meet roberta lindal of La Petite Écolière

Tell me about yourself! Who is Roberta Lindal?

My name is Roberta Lindal and I am an advocate for girls and women's right to education. I was born and raised in Toronto and went to Western University for Language and Linguistics in London. During my undergrad, I was fortunate enough to spend several stints abroad both as a student, volunteer and an intern in Barcelona, London, UK and Nice, France. These experiences opened my eyes to some of the issues children and girls face in pursuit of their education and inspired me to start this company!

For those who aren't familiar, what is La Petite Écolière and how did it come to be?

La Petite Écolière is an apparel line that launched in September, 2017 with the mission to inspire a dedication for education. For every ten products purchased, we donate essential school supplies and meal programs for one child in a developing country through Plan International Canada. To date, we have been able to help 8 children thanks to our customers, and we plan to help many more! Our products are imagined, designed and Made in Toronto, Canada - and we ship worldwide.

I started La Petite Écolière after having spent several years volunteering and working at charities promoting education and entrepreneurship for youth. It dawned on me that girls here in Canada are being left behind in STEM disciplines at the undergraduate and career level. This is what inspired La Petite Écolière - the idea that if we can spark the interests of girls in science at an early enough age, we can get them interested and engaged in these important disciplines.

What started as a girlswear line is quickly expanding to adult wear, due to great demand from customers. We recently launched a unisex sweatshirt for adults and it is awesome to see the support from both men and women for the company and our mission! And we are hard at work on some new designs for 2018.

Your mission is founded on the belief that education for girls is a right, not a privilege. Why is this important to you?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a country and at a time where girls are allowed to go to school. So much progress has been made in Canada thanks to the women who fought for these rights in the past, and it is easy to think the work is done. But, when you look at the disparity in numbers of women in the C-suite, and in STEM careers, it is clear that we still have a long way to go in removing barriers and biases against women.

On a global scale, it is even more important to continue fighting for rights for girls and women. In many countries, girls face violence and discrimination of all types which hold them back, and even shorten their lifespan. Some barriers include poverty (cost of uniforms and supplies, or need to bring income to the family), stigma surrounding menstruation, long distances to school and child marriage and early pregnancy. Education is not only important for girls to help lift them out of poverty, but it is also important to educate communities and change the attitudes of girls being seen as "less" than boys. A study from UNESCO shows that globally, if all women completed their education, there would be 66% fewer maternal deaths as mothers would be more informed about diseases and preventative measures, and would be more likely to access healthcare services for themselves and their children. Not only that, but investing in girls' education will pay dividends: girls who have an education can better contribute to their communities and countries as leaders and innovators.

You donate school meals, supplies, and teacher training. How do these tools aid in the success of young girls?

For every ten shirts and sweatshirts sold, we donate school essentials for one girl through Plan International Canada. This donation not only helps provide textbooks and pencils, but also goes toward funding meal programs, teacher training, and programs that reduce school violence and improve school hygiene. By providing these tools and creating a safe environment for girls, they are able to attend school regularly and not be distracted by hunger or unsafe conditions.

What message do you hope to send with your merch--especially for any youngsters who might be wearing the empowering apparel?

The message that I want to send to young girls is that education is so important, and that they can achieve anything through learning. And that being a nerd is OK too. So much of the clothing marketed towards young girls are pink and frilly and gendered toys (which is smart marketing for toy companies looking to earn more) can actually harm child development. And while that is okay, and there is a place for that, I think there also needs to be space to let girls know that it is also OK to be interested in science, outer-space and dinosaurs. Those interests shouldn't be reserved for boys. I think much of what we think are natural tendencies for girls to be interested in dolls are acquired through nurture not nature, and the messages we send through the clothing and toys we choose for girls.

How can others help in supporting your mission in our own lives?

Talk to the young girls in your life about education. Ask them what they are learning, ask them what inspires them, encourage resilience and hard work! Children are very sensitive to social cues and by being aware of how we interact with young girls, and the toys and products we choose to give them, we can send more positive messages and values about education and what they are capable of.

