I love it when worlds elide, and you find yourself in a space that contains your hopes and dreams.

I had a little bit of that yesterday, when I got to participate in the #HackItBack event — the brainchild of artist/advocate Patricia Zablah— at the LowerEastSide Girls Club.


Patricia and her team created #HackItBack, a workshop to bring teen girls together with female graduate students from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program to create more positive representations of women in the media.

The event was part educational (they watched Miss Representation together on Friday evening), followed by a good bit of sleuthing (they analyzed both data and harmful media messages).

Saturday afternoon, when I joined in, was all about creating: the girls developed prototypes of their own media messages, some in direct response to specific popular publications and others that aimed to create a new, positive space.  Then, the teams presented their work to a panel of feminist artists*.  We gave the girls feedback about how, why and where their projects were powerful challenges, and suggested next steps for their projects.

The girls’ projects were provocative and insightful. A few of them actually made me want to cry, since they revealed how the girls themselves experienced much unfair pain and pressure.

There were too many wonderful things about the event to catalogue here, so let me just mention a few:

—  A personalized, intimate mentoring relationship developed

between the graduate student women and the teens on their teams. It was impressive.  Since I’d arrived a bit early, I’d set up my laptop in a corner of one of the workrooms. Two teams came in to work on their projects, and I was forced to eavesdrop on some of their conversations:

    • “Is ‘normal’ what we all want to be? How can we be ‘special’ and ‘normal’ at the same time?”
    • “What does it mean to be ‘Vine-famous’?”
    • “I’m not smart enough to narrate the video.” “Yes you are- those boys made a video and so can you.”


— It was a multi-generational, multicultural feminist conversation

… the kind we know we need to have but aren’t often able to create. The participants’ ages ran from 13 to 60. We shared our learning with each other up and down the scale of life experience, and across the spaces of different professions and cultures, for a rich, provocative mix.

— The focus was on learning and doing.

The girls really did seem empowered by taking the additional step beyond ‘learning’ to creating, and when we started to talk about what they’d made and where they could take it, this triggered a whole additional round of conversations, at a deeper level of understanding.

(There’s a tumblr for #HackItBack, which shows some of the projects the teams created. One is “Pocahontas: The Real Story”, a prototype of a game for reclaiming the stories of famous women.)

On a more personal, parenting note:

I also found myself shifting back and forth between being the ‘feminist management’ person, and being the mom-of-teens. I wished that my own daughters had been at an event like this, and I wondered what the moms of the girls *and* the graduate students would think if they could see their daughters so engaged in re-creating our world.


Later, when I talked about the day with my own girls, they reminded me of my pledge to “take my daughters to tech events” ** and wondered how soon Patricia will run the event again. They both want to go.

So, in the meantime, I offered them a print copy of Interrupt Magazine (one of the sponsors of the event) to get them up to speed on topics like D.I.Y. Feminism.

The #HackItBack event is the kind of tech/creative/advocacy project that moves us all forward.  

Nothing makes me happier and more hopeful than seeing feminists work across differences to learn together and to create something positive for all of us.


* The feminist artists included Marina Zurkow, Cameron Russell, Abigail Simon, and Arlene Ducao.  I usually describe myself as a scholar, a professor or/and a writer, but every now and then I code switch and use a label that @MarcVentresca created for me, describing myself as “a performance artist working with text”.  That’s what blogging academics looked like to their colleagues, back in 2006.

** Ironically, it was at one of these tech events that I met Jon Wasserman, the artist who connected Patricia and me. So those events do create possibilities. Many thanks to Jon.