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Woman Tutoring Child

The Need for  Girl-Focused Spaces

At The Intuitive Writing Project, we are dedicated to supporting girls and gender-expansive youth in speaking their truth, finding their voice and owning their power, both as writer and as leaders.

Thoughts from our Director of After-School Programming, Elana Joy

At The Intuitive Writing Project, we are here to hold space for girls and gender-expansive youth, to give them the time and space they need to speak their truth and find their voice, to provide an increasingly rare opportunity for girls to be heard in what is still an unequal, patriarchal world.

Even in the Bay Area, where we greatly value social justice and actively work as a community to systemically empower marginalized people, we all continue to be affected by a global culture that uplifts boys and men and oppresses women and girls. While our understanding of gender-identity is constantly and rightly expanding, the efforts to protect and support girl- and woman-identifying individuals have seemingly begun to implode. Since the start of our grade school after-school program five years ago, we have witnessed many challenges to the rights of women and girls, from the desperate cries of #MeToo to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. At The Intuitive Writing Project, we work to provide an antidote, to provide girls with a safe space to freely express themselves, affirming their power and building confidence.

Our decision to return to our core mission that focuses on empowering girls rather than continuing to offer co-ed workshops was not easy to make. However, we ultimately came to the realization that straying away from the founding purpose of our organization is unfair to the girls whom we aim to serve. While we agree that inclusivity is of utmost importance, at The Intuitive Writing Project we believe that a truly inclusive space can only exist in tandem with equality, which both research and our 11-years of experience have shown is often not the case for girls in classrooms. Our pivot back to a girls-only program serves to function as a catalyst for equality, ultimately bringing us all a step closer toward the actualization of true inclusivity.

Although there are many instances where girls do just as well in co-ed classrooms as they do in single-gender classrooms, extensive research shows that there are many benefits for girls who learn and work together. 

For one, single-gender (girls’) learning environments are known to be less distracting than co-ed environments. One study revealed that, “31 percent of girls at same-sex schools report never or hardly ever being disrupted in class compared to 21 percent at co-ed schools.” (O’brien & Coutts) In a creative environment like our Art of Storytelling ASEP class, a quiet and non-disruptive space is extremely valuable. We have had several girls complain that they have trouble focusing while being surrounded by constant activity and loud noises. Although it is not always the case, most of the time it is the boys who are causing the distraction, seeming to struggle with maintaining their energy in our after-school classes. This means that the writers who want to focus on writing are being distracted, and the teacher who is there to support them in their writing is required to instead spend their time disciplining the children who are being disruptive. The fact that the girls in our classes are the ones who are primarily reporting being affected by disruptions that are primarily caused by the boys in our classes is evidence of the lack of equality between boys and girls in a space that aims to be inclusive, and without equality, inclusivity isn’t achieved. For example, as a Black woman I am very familiar with the argument that All Lives Matter, when in reality, that argument overlooks the fact that there are serious disparities that largely affect the BIPOC community. Until the world is equal, we need to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.
 

Another great benefit of all-girls classes is that they are known to build confidence and empower young women, reportedly contributing to their academic success and beyond. An article from the book HOW Girls Thrive, curated by Jeff Archer, highlights the success of all-girls classes at a private school in Marietta, Georgia. The principal of the school supported these ideas stating, “We didn’t do single-gender classes to increase test-scores, it was their confidence.” Additionally, the headmaster of this same school argues, “What you can’t measure in a quantitative way is how these kids feel about themselves. It’s enough knowing that I have more girls saying ‘I love math.’” Although these studies focus on the improvement of girls’ confidence in STEM subjects, our eleven-years of experience teaching classes at The Intuitive Writing Project has reflected these same outcomes in programs focused on creative expression. One of our many testimonials comes from a 15-year-old student from our all-girls, high school programs who raved, “Now I am 200% more confident about who I am. I feel more powerful and in touch with myself. This class has helped me find myself.” Another 17-year-old student said, “The Intuitive Writing Project is writing but it’s so much more than that. There’s an empowering aspect to it, and you’re sharing your writing with other girls which leads to more confidence in yourself.” These testimonials confirm the power of an all-girls writing class to uplift and build confidence, which is at the root of our organization’s mission. We know that empowering girls means we are moving toward closing the gender-gap, which will move our schools and society toward true inclusivity that gives every individual equal access to future success. 
 

Finally, we believe it’s important to take into account the observed difference in levels of social maturity in boys and girls at the grade-school age we are working with. A study published by the International Journal of Educational administration revealed that, “[G]irls are found to have more social maturity…than boys, it is proved that girls attain maturity faster than the boys. The society also demands that girls should express more mature behavior than boys.” This evidence confirms the lack of equality in certain co-ed classes. Several of the girls in our Art of Storytelling ASEP class have confided in our elementary school writing teachers that they feel uncomfortable when the boys consistently (and in several classes, exclusively) share writing with less mature themes such as extensive potty-humor and violence. While this doesn’t prevent the girls from giving positive feedback (adhering to the Amherst Writers & Artists guidelines we must follow as an affiliated organization), we have seen that it does affect the themes they are willing to share in their own writing. In addition, if girls adapt themselves to the boy’s interests, this will undoubtedly affect their ability to self-express freely and intuitively.

Writing by following one’s intuition is such a strong pillar of our organization that it is in our title. We cannot in good conscience lead a writing group with a vision of uplifting girls with the knowledge that the self-expression of girls is being stifled from the moment they step into a co-ed creative writing class. Expecting girls to adapt to the maturity level of boys’ writing is antithetical to our mission, which is to empower girls and give them confidence to be strong leaders in an undeniably patriarchal world. This expectation for girls to conform to the maturity level of boys ultimately widens the gender-gap and brings into serious question the value of inclusivity without equality. 

 

In a world where girls and women are constantly expected to compromise for the comfort of boys and men, we do not feel that we would truly be fostering inclusivity by continuing to allow boys to participate in our after-school Art of Storytelling class. It saddens us to limit boys’ access to our program. We have worked with several boys over the years who have greatly enjoyed and benefited from our classes. We also believe in uplifting boys and providing space for them to self-express, but that is not the principle that The Intuitive Writing Project was founded on. As a compromise to our choice to return to our original mission of empowering girls,  our organization has created a co-ed, remote Art of Storytelling class on Zoom that all 3rd-5th graders are welcome to join on Saturday mornings. This means that our program will continue to not exist exclusively for girls, even though our in-person workshops will remain in-alignment with our overall mission to specifically serve girls. This gives us the opportunity to continue working with the boys who are passionate about writing and want to continue experiencing the magic of our workshops. It also gives us more control over any potential disruption and allows all of our writers to create their own safe space to write from home. 
 

All of us at The Intuitive Writing Project have enjoyed expanding our program to reach more writers. We plan to continue to welcome all young writers to receive the gifts of writing and sharing with others. However, we hope that you will agree that it is imperative for girls to be seen, supported and protected. We hope that you will agree that girls deserve to have a space to freely express themselves and build confidence in a world where they are surrounded by systems and legislation that oppresses their autonomy as humans. The purpose of our transition to a girls-only after-school program is not to exclude boys, but to uplift girls and promote equality so that we can close the gender-gap and pave a road toward true inclusivity. 
 

*Click here to learn more about why girls need our support.

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