Are there any charities or initiatives that you're currently inspired by?

Plan International is the charity that I choose to support through La Petite Écolière. They are a development and humanitarian organization that advances children's rights and equality for girls. Plan operates in 52 developing countries worldwide and drives change in practice and policy at local, national and global levels They empower children, young people and communities to make vital changes that tackle the root causes of discrimination against girls. When it comes to education and getting girls back in the classroom, their Because I Am A Girl initiative works with communities around the world to help keep schools safe for girls, provide school feeding programs, offer incentives to parents to send their daughters in school, educate boys and men about gender equality, and challenging gender roles and stereotypes in communities on the importance of girls' rights and gender equality.

What advice do you have for young women living in this world today?

My advice would be to put yourself out there and take steps toward your dreams. It may sound cheesy, but the old adage "dreams don't work unless you do" is so true. I had been quietly making plans and dreaming about this company for two years before I finally decided to incorporate and launch. The support from friends and people who hear about the company has been incredible. Once I started putting myself out there and reaching out to people and asking for help, I was taken aback by how much people are willing to support the mission!

an interview with fgrls club

From one empowering community to another - Girls & Glory’s Amy Beecham talks to FGRLS Club aka Chloe Laws and Sara Macauley about creating their own online community and how lifting the voices of others helps them find their own.

Talk to me about FGRLS Club’s mission.  

C: The aim is to provide a non-bullshit platform for millennial, free-thinking, feminists. I’m passionate about showing that our interests aren’t mutually exclusive; with content ranging from the high to the low, from challenging abortion legislation, to talking about blowjobs. We want to showcase diverse, strong, female voices, within an environment that’s supportive and safe.

S: We both love writing ourselves and wanted to create somewhere where we could voice our opinions. We're now at a stage where we're getting submissions from really talented writers and sassy feminists and we're so proud to be able to give them a platform - and it's great to be able to read and enjoy the work of people we haven't come across before.

FGRLS isn’t trying to be super academic or highbrow - it’s as much a place for ‘cultural fluff’ as it is for more serious topics. I love reading about other people’s dating horror stories and times they felt anxious or inadequate - it’s a reminder that we’re all the same.

What do your readers take away hope people who read your site take away from it?

C: I hope our readers feel comforted, educated and inspired. Our website is eclectic; from interviews with successful career-women, to horror dating stories and personal essays on mental health. I want our readers to feel part of our content, to relate to it and engage.

S: I love the idea that our readers can come on the site and find something that resonates with them. FGRLS isn't trying to be super academic or highbrow - it's as much a place for 'cultural fluff' as it is for more serious topics. I love reading about other people's dating horror stories and times they felt anxious or inadequate - it's a reminder that we're all the same. I hope our readers get that feeling when they read our articles.

What inspired you to create a site yourselves?

C: I founded FGRLS Club just over a year ago, as I wanted something to pour all my passion into. My 9-to-5 is in fashion, and as much as I love it, feminism is where my heart’s at – I wanted to create something that could make a difference. We all have those ideas churning away at the back of our minds, and it’s easy to put off creating something through fear of failing, but one day my mind just switched, and I thought fuck it. If not me, then who?  

S: Chloe was the brains behind the site. We've been friends for a couple years and always chatted about doing something together, so naturally, when she founded FGRLS I was straight in there to help her edit. It's so nice to have a side project going on - I work in social media and communications during the day - so running the site is a lovely way to make sure I'm keeping up with writing and doing something cool.

Have there been any challenges?

