Being a woman can be tough. It often feels like a bunch of conflicting ideals: be desirable, but not needy; be hot but approachable; be intelligent but not intimidating; be confident in everything you do, but with a hint of wounded bird fragility that suggests you really do need saving; be a martyr caretaker and an adventurous free-spirit. I could go on, but you get the idea. Especially if you’re a woman. My point is that sometimes it takes a bunch of girls (aged 8-17) to remind a grown woman that while those pressures and conflicting messages permeate our culture, when we choose to work together in cooperation and lift one another up, each of us is able to see how truly spectacular we are.
Last week was a big week for women in this country in general, and apropos to that I had the pleasure and honor of shooting photos for the first ever Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls San Diego. It’s a camp specifically designed to empower girls through music. They get to camp on Monday, form a band, learn to play an instrument, write a song and perform it at the showcase on Saturday. In between, they learn about the history of women in music, talk about gender and identity, design and silkscreen their band logos onto shirts, learn self-defense and get to see other kickass women perform daily concerts while they eat lunch and make new friends.
The president of Rock Camp is my incredible friend, Melissa Grove, who put together an amazing team (of women) to pull off a uniquely life-changing event. A year ago, when she asked me if I’d like to participate, it was a definite “Hell yes!” I knew that it was going to be an amazing experience for the 40 girls who would get to participate. Also, it was the perfect extension of what I’d said I hoped for when I broke up with the patriarchy earlier this year. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.
What I didn’t count on was how affected I would be. As a total introvert surrounded by performer-types I safely stay far, far away from spotlights and stages, hiding behind my camera so as to never be pulled out of the shadows.
Like most people, I’m drawn in by performers. I gravitate to their magnetic energy—my yin audience energy feeding their yang egos with attention, laughs and appreciation for what they do. And better for both of us, they love being onstage while I prefer sitting in the audience. It is a perfectly symbiotic relationship.
But in some deep (okay, not that deep) part of my brain I know there is a pretty high level of defensiveness feeding my visceral repulsion to being the center of attention. And I know that I was about the same age as these girls when I became aware of it.
In sixth grade my school principal announced that everyone had to be part of the school play. After recovering from this horrifying development, I quickly volunteered to do lighting so that I wouldn’t have to be forced onstage. It wasn’t exactly that I was shy, I just didn’t want to put myself on a literal stage from which to be judged. Conveniently, it turns out that there’s a lot less vying for behind-the-scenes positions, which meant that no one noticed what I was doing. A fact I have been exploiting ever since.
So while I happily encouraged and championed my friend in organizing this camp and couldn’t wait to shoot the photos and video, I also knew that I would have been terrified to do anything like this when I was their age. (Okay, okay, it is equally terrifying to me now.)
But as I wandered in and out of classes throughout the week watching them fearlessly learn and experiment in front of their peers and mentors I couldn’t help but feel admiration. These girls were amazing! Yes, they hit wrong notes. Yes, they changed their minds about styling/band names/song lyrics. Yes, they had to navigate differing personalities and manage to find compromises. And you know what? They did it all with grace and dignity and, most striking of all, kindness.
I am thoroughly convinced that if our politicians could negotiate as diplomatically as the girls at Rock Camp the world would be an infinitely better place. They faced their fears like the rock stars they are. They handled one another’s insecurities with compassion and encouragement. And whenever anyone was onstage all the others cheered and danced and roared with applause. It was badass beauty at its absolute best.
I hope the girls will always remember this experience. I hope, when they inevitably come up against a discouraging patriarchy, they call upon the empowerment they felt during the week and find the courage to be themselves. But honestly, after watching them all week, I’m not too worried. They already know what I’d forgotten.
As much as I thought this week was all about empowering them, I can’t stop thinking about how powerful it was for me. Looking around at the women I got to work beside, most of whom are professional musicians, reorganizing their schedules to volunteer their time, equipment, skills and positivity I was blown away by their strength, perseverance and grit. They demonstrated daily how powerful that collective feminine energy can be when they chose to let go of inhibitions, embrace their unique differences and allow themselves and thereby the girls permission to shine. To be seen. To be heard. To have a voice.
There are very few times in my professional life when I have worked exclusively with other women. And even though I still got to hide behind my camera, I was truly inspired to be a little more fearless—like a girl—than I’ve been as a woman. The week was energizing and exhausting; total confidence and fearful uncertainty; emotional with a don’t-worry-just-be-you attitude. It was a tapestry of contradictions woven together into a pirate flag of female awesomeness, all under a banner that one spectacularly badass woman envisioned.