Project Profile: TVbyGIRLS

July 31, 2009

I recently submitted my master’s thesis proposal justifying why I want to conduct a media study with middle school students to the Internal Review Board. In the proposal I talked about the importance of helping youth find their own voices and make those voices heard by a wider audience. As I sit here with my fingers crossed that my media literacy/mini-documentary-making workshop study will be approved, I have come across an inspiring organization: TVbyGIRLS, a 2006–07 Community Action Grant recipient.

The organization’s founder, Barbara Weiner, said the idea for TVbyGIRLS started while she was still working as a producer/director for arts and cultural programming at PBS. As a birthing coach for a friend, Barbara was holding her friend’s newborn baby girl and thinking about how hard it is to grow up as a girl. “The onslaught of expectations and images around us is overwhelming,” she said.

Barbara took her idea of a TV series created by girls about their issues to her boss at PBS. He told her that no one really cares about girls’ issues. So Barbara began looking outside of PBS for a way to make her idea happen. She volunteered at girls’ organizations, brainstormed ideas within her networks, and eventually gathered a group of colleagues to begin developing the organization. In 2001 TVbyGIRLS became incorporated, and in 2003 they received their 501(c)(3) status.

TVbyGIRLS is made up of brief and and in-depth media literacy workshops, as well as a mentoring program, all of which are geared toward girls age 12–18. The organization conducts two to three longer six-week workshops per year and approximately six to eight shorter workshops, while the mentoring program is ongoing. All three components involve helping girls understand media images and messages that influence their daily lives. Participants collaborate on creative projects that encourage the girls to not just learn about these images, but to create their own messages to be disseminated to a wider audience. “We can help girls reach who they really are and make sure it gets out there,” said Barbara.

In traditional media messages about girls, their own dreams, visions, and hopes are often unrepresented. Through TVbyGIRLS participants learn how to use media to tap into the power of emotions to represent themselves as full people rather than as stereotypes.

Barbara said that teaching the girls how to use the equipment is the easy part. “How to access the emotions, how to find universality in images is more difficult and more powerful,” she said.

The AAUW Community Action Grant funded the Seed Project, a year-long collaboration project that had 10 urban girls working with seven girls from rural reservations in Northern Minnesota. The girls would meet once a month to work on a video project about shared experiences.

The Seed Project helped to foster a deeper interest in cultural questions from the girls in the mentoring program. This interest evolved into a cultural exploration called “Undercover,” which examined various religious traditions. A group of seven girls — three Somali Muslims, one Christian, and three Jews — worked together on the project. Each bought a hijab and wore them out to report on the street in order to better understand what it’s like to be veiled. They went on a Shabbat weekend retreat with a local rabbi who helped them through Orthodox Jewish Shabbat traditions. To get an inside look at Christianity, the girls filmed at various baptisms. Lastly, the girls delved into questions about atheism by attending the meetings and a convention of a local atheist group.

Overall, the girls have produced 83 videos and won 23 awards including a 2007 Silver Telly Award for What’s with the Hijab? and Bronze Telly Award for Siblings.

Looking ahead, Barbara has big hopes for the future of TVbyGIRLS. On the local level she wants the girls to feel connected and “responsible for what they make.” The organization is in the process of creating thematic broadcast packages with curricula to be distributed to TV stations and schools.

Barbara doesn’t want TVbyGIRLS to happen just in Minnesota; she envisions the international value of the program. “It’s my hope that one day girls from all over the world can have their voices heard,” said Barbara.

For anyone interested in learning more about TVbyGIRLS or how to get involved with the organization, visit their website at As for me, as I continue to wait for the okay on my thesis project, I’m looking forward to the next time I’m in the Midwest for a chance to see TVbyGIRLS in action.

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