, that are being subverted.

First of all, I think this is the only YA book I’ve ever read where a young female character has three happy, supportive relationships that are explicitly stated to involve sex. There are a lot of love triangles in fiction, but there are rarely multiple, subsequent relationships, all fulfilling and happy in their own way—the way Alanna’s relationships, and relationships in real life, often are. Also, the traditional happy ending of settling down and marrying the handsome prince is decidedly avoided in this book. Alanna is romantically involved with the prince, and sleeps with him, and remains his good friend for the rest of their lives—but when she realizes being queen isn’t in her best interest, she ends their romantic involvement. Another stereotype, that women are naturally jealous of each other and compete for the attention of men, is hugely subverted. Alanna ends up introducing Jonathan to a foreign princess, Thayet, and encouraging their romance. She and Thayet become close friends and she is genuinely happy for both of them when they get married.

Another wonderful thing about this series is that a number of different cultures are represented. Fantasy novels can veer a little bit into white-washing, because they’re often set in medieval England where almost everyone was white. However, The Song of the Lioness (and even more so the rest of Pierce’s books) have equivalents to many different cultures. Sometimes (as with the Bazhir, a nomadic tribe living in the desert and clearly based on Arab people) these can seem a little bit stereotypical, but in my opinion it’s still wonderful to have a YA fantasy novel that represents people of color, although the representation isn’t perfect.

I don’t find Tamora Pierce’s prose particularly beautiful—rather, her style is plain, existing more to tell the story than anything else. Additionally, the basic plot is not the most original thing—it’s a very similar story to many other quest narratives.

However, what is completely unique and wonderful about this series and the rest of Pierce’s books is how sensitively and thoroughly she deals with gender issues. She creates a rich, interesting, fantastic world, and fills it with complex and appealing characters, men as well as women. Honestly, I can’t recommend her books enough to anyone who loves science fiction or fantasy.

Black Women Create: highlighting Black women in film and TV

by Joneka Percentie

Many people underestimate the power that representation in the media can have for young girls, and especially young girls of color–but connecting with the experiences of another person and empathizing with their stories and lives is powerful.  Whenever we talk about why representation matters, I always think about this quote from actress Whoopi Goldberg:

“When I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Now, though, television seems overwhelmingly white. It wasn’t always this way. I grew up watching shows like Good Times, A Different World, The Cosby Show, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hanging with Mr. Cooper, The Jeffersons, Smart Guy–I could go on and on. And there were also shows that weren’t just majority Black, but majority Black women:  Moesha, Sister Sister, Living Single, and Girlfriends, and That’s So Raven, television shows that showed not only diverse Black women, but also the diverse relationships they had in their lives.  These amazing shows feel like ghosts of diverse TV past. Few cable and broadcast television shows make the same statements of diversity today that Black sitcoms began to make in the 70’s. The case in major production films proves to be just as disappointing. A report conducted by the Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism Media showed that the amount of Black actors in top grossing films went from 13% in 2007 to 10.8% in 2012.

So many women, and especially women of color, struggle with their self-perceptions and self-esteem as a result of the stereotypes held of us. In a 2014 study conducted by the Women’s Media Center, Essence Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Karen Bush explains that “there is a pervasive focus in the media on the most extreme characterizations of Black women and a glaring lack of authentic, inspirational images.” This is why it’s so important to support media created by Black women. When the narratives written for Black women are so often not written by Black women, we’re doing everyone a great disservice. Allowing the voices of Black women to be heard in an industry that has so often silenced them is key in introducing new and diverse talent.

It’s not as though Black women aren’t making media–plenty are. There are thousands of Black women who are telling their own stories and who are creating complex and diverse Black female characters that are relatable and accurate, and we want to highlight their work and support their projects. That’s why we’re launching Black Women Create, a new project that will highlight the work of Black Women in the film and television industries and give young Black girls that are interested in pursuing these fields a place for advice, inspiration, and direction in navigating the careers. So far we’ve interviewed Tchaiko Omawale and Lena Waithe, who only confirmed the importance of this project and wide representation of black women on the screen.  As Tchaiko explained,

If you’re an artist, who you are and how you see the world comes out in what you do. So if you have a medium where it’s a majority of one type of person making that medium, you’re gonna get that one type of person’s perspective. [...] And that’s why you need more women and just more diversity, so that when people consume films, they’re consuming the reality of the world as opposed to a really small part of it. Even within black women. I have a small group of friends who I love and admire and who do amazing things, but we all make very different films and we all have very different viewpoints of the world or what it means to be a woman or what it means to be a black woman. It’s going to be different if you’re a heterosexual woman versus if you’re queer. There are just different things that are going to come out. I think it’s just really important to allow other voices to be present.

As recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o once explained, “The first time I thought I could be an actor was when I saw The Color Purple. I grew up in Kenya, and a lot of our programming was from all over the world, and we didn’t see ourselves on screen. So it was rare that you would see a world populated with people that look like me. It just shows how important it is to represent everyone in our profession.”

They’re right: this isn’t just a problem for Black women, but everyone who is a part of the film and television industries and watch their content. Black Women Create is about Black women, but it is for everybody. Every month, we’ll interview Black women in the television and film industries, highlight television series and films directed, written, and produced by Black women, and include personal experiences from the SPARK girls. You can follow the project here. We’re turning the lack of representation of Black women in the media on its head, and create more opportunities to give new voices and talent the space to showcase their work.

Google: Doodle Us!

by Celeste Montaño

[Ed. note: an earlier version of this blog didn't mention the research of Ann M. Martin, a science educator who has been tracking and writing about gender in Google Doodles since 2011. This piece, and our corresponding action page, have both been updated to credit her and her work, which is excellent and important and only recently came to our attention. Ann's metrics and methods are different from ours, but her conclusions about gender are the same, and we are excited to combine our data and power toward  our shared goal of fair and accurate representation of women and people of color in public spaces, of which Google Doodles are only a part.]

In January, Google featured Zora Neale Hurston on its U.S. homepage, and the Internet loved it.

via Google

What started with a Google Doodle quickly became the impetus for a wider celebration of Hurston’s life and work. People on my Tumblr dashboard were talking about the Doodle just minutes after it went up, while Facebook and Twitter provided dozens of links to articles about Hurston. The excitement was steady throughout the day, and even continued a couple days after the Doodle was taken down.

In case you haven’t heard the term, Google Doodles are the drawings and animations that often replace the Google logo on holidays or birthdays of historical figures. Sometimes the Doodles are seen worldwide (called “Global Doodles”), but mostly they’re reserved for the country in which the holiday or individual is best known, as was the case with Hurston—her Doodle was only visible on Google’s U.S. homepage.

Google Doodles honor people that have made significant contributions to the world in their lifetimes. Like postage stamps, you can only be honored with a Doodle posthumously. The very first Doodle to celebrate an individual appeared in 2001 in honor of Monet, but the Doodles didn’t start making frequent appearances on Google’s homepage until around 2010. Few of them get as much attention as Hurston’s. So what was special about this one?

Here’s a theory: maybe it was special because it’s one of the few times that the Internet saw Google honor a black woman on its front page. Maybe it was special because it’s uncommon for Google to celebrate historical women of color.

For a while now, we at SPARK have noticed that white men get featured on the Google homepage all the time, whereas women of color are rarely honored. But it wasn’t until September 2013 that we set out to find the exact numbers. We started researching, pouring through hundreds of Google Doodles for months. And it turns out that from 2010-2013, Google celebrated 445 individuals on its various homepages throughout the world. 19 were women of color, 54 were white women, 82 were men of color, and an overwhelming 275 were white men.

About half of those 19 women of color appeared in 2013 alone, so at least we can say there’s been some progress. There were 24 Global Doodles (Doodles visible on every Google homepage around the world) that same year, two of which featured black women. This makes 2013 the first year that celebrated a woman of color with a Global Doodle, which is basically the highest honor that Google gives to historical figures. And yes, it really took until 2013. But despite this great moment in Google Doodle history, there hasn’t been a single Asian, Latina, or indigenous woman featured in a Global Doodle as of February 2014.

If I’d heard about this a few years ago, I would’ve dismissed everything with a shrug and made excuses for Google. I used to think that up until a few decades ago, everyone except rich white men were too oppressed to achieve anything significant. And I’m definitely not the only one who’s thought this way! But it’s actually ridiculous and a complete lie that white men have done everything. How can that be, when they’re a minority in the world? Not to mention that black and brown people didn’t just sit around for thousands of years and wait for the white people to “discover” them, despite what history textbooks imply.

