By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Around 170 girls from throughout Eastern Oregon spent all day Saturday figuring out that they didnt have to make the life choices that many sources including boys, the media, and, often, each other say they ought to make.
The Sister to Sister Summit, held at Baker High School and sponsored by the American Association of University Women, was billed as a jam-packed, fun-filled day to empower and appreciate girls from all over Eastern Oregon.
It delivered on that promise by hosting five workshops that addressed everything from surfing the Web safely to appreciating friendships.
A spate of studies indicates that girls age 10 through 15, the target audience of Saturdays event, are seeing themselves in an increasingly negative light, said organizer Dana Stone.
Theyre feeling trapped, she said. Many are moving away from their peer groups and toward adulthood, and some are moving too fast, because girls mature so much faster than boys do at this age. Were hoping to change lives today. We hope that something that is said or something they experience will change the course theyre headed for.
In one workshop called The American Ideal, Liz Estabrooks surveyed magazine ads that featured sullen, semi-dressed women, often partnered with fully-dressed, happier-looking men. The ads touted everything from clothing to make-up.
Pay attention to how you feel when you look at this stuff, Estabrooks told the girls. Were assaulted daily with these images. Wanting to look good is not a bad thing, but if it defines who you are, then its a problem.
Estabrooks noted that photos that would more appropriately appear in Playboy are showing up in magazines like Seventeen. She suggested that the girls contact advertisers directly to remedy the situation.
Money is power, and all of you have the power to make a difference, she said. E-mail the company when their ads make you uncomfortable. And if you like their ad, let them know that, too.
In a workshop entitled United We Stand, staffers and volunteers from the Portland-based Girls Initiative Network encouraged participants to make allies much like the disparate Rebel Alliance formed partnerships in the Star Wars movies to fight the Dark Side.
You dont have to go to each others slumber parties, but when push comes to shove, be there for each other, advised Lara Blanck-Weiss.
Girls had to come up with skits to demonstrate they knew how to form alliances. Most dealt with that bane of the middle school years excessive teasing.
In The Baby Factor, four electronic babies helped Colleen Grigg lead students through how having a baby changes ones life. During the morning sessions, teen parents spoke about the rigors of parenting at a young age.
Grigg gave the girls a tool to take home with them, an exercise called Having a no in your back pocket. The girls made cards that spelled out refusal techniques the girls could use when somebody asks them to participate in high-risk or inappropriate activity.
While workshop participants worked on their cards, Grigg distributed the four dolls. Congratulations! she said. Youve just become a mama. But just because you have a baby doesnt mean you dont have to get your work done.
Middle school teacher Shandra Lee and teacher assistant Joni Kenworthy took students through an expressive writing workshop. Students came up with 11-line poems describing their interests and family life.
Our aim is to get students to express themselves through their writing, Lee said. The hard part is to get them to reflect on their personality. Taking a look at who you are and sharing it with other people is a difficult thing, but theyre being very diligent about it.
Computer teacher Taryn Suchy led students through a series of websites designed specifically for girls, including cosmogirl.com and smartgirl.com . She also reviewed safe practices for entering computer chat rooms.
Just before the lunch break, Baker County sheriffs deputy Sharon Bass led a workshop designed to show girls how to avoid dangerous situations and how to physically defend themselves.
About two dozen Baker High School students also participated. The girls served as big sisters for participants, shepherding them to the various workshops and answering questions as needed.
Girls Initiative Network program director Annette Klinefelter, who served as the summits keynote speaker, said that despite the strides that girls and women have made recently from increased participation in athletics to higher enrollment in medical and law schools self-esteem issues continue to hold many girls back.
Substance abuse and teen pregnancy rates are directly related to self-esteem, she said. Todays young girls are doing incredibly well, and they dont even know it. With the pressure of the gender box, where were obsessed with boys or with getting attention based on our physical appearance, were almost stopping each other.
Our real strength is our ability to dream big, to believe in our potential. Its about girls believing in girls.