“Girl Power” was written in bold letters on a poster held by a protester at a recent women’s march.
The phrase originated in the 1990s through a movement called Riot Grrrl, whose purpose was to normalize female sexuality and infiltrate the punk rock scene, which was largely male dominated. At the front of the movement was Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of the band Bikini Kill. She empowered many young girls, one of them being Sophia Lussiez, a graduate of Desert Academy and a current student at Whitman College.
Like many others, Lussiez grew up surrounded by Catholic influences that she said closeted her from tapping into her power as a woman: “Shame permeated every ounce of my sexual life,” she said. But it’s not solely religion that suppresses one’s sexuality. Politics and peer influence also can play a role.
Sexuality is not just about sex. It encompasses many aspects of a teen’s life, experts say. Body image and a healthy perception of femininity influence self-esteem and personal understanding. This is why many organizations exist to aid women to feel empowered in their bodies.
Rise Barre, a studio in Santa Fe, offers pole, twerking, floorplay, barre and yoga classes designed to “support you in tapping into the full spectrum of strength, sensuality and centeredness.” said Prisma Avery, its founder and a former dancer.
“In our culture, we really suppress sexuality,” she added, noting this festers in unhealthy ways, including judgment toward others and toward one’s self.
This can be especially brutal for teens, said Liese Rios, a graduate of Desert Academy and a freshman at Lehigh University.
“High school is hard. Everyone hates their bodies and compares themselves to each other. If you don’t surround yourself with positivity, it can be gruesome,” she said.
For Rios, support came in the form of social media accounts that posted about feminism, global current events and self-care, as well as movements such as the #blacklivesmatter movement and the #MeToo movement.
The #MeToo movement also served as a source of support for Lussiez.
“The #MeToo movement has impacted me significantly. As a victim of rape and sexual assault, I can confidently say that movements like that one make you feel less alone in your experience and help reduce the victim blaming you impose on yourself as a survivor,” she said.
Rise Barre was founded when Avery encountered a time in her life when she struggled with her sexuality and femininity. She desired a safe space where she could express her sexuality — not for the sake of others but solely for herself. Considering her expansive range of clientele, she was not alone in this.
Although Rise Barre takes a different approach to supporting people than the #MeToo movement does, both serve a vital role in empowering women and establishing a sense of community that combats the isolation that some victims of sexual assault might feel.
Avery recognizes the importance of being in tune with one’s body. “We realize that … people are coming into these classes sometimes disconnected from their bodies … so here we try to have a safe place for people to just connect to themselves and they get to embody all the parts of sexy they want to.”
Deana Hailey, a mother of three daughters, cautioned about the effects of girls embracing sexuality prematurely.
“If a girl is not confident in who she is and is not mature, taking ownership of their sexuality prematurely can have a negative effect on their self-respect and what the overall meaning of sexuality really is,” she said. “I think if a girl is confident in who she is, her sexuality is just one part of who she is as a person. Taking ownership of one’s sexuality comes with maturity, and that happens at different times for different people.”
Lussiez pointed out that there are risks to being sexually empowered. She said one’s sense of self should be independent of sex so as not to create an unhelathy dependence.
“I think there’s a difference of being empowered BY sexuality and IN sexuality,” she wrote in an email, adding that under the right circumstances, sexual empowerment can be liberating and healthy.
“If you feel empowered in your sexuality, I think that just means that you feel confident enough to be who you are in all aspects, including sexual, and that you don’t feel shame towards your decisions or preferences,” she said.
The Riot Grrrl manifesto, published in 1991, ends by justifying the reasons for its movement with the rousing line: “BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.”
Just as Riot Grrrl was able to transform the punk rock scene, Prisma said a societal shift in the perception of female sexuality also can be achieved.
“The more empowered we can feel in ourselves, the more power we have in our life — in all aspects, not just sexiness — but the more we are in our bodies, the more we can make choices out of choice and love instead of just what we think we should do,” she said.