Tanya Vidhun, Mingxin Wang, Natalia Perez Morales & Liz Plank at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.
NARRATOR: Please welcome Liz Plank, Tanya Vidhun, Mingxin Wang and Natalie Perez Morales.
LIZ PLANK: Hello. I asked the producer to put my pen where I should sit. And it wasn't there yet. So that was our amazing producer behind the scenes making it all happen. I am so Jazz to be here at "MAKERS." Wasn't this an amazing conference?
And "MAKERS" is amazing because it's all about building a better world for the future. And so we thought we would bring the future to you, and hear from the future themselves. So we are joined by amazing Girl Up activists. If you don't know about Girl Up, Google it. Look it up.
It's one of the greatest organizations out there. That I'm so happy and proud to be on the board of. And when I was preparing for this amazing conversation, I was thinking about what the role of activism is? And that one of the definitions of being a really good activist is being a very good ancestor. And so this is going to be all about how to be better ancestors.
And we want a "Yelp" review-- we want your "Yelp" review, even if it's a zero star "Yelp" review. We want you to be honest. What can we be doing better for future young girls who are going to be inhabiting this planet with us? And so Natalia, Tanya, Mingxin, let's start it off by talking about-- I think this contradiction that we have with young girls, and teenage girls in our society.
Where there's almost this like, hero-savior complex, where we expect you to solve all of the problems that older generations have created. But then, we also expect you to sometimes fit within a certain tradition, and not do things too differently. Tanya, I'm wondering, does that pressure-- you know, how do you-- how do you deal with that, and how can we be better in terms of supporting you? So that we're not giving you these contradictory pressures.
TANYA VIDHUN: Yeah. So I think there definitely is a lot of pressure out there for us. Because of course, it was so amazing to hear everyone speak yesterday, and learn from all of you. And you've all paved amazing paths for us. But at the same time, it's difficult for all for us to kind of deviate from what's happened in the past, and create our own solutions to problems. So one example that we were discussing, and we felt like wasn't maybe bringed up-- brought up enough at the conference, was climate change.
And it's an issue that's affecting our generation for sure. And so if we could here more, and get more support from the older generation to create solutions, and help support us in terms of finding solutions for climate change, that's definitely something we talked about and it's an example.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah. And climate change is such a great point because you know, we're seeing-- Greta Thunberg for example, one of the many teenage girls out there literally changing the world, she's being told to again, do things in a certain way even though she's trying to come up with-- if we are to solve a huge problem like climate change, we really need radically different positions. I'm curious what you think about that?
MINGXIN WANG: Yeah, we were discussing how Greta Thunberg began her activism by skipping every Friday. And she received a lot of criticism for that, saying that she should be in school that's where the learning happens. But I feel like for something so important as climate change, there requires really radical action. And if skipping a day of school means being able to make a difference, that's the type of action that we need to see, and that's the type of action that we would love, encouragement, and support from.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah, skipping school is OK if you're changing the world. Right? That's a good-- that's a good takeaway. And so Natalia, so much of your work is at the intersection of so many different issues, right? Because as we know, and I think Makers does such a great job of really having an intersectional lens on the issue of women and women's issues. Can you speak more about why-- there is no feminism without intersectionality, and how that plays into your work?
NATALIA PEREZ MORALEZ: Yeah. So I think it's important to stop viewing feminism as a them problem. Because we all know that women are more oppressed than men. It's obvious, it's a fact. But what if-- but what if you're a woman of color? What if you're a woman of color from a low-income community?
What if you're a woman of color from a low-income community, and you grew up in an undocumented household? So those are all very important identities to consider. And I think that trauma-- there's a lot of layers to trauma. And I think-- like for example, I grew up in an immigrant household. I'm a woman of color. I'm Latina.
So all those identities really determine how I approach feminism, and the way that I approach feminism may be different than someone who grew up with privilege, like, a white woman who maybe grew up with high-income status. So I think it's important to consider that when thinking about feminism. And I think inclusivity is key when approaching feminism.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah, that's a great point. Yes. And Mingxin, we were talking you know, sort of to piggy back off of that about privilege too. And how-- these are also complicated, right? questions. Because your privilege can change depending on what room you're in. And so, do you want to speak a little bit to that? And how it applies to your work?
