Girlhood Online - All About the Girl Museum
Julianne Freytag, a member of the LOG OFF Writers Group, tells the story of a digitally-based museum dedicated to female empowerment, highlighting why their work is so important in the age of social media.
image taken by the Girl Museum website
"The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”
- Rebecca Solnit
Historically, women’s stories were not told by women. Both women and men have been shoved into boxes that don’t fit and forced into roles that don’t work. The story has been taken from us and shifted into something that frames us as weak, irrational, fragile, or just unworthy of inclusion. It is time that we reclaim what being a girl means, discuss the topics that have been pushed away, and educate ourselves and others on these issues. Things are changing largely for the better in terms of gender equality. It’s important that we honor the women that came before us and those that fight today to create a more equal society.
The Girl Museum is an entirely digitally-based museum dedicated to celebrating women and changing the narratives surrounding girlhood. Currently, there are four series of exhibitions available online. Each focusing on a different aspect of girlhood. The first exhibition takes a historical focus, looking at how girls are portrayed in art and literature across history. What do these ancient works of art tell us about how life was lived during those times? Another exhibition, “investigates the intangible, ephemeral, and material culture of girlhood,” according to their website. The most recent exhibition focuses on modern female artists. Across the site, I see countless examples of ignored or forgotten girls finally being recognized and celebrated. I see important work being done.
One thing I really admire about the museum is that it interweaves a social component into their project. The interns involved are given opportunities to share their own personal stories and experiences. Online quilts are woven from the communities’ girlhood role models, which range from Marie Curie and Jane Goodall to Sailor Moon and Lisa Simpson. The museum doesn’t hesitate to collaborate and gain new perspectives from different human rights organizations. It is important to note that this level of connection couldn’t be done without an online presence.
There certainly are some issues that come with being female online. I’ve found myself using this website and others like it as a sort of a brain cleanser. It’s rare that a website will give me so much pride and confidence in myself. The internet isn’t going anywhere so it’s vital that we uplift these positive, empowering digital spaces and seek to make the online world more productive and peaceful. I had the privilege of gaining some perspective on feminism, social media, and how they both connect from the founder of the museum, Ashley E. Remer.
Do you feel the internet and social media has influenced the way we treat/view women and girls?
"Absolutely I do.
"To purposefully invoke a patriarchal metaphor, all technology is a double-edged sword. While there have been great strides for girls made possible via the web, especially interns of access to education, mobilizing social movements and driving 4th wave Feminism, (in my mind), they are almost outweighed by the proliferation of the dark web, human trafficking, pornography, eating disorders and other mental health issues exacerbated by it. We at Girl Museum are very aware that while we only exist online, we don’t want girls to be spending all their time there. Growing up is hard enough without the weight of global pressures to be, do, look like trends that are very likely being manipulated by predatory adults."
Has the internet been a positive or negative influence on the feminist movement?
"It has helped in certain ways. Being able to express a wide range of feminisms and organizing for causes has been very positive. I believe that feminism is the call to action for equity and it cannot sacrifice anyone along the way to achieve this or it just reproduces the patriarchy. In some places on one you can still have nuanced conversations about these topics, but social media is not necessarily the way.
"I remember when Facebook first came out, I told a friend it was like a sandbox for grownups. I didn’t understand why we would want to put ourselves back into the playground, full of bullies and lies. But here we are. I would hope that we can carry on trying to be positive influencers for change online, but in moderation."
What is the girl museum website doing to change the narrative surrounding girlhood?
"Girl Museum was founded to in order to give girls a safe place to learn about girls of the past and the present- their achievements, their lives, their cultures.
"We are still fighting for girls to be recognized as worthy subjects for scholarly research outside of the fields that only wish to pathologize them or make them into better consumers. By focusing on girls, centering girls in our discourse, we are hoping to raise awareness of girls being amazing and also advocate for their rights around the world. We also hope to break down some barriers of the understanding of privilege, especially by region. To show how girls are living their lives in different places to get people thinking about their place in the world and what they can do in their own communities and even families to raise girls self-esteem, give them more and varied opportunities, and understand that issues like trafficking, underage marriage, access to education and adequate nutrition is an issue in every country in the world."
How does having your operation entirely online affect your work and message?
"Being online gives us the ability to provide opportunities to girls anywhere in the world with a computer and internet access. This already reveals an exclusion, but we have to start somewhere.
"We have an internship program, called Junior Girls, that can be accessed by globally and we have had over 200 interns in 11 years as a result of that access. For us, it is being the counterpoint to physical museums, we are always open and always free for visitors, that makes online museums beneficial. As seen this year with the pandemic, demand for online content went crazy and we were able to move a few projects forward and quickly add relevant material in response to what’s happening because that is what we do. We didn’t have to upskill an entire museum to understand what it meant when no one came in the doors. As for our message, yes, it is difficult to tell people to go away and take a walk rather than to visit the site. But we encourage girls to look at our exhibitions with their family, friends, classmates, not just alone in their rooms. Online can still be made into a social experience on the viewers end."
Why is it important to have positive digital spaces for women, like your own?
"It is super important for places like Girl Museum to be on the internet because it is too late to shut it down completely. We very much support your project, logging off is vital to health and happiness. But if you are online, it is easier to stay away from the dangerous site if you know there is a welcoming place where you can have your say. We love for girls to write us with ideas for exhibitions, or writing guest blogs, or even volunteering with us. We provide ways to get experience in skills needed for the future. And we are a supportive, creative, and compassionate team with a common mission. This goes a long way, not just for our own community, but us as individuals, to feel like we are doing our part to make the world better for girls."
I would like to thank Ashley for her time and support. I implore you to check out the girl museum and the amazing work and exhibitions that they produce. It’s so important that we support positive influences!
Girl Museum Staff. Girl Museum. Girl Museum Inc. 2009, https://www.girlmuseum.org/
Remer, Ashley E. Personal interview. 25 Oct 2020.
Solnit, Rebecca. Men Explain Things to Me. Haymarket Books, 2015.