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Category: Enlighten Education

Enlighten Education – A proud, and highly successful, social enterprise.


1613882_10152158812673105_2873685670766955317_nOn Wednesday of this week I had the enormous privilege of attending the In Style Magazine Women Of Style Awards as a Finalist in the Charity and Community category.

I was so incredibly thrilled to be short -listed, particularly in this category, for Enlighten was established as a social enterprise and as such, is quite a unique entity in the domain in which we chose to work.

Social enterprises are:

  • Driven by a public or community cause, be it social, environmental, cultural or economic.
  • Derive most of their income from trade, not donations.
  • Use the majority of their profits to work towards their social mission.
  • Accountable and transparent.

Other social enterprises you may be familiar with include The Big Issue and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen.

Why was Enlighten set up in this way? After spending most of my early career working in the not-for-profit sector (as an Education Officer employed by the Catholic Education Office developing innovative programs to assist students at risk) I know how frustrating it is to try to do meaningful work that will have a long-term impact if one needs to continually rely on donations and external funding support. Sadly, those working in this sector often spend the vast majority of their time looking for funding rather than actually doing the work that inspires them ( and that the community assume they will be doing)! The table below may surprise you – I certainly find the use of donations being spent to merely drive the hunger for more money at the very least problematic.

 

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Whilst working as an Education Officer in the area of school to work transition and in seeking and creating innovative approaches towards this, I began studying a Masters in Business Administration and writing a course that was approved for study for the NSW HSC on social entrepreneurship. I became obsessed with the idea that business really could move the world by generating not just profit, but social change.

I decided, therefore, when I established Enlighten Education with my partner Francesca Kaoutal that our business would need to be self-sufficient; and that the work we did would need to be valued enough for clients to be prepared to place a value on it. I was also loathe to establish my girl-changing idea as a charity as I did not want to have to be in a position where I would need to accept donations off commercial entities that might perhaps want to see brand placement be part of the trade-off, or associate our work with their marketing -to- teens / girls and women agenda (think Dove’s Real Beauty campaign and their work in schools). I wanted Enlighten to be commercial free!

And might I add that running Enlighten this way is not easy. If we were a charity, we would be eligible not only for donations, but for significant tax breaks ( like all small businesses, I will admit to finding taxes sometimes crippling). Charities receive income tax concessions, franking credits, goods and service tax concessions, fringe benefit tax rebates and more! On a personal note, I would be earning far more too if I was employed in a similar role in a non-profit ( in fact, I took a 50% pay cut for the first 5 years that I ran Enlighten and still earn far less than CEO’s of similar charitable organisations).

So to see our highly successful social enterprise ( we work with over 20,000 teen girls each year , have developed a team of over team of passionate, talented women who deliver our programs across three countries, give back by actively supporting charities, do much advocacy work in the community, pay taxes that contribute to the country’s overall benefit, and have received widespread acclaim for our work) recognised as a valued player in the community was an absolute confirmation of the way in which we have chosen to be change-makers.

So inspired by Samah! Do read about her work.
So inspired by Samah! Do read about her work.

As a business woman, I think more entities who wish to make positive community changes need to also look at our model and consider becoming a social enterprise too rather than a charity for surely, giving increasing financial pressures on the always cash-strapped charity sector, we need to seek more entrepreneurial, self-sustaining models.

In saying all this, I was absolutely thrilled for the other two Finalists who were both actively involved in more traditional charitable work – Olivia Newtown John, and the winner Samah Hadid. Samah is an absolute dynamo and I am thrilled she and I will soon meet to compare stories and plan the revolution.

The world needs many change makers – including those who seek creative ways to bringing about this change.

Yep. I am damn  proud of Enlighten and all she has achieved, and will continue to achieve for our girls. And yep; I was damn proud to see this externally acknowledged.

You may wish to read more about our work in the community here too: http://www.enlighteneducation.com/in-the-community/

 

As you think, so you are. As you imagine, so you become.