C: It’s all about prioritising and self-care. When you work 11-hour days, it can be hard to get motivated, but when there’s passion there’s a way. I’ve learned to utilise my time efficiently. Working on FGRLS Club during my ‘white-space’ hours; writing on the tube, answering emails in the bath, that kind of thing. The biggest help has been the amazing women I work with on FGRLS Club (looking at you Sara) – relying on each other, bouncing off ideas, having daily breakdowns in our WhatsApp chat. We’re a website about female empowerment, and that trickles down to every part of our workings. Founding a side-hustle can be challenging, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that hard work pays off, and if you create something thought-provoking with a point-of-difference, that eventually it’ll garner recognition.

S: We both work full time, and as well as that we're both normal girls with our own issues and dramas and down-days. It's been a massive help having each other and our lovely regular writers to keep us motivated, and our WhatsApp group keeps me sane when I'm going "Help I have this idea is it really stupid?" because we're not afraid to tell it like it is and equally if the girls say, "mate no, you weirdo" that's as helpful as when they're saying well done for creating a good idea or publishing a cool interview.

I’m really trying to make an active effort to read more pieces from the point of view of trans women, non-binary folks, disabled voices and people of colour, because I know that I’m in a position of privilege as a white, heterosexual female. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I think FGRLS is a great way of really pushing myself to consider issues that affect people not in a different situation to me.

Your tag line is ‘feminism, free speech, freedom & feel good’: how do you practice these in your everyday lives?

C: Feminism is, of course, the main ideal I practice in everyday life. Whether that’s calling out sexism, marching, educating myself on trans issues; it’s about consciously trying to dismantle the patriarchy, whilst understanding my own privilege better, and how to utilise it. Free speech, I’ve never had a problem with – what is a filter, and how do I get one?!

S: I was definitely a feminist long before I knew what the word meant; it's just inherent in me to fight for what I believe in and gender equality is obviously something worth fighting for. When I was younger I found myself getting really annoyed at things like when my odd uncle would tell me I should put some more clothes on but say nothing to my male cousin also wearing shorts, and I still get irked when men make 'get back in the kitchen' jokes like it's the first time the joke's ever been told. I'm really trying to make an active effort to read more pieces from the point of view of trans women, non-binary folks, disabled voices and people of colour, because I know that I'm in a position of privilege as a white, heterosexual female. I've still got a lot to learn, but I think FGRLS is a great way of really pushing myself to consider issues that affect people not in a different situation to me.

How has running the site empowered you, as women and creatives?

C: The amazing pieces we’ve published have truly empowered me – there are so, so many powerful women out there, doing the absolute most. It’s made me grow as a woman, and challenge myself creatively. When you found something, there’s no boss to blame or fall back on. It’s yours, and that’s terrifying but challenging in the best way. Creative autonomy is incredibly freeing.  

S: Running the site alongside Chloe has been incredibly empowering - we still get so excited when someone we've admired agrees to be interviewed for the site and it's SO nice to work alongside one of my best friends on something we're both so passionate about. Creatively speaking, it's a lovely feeling to be able to have an idea and charge on with it without waiting for the approval of Editors or a line manager. It's just us, and that's scary but also really cool.

Tell me a bit about your own feminist journeys.

C: How long have you got? Aha! To cut a long story short, my first feminist feelings were very self-oriented. In my early teens there was a breaking point – daily catcalls, sexist teachers, schoolboys thinking it was okay to grope you.  I remember speaking to the adults in my life about this anger I had bubbling, and they recommended certain books that began my feminist education – women like Catlin Moran put into words how I was feeling, it was comforting. Then, in more recent years, I’ve had a big learning curve with intersectional feminism. About checking my privilege as a white, hetero woman. Feminism, for me, is a constant learning curve. You can never stop learning.

S: As I mentioned earlier, I've always kind of picked up on injustices when it comes to sexism and gender inequality. I remember being in high school and having teachers telling us off for the length of our skirts and thinking, "eh? what does the length of my skirt have to do with Pythagoras theorem?" or whatever I was learning. I've always been addicted to reading magazines like Company (remember how good that was?!), blogs and sites like Refinery 29 and The Debrief, and reading about feminism and the experiences of other women in these formats when I was a teenager really shaped how I saw the world. As you say, feminism is a journey and one I'm still on and will be until I'm old and grey. There's always room for improvement.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt whilst running FGRLS club?

