By Hwaa Irfan
If truth be said, if one can recognize and get past all the stereotypes about girls, and women that have been propogated by capitalist democracy, and see through the illusions that have been presented as naturally feminine, one might descend upon a point of calm at the middle of the tornado that has been whipped up in the last two centuries in the name of female liberation and equality.
Central to that storm are the myths about teenagers that have been nutured within the female gender separating youth from womanhood. Instead this myth has created a void whereby young girls in need of guidance have stumbled upon their own experiences that more often that not have left them confused about themselves, and their relationships evolving into a constant struggle of misunderstandings, pain, and disatisfaction.
So it is with joy to know how nature raises her head to say “Hi… I’m still here and so is the rudder that you need to feel comfortable in your own skin,” despite the extent we have gone to create an unsustainable reality.
This is the case of an Xmas appeal in London where schoolgirls and older women have come together to discover a valuable relationship that was once so natural and the way of self discovery for the ancestors of these schoolgirls. For young girls facing changes in their bodies, their emotions, the changing status of themselves as children towards a completely different status as young women, requires and has always required the wisdom of those who have been there before, the women.
A project where schoolgirls and older women mix is breaking down age barriers and bringing the local community closer. The project ‘Magic Me’ began came into being away from the public gaze in 1989 in East London. The basic idea was a simple aim, to break down the generation gap. The female gender from ages 14 – 80 come together once a week to simply share in a creative process, a sharing that has opened the eyes of shcoolgirls to what womanhood is really about. Older women from socially deprived Tower Hamlets in a informal environment which is no more than a room spend time with schoolgirls from Mulberry School for Girls to creat an audio-visual installation, but in the process transformation took place.
One of those girls is 15-year old Anisa Islam, who looks forward to those sessions, has the project has helped her to process difficult emotions in a safe place, which was otherwise unvailable to her. Anisa told the Guardian, U.K.
“One day we had to bring something in from our rooms and I brought a poem my sister wrote when she was in hospital. She’s sadly passed away now and I keep it as a memento. I told [the women] about it and it meant a lot to me that I could trust them.”
Other girls, receive practical advice knowing that the older women who share their time will not disclose what is shared with anyone else. Before attending these sessions, Anisa said:
“Before I was really shy and I couldn’t talk up, but now I join in and am confident. I didn’t think I would have anything in common with [the older women] but as soon as you get to know them you find out this isn’t true.”
Headteacher for Mulberry School for Girls, Vanessa Ogden observed that:
“Every year, every student blossoms in self-confidence and their ability to think about their lives. I think young girls learn an enormous amount from older women. They respect meeting women with life experiences, and begin to understand how they can shape their own lives. They regard them as role models.”
The founder, Susan Langely who runs Magic Me, in many places around London commented:
“There are not many places outside family groups where people congregate naturally and interact with one another that are truly intergenerational these days,”
“Society is more age-divided than ever so there are few places where people have a chance to get to know each other. We miss out on variety and we are no longer used to talking to people who are different.”
The lead artist, Sue Mayo for the Tower Hamltes based project says creating art together helps both generations to relax in each other’s company:
“By 2007 we were aware that people were not mentioning the fact they came from different faith communities. So we introduced a theme, ‘What is heartfelt for you’, that allowed people to talk about it.” And later, after the July bombings, young participants who wore headscarfs felt comfortable enough to open up about being harrassed or spat at on the street.
One will find Jews, Christians, and Muslims, as well as people not belonging to a faith, as well as Caribbeans, and members of the Sfrican diaspora – some wearing a hijab, and others a salwar kameez. They learn about themselves as well as each other, and stereotypes of all kinds fall by the wayside.
“I think there should be a Magic Me in every borough. When we first started, we looked at each other and thought, ‘What can we possibly learn? We can’t even talk to each other.’
“We were like strangers but by the end of the project we are like family. I look forward to seeing the girls and they look forward to seeing us. They have given me 20 years off my life, and they make me feel young again,” said an older woman wearing bright red lipsticj, and her hair piled up in a bun.
Doesn’t such a project deserve ongoing support, and be present in all communities for both genders? Just think what it would like to walk around being comfortable in your own skin!
Try Magic Me
Khaleeli, H. “Christmas Charity Appeal: How Magic Me Unites Young and Old.”