Affirmation Cards are one of the tools we at Enlighten give girls; these support them in maintaining the positive approaches we introduce them to during our workshops.

Affirmations are short, positive statements that can used to boost strength or chart a new course in our lives. They also have profound effects on mental health and the development of resilience as they train us to focus on the positives rather than obsess over the negatives. Some people find it helpful to repeat an affirmation when they wake each morning, others when the going gets tough. Some like to write affirmations down and pin them up around the house.

The key is focus and repetition. Most of us would agree that if you constantly use negative self-talk ( “I am so fat and ugly, no one will love me”) this has a negative impact on us. In fact, such dark thoughts can trigger devastating physical effects.

We need to understand too then that focused, purposeful positive thoughts can have a similarly profound, healing impact on us. This explain why the use of positive affirmations is also used frequently in therapy for mental illnesses such us depression and anxiety.

It is important to note, however, that using positive affirmations should not prohibit negative feelings, nor does it imply we ned to walk around in a constant state of smiling, hugging bliss! There is nothing wrong with feeling sad, angry, or frustrated. Feelings are not good or bad; they just are what they are. Grief, anger and anxiety are all important emotions to experience, and we need them for guidance. For example, if someone is treating you badly and you feel angry about it, anger is giving you the message that it’s not OK for someone to treat you that way. Psychologist Jacqui Manning explained it to me this way when I was researching my latest book, Loveability: ” Think of your heart as a bus, and your emotions as the passengers. Allow the whole spectrum of emotions on your bus — that is, don’t kick anyone off — but don’t let anger or anxiety hop in the driver’s seat (at least, not for long!).”

Recently on Facebook I shared affirmations designed to support girls to form, and maintain, positive, nurturing relationships. These were taken from Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships.

Perhaps you might wish to share some of these with the girls in your life too. Feel free to copy, share, print, download.

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You might also like to download “The Butterfly Effect”, a free iPhone App I designed which provides girls with daily affirmations, quotes from inspiring women, and links to key web sites that support girls and women. Affirmations are also being widely used in a number of new Apps aimed at treating mental health issues. You may read more about this trend here.

Women Of Style Finalist… wow!

I am absolutely thrilled to share the news that I’ve just been announced as one of three Finalists for the InStyle Magazine Women Of Style Awards in the Charity and Community category. The other Nominees in my category are staggeringly impressive so to be even grouped in amongst them is mind-blowing; I shall join Olivia Newtown John (singer and fundraiser) and Samah Hadid (human rights campaigner).

Awards like this are invaluable as they provide an incredible opportunity to raise the profile of the work my company (Enlighten Education) does empowering young women, and also raises general awareness of the issues plaguing our daughters too.

I thought I’d share a little of the (rather extensive) entry I was asked to submit for this Award with you here.

The Winners are announced in May.

dannielle

What drives you?

Hearing from young women daily that the work we did has helped shape their life. I receive amazing feedback after our workshops. The phrase “life changing” crops up a lot. This is one of my favorites:
“Almost a year ago, you visited my school…At the time, I was depressed, suicidal, cutting and constantly contemplating death. Now, almost a year later, I haven’t cut in almost 8 months, and haven’t been suicidal for 6. I want to thank you for helping me realize that I am valued, and that I am loved…I want to thank you for helping me to realise that there are people who can help, and that I’m never alone. You have been a huge influence in my recovery from depression.”

What does style mean to you? (NB: The Women of Style Awards are about style in a greater context than fashion.)

A stylish woman is a woman who is truly comfortable in her own skin. There is something incredibly attractive about seeing a woman who owns her own power and reinvents the rules to suit herself.

Are there any mottos or mantras that resonate with you, or that you live by?

“By building Respect and inspiring Love, business can move the world.” This is a quote from Kevin Roberts. I had it painted on my office wall to remind me daily of my purpose.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given – either in life or regards to your career (or both)?