Now that the SPARK team has (almost) recovered from being totally mind-blown by the statistics we’ve uncovered, we’re demanding that Google make a concerted effort to change such a blatant imbalance. We want them to acknowledge the problem, but we also want more: we want Google to publicly commit to improving these numbers. We’d be happy to help out—in fact, we’ve already gotten a head start by compiling a list of historical heroes that totally deserve Doodles, and that way Google has to do less research.

As mentioned, the Doodles have made progress in 2013, something that has continued in 2014. About half the Doodles in January were dedicated to women—a few people that we had on our list of awesome historical heroes even got Doodled. And by celebrating five women of color in the first two months of this year, there have already been more women of color in 2014 than there were in 2010, 2011, and 2012. This is probably thanks in part to people like Ann M. Martin, a science educator who has been tracking gender in Google Doodles dating back to 2001.

But small changes are not enough. We need to talk about why the numbers have been skewed for so long, and what it says about how we view history—whose achievements are important, whose achievements we celebrate, and whose achievements are erased. Google Doodles may seem lighthearted, especially when accompanied by quirky games and animation, but in reality they have emerged as a new manifestation of who we value as a society, a sign of who “matters.” Just like statues, stamps, and national holidays, you know that if someone is featured on Google’s homepage, they’ve done something important.

We’re asking Google to make improvements, but this project is bigger than Google Doodles. It’s is about becoming visible in a society that erases our history and our existence; it’s about acknowledging and celebrating our part in building this world. So we’re asking Google to Doodle Us. Not the SPARK team specifically, but people like us: women, people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, trans people. We’re asking Google to draw our histories, our achievements, our strength, our heroes, our fighters and foremothers. You can’t keep ignoring us. We’re here, and we’ve always been here.

Get all the data | Sign the petition | Contribute to our list of historical heroes

Where we belong: on the Status of Women in US Media

by Seher Ali

Every year, the Women’s Media Center compiles a report on the Status of Women in the U.S. Media. It compiles statistics regarding the representation of women in news, television, film entertainment, film reviews, video games, book editing, and more, highlighting the need for gender parity in these fields.

I’ve been keenly aware of the lack of brown women in the media since I was a kid, even without necessarily knowing the statistics or having the language to discuss it–and even though this report doesn’t include statistics about women of color in every field (something that should be improved in the 2015 report), I probably could have guessed the results and not been too far off the mark. It’s no surprise to me that there is a staggering statistical disparity between white males in every sector and basically everyone else, but especially Black, Latina women, and Asian women, as well as all other women of color included in the data (referred to as “some other ethnicity”–it’s unclear whether “Asian” refers to South and East Asian, or just East Asian). For example, 63.7% of newsroom journalists are men; 72% of TV show directors have been white men while only 2% are minority women; and women make up 47% of gamers but 12% of video game developers.

In 2012, I interviewed eight young women between the ages of 16 to 24 about what would make them want to be civically engaged in their communities and asked them to name some women in the media who inspired them. All of them except one either had such a difficult time thinking of a woman that they couldn’t answer the question, or they said Michelle Obama. It was a conversation, so the pacing may have put them on the spot; however, when I asked them to name inspirational male leaders, I received a slew of names from every single interviewee. Gender parity in the media is both a matter of taking steps to ensure that women have as many opportunities for work as men and making sure that when women are in various fields that these women are highlighted and represented in order to encourage young girls and women through their visibility.

One of my best friends, who is in her final semester in business school, is an Indian woman who wears the hijab. She feels the pressures of being in a male-dominated environment where she is a minority in several senses of the word. Despite women comprising 56 percent of professional workers in the U.S., they only comprise 25% of tech workers and head 11% of fortune 500 tech firms. Oh, and they earn roughly half of what men earn. I was disturbed to read that the number of first year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science dropped 64 percent points between 2000 to 2011. These statistics may indicate that my friend’s feelings of isolation, rejection, and frustration could be felt commonly by minority women in professional work and the media. I am sure there is a multifaceted combination of reasons these numbers have dipped, but the lack of representation, visibility of women leaders in IT and business, gender bias during hiring, and the disillusionment that can be faced by white women and women of color when navigating male-dominated fields with wage gaps are contributing factors.