C: Be prepared to work your arse off. Be prepared for some people around you not to get it. Be prepared to invest, time/money/emotions, with little in return. But mostly, prepare to be so proud of the work you achieve – there’s no better feeling than saying “I did that”.

S: Seriously just do it. After Chloe took the initial step of founding the site and asked me to be involved, I had a bit of a crisis of confidence and was worried I wasn't good enough or not an educated enough feminist to be running something like this. But then I thought, actually if not me, who? I care about feminism, and writing and lifting other women up, so fuck it. Taking things into your own hands can be hard work, but it's also so worth it. Ringing a film director in Tel Aviv who's been interviewed by The Guardian and Vogue was something I thought I'd only be doing after grafting for years and landing a journo job, but here I am doing it in my lunch hour at work. If we can do it, so can you. It's a brilliant feeling.

What are your hopes for the future of the site?

C: World domination would be nice. In seriousness, I’d just like to continue to build ourselves up as a content destination that people come back to time-and-time again, and trust. I’d like to get more diverse voices, unique stories and inspirational people on site. The dream goal, for me, would be to make FGRLS Club my full-time job.

S: I'd love to see the site host more diverse voices - we're beginning to get pitches from people of all ethnicities, sexualities and genders and that's great. Keep 'em coming. I also agree that it would be amazing to see the site grow and continue to be a destination people come back to when they're on the tube or sitting on the loo at work. Having real people reading and enjoying the site is so cool, and I hope it continues.

You can find them at fgrlsclub.com, and on Twitter and Instagram.

thinking outside the cubicle

 Photo via  @saoirsenews

Photo via @saoirsenews

Only last week, I entered a women's bathroom a blubbering mess.

Ten minutes later, I strutted out that same bathroom dignified, confident, and proud. I exited that same bathroom, Alex. This new surge of self-empowerment was all due to the complete strangers who coaxed me back to life outside those cubicles, one mascara-soaked tissue dab at a time.

And it got me thinking.

Try and imagine a society where womxn treated each other the way they do in bathrooms, but all the time.

Truth be told, I can’t. I want to, but I can’t. Not now. Not yet; not until so much more has been done to make all womxn equals in today’s society.

I have never felt more like Beyoncé than the moments I have been standing *cough* swaying in six inch heels, girlfriends like a chorus of back-up dancers to my left and to my right, delivering a three minute, overly hand-gestured, poetically slurred speech to a disheartened young girl I met, say, four and a half minutes ago in the line. And, honestly, I’ve never felt more comforted than when I have stood, nodding furiously, on the receiving end of those sermons.

We’ve all been there. Haven’t we? We’ve all been on both sides at some point in our lives. I’ve lost track of the nights I’ve tended to the hurting, the howling, and the down-right heartbroken in nightclub bathrooms. Too many times have I crowned 2 AM acquaintances as the queens they are whilst generic stranger B bursts out from the next cubicle, taking the mic to preach the inadequacy of whoever has caused those late-night tears. No matter who/what/how big the situation is, there is always one constant.

They listen, and they learn.

Always.

Even if it’s just for the night, even if it’s just for the hour; even if all they remember are the fuzzy words they heard between hand-dryer blasts for those five tipsy minutes you existed in their lives.

So, why is it that wholehearted women's empowerment seems to be the vampire of the 21st century? Why is my intimate life advice to a complete stranger welcomed willingly and met with a spontaneous Instagram follow in a nightclub’s public toilet, yet, in daylight (and god forbid, out in the general public) would be considered, well, just a bit odd?

I really do think it all whittles down to two things - comfort and freedom. Having the freedom to say what you wish and feeling the comfort of knowing you won’t be judged for it is a beautiful thing. Thinking about the idea of this reminded me of home. More specifically, it reminded me of my bedroom. Remember? Those pillow-pep-talks with best friends or sisters? There is an undeniable freedom of expression which comes with having a place that you can truly call your own.