Don’t try to be less just so others will think they are more. The ultimate girl-crime in the playground was “to love yourself”, or to be “up yourself.” Women do themselves, and others, no service by shying away from success. My commitment to step –up is also why I think being nominated for this Award is so special. I would love to show all girls and women that I am proud of what I do, and that I do strive to be brilliant at it!

Are you driven from a desire to be successful?

I don’t think women should ever shy away from ambition! I am incredibly driven to improve outcomes for all young women – and to show how a business can be both profitable, as well as socially responsible and a force for positive change.

Dateless but not Desperate

The following post was originally published by The Hoopla, February 11.  

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As an educator who works with young women, during this the lead up to Valentine’s Day my Facebook News Feed is a virtual parade of teen girl sadness.

“Forever the Single Pringle.”

“The best thing about Valentine’s when you’re all alone? Knowing the chocolates will be half price come February 15.”

“My Valentine’s = a date with a tub of ice cream and a sad face. ”

In order to make their friends feel better, most of the comments following statuses like these are of the “Don’t worry, you’ll find your true love and live happily ever after” variety.

And whilst of course most of us do meet at least one love in our lifetime, not all of us will be with our partners forever. Many young women may go on to not only live without a partner, but to raise families alone.

In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost fifteen per cent of all Australian families are one-parent families and almost two-thirds of these have dependents living with them. The vast majority of these families, eighty one per cent, are headed up by single mothers.

By the time girls become women, we are generally far less supportive of those who are not partnered up.

The terms we use to describe a single man make it sound as though he is having a ball doing the coolest things and having many a wild romance. He is a player, playboy, ladies’ man, lady-killer, womaniser, pick-up artist, bachelor, stud.

At best, a single woman might be referred to as a bachelorette, which implies that all she is doing is waiting for her husband to come along. Otherwise, she is labelled as the sad, lonely spinster.

And should she have children? Then she can expect to become the scapegoat for so many of society’s ills. Despite the fact that study after study show that a two-parent, financially stable home with stress and conflict is more destructive to children than a one-parent, financially stable home without stress and conflict, single mothers are frequently blamed for everything from the crime rate, to their own poverty.

As a single mother it might be hard not to take such criticisms personally. Yet my life, and my children’s lives, don’t fit the typical assumptions we make about single parent families at all – partly because I am fortunate enough to be financially independent and well educated.

Study after study also show that despite the rhetoric, it is poverty and instability that effects children – not family composition – making the Government’s decision to cut Newstart funding to single parents seem not just heartless, but ill informed.

Professor Katie Roiphe, in her eloquent “Defense of Single Motherhood” emphasises the necessity of a more balanced, compassionate approach when she concludes: “The real menace to… children is not single mothers, or unmarried or gay parents, but an economy that stokes an unconscionable divide between the rich and the not rich.”

One of my priorities in my latest book on relationships aimed at teen girls was, therefore, to teach our young women how to feel okay, with or without a partner. After all, the pressures placed on girls to meet their Prince Charming start very early.

In order to move beyond the myth that we are only whole if one of two, it is helpful, for example, to put the oppression of single women in a historical context.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a particular type of religious zeal took hold in Europe and led to tens of thousands of women being branded as witches. Approximately 100,000 supposed witches were put to death. Those accused of witchcraft were often poor, single women.

In the eighteenth century in England, women had very little choice but to marry. With limited educational opportunities available to them, and no pay equality, most women viewed marriage as the only stable path to financial security. Women also couldn’t own land, and all inheritance was passed down from father to son.

This made women vulnerable, because without a financially stable marriage they would be left destitute. And so the stigma around single women increased (globally, marriage is still considered a serious financial transaction, with dowries and bride-prices transacted as a way of allowing wealthy families to align themselves with other wealthy families).

