One of my favorite parts of any Dynamo Girl class is the way we bring the group together — with a full-throated cheer where the girls shout, stomp and jump: “Clap it out, Dynamos. Stomp it out, Dynamos. Jump it out, Dynamos.” Some days the girls shout the cheer at the top of their lungs, other days their stomps shake the gym floor and sometimes the jumping gets them most fired up. The thrill of cheering together as a team empowers the girls to use their fullest voices and feel a part of something greater than themselves.
Yet, last week during class as we did the cheer, it was oddly muted for this boisterous group of girls. The girls’ stomps were fainter and their jumps barely left the floor. I looked around the circle to find out what was going on and one forthright girl pointed to the group of boys who had arrived to use the other half of the gym. “It feels weird to sing our cheer with the boys listening,” she explained. And then, as if on cue, the boys starting mimicking the Dynamo Girl Cheer followed by “Boos” and laughter. My girls shrunk, lowered their heads and looked as if they wanted to be anywhere but in the gym at that moment. I waited to see what would happen next. In the past we had a gym all to ourselves, and my girls could cheer their hearts out. This week, we were facing a new challenge, and as the boys continued mocking and booing the Dynamo Girl Cheer their young, male coach, was glued to his phone and failed to say anything.
I looked at the girls and they looked at me and I thought to myself, “What am I waiting for?” I couldn’t have been handed a better opportunity to teach our Dynamos what it means to stand up for yourself. I walked to the other side of the gym and stood in front of the boys with my legs strong and my shoulders back (as I’ve taught my Dynamo Girls to do) and said: “It is unacceptable for you to make fun of our cheer or boo what we are doing. That cheer is important to us and it is extremely disrespectful to mock it. I don’t ever want to hear you do it again.” The boys stared at me in silence with their mouths hanging open.
I returned to my circle of Dynamo Girls and I asked them the same question I’d asked minutes earlier: What are the rules that make our Dynamo Girl community work? With passion and energy they all began to answer at once: “If someone makes fun of you, you need to stand up for yourself;” “It is not OK for boys to make fun of Dynamo Girl;” “If something bothers you, you have the right to speak up.” Their fervor for standing up for themselves was reinforced when the boys were told by the program supervisor that they would lose access to the gym if their disrespectful behavior happened again.
In an era when girls see men behaving in disrespectful and violating ways and getting away with it, it is our responsibility to model for them that speaking up, speaking out and standing firm has power. It is women’s enduring right to ensure our own physical and emotional safety. This past week our Dynamo girls saw us exercise that right in their school gym. We did not shrug it off or excuse it. If girls don’t see us stand up for ourselves, if they don’t practice it themselves, they will not know how to do it when the time comes. The time has come.