Winter 2018

A Room of Your Own

Innovative Book Club Provides a Safe Spaces for Girls

 This past January 2017, Tanya Marie Lee started a book club for teen girls at risk in under-serviced areas in Toronto. The book club is entitled “A Room Of Your Own Interactive Book Club” and runs out of the Toronto Public Library.  The main focus of the book club is to create a safe space for girls that focuses on issues specific to being teenaged girls and their mental health. There are several reasons why she created this book club for these girls:

Intimately observing and studying the world of teens, she realized that the choices one makes when one is young affect the rest of one’s life. Most adults seem to forget that their adolescent years were hard. These years are the hardest because at such a young age one does not have the most effective medium to communicate feelings, frustrations, and fears, or the sophistication to handle most problems being faced. Lee states, “Not only have I studied it, I have lived it. I am a survivor of sexual abuse; I came from a dysfunctional family, and by the time I was 18 I became pregnant. At 19 I was a teenage mom with no money, and my options were limited”.

Tanya realized the difficulties she faced, and knows the importance of teaching young teens the skills of how to cope with the challenges of maturing mentally and physically into adulthood. These challenges are many: trying to adjust to societal pressures such as living up to peer fashion standards and the media images of models and icons of pop culture. Another major challenge is learning how to deal with the complex aspects of their environment, including the school. These include issues revolving around social media, peer pressure, abuse, drugs, alcohol, gangs, crime, sex and stereotypes. Whom do they have to turn to but their parents? In today’s society both parents are often working to maintain the family. In addition, not all parents are good communicators with their teens. Most alcohol and drug addictions start in the adolescent years. Statistically, all major social and psychological problems originate in pre-pubescent and pubescent years. This is due to ineffective methods of coping with social and personal problems.

Add to this the barriers that girls face and the dreadful statistics of what can happens to teenaged girls. The most alarming are those related to sexual abuse and the decline in girls’ mental health when they approach adolescence.

Statistics from The Canadian Women’s Foundation:

  • Girls are four times as likely as boys to be sexually assaulted by a family member.
  • Girls are 15 times more likely than boys to be hospitalized for eating disorders.
  • As girl’s approach adolescence, they face high levels of sexual assault and other forms of violence, a sharp decline in mental health and confidence, negative stereotyping and sexualisation
  • The pressure to do well at school may be a contributing factor, as 55% of 15-year-old girls in Canada report feeling stressed about school and grades.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 Canadian girls aged 15-17 report feeling high levels of daily stress.
  • The widespread sexualization of girls in our society also plays a major role in the deterioration of girls’ mental health. Sexualization occurs when a person’s main value is attributed to their sexual appearance – rather than their intelligence or other qualities – and when they are held to unrealistic standards of physical attractiveness.
  • Social scientists have found that exposure to sexualized images and messages can lead to body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, depression, and low self-esteem.

After reading and digesting all these statistics and living through them, Ms. Lee decided to create a safe space for teenaged girls where they are celebrated and given a chance to be themselves. Through the book club these adolescent girls read books with strong female protagonists from a variety of different backgrounds. They come together with the author and discuss the book in a lively manner. There are times when experts in certain subject matters such as mental health issues are brought in. The club celebrates young women and empowers these adolescent girls with tools to feel good about who they are. The group does this all through reading fantastic books, and having extraordinary discussions. The young women are engaged through their intellect and come to realize just how valuable they are in our society.

Young women need “Safe Spaces” where they are put first and not socialized to take a back seat on the bus. They need a place where they can feel wonderful about being young women and not made fun of or put down for being girls. These young women need to be uplifted in life and not be condemned to being one of the downtrodden. In addition, they need to feel physically safe and not threatened in any manner just because they are of the female gender.  Most importantly their mental health needs to be of upmost importance in creating these safe spaces for girls.

Tanya Lee is the host, visionary, and producer behind A ROOM OF YOUR OWN. This specialized book club is a combination of education and entertainment to form edutainment. Tanya is a graduate of York University’s Psychology program, has studied Motion Picture Production at Ryerson Polytechnic University and graduated from George Brown’s Life Skills Certificate program. Lee states that this book club combines her compassion for teens, employs her appreciation of all forms of multi-media, and social media which allows her to exercise her drive as an artist and knowledge of human behaviour as host of A ROOM OF YOUR OWN.

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