For many women, the duty to marry well may also have produced great sadness. Once she was stuck in a loveless marriage, a woman often became isolated, her risk of domestic violence increased, her risk of death through child birth increased, and she had no option but to fulfill her conjugal duties. Bucking the trend was a big risk.

During Victorian times, women could be accused of being insane if they made too much of a fuss about their lot. In fact, if a woman expressed something that the male doctors of the day did not agree with, they could deem her words as hysterical ramblings. The term ‘hysterical’ derives from the Greek word meaning ‘womb’ (hence the term ‘hysterectomy’). A deep flaw within our wombs was considered to be able to make us insane. Women could also be sent to mental asylums for having an affair or being considered too sexually excitable. Single women were particularly at risk of being accused of these supposed misdeeds.

Although as single women today we are able to own property and are not at risk of being burnt alive, there is still a lot of work to do before society truly feels comfortable with, and is genuinely supportive of, those of us who are flying solo. Especially if we are mothering.

We still burn women who are seen as pushing boundaries — now we just choose to burn them with our words.

 

N.B – Enlighten launched its in-school one hour “Loveability”workshops for teen girls this week! The response so far from our clients has been phenomenal. To find more about this, visit our web site – www.enlighteneducation.com

You may also wish to read the A4 flyer here: LOVEABILITY – IN SCHOOL PROGRAM. 

NSW teachers can also join Nina and I at a special book launch for educators being hosted at Harper Collins. FREE copies of our book, and a fabulous teacher resource kit, will be distributed to particpants. There is no cost for this but those interested must RSVP:

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Click on both images to enlarge and read Invitation details.

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Advice to teen girls around safety.

Because there has been so much (often furious and ultimately, therefore, alienating and unhelpful ) discussion on Mia Freedman’s recent post on girls and personal safety , I hesitated to post my ABC radio interview on this very topic. The topic is a minefield as passions run deep – and rightly so – it is a very serious issue. But I think we need to be open to talking and listening. When listening to the interview, keep in mind too I work with girls who are not yet of the legal drinking age; although of course many of these girls do binge drink and are damaging their health / injuring themselves / making poor choices as a result.

So I shall post – encouraged by this email just in:

Hi Dannielle,

I heard you interviewed yesterday on local Brisbane ABC radio in the wake of the Mia F column/blog on young women’s drinking heightening their vulnerability to sexual assault.I just wanted to express my admiration for how much you drew on relevant research – and far beyond the typical throwaway line “the research tells us” but actual results and studies – to strengthen your already compelling arguments. I’ve worked in and with the not-for-profit sector for most of my career in research-based roles and it’s always such a pleasure to hear someone walking the talk re evidence.As the Qld convenor for the Aust Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY), I see one of my principal tasks as fostering more Danni Millers.

Love the whole emphasis and philosophy of Enlighten Education, esp with a beautiful 12 and a half year old daughter about to start high school next year!

Best wishes,
Dr. Geoffrey WoolcockSenior Research Fellow – Quality and Research
Wesley Mission

 

You may listen here. Happy to take comments but let’s keep them respectful and keep in mind that no-one wants to see young women harmed, or shamed.

If you listen past my interview to the callers, you will see that there are still some crazy notions about women and safety that need to be addressed.

The Scottish web site This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me is an excellent resource should you wish to challenge myths about sexual assault: http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/home/

 

I’m a Feminist – Loud and Proud

I  recently returned to United World College (UWC) Singapore, at both the Dover and East Campuses, to follow up on the work I did there in April, and to meet some of the young women I had not yet had the opportunity to “Enlighten”. What an amazing, inspiring and humbling few days!

On a personal note, the young women at Dover gave me a rock-star reception and spontaneously cheered me all the way through the school grounds to the car park. If only I had had a video to capture this moment – although I probably wouldn’t have been able to film as I was crying with joy. What had made these girls so engaged?