MINGXIN WANG: Yeah. I think Natalia brought up a very good point about how there is a spectrum of it. Like, there's a spectrum to the issues that we're talking about, and that applies to privilege as well. Being in this room, and being able to speak on a stage, and speak about issues that I'm passionate about is a privilege in itself. And I feel like being able to attend this conference, and be in a room where everyone is receptive to the things that I'm saying is a form of privilege as well.
So recognizing the privilege that we have today being here is one step to being able to notice, and being able to see that there's like a spectrum of different issues, and different actions that we can take to support people who don't necessarily come from the same-- maybe, set of privileges that we have. And how-- and analyze how we can uplift these other people as well.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah. That's so important. And Mingxin, I wanted to also-- you know, you do so much work around, period poverty. And you know, this is a historic moment, obviously. We're in the lead up to a very important election. And this is the first time that our daughters are going to have less reproductive rights than-- than their mothers did. And so, I'm curious, what it's like to exist in that kind of political environment?
And yeah, how-- and-- you know, we were talking before it, right? Like, that we're talking about going back, right? To a year of a law that was passed or a Supreme Court decision that was decided 50 years ago. And even that to you felt like, why are we even-- why do we want to go back to something we should be re-imagining something even better. So I'm curious, how does reproductive rights-- you know, how can it be re-imagined by your generation?
MINGXIN WANG: Yeah, it's incredibly overwhelming thinking about the fact that abortion rights we had, maybe just a year ago, are being overturned and being removed. I mean, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, my robotics team where a team of 50 all girls. We decided to address the need for menstrual equity in our robotics organization. It's a huge organization. There are thousands of teams around the world.
Yet, for-- and company that had a whole DEI team, there was no sort of no one on the team was addressing menstrual equity, and the fact that there were no menstrual products at any of our robotics competitions. And so what we did was we decided to begin bringing these products ourselves. And bringing these to competitions, because there were girls coming up to our team and saying, oh, like, I recently bled through, like, do you have pants I can borrow?
Or do you have menstrual products that we can borrow? So we started providing these products to a few competitions, and it began spreading. At one point, I think we were providing 3,000 products a year. There were 70 teams that were joining in our effort in helping us. And that just opened my eyes to just how huge of a need menstrual equity, and like the need for equal access to products.
It's a huge need. Even our school like, last year was the first year our school decided to provide menstrual products in every single bathroom.
LIZ PLANK: That's incredible!
MINGXIN WANG: Yeah. And so there's a huge need that isn't being addressed in a lot of large organizations. And especially in robotics where it's oftentimes a male-dominated field. There isn't a lot of attention being brought to these issues.
LIZ PLANK: I love that. Like, the meeting of-- Yes, incredible. The meeting of robotics, and menstrual products, is-- is just like, you don't often hear both of those-- those terms in one sentence. And I love-- right? It's-- really re-imagining it. Yes. Roe and abortion is-- is important, but it's part of an entire spectrum of just normalizing women's bodies. And not sort of, again, eroding that stigma.
And what you're doing is so, so impressive. Let's talk a little bit about therapy. I'm guessing like almost everybody in this room has been in some form of therapy. Right? Whether it's a free 12-step program, or group therapy at your school or work, or individual therapy. It's become much more normalized, which I think is very positive.
Even though we need to make it more accessible for all people. And I think so much about inner child work. Right? We all see it on our Instagram feeds, we were talking about it at breakfast this morning. About how to-- you know, we should be loving our inner child more. And so much of this should be also about respecting our inner child.
And then, if we respected children, and we really-- you know, sort of listen to them and believe them, maybe we wouldn't need to be doing all of this therapy. Because we would revere children, and it's sort of that fundamental flaw of democracy that all of the laws that are being passed right now are impacting-- the people who are most impacted are the people who can't vote. And so, I'm curious how you think about that, Tanya? Do you see this-- this kind of tension for a lot of girls your age in terms of the activism that they're doing?
TANYA VIDHUN: I definitely think so. And I think it goes back to reproductive rights we were talking about before. I feel like it's really hard in today's day and age, with so many kind of traditional beliefs in the past to figure out what we as girls believe in. And really understand our individual voice, which is what we were talking about. Sometimes what our parents believe affect what we believe, and it's hard to figure out what really is right for us.
