The Be Project: Empowering Youth to be part of the solution to end relationship violence

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Mar 24, 2017

Let’s Teach Our Girls to Be Assertive! : By Nikki Head

How many times have you caught yourself saying “I’m sorry…” before telling someone how you feel? I’d venture to guess that if you answered ‘yes,’ you are a woman. I’m guilty of using limiting language myself, except I have finally noticed this is a bad habit and am working on changing the narrative for the young girls I reach.


As prevention educators, we go into schools to challenge preexisting ideas about gender that contribute to relationship violence. Whenever our facilitators are in the classroom doing an activity known as “Gender Box,” in which we explore stereotypes related to masculinity and femininity, nearly every group of young people says that men are supposed to be the boss, while women are expected to be less brash and blunt. I’ve witnessed this tremendous pressure for girls to fit into this feminine role. In the classrooms, male students constantly talk over their female peers or answer for them. Girls are often more timid, arguably not by their default personality, but rather the constant bombardment from society, to be timid.  


These messages are hurting young girls often searching for their identities. When we tell young girls that they must mask or alter their messages, we are essentially telling them that they don’t matter. Girls who ask for what they need, say how they feel, and raise their voices are ostracized or bullied. This is a genuine fear shared by many girls of being seen as bossy or being labeled aggressive. This can lead to disadvantages later in life relationships and professional arenas. Teen girls’ self-limiting speech can be seen in the way they begin sentences. For example, girls will begin to explain something by saying “I don’t really know but…,”  “no offense but…,” or “I’m sorry but….” These passive speech habits make it seem as though what girls have to say is not as important as what boys have to say.


Studies show women on average receive less compensation for work, with a contributing factor being that women are socialized against asking for what they want or deserve. Messages from an early age tell girls not to promote their own interests and to focus instead on the needs of others, but we want to change that! It’s essential as an adult influencer to help girls gain a sense that what they have to say should be heard. Here are some tips to help girls build their confidence and become assertive:


  • Build a vocabulary of feeling words: It is necessary to know and express your emotions in order to hold your own in a relationship.
  • Encourage debate: Let her know that she does not always have to be agreeable. She is entitled to having a different opinion, while contributing to discussions and standing up for what she believes in.
  • Role Play: Practice being assertive! Come up with potential conflicts or confrontations and help them to come up with ways of handling it. Try using “I Statements”. 
  • Let her talk: Whether you’re a parent or teacher, let young girls have the freedom and safety to give their opinions. Nurture her confidence by asking her opinions and insight. If you are a teacher, don’t allow the boys in the room to talk over girls or cut them off.
  • Use re-direction strategies: Anytime a young girl uses self-limiting language or speech, encourage her to clarify what she means and to be direct with her thoughts.
  • Point out positive media: Always has a great series of commercials about breaking gender stereotypes. It’s crucial to discuss how the media portrays women and have a conversation about changing norms.
  • Provide leadership opportunities: Let her be in charge of planning and executing events, outings, or group projects.


These simple steps can have a tremendous impact on girls growing up to believe they are strong! As adult influencers, we can make these small changes in our interactions with the girls in our home, classrooms, youth centers, and communities. Sometimes assertiveness is tough for girls, especially when they are trying to be people-pleasers…but remind them that by speaking up, they are taking care of themselves!


Feb 24, 2017

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month 2017: by Janet Dowell

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. In Be Project we help young people understand that dating or domestic violence is about power and control. When one person wants power and control over another and tries to gain that or when there is an imbalance of power and control, the likelihood of abuse increases. That abuse may be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or even technological; regardless of the type, the underlying issues are power and control.


This imbalance of power and control has long been an issue in our society as a whole. Those who have power want to keep that power and those without yearn for power of their own. While there has been progress toward equality for all, there are many examples of how our country has struggled with the concept of what is equal and how that plays out in day to day functioning. The most recent example I can think of is the Women’s Marches that happened across the country on January 21, 2017.

(Women of all ages gathered to hear speakers of all ages including America Ferrera encourage the unifying of women to stand up for equality.)

There were many different takes on why this march was happening, but regardless of the various issues involved, the underlying struggle is a fight for equal power and control – over women’s lives, women’s bodies, and even women’s voices. The march was intended to be a nonviolent gathering to show how many people care about the well-being of women and that will support their struggles for equality. And, as we have seen with past movements, the overall societal atmosphere trickles down into our personal lives and our personal relationships.


If our young people continue to see that women are paid 80 cents to the dollar that men are paid, how are they to think that women are equal in all ways? They see that we’ve never had a woman as president, that we have mostly male doctors, male scientists, male astronauts, etc. How is this not going to affect the way they see their dating relationships? After all, we still live by the old adage that boys are supposed to do the asking, the driving, and the paying. That is a powerful role we give them simply for being boys. There is example after example of how we give the power to males or simply give the impression that the power belongs to the male. I would like to see young people have conversations about what equality in relationships looks like, how they would like it to play out in their personal relationships, and maybe even challenge each other to step out of the box they are told to be in by society. Still, in 2017, I ask high school students all the time why the male is supposed to do the asking. Inevitably the answer is … “Because … they just are.” Then I ask the girls if they sit around and wait, hoping the boy they think is cute will notice them and will ask them out. When I ask them if that feels powerful, they laugh and say “no” and understand that they aren’t grasping the bull by its horns with this decision, yet they still think the boy needs to ask. They think it is “desperate” or “thirsty” for a girl to ask a boy out. This is something they’ve been taught by society, or their parents who were taught by society. It isn’t something they invented. It’s a belief that keeps the power in only one person’s hands as to whether a relationship even begins or not. I would love to see young ladies take control of their own lives, embrace their own power, and make the decisions about relationships independently of whether the cute boy takes notice and asks her out.



When we take control of our own life decisions, we own our power. That’s not to have power over someone else, but power over ourselves not just in personal relationships but in every decision we make. That’s why we have larger actions like the Women’s March happening. Big events that are newsworthy, public movements that fight for equality have effects that trickle down in positive ways to show everyone that women do matter, that many, many people believe that women deserve equal treatment not just in the workplace but also in the home and in relationships. Since 1 in 3 teens experiences violence in a dating relationship according to loveisrespect, I hope they see the march as validation that they do deserve equality, that they deserve equality not only in terms of their societal rights, but also in terms of their dating relationships.  I hope also that they see events like the Women’s March as inspiration and motivation to do whatever they can to stand up for equality and to build their own balanced relationships, because  until society is more balanced, we will continue to see imbalances in dating and domestic relationships.

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