Much of what I did this trip was around engaging girls to the broader women’s movement. For me, finding Feminism as a teen girl felt very much like finding Home. Finally, a place where I felt known, understood, accepted and challenged! I still find the sisterhood to be the most incredible source of inspiration and validation. What a joy then to be able to introduce the next generation to a movement that is still very much needed – and in desperate need of their perspectives!

One of the ways in which I connect young girls to Feminism through Enlighten’s Real Girl Power workshop is through humour (which is a great way too of instantly debunking any “feminists can’t be fun” stereotypes). We begin by exploring what popular culture will often tell us girl-power should look like and deconstruct how the phrase has been used to sell women everything from cleaning products to super-stomach-sucking-elastic pants (irony much?).

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I then love to get the teachers involved by inviting them up too to do an impromptu dance to the ultimate girl-power group – The Spice Girls; “Yo I tell you what I want, what I really, really want…” I am always thrilled how well teachers embrace this – and yes, the girls absolutely go crazy! And from this platform of humour and critical analysis, we begin exploring (in the words of Ginger, Posh, Baby, Sporty and Scary) what it is that women “really, really want.”

Slide I use showing my involvement (along with with many other women and young girls) at recent "Pull The Pin" rallies against child beauty pageants.
Slide I use showing my involvement (along with with many other women and young girls) at recent “Pull The Pin” rallies against child beauty pageants.

The big issues I chose to help girls deconstruct include the participation and treatment of women in politics, in the workplace, and in the sporting arena. We also then reflect on the issue of violence against women. Girls are invariably shocked and outraged at some of the statistics I share and are soon questioning what they too can do to rectify things. I then offer a “call to action” – I do not want girls feeling a sense of despair, but rather I want them engaged to be change-makers. Girls are encouraged (and shown) how to speak-up through participation in protests and petitions. And I hand out our very popular “Girl Caught” stickers which encourage young women to speak back to marketers that portray women in a negative way.

Enlighten's "Girl Caught" stickers
Enlighten’s “Girl Caught” stickers

And finally, I love to show the girls just how broad, embracing (and cool!) Club Feminist really is by highlighting what their teachers think about the movement. Prior to presenting at UWC I asked the staff to email me their pictures and tell me why they are Feminists. I then collated their responses into a PowerPoint presentation. Below are just a few of the many responses I received:

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I invited girls to also share their “Loud and Proud” photos at Enlighten’s Instagram page. We are starting to get some amazing contributions and would welcome yours too. Use the hash tags below to ensure we find your contribution and can share it:

Follow us! The page is Administrated by 17tear old student Lauren Muscatt. We are so proud of the work she is doing there to offer our followers powerful, positive messages and connect them to the Enlighten cyber-community.
Follow us! The page is Administrated by 17 year old student Lauren Muscatt. We are so proud of the work she is doing there to offer our followers powerful, positive messages and connect them to the Enlighten cyber-community.

What could you do to connect more young people to the Feminist movement? Love to hear your ideas.

P.S. Real Girl Power is one of the many workshops Enlighten offers as part of its half or full day programs. If your girls have already had either a half-day or full-day Enlighten Education program in the past, they are eligible to have this offered as a special stand-alone 1hr follow-up workshop.
Contact us at Enlighten HQ if you are interested in this : 1300 735 997
Or email us: enquiries@enlighteneducation.com 

So Much To Tell You

The last few weeks have been something of whirlwind. I have been presenting to hundreds of teen girls in Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney – and am off to Melbourne and Singapore shortly too.

And oh how wonderful it was to have this on-the-ground work externally recognised by Prevention Australia Magazine. This month I was honoured to be included in their annual “40 Most Inspiring Women Over 40” issue; listed as a “Game Changer” alongside such incredible women as Jessica Rowe, Ita Buttrose, Quentin Bryce and Penny Wong!

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Click on image to enlarge:
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It was also wonderful to have the opportunity to return to Channel 9’s “Mornings” program to discuss the ridiculous weight jibes that were directed towards fashion model Jessica Gomes:

And finally, the audio from the session I chaired at the Sydney Opera House’s “All About Women” conference, “Bringing Up Daughters,” was uploaded. You may access it here:

Audio – Bringing Up Daughters – Sydney Opera House, 7th April, 2003.