And that’s when it clicked: the bathrooms are all ours.

Womxn’s bathrooms are the only place in this gender-orientated society that we exist as one and as the only one. This means that in our tiny tile-encrusted sections of civilization, we can say and be the women we feel we could be all the time if every woman felt they had the right to do so.

The rooms are designed for privacy and discretion but we use them for the exact opposite reason because we feel we have to. Because where else do women have the complete power to speak with the guarantee of not being interrupted or de-voiced by a man?

So, I’ll ask you again - try and imagine a society where womxn treated each other the way they do in bathrooms, but all the time.

Now, strive for that. Tell a girl on the tube you love her trousers, tell a guy on the street his hair is fabulous. Tell your weeping classmate they are enough. Let’s step outside the cubicle and make everywhere feel like a womxn's bathroom.

teen vogue: the activist’s handbook none of us expected

Like many other teenage girls, the day my copy of Teen Vogue was delivered was the highlight of the month. I’d spend ages flicking through, admiring Selena Gomez’s new haircut, working out if I’d be able to pull off what Cara Delevingne was wearing last week (I never, ever could) and wondering whether Harry and Taylor were or were not a thing.

I haven’t picked up a copy in years, but I haven’t forgotten how important it was to me, and all of my friends, growing up.  Teen Vogue was our little slice of woman-hood. It made us sophisticated and kept us in the know with who was dating who and wearing what.

The same can’t be said for the new generation of TV readers. For them, the magazine they know and love is more than just celebrity gossip and disposable fashion. Since the appointment of Elaine Welteroth as editor in April 2017 – only the second African American in Conde Nast’s 107-year history to hold such a title – Teen Vogue have taken on what feels like a new identity.  Space has been made for real, raw, and often hard-hitting journalism.  How to be a good ally to the LGBTQ* community, safe spaces, intersectional feminism – all in a girl’s fashion mag. It’s unprecedented, but it really, really shouldn’t be.

Young girls ARE interested in politics. Everyone tells them they are the revolution, and yet Teen Vogue seem the only ones equipping them with the knowledge to actually be it.

What Welteroth’s TV have gotten really, really right is that diversity behind the scenes is crucial. Under her editorship, the magazine is doing so much more than just tagging along with “woke culture”. Their activism is not just for show, or a marketing ploy. Welteroth was charged with making Teen Vogue the voice of a new generation, and who can argue that she hasn’t succeeded? Her TV is paving the way for a more accepting world, tolerant of difference, which is exactly what we need right now.  

So yes, your faithful companion will still tell you that Selena and Justin have been spotted kissing in matching outfits, but on the next page over give you a list of the Powerful People Who Have Been Accused of Sexual Assault, and next to that, How to Resist Donald Trump’s America.

That’s what makes it so important – it’s multidimensional. There is space for everything, and nothing is excluded. This does mean, though, that their content is sometimes controversial. They received huge backlash for a Guide to Anal Sex they published earlier this year. Whilst many called them dangerous, careless and inappropriate for it, what they were actually doing was providing important, professional, no-holes-barred advice. The mantra TV seems to be taking is that the more we inform our young people, the better we can protect them. They understand, better than any other publication, I believe, that it’s imperative that we inform our teens better so that they can help themselves, their friends and those different from them, to deal with the world we’re living in.

Teen Vogue has had a truly epic evolution from a fluffy teen mag to a media trailblazer, leaving its un-progressive counterparts in the dust. For the first time since I was fifteen, I’m reading TV again, and feeling more informed about the world than I ever have.

 

#activism: where to find your new online girl gang

#activism: where to find your new online girl gang

Through art, poetry, song and much more, women are starting to reclaim their bodies, their stories and their spaces. Social media pages are acting as mediators so that women can connect with a larger community and find a support network that will listen to their voice.

