Gender equity, domestic abuse and relationship advice: These can be difficult topics to broach for some young women. But a group of students has created a space where discussing these subjects is comfortable.
Members of the Girl Up club at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville meet every two weeks to teach each other about feminism and girl empowerment. About 20 to 40 students attend each Zoom meeting.
“People leave each meeting with a new, solid understanding of an important topic that they may not have heard of, or thought much of before,” said Gabriella Fine, 18, the club president and a senior at Berman Hebrew Academy.
She founded the club in 2018, after learning about Girl Up from a cousin who belongs to a chapter in New York.
“It just felt like something that would be valuable in our high school,” she said.
Most meetings involve one of the students giving a presentation, followed by a discussion. Member Eliana Reiter, 14, said Girl Up has taught her about gender equality in the United States and around the world. At her first club meeting, the group discussed the term Choice Feminism, the idea that any choice a women makes is a feminist one. Eliana enjoys hearing what other club members have to say.
“Even though we all go to the same school, we’re in different grades, and we’ve had different life experiences,” she said. “So I like hearing how those different things influence our perspectives on different topics.”
Senior Ava Rowse, 18, is the club’s vice president.
“I learned a lot about feminist history that I didn’t know,” said Rowse. “I was obviously aware of certain aspects of past feminist movements that were positive and not so positively talked about. And so [I learned] more of the historical aspects of feminism that I didn’t know about.”
One of Rowse’s favorite meetings involved making bracelets that focused on self-love and self-esteem. Using beads marked with letters, members spelled the qualities they wanted to aspire to.
Another club activity is a bra and menstrual product collection drive. Donations are sent to I Support The Girls, a nonprofit based in Montgomery County that distributes feminine products to women in need.
Norma Johnson, the club’s advisor, said the girls who run Girl Up do “a phenomenal job.”
“The club is providing an opportunity for young women to really express themselves and to give voice to concerns and talk about issues that are important to young women.”
The club has continued to thrive during the pandemic, Fine said. Going virtual has made meetings more accessible to members, since they can attend from home.
“Now as we familiarize ourselves with Zoom more, we learn that there’s a lot more you can do,” she said.
Despite the club’s name, boys are welcome, too. Fine said about five male students attend meetings, including her brother.
She admitted that the number of participants was greater when they met in person and provided snacks.
“So if you’re not coming to learn about sexism, you’re coming for cookies,” Fine said. “And then you will learn something in addition, which is great.”
Eliana sees the club as “a place where everyone can share what they feel with no judgment. It’s a really good judgment-free zone to share our opinion.”
It’s a perspective Rowse shares.
She said the club is a comfortable and safe space for members to share personal stories. Members have not shied away from discussions on sensitive topics like experiences with sexism and gender-based violence. It’s this type of atmosphere Fine is happy to have had a hand in creating.
“Something that we really aim to do is just to create a safe environment where you won’t be judged for what you say, no matter what your opinion is on the discussion at hand,” Fine said. “And each week, we talk about a different issue that faces women and girls locally and globally. So we really aim to educate and to have a place of good, quality discussion and to ultimately combat sexism.”