This conversation is really thought provoking and features insights from my panellists Nigel Marsh, Maya Newell and Barbara Toner. Unfortunately, the audio gets stuck about 25 seconds in, but if you scroll past this point you will be able to listen to the entire hour. It may be worth listening as a staff / parent body and then discussing some of the key questions I posed yourselves? Questions may include:

  • In her book Leaning In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg cites research showing that parents treat sons and daughters differently. They talk to girl babies more than boys, and spend more time comforting and hugging girls than watching them play by themselves. Mothers also overestimate the crawling abilities of their sons and underestimate it in their daughters. And Sandberg says, ‘When a girl tries to lead, she is often labelled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend.’ She argues that the fact we treat girls and boys differently from a young age is one of the reasons there are so few women in leadership positions. Do you think that parents can subconsciously restrict the opportunities of their daughters?
  • Does new technology mean we need to change the way we parent, or are the fundamentals still the same?
  • One of the big social changes of the past decade or so that worries a lot of parents is how easy it has become to access porn. Pornography was always there—but now it’s everywhere, and it’s increasingly hard core. University of NSW research noted that 28 percent of 9–16-year-olds had seen sexual material online, which means that by the time parents settle down to have ‘the talk’ with their kids about sex education, chances are their kids have already formed their own ideas about what sex is, based on a porn ideal. So how should we talk to our daughters about sex and about the big difference between porn sex and real-life sex?
  • Most parents are juggling an extraordinary workload these days as well as running a household. The first thing many of us do each day is grab our phone and start checking emails and texts, and it doesn’t stop till we got to bed that night. A lot of us end up feeling exhausted and overwhelmed—but it’s not just parents. At my company Enlighten Education we run relaxation workshops for girls because they are increasingly stressed by an overscheduled life, an online world that never turns off and the pressure they feel to achieve. How important is it for our children that we set the tone by making healthy choices and finding a work/life balance ourselves?
  • What is the most valuable thing that you learned from your own parents that you wish all daughters could learn?

Videos that move

This week I want to share three of the videos I’ve watched recently that have deeply moved me.

The first is a TED Talk by Jackson Katz, Ph.D. The YouTube clip describes Katz as:

…an anti-sexist activist and expert on violence, media and masculinities. An author, filmmaker, educator and social theorist, Katz has worked in gender violence prevention work with diverse groups of men and boys in sports culture and the military, and has pioneered work in critical media literacy. Katz is the creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which advocates the ‘bystander approach’ to sexual and domestic violence prevention. You’ve also seen him in the award winning documentary ‘MissRepresentation.’

I felt compelled to share this with all my male friends and was so pleased that they too found Katz’ talk so very powerful; I trust you will also want to share it and use it as a stimulus for some vital conversations.

In a similar vein, Patrick Stewart (the actor best known for his roles in various sci-fi’s) beautifully articulates why violence against women is a choice a man should never make:

And finally, a video that touched me in a very personal way. This was made by teen girl Tanya Shanmugharaj, a student at United World College in South East Asia. I had the pleasure of meeting Tanya and her incredible classmates and educators on a recent trip to Singapore; I presented to all the Grade 6,7 and 8 girls and keynoted at the College’s Middle School Conference. How could one not feel enormously humbled and thrilled to witness these girls’ passion and gratitude for the lessons I was privileged to share with them about empowerment? Wow.

Raising Girls – My recent work in the Illawarra region

The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre was the the charity recipient for this year’s Illawarra International Women’s Day committee event for their project “Empowering Young Women of the Illawarra.” The Project enabled the Centre to offer our Enlighten Education workshops to over 500 Year 8 students from the area, and to also offer parents and Educators sessions that aim to help ensure sustainability of the work.