And I've seen that through some of my friends, and especially around abortion rights. It's difficult to figure out what to listen to, and what to make of your thoughts and your ideas. So I think, definitely there's that pressure to figure out our own voices. And yeah.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah. And what's a good-- what-- what can be something that someone-- like a woman out here who are listening and watching online, can sort of ask you or do to support? So that you can really figure out, and-- and be comfortable exploring your own perspective on things.
TANYA VIDHUN: Well, I think-- I think it goes back to-- since we had the opportunity to really hear all of the women yesterday. I think one thing that Ms. Alfonsa Butler said yesterday, was we're replicating the 1800s is not a solution to the problems we're facing today. And I think if more girls heard that, and more girls were exposed to conferences like this, and had the opportunity to hear from people like all of you, it could really help us form our own beliefs, and you know, understand what our voice is, what we should believe in.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah, that's incredible. I love that. OK, let's pivot to mental health, which is-- I mean, not that much of a pivot we were talking about therapy, but you know, mental health is on the minds of everybody. And I know-- you know, when I was growing up, you know danger was kind of outside of-- it was stranger danger. It was drugs, alcohol. And now, obviously, those things are still around, but you know danger is kind of in the palm of your hand. Right?
You have cell phones and iPhones. Cell phones and iPhones. I sound old. I am aging myself. The Blackberry, you know that we all have-- no, so this technology is also coming with all kinds of information, and it allows you to be politically engaged and it's incredible. At the same time, it's also creating a lot of health issues for your-- for your generation.
Natalia, can you share how you handle that tension? Between wanting to use social media for good, but then also sort of protecting yourself from-- how it can be also dangerous for us?
NATALIA PEREZ MORALEZ: Yeah. So on the topic of inner child, I think my therapist had me do an activity where I drew a house in a tree. And through those two drawings, I don't know, she like over analyze me, and she learned so much about me that I didn't even know about myself. And we started talking about body image. And I think that a lot of times we think-- we tell ourselves think about the little version of yourself. How would-- how would-- how would they feel if you told yourself this?
But I think the inner child-- my inner child is hurt because I was so affected by negative societal standards. And I think that men don't experience them the same way that women do, because as women we're told that having a small waist is better or having like what people describe as an hourglass figure that that's more desirable, and that's what beauty is. And I think that's something that's really affected the younger generation.
And now, 11-year-olds are thinking about what they look like, rather than, I don't know, like doing their homework. I know that in middle school, I was really affected by my negative body image. And I think that it's not something that women-- little girls should be worrying about. And it's just so sad to think about-- and I just wish something would change.
And I think social media really has played a major factor into negative body image. And I-- I think that as older women, it's important to check in on younger women, and ask them how they're doing. Because, just because someone looks OK, doesn't mean that they are. So they could be fighting a battle with from within. And I think it's important to check in on each other.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah. Such a good point.
MINGXIN WANG: Bouncing off of Natalia's point. I think, I recently read somewhere that teens on average spend about seven hours on their phone, per day. Which is a huge portion of how like, your 24 hours. I think a huge reason is because social media is just becoming more prevalent. Technology is becoming more prevalent.
But also, like social media feeds into a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, especially with all the news that's been happening. It's so easy-- so easily accessible on social media, and I feel like a part of that is the reason why-- especially during COVID, when we're on our phones all day or on social media all day, girls especially were disproportionately affected by social media. And like, they saw huge stats in mental health, and just the number of hospitalizations.
And so there can be a lot done in terms of educating the youth about how to use social media more effectively. And how to use it, and find that balance. I know it can be a huge powerful tool for change, but yet, there a lot of negative effects that come with using social media daily. And so, I think there are a lot that can-- that we can be teaching the youth about echo chambers, and how to find our own voice within social media. And how to take that cleanse when maybe it's just too much.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah. Yeah. That's so great.
TANYA VIDHUN: And I think--
LIZ PLANK: Yeah.
TANYA VIDHUN: Yes-- yesterday, a lot of-- a lot of the leaders who spoke, talked about self-care and the importance of self-care. And I think it's definitely good to keep talking about that, and going back to it, especially when it comes to body image issues, and the use of social media. So I think that conversation should keep going about how-- what the most-- what the best methods are to finding one's self-care.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah, self-care.
