American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Margaret McGladrey

Margaret McGladrey, University of Kentucky, worked on an arts and activism initiative with The Girl Project at Woodford Theatre in Versailles, KY. ASA asked McGladrey about her work:

What is the mission of The Girl Project? Housed at the non-profit Woodford Theatre, The Girl Project ( is an arts-meets-activism initiative that empowers teenaged girls to challenge the misrepresentation of women and girls in contemporary American media culture. Now in its sixth year, The Girl Project provides girls with a safe, creative environment where they explore how the misrepresentation of girls and women affects their social interactions, body image, and self-esteem. The Girl Project introduces participants to guest artists from around the nation who serve as their teachers and mentors, guiding them in multimedia, dance, spoken word, movement, vocal music, and visual art workshops that are designed to facilitate the girls' creation of a final theatrical performance.

Can you describe the project? The High School Program: The Girl Project (TGP) 2018 is a six-week summer experience including 15 racially, socioeconomically, and sexually diverse girls. Guest artists from across the country lead the girls in writing, movement, performance, and dance experiences in July 2018. As The Girl Project's Research and Advocacy Director, help participants build their ensemble in a "closed container," where girls can ask anonymous questions, discuss current events, and share their stories and writing in a safe environment. This safe conversation space helps deepen their understanding of the issues that women and girls face and how they can take action to help create change. During the writing process, leadership team (including co-founders Vanessa Becker Weig and Ellie Clark, the Research and Advocacy Director, and Lead Artist Jeni Benavides) collaborate with participants to identify what aspects of their work will be most conducive to being shared with audiences and draft a script in which the voices of each girl are represented.

Middle School Mentoring Program: Now preparing to begin its fourth year, The Girl Project: Next Generation (GPNG) expands TGP’s outreach to middle school-aged girls, who are mentored by TGP alumni and their adult facilitators. The mentors' experiences with TGP serve as the inspiration for them to design and teach the curriculum to their mentees. GPNG includes a training and curriculum development session for mentors, six weekly after-school workshops involving a closed container conversation and creative exercise, and a final performance during the Voices HEaRd community event.

Community Outreach: In 2017, TGP launched Voices HEaRd Kentucky to engage an intergenerational community of performers and visual artists for V-day (February 25, a date designated for recognition of the epidemic of violence against women) by inviting artists of all genders and ages to perform and exhibit their work that catalyzes advocacy for women and girls.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills do you use? My work as Research and Advocacy Director for The Girl Project engages a range of sociological knowledge and skills. In leading the closed container portion of the summer experience, I teach girls the insights of intersectional feminism regarding interlocking matrices of oppression and deploy critical pedagogy strategies that awaken girls' sociological imaginations in connecting individual biographies with broader sociohistorical realities. As the evaluator and grant-writer for The Girl Project, I use program evaluation methods and participatory action research approaches to partner with alumni as co-researchers in documenting the impact and effectiveness of the program. In developing and implementing The Girl Project: Next Generation mentoring program, I operationalize feminist epistemologies of reciprocity and care to design learning environments in which alumni learn by teaching.

How did you connect with The Girl Project? I attended the inaugural performance of The Girl Project and was so impressed that I met with the co-founders immediately after and volunteered my assistance as a grant-writer and evaluator.

Duration of the project?  Year-round.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? My current work with The Girl Project provided the context for my three-component dissertation research project (I graduated in May 2018 with a PhD in Sociology and graduate certificate in Gender and Women's Studies). The first component is a mixed-methods participatory evaluation of the 2017 offering of The Girl Project, in which teenaged alumni from the first four years of the program collaborate with me as co-researchers in developing the research questions, making decisions about data collection methods, and analyzing our findings. Youth-led participatory evaluation goes beyond traditional elicitation strategies to partner with teenage girls as experts in theorizing and investigating their lived experiences. This component of the dissertation will result in an academic book proposal. In the second component I worked with the 2016 participants in The Girl Project to design a focus group project involving their near-peer male relatives (i.e., brothers, cousins) that helped us to identify social settings in which gender differences are less salient. Co-authored with one of my teenaged co-researchers, this theory-generating study highlights opportunities to undo and re-do gender ideologies and their toxic mental health effects on both girls and boys. This second component resulted in the submission of a journal article to Gender & Society for peer review in early 2018. The final component of the dissertation project is a theoretical essay inspired by The Girl Project’s approach to feminist activism that connects Black feminist theories of agency and resistance with canonical social change theory, which will result in a journal article submission to Sociological Theory.