I had the opportunity to speak to the local press about why this work matters:

…we want to create – a generation of young women who actually think it’s fantastic and exciting to be a woman, that don’t see themselves as being victims or as being at the mercy of marketers and media.We want them to feel that they can actually talk back and re-shape their world to better suit them, and they can.

The many emails I received afterwards from the young women I worked with on the day highlight just how vital this work is. The following are shared with permission from the girls who sent these to me; both wanted others to also know just how challenging it can be to be a girl in a culture that is not always very kind:

Click on image to enlarge to read

 

Click on image to enlarge to read

WIN 9 News featured our work in their News bulletin that evening. I am very proud of the girls’ honest and heart-felt responses. I love too that the vision captured some of the incredible energy from the day. As event organiser Samantha Karmel commented, “…they had a ball – tears of sadness and of joy.”

With some of the amazing teen girls from the Illawarra region

Yes. If we capture girls’ hearts, their minds will follow.

Let’s empower and inform our girls so that they can then turn their critical gaze away from their own bodies and the bodies of their peers, and instead direct it outwards towards the media and our broader culture. As Naomi Wolf declared in her book The Beauty Myth back in 1991, “We don’t need to change our bodies, we need to change the rules.”

Amen!

Myth busting – creating a new dialogue with young men

When I first co-founded Enlighten Education with my partner Francesca Kaoutal back in 2003, the vision was to create workshops for both girls and boys that would inform, inspire and empower. Our initial work with boys was launched via an innovative and explorative program called “Tribal Zone.”

Extract from original flyer, 2004.

Although Fran and I were happy with the outcomes from this pilot program, at the time we both felt that our energies needed to be channelled into the urgent business of working with young women and also felt apprehensive about leading boys into an exploration of manhood. Surely this was mens’ business?

Fast forward 8 years and my own son, Kye, is now 11.  As my career began in the classroom, and I spent 8 years working as both an English teacher and a students at risk co-ordinator, I have witnessed first-hand just how challenging adolescence is for many young men. The pressures placed on boys to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and to fit narrow definitions of masculinity now, more than ever, seem particularly urgent for me to help address. Whilst my son begins to prepare for High School next year, I too again feel the need to offer education that will help make the transition from boyhood to manhood more joyful and equip him, and all boys, with skills to make sense of a world that is not always kind to either gender.

Increasingly too schools have been asking me to work with their young men and share many of the messages I give to girls with their boys. Sydney’s Cranbrook School  recently asked me to work with their middle school boys on developing conflict resolution skills, and on how they could best develop positive friendships.
I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and left feeling that I had indeed helped to make a difference.

So I recently approached colleague Nina Funnell to collaborate with me on designing a new workshop aimed at raising boys up. Nina is a writer, social commentator and an anti-violence advocate- she and I recently finished a book for girls on respectful relationships which will be published by Harper Collins in 2014.

The result? A two hour workshop that busts myths about boys. Some of the myths we bust include: “Teen boys are bad news”, “Real men don’t cry”, “All gamers are socially inept geeks,” “Boys punch on and then move on” and “All strong men have six-packs.”  We do not assume to tell boys how to be men, but rather use our expertise in engaging young people to educate them to make their own decisions, and we equip them with the skills they need to make better choices. And we draw on the wisdom of men in leadership roles:

 

Slide from “Busting Myths About Boys & Men” – we have been touched by the willingness of prominent men to provide us with their insights to include.
Apart from presenting boys with insights from prominent male celebrities, the boys’ own male teachers are encouraged to share their stories too.