The decision of who gets to be represented is most often made by those at the top, and this is most often, as the statistics show, white men. The report shows that when women are in charge (i.e. are casting directors of films, news reporters, etc.) then there are almost always greater numbers of women either hired by them or quoted by them in news stories. The same generally applies specifically to the hiring of women of color by women of color. This demonstrates the urge to construct our own narratives among historically marginalized groups. I feel the same way when I write for SPARK: taking control of the way we are perceived and the ways in which our stories are told is paramount to how we help shape the minds of young girls; it isn’t just visibility in and of itself that will determine our positive impact. How we are represented and who represents us plays a crucial role. Who is telling our stories? Are we speaking for ourselves, or are we being directed by others? And when directed by others (i.e. in a film), how are we being represented? Not a single person of color, nevermind a woman of color, was in management at the four TV stations in Little Rock, Arkansas, where 42 percent of the population is black and the Latino population is almost 7 percent (and growing).

Without control over their own stories, people of colour are left to navigate media rife with tired tropes and racial stereotypes about themselves that lack wholeness and authenticity. The report shows that of all female characters in 2013’s movies, Latinas are the most likely to be dressed in “sexually revealing” clothing or partially nude. Among the Hispanic women who were cast, 41.1 percent were hyper-sexually clothed, compared to 32.8 percent of white women. Of the women on TV in 2013, 12 percent were Black and 78 percent were white. When women were surveyed about the way black women were presented on TV, 82 to 90 percent of them reported regularly seeing stereotypical representations including the “angry Black women,” “baby mommas.” and “uneducated Black women.” I get the impression that there is an underlying message of “just be grateful you’re here and take what you get” being sent to women of colour who wish to be a part of the media they consume. The numbers of representation are so small that when they do get jobs, they often lack the agency to control how they are seen, and racist representations persist.

Furthermore, when Latinas are hyper-sexualized the way the stats show, it exacerbates violence against Latina women. When Black women are stereotyped, this exacerbates violence against Black women. If there were more statistics about Asian and Middle Eastern tropes, perhaps we’d have a clearer understanding of how violence against women belonging to these backgrounds is perpetuated in part by media representations (hint hint, WMC Report on the Status of Women in Media 2015). It is important I reiterate how these representations (and lack thereof) have concrete impacts on the way young girls and women grow up seeing themselves, the career paths they choose, and how they are treated by others.

The way young girls and women are utilized by the media is made clear by this report. The median age of female actors in movies in 2013 was 34.8, while the median for men sits at 46.5. According to the film industry, the younger the woman, the more appealing she is on screen. In 2012, 13-20 year old females were more likely than those aged 21-39 to be dressed hyper-sexually or partially naked on screen. The number of teens dressed sexually increased 22 percent between 2009 and 2012, and between 2007 and 2012 the number of teen girls partially nude on screen rose by 32.5 percent.

Let’s contrast this with the ages and genders of news columnists. The average age of news columnists is 60, and 105 of the 138 columnists at the nation’s three biggest newspapers (The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal) were men, mostly white. So, what are we good for in America? According to the media market, a woman’s sexuality and youth is worth more in dollars than her intellect. Perfect for beauty industries, too—the media can start imbuing us with insecurity about our appearances from a young age, and all those wrinkle-reducing, hair-removing, diet-pushing, skin-lightening and tightening, youth-obsessed products will fly off the shelves.

Given all of this, I also want to say point out that this report didn’t look at the representations of trans women in the media. The failure to include statistics on transgender women in any field researched, but especially in reports like this, is unacceptable. There were nearly one million Americans who identify as transgender in 2013. They have every right to be accounted for. The oppression and violence faced by transgender women in America is terrifying and significant, and the fact that they are not being included in this report invalidates and ignores their struggles to be a part of professional workplaces and the media. This year, women of color “are being spotlighted in this report for the first time.” Next year, trans women must be included in this research.

I got so tired reading this report. I felt cynical, digging and digging for some glimmer of hope in this barrage of dudes pulling all the high stats as per usual. But feeling like I can’t get my foot in when there are odds stacked against me is just giving in to the message that I should stay where I supposedly belong. And let’s be real—there is amazing work being done by organizations like Black Girls Code, which teamed up with the Latino Startup Alliance, and Girls Who Code, which responds to the gender and race divide in high-tech. There are production companies like Tangerine Entertainment, which only produces films directed by women, and groups like AFFRM, which focuses on distributing films made by black creators. There are many organizations—SPARK being one of them–which inspire and motivate young girls and women to realize their potential. Carving out these spaces will give us control over our own stories. It will grant us representation that we insist upon.