OPINION: Sometimes more does go a long way

It’s not as simple as wearing a dress.

At the 2020 Oscars, Natalie Portman wore a Dior gown embroidered with the names of women directors who were not nominated for an Academy Award. Portman said she did this to acknowledge women who were not recognized for their work. Some call this activism. But I call it a publicity stunt. True activism is a change made through time and effort. It’s hard work with tangible results for the lives of the people you help. It’s never as easy as putting on a dress for a day.

Following the event, Portman received backlash from activists including Rose McGowan. McGowan is an American actress, model, and author who spoke out about being raped by Harvey Weinstein in 1997. She had since rallied men and women to fight against the patriarchy. McGowan said Portman’s type of activism is “deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work.”

It’s easy to play the part of an activist when you’re in the spotlight. The 2020 Oscars was a fleeting moment of attention and Portman took advantage of it. Real activism is putting in work to make change happen. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is or how many cameras are pointed in your direction.

WriteGirl Exec. Director Keren Taylor, photo by Jenny Rolapp.

WriteGirl is a nonprofit writing and mentoring organization for at-risk teen girls. Keren Taylor is the executive director and founder of the non-profit. The program allows these girls to amplify their voices. WriteGirl also helps them throughout their entire college application process with a one-hundred percent success rate.

WriteGirl Alum sharing work at the book reading of This Moment, photo by Morgan Pirkle.

Although WriteGirl succeeds in helping teen girls, they also face challenges. One of the many difficulties her non-profit faces is “getting people [to] understand the importance of the vulnerability of teenage girls,” says Taylor. They strive to reduce the pressures that often preoccupy young girls at a critical time in their lives. Located in Los Angeles, confronts big challenges as they struggle with a shortage of programs and opportunities in the community. They also face challenges of raising enough money to keep their organization operating.

WriteGirl Mentee & Mentor at the WriteGirl Fiction Workshop, photo by Nicole Ortega.

Still, they continue to tell the stories of the girls they help.  Sharing these stories is vital. “When you tell [people] about one particular girl, it’s like, I can see how that girl needs help and a supportive mentor,” says Taylor. WriteGirl tries to raise money for their non-profit by finding new strategies as well as reaching out.

WriteGirl Mentee, photo credit Nicole Ortega.

This is true activism. Taylor and others at WriteGirl aren’t focused on their image. They want to help people, and they want to do the best they can. “If you say you’re going to run an organization, then you’ve got to run a big organization that does a lot of good,” said Taylor. Although her organization isn’t as large as others, she knows that they can still make a big impact. “Well what if I just want to run a small organization but have a big voice for other people to be inspired by?” says Taylor.

Some use a spotlight to prove how noble they are without making a difference. But non-profits like WriteGirl continue to work hard to see results in or out of the spotlight.