LIZ PLANK: So crucial. We're all still trying-- self-care shouldn't be like another thing to be perfect at, though. I think a lot of us again, you grow up as a woman, and you're perfectionist. It can be like this other thing you have to do really well. But you know, your word cleanse, like, taking a digital cleanse, I think is really, really important to prevent burnout.
We are almost to our close. This was so, so nutritious. I feel like we got so much out of your time with us. I want to close with a question that I'm curious about. So can you tell us with your elders here in front of you listening, what's something that you learned from them? And what's something that you want to do differently? Who wants to go first?
MINGXIN WANG: Me on the spot. Definitely, learned a tremendous amount about how-- the issues that we're all tackling, definitely shouldn't be individually separated. There's a type of like, togetherness that comes with fighting for issues. There shouldn't be just one issue that you're focusing on. Rather, just blending them together, and seeing how we can support women in different areas.
And how we can uplift everyone together to fight for feminism, and fight for equal rights, and equity, and things like that. In terms of what we could be doing better, some of my best opportunities have come from women taking a chance on me. And seeing the value in what a young woman can be doing, and bringing to the table.
So I'd urge all of you to take the chance on the youth, and realize that we have a lot of value, and a lot of unique-- unique insight that we could be bringing. And it's easy to look at us and see like a young girl who might not know the most or have the most experience. But I promise you, there's a lot that we can be bringing to the table. And when given the opportunity, we can rise up, and be able to make the change that we want to make.
LIZ PLANK: Yes! I love that. Take a chance. Take a chance on them. Natalia?
NATALIA PEREZ MORALEZ: Something that I've learned from the woman in my life is that empathy is key. A lot of times, we'll judge a bully, but we don't consider that the bully may be being bullied. And so it's important to-- to ask ourselves, what are they going through? How can we help them? Instead of shaming them.
How can we help them? How can we better support them emotionally? In order to become a better person instead of punishing them. And something that I think I would change is to not underestimate each other. And not-- not diminish our work just because we're younger than you.
Or not to diminish our ideas because we're younger than you. I think a lot of times, it'll actually benefit everyone if you hear from our ideas. Because they-- they may be different than yours, and we may have a different perspective. And I think that both-- hearing both sides of the stories, your perspective, and our perspective are both important. But we can't have one without the other.
LIZ PLANK: Great.
TANYA VIDHUN: And I think finally, what I learned from all of you is that there are actually is such a close community of changemakers, like, right here, and I'm sure everywhere else. And I think it's something I haven't really experienced before. Just like walking in yesterday morning, and everyone's singing, and everyone clapping, and supporting each other. It's just so new to me, and it's so great to experience that. So I'd say, something that I would change is hopefully, in the future, there can be more girls at conferences like this.
To be able to experience these moments that we have together.
LIZ PLANK: Wow! Oh! Thank you so much. Well,-- oh, and now, I just got 3 more minutes. I guess, we can do our rapid fire. Do you guys want to do it? OK. You guys want to do it? OK, in one word, tell me how the feminist movement can be more accepting, and embracing of younger voices?
TANYA VIDHUN: I can start.
LIZ PLANK: Yeah.
TANYA VIDHUN: I think positive is really important positivity. We talked about a lot-- a lot of issues yesterday and problems today. And I think just talking more about solutions, and that kind of goes back to climate change, just looking more to the future positively and encouraging us. That would be.
NATALIA PEREZ MORALEZ: I would say, love. Because I think it's so much easier to be nicer to each other, it's so hard to be mean. And I don't understand like, why so many women-- they kind of just feel like this competition towards each other. So I think instead of having that tension, I think it's important to love each other. And again, like considering where we all come from, I think asking ourselves is this person doing OK?
How can I help them? Instead of wanting to be better than.
MINGXIN WANG: I'd say trust. Yesterday, we talked a lot about just being the first to do something. But I feel like in order to have those-- to continue having these firsts, and to continue-- to continue perpetuating like, the feminist-- the movement, it's important to invest in the youth, and trust that we are learning everything that we need to learn in order to step up in the future years, and take action for the causes that we're passionate about.
LIZ PLANK: Yes. Love it. I'm telling-- I'm being told to wrap up on Forge. Tanya, Natalia, Mingxin, thank you so much. Teenage girls are the most underestimated superpower. And now you know why?
Because they're so powerful. So thank you so much for spending your-- or your last time with us. And bring back their thoughts to your communities. Thank you, ladies.