Hilary Jones -- the Director of Girls Rock! Rhode Island -- sat down with us recently for the first everyday girl interview.
Inspired by her pioneering rock camps for girls and women, we wanted to know more about where she came from and how to she got to be so cool. For us, this everyday girl was the perfect first interview -- we walked away inspired and encouraged that there are such awesome people out there doing such awesome things for girls + women. (and we have a feeling ... after you check out her interview ... you'll be inspired too.)
(photos are from the latest Ladies Camp Show .... with the help of Hilary - these women learned how to play instruments, write songs, form a band and perform on stage ... in three days!)
Hometown: Fargo, ND
Current Location: Providence, RI
Style type: Modern Vintage.
Inspiration: From an early age -- watching Nirvana and thinking, "I want to do that." And now, amazing women everywhere.
Where did you get the idea for Girls Rock! Rhode Island?
I’ve been interested in women’s issues for a long time. I was a women’s studies major in college and afterwards, I worked with Day One, a sexual assault resource center. In my school, work, everything -- women's issues have been a passion of mine forever.
I had heard about Girls Rock! as an entity in 2001. There are many, many girls rock camps across the country. The first one started in Portland. I heard about it -- it might have been even on MTV or something -- but I thought, "That is genius." At that time I was heading off to graduate school so I knew I couldn't do it right at that moment - but it registered in the back of my head.
So, I moved to Providence, started grad school and was meeting a lot of people in the music scene. With some of the women that I knew in the scene, I had been casually discussing the idea. I continued to casually discuss this idea with them for nearly 6 years. When I finished grad school in 2008, I knew I had to volunteer with a Girls Rock! camp. I found a camp in Brooklyn.
So I went and volunteered and it was awesome. It was perfect. It was everything I wanted to do.
And so I did it.
That’s a lot to take on!
I felt like it was too much for me to do on my own. I needed to make sure I have people who are willing to do this with me. One day, this was in Jan. 2009, I was having lunch with Lauren Holt from Machines with Magnets and we were talking about Girls Rock camps, again, and I said “This seems like such a cool thing...” and she said "Alright, lets do it then."
And I said, "Ok." (laughs)
So at that point we decided to send out an email to all these people we know who might possibly be interested. Some people were musicians, some people had non profit experience, you know -- a variety of specialties. We sent the email out and had our first meeting in Jan of 2009 and I’ve been meeting monthly or bi-monthly since. That’s when it all started. And we are fortunate to have a great group of people that we were working with. It just kind of emerged from there.
Tell us about the mission of Girls Rock! RI. What are you trying to achieve with your organization?
I think the issue of empowering girls is so ingrained in what we do. It’s part of our mission. The mission of Girls Rock! Rhode Island is to help girls and women empower themselves through music. The end goal, the outcome, is empowerment defined by self-adequacy, self-esteem, body image, etc. The outcome can be defined a lot of ways, but the medium is music. It could be achieved with a lot of different things, but our specialty is music. It’s unique because it's involving expression. I feel like it’s a better venue to allow people to get words out. It's especially important to women and girls, who don't always have the opportunity to express themselves in culture or are not always listened to as much. Cultivating that expression is really important.
You obviously have a passion for working with girls .... why did you start with women (with the ladies rock camp)?
Yes -- I do have a passion for working with young women. The target audience is actually girls, but we started with women. We’re different from other camps. Most all of the other camps start with girls. Practically speaking, if you want to engage more people it’s easier to engage adult women than it is to engage girls. It's a good starting point. We didn't have as much direct contact with girls as we did with adult women. So, if we get adult women involved in the ladies camp, not only do you get them psyched about the whole process, but it’s a way to start fund raising too. Ladies camp acts as a fund raiser for Girls Rock camps.
Have you had any mom/daughters go through both?
Not yet, I know that happens at other camps. I will not be surprised if that happens here. We’ve had sisters attend the ladies camp together. My mom was talking about attending ...
That would be awesome!
She lives in North Dakota so it's a bit of a trek for her.
What was it like to live in North Dakota?
It’s funny cause I lived in Fargo. Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota and it really reminds me a lot of Warwick [RI]. There’s probably about like 90.000 people. It’s very just suburban. Lots of strip malls and sprawl. The thing that’s weird about it is that there’s nothing else around. It’s surrounded by these teeny tiny towns with 100 people that are totally isolated and all there is to it is a church and a bar.
The closest thing to it is Minneapolis it’s about 3.5 hrs away. When I got older we’d go out to shows in Minneapolis. When I was in college we’d drive after class to the city, get there at 6:30pm, eat, go to the show. The show would be over at like 1 or 2, drive back, get home at like 4:30 in the morning and got to class the next day. I think it’s just a thing in the Midwest we just get used to that because you don’t have a lot of options.
There were a lot of good shows that came through actually considering between Minneapolis and Seattle there aren’t a lot of other places other than Fargo, so I saw a pretty decent amount of shows while I was there. Considering.
Aside from music, what else is taught at GRRI?
The other thing that’s unique about the girls rock camp is that you’re not just going in there and learning an instrument. There are other workshops that are included. There’s a lot more educational life skills training that occurs as well. There are workshops about media literacy, on gender stereotypes, relational aggression, body image and body confidence. I feel like having those workshops in between all of the musical stuff sort of creates a context for women’s experience in music and in general. Specifically -- in music, because a lot of a woman's experience in music is related to appearance.
It’s not necessarily based on talent ... it’s based on not wearing clothing.
Yes. So, a lot of the music industry is based on appearance and not what you can do or expressing yourself even. A lot of people just end up singing other people’s songs and it ends up not being about their own personal expression at all. There are a lot of women in bands or featured in pop music but it’s not really about their expression. Its about them being on display for others.
