Disney movies typically show princesses being rescued by princes and, recently, Marvel "Avengers" T-shirts caused a nationwide stir after those marketed to boys read "Be a Hero" while those for girls read "I Need a Hero."
This shows girls that "we can't be heroes; we need people to rescue us," said Hannah Lozon, University of Arizona Residence Life coordinator for social justice education, who spoke during a recent TogetHER Girls Empowerment and Leadership Program summitt held on campus.
"What about instead of 'I am a princess,' 'I am a leader?' We need to work together with men," Lozon told dozens of young girls who attended.
Created by UA senior Ashely Dickerson, the empowerment and leadership summit, called "Dream Without Limits," was designed for girls in the fourth to eighth grades to counter negative, gender-based stereotypes and to empower young girls.
Dickerson developed the organization and summitt after being one of 150 people from across the U.S. chosen to participate in the 2012-2013 Young People For Fellowship.
"I designed TogetHER, a girls empowerment and leadership group, from the ground up, including grassroots organizing, fundraising, recruitment of sponsors and more," said Dickerson, also the recipient of the UA's 2013 President's Award for Servant Leadership.
Lozon noted research indicating that age 8 is the peak age for leadership ambitions among girls. She also noted that this is about the same time that girls begin to question their capabilities, especially in a world in which negative gender stereotypes are pervasive in popular media.
Lozon also said that while women comprise 51 percent of the global population, they only represent 17 percent of those serving in Congress. She and others at the summit encouraged girls not only to dream of college, but to consider serving as elected officials and leaders in the fields of law, medicine and education, among others.
Many of the girls who attended the summit seemed well aware of the barriers they face.
"Girls and women are treated badly and they're not able to express themselves because of the way they are treated," Ariana Bustamante, a fifth grader, said.
Dickerson designed the program to have five core values: personal empowerment, encouragement for college going, community service, leadership development and life skills development. In particular, the program targets low-income girls who are of color and live in urban settings.
During April's summit, the young girls heard from professional women on and off campus and also participated in leadership and esteem building activities and workshops. Also, each girl received a postcard that read: "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
Life and decision making skills development is essential, Dickerson said, adding that such development enables participants to "make choices that will further her goals."
Mary Atkinson, director of Girls on the Run of Tucson, who was among the featured speakers at the summit, urged the young women that they should not change themselves simply because others tell them to; that they should remember that they are intelligent, strong and talented.
"We are who we are meant to be," Atkinson said. "Don't go being cookies and cream when you want to be vanilla."
Lozon left the girls with a comparable message, urging them to consider the many ways they can and do make a difference.
"We write our own history, but what about instead of HIStory, we write HERstory? We need you and we need your brilliance and we need you to be able to go out into the world and shine it among others."