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#activism: the new age of social change

 Photo by  Bijan Stephen

Photo by Bijan Stephen

Social media is notoriously seen as a place for self-absorbed millennials to post photos of their dogs, food and themselves. But woven in with the thousands of selfies and #ThrowbackThursday’s is a larger network of socially conscious youth using media platforms to elevate their voices and spread important messages. The internet has created a new kind of instantaneous activism, revealing the power of a seemingly meaningless like or retweet.

But it doesn’t come without its skeptics--those who worry about the sometimes passive and insincere nature of media platforms. This slacktivism, so it was called, went no deeper than posting about or sharing issues, and then logging off and returning to everyday life. It was part-time, convenient activism that made users look good to their peers, but made no real change.

In the beginning of social media activism, people worried that it was passive and insincere due to the nature of media platforms. Critics called it 'slacktivism' which was an umbrella term for people who were posting about issues or sharing their friends posts, but their activism stopped when they logged off. People were skeptical of how any real activism could be achieved on social media platforms when they are so instantaneous and update every minute. We are constantly bombarded with information and new posts, and critics were unsure of how any movement could ever be maintained in such an environment. In a speech at Dartmouth University, Shonda Rhimes told an audience that "a hashtag does not change anything, a hashtag is not a movement." The comment was intended to encourage students to put their words into action, but instead intense debate about whether “hashtag activism” really makes a difference.

So – can it?

Alcides Velasquez, a communications professor from Colombia, wrote that social media platforms can “mobilize mass amounts of youth because they are united under the hashtags”. The internet provides a place where people who are angry about or want to change something can create a community around one hashtag. It identifies the cause, and helps people to identify with it, too. Beyond a community, when something is trending on Twitter, it’s virtually inescapable. Since what is said on social media is so widely visible, if there are issues with a company or a politician, they must pay attention to it because, quite literally, the world is watching. So, whilst Shonda Rhimes may have been right in saying that a hashtag does not change anything, it certainly can be the spark that starts movements. The ability for social media platforms to connect and unite people so quickly has rewritten the rules of activism, taking into a new, bold and unchartered territory.

The interconnectivity of social media is unparalleled - information can spread around the world in a matter of minutes, making youth better informed and more in touch with world affairs. With a similar effect, the rise in celebrity culture has helped social media users engage with issues that are brought to light by people with a large following on various platforms. So, when Beyonce posted to Instagram with the hashtag #62MillionGirls as part of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign, here 100+ million followers were enlightened to the cause. The same goes for any time a person of interest tweets about #BlackLivesMatter or #MarriageEquality.

Psychologist Pamela Rutledge, who has written extensively on the ways social media is redefining activism, points out that more people are able to engage in world issues by simply sharing information around. While critics see this as a passive action, Rutledge argues that it allows people who are removed from the issue to weigh in with their own voice. In the fallout of the election of Donald Trump as American President, youth from around the world were taking a stand of solidarity with those who were afraid for what his election meant. Social media platforms allowed American youth to engage with people in other countries, to see the marches that were held in support and feel supported by the international community. Social media activism may not always be a physical action, but the way information spreads so quickly and easily is changing the game.

But activism is not limited to big movements or protests, and there are many accounts and pages that have created communities to discuss issues, spread their messages, and have their voices heard. Not only are these pages or people activists, but if their followers repost things or share their own experiences, it creates a ripple effect. People dedicate their time to building a following on media platforms and it has become possible for it to be their jobs to be activists. This new age of activism is creating very real movements and inspiring social change.

So, whilst social media platforms have a reputation for perpetuating a 'self-obsessed generation', these sites are actually able to make global connections that pave the way for action and change. It has never been easier to spread information or connect with people on the other side of the world.  On social media, everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard, and there are always people ready to listen.

This is the new age of activism. It is real and it is creating a generation that will not take no for an answer.