[MOTHER OF INVENTION] The Confusing Messages of Girlhood

Rita Mauceri

Rita Mauceri

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m a girl. I also happen to be the mother of a girl. She just turned eight and I’ve got four decades of life on her, so in many ways I feel I should have my head wrapped around the whole “girl” thing at this point. Of course, I don’t.

Neo-feminist singer Avril Lavigne may stress to young female listeners: “We’ve all got choices, we’ve all got voices,” all she wants, but such self actualization can get lost on young ears as Lavigne also complains a boyfriend didn’t treat her in a conventional female way. Today’s upcoming generation of women, you see, are being admonished to be both self-empowered and feminine.

My perspective now, as a woman/wife/parent in 2015 is vastly different from that of the circa 1975 pre-teen who hung a Starsky and Hutch poster on her bedroom wall, and didn’t yet know what highlights—or gray hairs—were.

Still, I look at my daughter and remember quite vividly what it felt like to fumble my way through friendships, fears, insecurities, boyfriends, bullies and the myriad conflicts and confusions that come with adolescence.

Oh, how I wish something like Girl Group had existed when I was eight.

Girl Group is the brainchild of two local mothers who are trying to wrap their heads around the whole girl thing. Once a week, a cluster of local 8 to13 year olds gather with several older teen mentors and adult leaders to explore, share, and work towards a new vision of themselves.

That’s the simplified version. In reality, the five-week program provides a level of interactivity, nurturing, deep digging and awareness designed to break girls out of their color-within-the-lines programming and lead them down a path of self-discovery.

No. Small. Feat.

The creators of Girl Group are locals Wesley Stahler and Tanya Ward Goodman, both of whom have daughters of their own.

Stahler is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Registered Drama Therapist with 15 years experience working with female prisoners, new mothers and teens dealing with debilitating anxiety or extreme trauma. She was also raised in a family of four girls.

“I was the youngest, so I felt really stuck in my role, the role of the baby. I wished I had inherited a bible from my mother telling me what to do and how to act,” Stahler said. “I just wanted to know I was normal. Much of the inspiration for creating Girl Group comes from my own childhood”

Goodman is an accomplished writer and blogger whose work deals with the complexities of family and children.

“I don’t think there is an age when you know everything you need to know to be a girl or a person or a woman. Our goal is to give girls the tools they can use for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Every age group uses these tools in a different way.”

About those tools. Each Girl Group session incorporates discussion, writing and action based around themes such as Nest Making, Finding Silence, Beauty, Mean Girls, Loneliness, Sisterhood and Self-Care. In keeping, Stahler and Goodman establish tools guiding the girls to “Think, Talk, Write, Do and Be.”

The “doing” part is especially key, according to Goodman.

“There are so many challenges for girls in today’s culture. Our ideas about beauty are constantly changing with the media raising the bar again and again in ridiculous ways,” she said. “We are living in such a consumer society and so much value is placed on what we have instead of what we are doing. We encourage the girls to feel powerful through action.”

Girl Group just wrapped its second series, which generated glowing feedback from participants.

“Whatever Kool-Aid you served last night at Girl Group was pretty powerful stuff,” Wendy Perez, a local 3rd grade teacher and mother of two daughters, wrote in a note to Stahler and Goodman.

Perez went on to explain her daughter had recently been “grumpy and mean” since her grandmother’s death.

“She was in such a good place when I picked her up yesterday,” Perez wrote. “Thanks so much for this group and for paying such close attention to both my girls› special needs.”

On March 13th, Girl Group will launch a longer series consisting of 10 weekly one-hour sessions. I plan to sign my daughter up and then start lobbying Stahler and Goodman to create a group like this for us older girls who haven’t quite figured it all out. Yet.

For more information: girlgroupla@gmail.com.

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