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On Thursday, 21in’21 (a grassroots organization promoting womxn-identifying candidates for local office) had its first meeting for the newly formed Young Leadership Council. The goal of this council is to create a network of young working women to support each other in their careers and future endeavors, as well as work to help 21in’21 define its future goals. The first thing that this group did was set community norms. While there were the classic but always important ones like, “be respectful, communicate openly, keep this group as a safe space,” the one that really resonated with me was “Make sunshine, not shade.”

I experienced this sunshine on Monday when I attended a bill signing by Governor Hochul to protect abortion and reproductive rights for all. Not only was this a cool experience to witness with some memorable speakers, but it was also comforting to hear an elected leader proactively declare that women will still have bodily autonomy, despite the efforts of the Supreme Court to undermine women’s freedoms.

Work this week had its own set of challenges, but I found that there are so many people and organizations that are still working to create an outpouring of sunshine within a very shaded world, including the Lower East Side Girls Club. From the very moment you step inside, there is a sense of magic. From the glistening walls to the rainbow-colored workshops, every detail is intentional and thoughtfully executed. It was amazing to see that there is an outlet for young girls to feel safe, explore their interests, and truly be themselves without any pressure or stress from the watching world. While we didn’t spend any time with the girls, I did briefly walk by three girls singing and dancing together in the hallway as we passed the recording studio. Even from this brief interaction, I could tell that they felt completely free and safe to have fun and completely explore themselves.

As discussed in our readings, particularly, “Throwing Like a Girl,” girls often feel pressure to be physically closed off. Society makes girls feel like they shouldn’t take up space and that girls should follow this norm. Interestingly, this actually has repercussions on the movement of girls in sports, notably throwing. While there is almost no difference between young girls’ and boys’ motor skills, a boy’s ability to take up space and feel more comfortable freely moving their body results in a better ability to throw. Similarly, there is always the watchful eye of others (men, other women, and ourselves) on women’s bodies. Not only does this make us feel uncomfortable and not free to move openly, but it constrains women and compels women to take up as little space as possible. This can be seen in the simplest of ways, including differences between how men and women sit. I can see these differences within my own life and appreciate how much these habits are engrained in my subconscious.

The Lower East Side Girls Club is actively working to break out of these social norms. By providing a safe space for girls to move and build confidence, young girls are learning from an early age that they should and deserve to be taking as much space as anybody else.

Despite the craziness of this week, these experiences reinforced the power of creating sunshine, and I gained a sense of reassurance that many people are working towards a better, more just future.

Poster that reads Lower East Side Girls Club: girls gone green
Poster welcoming kids to the East Side Girls Club in New York City’s Lower East Side (Photo taken by Ja’nelle Kellam).