Mercy girls sit at desks in classroom S21 during a busy club meeting. Four club leaders sit at the front of the room, giving a presentation of women in magazine ads, movie billboards, and on social media. Club members openly add input after each slide. Students don’t raise their hands during the discussion, but rather speak whenever an idea emerges.
Female Empowerment Movement (FEM) club was created a year ago by a group of Mercy girls the summer after their freshman year of high school. Clare Brees-Oswald, Maria Pizzo, and Brooklyn Rue – who are now all juniors – gathered at the mall, wrote a proposal, e-mailed social studies teacher Ms. Abigail Youngerman requesting her to be the club’s moderator, and waited for approval.
The club’s first year was experimental. There were several general meetings about the premise of feminism, types of feminism, and women’s issues like domestic violence, date rape, female genital mutilation, and wage inequality. The club has now accumulated a steady group of members who attend regularly and has a greater ability to delve into topics more deeply.
“Since last year was our first year, we were kind of just going with the flow,” said Pizzo. “We didn’t really know what to expect for our meetings in terms of attendance and how the school would react to some of the topics of the meetings we had. Throughout last year and this year, we have brainstormed about the things we would like to accomplish and I think this year we know the ropes a bit better.”
This year, FEM club has already presented on what it truly means to be a woman, the struggles women undergo daily, the corrupt global treatment of women, and the media’s representation of women. These discussions occur during regular club days and alternating Mondays.
Second semester is a time of possibility for the club. The group hopes to hold a self-defense class open to the entire school, orchestrate a pad and tampon drive for young women in Uganda who do not have access to feminine products, host guest speakers, and possibly volunteer at a women’s shelter.
“Being that all four leaders are juniors this year, as a collective group we discovered early on that our hectic and rigorous schedules might interfere with our dedication to the club,” said Brees-Oswald. “However, feeling deeply for the cause, FEM club is planning more outreach programs and volunteer opportunities so that the Mercy community can truly act on their strong, feminist values.”
“Some ideas for upcoming meetings include Disney’s representation of women and how that affects young girls, the treatment of women in times of war, as well as women’s lack of political representation, particularly women of color.
“We do our best to bring fresh discussion topics to the table, but the most important aspect to FEM club is the impact members have on each other and on us as leaders,” said Brees-Oswald. “These discussions are particularly important because this diverse group of women [is] our future.”