Ok - so who, right now, for you, would be the opposite of of that Katy Perry type of person?
Janelle Monae. She kind of reminds me of like a female outcast. She has a very, very unique style musically and fashion wise. It’s almost an androgynous thing where she wears crazy suits and her hair is crazy, but she’s very attractive. So, it creates this interesting dynamic. And she's a fantastic dancer and totally rocks out. That would be my example of someone that truly expresses herself in pop music.
What are your opinions about Lady Gaga?
I have mixed emotions about Lady Gaga. The thing about Lady Gaga is, I think she’s really awesome in some ways. I think that she’s able to address sexuality in a way that can be very empowering for women. She’s doing sexuality in a way that’s for her, and to address something political rather than doing it for men, but I don’t know if people always necessarily get that. It’s hard.
We just found out she writes her own songs - impressed us!
Generally I’m pro Lady Gaga, but I can see it being negatively construed in certain situations. I’m more pro Lady Gaga in her videos then in her music. I think her music is really not related to her videos at all. It’s my personal complaint. I don’t understand the music. It’s not very derivitave, which I can't understand, taking from you know -- Madonna, Ace of Bass, etc.
I wish that her music was a little bit more challenging. As challenging as her videos, but that’s the thing. Her music is so accessible to people that she’s able to get their attention and then present something interesting in the videos.
We know you present workshops on Media Literacy. What do you think about media and the fashion industry?
I think a lot of what happens with girls is that the focus instantly becomes on their appearance. There is a huge industry focused on making them feel bad about themselves. There was a study that was done, I think in California, 80% of 4th grade girls in the study had already been on a diet. Which is insane.
Obviously, a lot of it is tied into capitalism and focused on getting money by making people feel bad. Even though we know that, I don’t think it’s changing that much. There’s Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, but Dove is actually owned by the same company that owns Axe Body Spray. So, are they actually presenting this view as a way to make money as well? A whole other separate feel good marketing campaign?
How do you think we can help this have less of an effect on young women?
I think part of the issue is that people just don’t think about it. For girls, they’re presented with so many images so often there’s no way they're going to get away from it. Part of it [the solution] is just being able to navigate it, manuever around it and understand that everything that is presented to you is presented to you for a reason. That the information is coming from somewhere and that somebody spent a lot of money to get it to you.
I think that's major. Just thinking about the messages that we are receiving from the media. It's not realistic to stop watching tv, but we can understand that watching these music videos over and over and over or watching these TV shows over and over and over can have an impact on us. Just to get them [young girls] to think about it a little bit more. To process it. Instead of just in one ear and out the other leaving a whole bunch of horrible residue in between.
For them to think about why it's being told to them, in particular?
Why it’s being told to them, or thinking about, "what is this saying?" This company, called the Media Education Foundation, they do a lot of really awesome educational videos on media literacy, gender stereotypes, and awareness on violence against women. One video takes music videos, all these videos, and strips out the music and just shows the videos and then does an analysis of the videos. It’s insane because without the music, it really just looks like porn.
You watch it with the music and you say, "Ok, this is the image, the presentation that I’m used to seeing," and then you take away the music and you’re think, "Woah. This is kind of insane." The connection I think between those messages and what’s expected of men and women is not something that young girls are taught regularly, and boys as well, they’re just not taught about that, how to decipher this and understand that.
We've been impacted by the book, Can't Buy me Love, which we were shocked to learn that companies spend millions alone on focus groups to figure out what image of what woman is going to make us buy a certain deodorant.
Jean Kilborne, who wrote that book, also has a lot of videos in the Media Education Foundation. I feel like there needs to be some sort of gender education and media literacy component required in middle and high schools. And it’s not right now. If this information could start reaching people a lot earlier, it could help people to deal with this sort of media bombardment at a much earlier age.
Another component of the media literacy class is relational aggression. Relational aggression is often referred to as "girl bullying." A lot of the problem is that girls are often taught to fight with each other and to compete with each other. Girls aren’t nice to each other -- the whole "Mean Girls" phenomenon. And I feel like the media pushes that as well. They encourage it through reality TV shows and even with direct competition with shows like "The Bachelor."
Paulo Freire has this concept of Horizontal Violence. Basically, if you get people who are similar to each other to fight with each other, then they’re not going to pay attention to their oppression and they’re not going to pay attention to the real problem. I think relational aggression, having women fight with each other, is a way to get them to participate in their own oppression. The media just reinforces that in a million different ways. The focus becomes not on women supporting each other and talking about how awesome they are. The focus becomes about them competing with each other. Calling each other sluts. Telling everybody that they’re ugly.
That's so depressing.
It is depressing. It's evident even in magazines -- People, US Weekly. We condition ourselves to judge celebrities with articles about who's wearing the dress better, who looks good without makeup, etc. And obviously if we act this way towards strangers, we're going to start acting this way and judging the people around us and the people we know.
We're a little amazed at the depth that your rock camp hits upon ... these girls aren't just learning to play the guitar - they're learning how to feel good about themselves, how to be kind to one another, how to express themselves, and -- of course -- how to rock.
We'd love to know more about your own style ... how would you describe it?
I've been told by a couple of different people that my look could be described as "modern vintage." So, I don't know what that means ... but I suppose it must be true! [laughs]
I have a typical outfit ... I always have a skirt on, with a cardigan, tights, mary janes. I keep clothes for a long time - so when I find something I like, I wear it a lot and keep it for a very long time.
Ok ... one last question -- we want to know, if Hilary Jones could say one thing that would be instantly heard by all the everyday girls out there .... what would your message be to them?