5 Moments Young Women Kicked Ass

The word “girl” in pop culture can often be loaded and complex. It can be used to trivialize the accomplishments of women young and old alike, to render impressive feats diminutive. But as with so many words, an element of power remains in its reclamation -- particularly when young women accomplish truly badass things.

In the past few months, it seems the Beyonce line is true, at least to some extent. Girls don’t run the world, but it’s clear they could and it might be a better place if they did. Young women have been in the media glare for founding their own magazines and starting their own TV shows, and forcing mainstream media to do better with inclusion of women. Here’s a list of the five best girl-power moments from the past months, highlighting the ability of young women to make the world sit up and take notice.

1. Teen girls push for female moderator to take on presidential debate (Maddow, please?). For weeks, three 10th-grade students from New Jersey -- Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis -- have been pushing to accomplish something surprisingly difficult: a female moderator in the presidential debates. It’s been two decades, they learned in the classroom, since Carole Simpson moderated a 1992 debate.

That seemed unfair to them for obvious reasons, but instead of stewing over it they began to petition the Commission on Presidential Debates -- and when they were given the brush-off there, they appealed to the two presidential campaigns. They even showed up with boxes of petition signatures at the Commission’s office and were turned away, but remain undaunted, going on a media blitz to try to get the campaigns to leverage big-time pressure on the commission.

Columnist Connie Schultz wrote about how their efforts showed up the metaphorical big boys of the campaigns:

Do we really, in 2012, want girls and young women to see all-male moderators questioning all-male contenders for president of the United States? Speaking of those male candidates, they keep talking about how important women are in this election. How hard is it for them to step up and insist that just one of those millions of women moderate a debate?

2. More teen girls take on Seventeen magazine over photoshopping. Julia Bluhm, a young activist from the SPARK movement for girls got enraged by all the ultra-photoshopped and airbrushed pictures she saw in the pages of glossy magazines, and realized how negatively these pervasive images of altered perfection were affecting her classmates’ self-esteem. In her own petition, she wrote:

A girl you see in a magazine probably looks a lot different in real life...

That’s why I’m asking Seventeen Magazine to commit to printing one unaltered -- real -- photo spread per month. I want to see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.

For the sake of all the struggling girls all over America, who read Seventeen and think these fake images are what they should be, I’m stepping up...

She delivered the petitions, with 84,000 signatures, to Seventeen’s offices. Perhaps the most surprising part of this petition? Bluhm won quite a victory.

The AFP reported:

In a letter to readers in its August issue, editor Ann Shocket said the magazine, aimed at US teenage girls, is embracing a "Body Peace Treaty" set of guidelines to "always feature real girls and models who are healthy."

"We vow to never change girls' body or face shapes (never have, never will)," the guidelines said, although Seventeen will still tweak photos in order to smooth folds on garments or get rid of flyaway hair.

Next on Bluhm’s target list? Teen Vogue.

3. Young women’s feminist magazine captures national hearts. What is Rookie magazine? It’s an online magazine for teenage girls that has become the digital-age successor to the beloved '90s magazine Sassy, and brainchild of teenage feminist fashionista Tavi Gevinson. Journalist Amanda Hess, approaching her third decade, wrote:

“There’s a lot for women my age to appreciate about Rookie — it’s stylish and intelligent, treats teen girls like adults, and trades in ’90s-era cultural touchstones like Clueless, Sassy, and Freaks and Geeks (even though Gevinson was born in 1996).“

Thanks to her magazine’s popularity, Gevinson is a new Internet celebrity and became host of her own TED talk, where she declared she was “a teen just trying to figure it out” -- and rejected bland critical praise for two-dimensional “strong women” characters of the Catwoman variety. She said women shouldn't be praised for being flat and simple rather than complex and “multifaceted.” Women are crazy, she joked, because people are. A refreshing take on equality.

Watch her below:

4. Girls’ TV shows become critics’ darlings. Lena Dunham’s “Girls” has been one of the most controversial and highly acclaimed new TV shows to appear in a long time, and its young writer (though not teenage anymore) creator and star now has a bouquet of Emmy nominations and a new season to plan.

But the adventures of "Awkward Black Girl," a web television show that’s been compared to "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and is widely known as one of the must-watch web shows is gaining even more momentum this summer in its second season. It's been mentioned in feminist blogs like Jezebel and Feministing as well as a writeup in the New York Times, which urged viewers -- and TV producers -- to take notice:

"Awkward Black Girl” is plenty interesting on its own terms, but also because of the continuing dearth of black faces and voices, and diversity thereof, on TV and in film. Black leads are outrageously scarce, and mostly black casts are essentially unheard-of outside the Tyler Perry universe and BET.

Often it feels as if more people were talking about that problem — think of the fraught debate that raged around HBO’s “Girls” earlier this year — than trying to address it.

5. Golden girls rule the Olympics. There were the “fab five,” headed up by Gabby Douglas, the strong, smiling champion of the gym and the first black woman to win the individual all-around competition. She tossed aside critiques of her hair and grinned with the gold. Later in the games, falling short on the single apparatus events, Douglas showed the same grace and poise she had in previous days as the winner.

But these insanely talented gymnasts--Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney-- were only a few of the young women kicking butt during the games, following in the footsteps of the more mature female champions on the track, the court, in the pool and on the field--women who carried the US team to its massive medal count. Missy Franklin, born in 1995 like Douglas, dominated the women’s swimming events with a grin on her face. “Douglas and Franklin provide the 100 percent natural antidote for cynicism,” wrote a sports columnist.

And these are just the Americans: four young women from traditional Muslim countries became among the first in their respective nations’ history to take the Olympic stage in track and judo, facing tons of pressure on all sides. “I have a big message for the women of Afghanistan. Come and join me because I'm alone and I need your support,” said 23-year-old Tahmina Kohistani of Kabul.


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