I recently delivered this workshop to over a thousand boys from years 6 through to year 11 over the course of a week at the Australian International School In Singapore. I have to say I was beyond thrilled with the results! 95% of boys rated the session as either Very Good or Excellent, and 99% said they would recommend it. But aside from asking them what they thought of the day, we also wanted to ascertain what they wished all adults would better understand about their world. The boys’ comments were incredibly poignant and meaningful and expressed a strong desire for them to be better understood:

    • I wish adults would understand that we have feelings, we’re not perfect, we need help sometimes and we don’t have a perfect body. Ned, yr 9
    • I wish adults would understand that it’s a lot harder than most parents would suspect (being a boy) because of various things such as media. Kieran, Yr 9
    • I liked the performance thing, it gave us a chance to try.  I learnt that we are not the troublemakers.  We are hard on our life, so please be soft on us. Anon.Yr 9
    • Today I learnt that assertiveness works, aggressiveness doesn’t work, talking face to face is always better and that chicks want nice guys.  Adults need to understand that being a teen boy we have a lot of pressure. Anton, Yr 9
    • Adults need to understand that playing video games isn’t bad, and can also be helpful.  I learnt today that boys have feelings, aggression isn’t always the answer and to be assertive. Dylan, yr 9
    • I wish adults would understand that I’m a good child and do the right thing. Andy, Yr 9
    • I learnt today to be assertive, express yourself, don’t have to be buff, games aren’t socially inept and talk in person about troubles. I wish adults would understand that we aren’t all trouble, sometimes we hide our struggles, we can be good at communicating and the pressure about our bodies. Joel, Yr 9
    • I wish adults would understand that boys also feel pressure.  Girls might seem all weak (which is sexist) but even boys have emotions. We aren’t all those buff powerhouses like everyone thinks. Dalai, yr 7
    • I liked learning how we are influenced because it was interesting. I learnt to give time, be calm, men cry, be assertive and boys aren’t always bad. Zac, Yr 7
    • I wish adults would understand that teen boys aren’t all bad and that we can be smart, organized, clean, healthy and independent. Wayne, Yr 7
    • I liked the information you gave us about reality and the truth about growing up.  I wish adults would understand the stress of school, making friends and our troubles and needs.  Anon, Yr y8
    • Today taught me about social media, myths about boys, dealing with friends, how to keep calm and stereotypes about boys.  I wish adults would understand that we can be good and to let us get out more. Kahn, Yr 7
    • My favourite part today was listening to a well-structured and hilarious presentation with issues that are extremely relevant. I learnt that there are many stereotypes surrounding boys, ways to solve problems and conflict, there are similarities between boys and girls, boys aren’t as strong as depicted by the media and that the level of intelligence of boys and girls is the same. I want adults to understand that we get stressed with assignments and other homework tasks at times. Kevin, Yr 10
    • All of it was great and it gave us useful advice. I learnt that some adults acknowledge that their reasoning my be incorrect or exaggerated. I want adults to remember that they had their own equivalent stereotypes when they were growing up. Hahn, Yr 10
    • My favourite parts were the interactive ones. I learnt that we aren’t all heartless Neanderthals, violence against women goes unnoticed and not all guys just want sex. I would like adults to know that we aren’t as dumb as we are depicted. Ben, Yr 11
    • I expected it to be a long boring speech but I liked everything, it was exciting and I wasn’t bored. I learnt that not all guys are bad, how to make up with friends, there are a lot of myths about guys and the target market for boys and girls is very different.  I would like adults to know that I am not like the bad boys on tv and I hope they don’t compare me to them. Jonathan, yr 11

Perhaps the thing that moved me the most though was not so much the boys’ words, but rather their actions. Many lined up to give me a hug good-bye. Or to shake my hand. Or simply to give me a “High-5”. I found myself quite overwhelmed by the enthusiastic way in which they embraced these messages, I even had boys running up to me in the playground throughout the course of the week to thank me yet again.

Working with young women will always be a priority. Yet I cannot help but feel excited about the impact this work may have on young men too – and of course on the women in their lives who will be positively impacted by the changes we are helping to create.

To enquire about having me work with the boys at your school email: dannimiller@me.com. Please note, this work is run independently and is not part of Enlighten Education’s programs. 

 

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