The founder of Girls’ Voices Matter, Erica Goss, has fifteen years of experience teaching literary arts-based curricula at schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the co-creator of Media Poetry Studio, a poetry-and-film summer workshop for teen girls. As Poet Laureate for Los Gatos, California, she established the Los Gatos Poet Laureate Youth Scholarship for Creative Writing. She received her MFA in Poetry and Nonfiction from San Jose State in 2007. Her latest book is ‘Night Court’.
Miss Independent: Can you talk a little bit about the mission of Girls’ Voices Matter? What inspired you to create these workshops?
Erica: Girls’ Voices Matter’s mission, which is to empower teens and young women to find their voices through filmmaking and literary art, grew out of an earlier arts program I ran in California called “Media Poetry Studio.” I wanted to expand the program to reach more students, so when I moved to Oregon in 2017, I created Girls’ Voices Matter. I wanted to keep the program all-female, to give girls the full opportunity to express themselves.
Miss Independent: The statistics representing the number of women vs. men in film making (e.g., cinematographers, directors, editors, writers, producers) are jarring. I think we can see many negative effects of this disparity as a result, such as the sexualization and objectification of women in the media, the lack of female protagonists, and the restriction of female characters to the role of caretaker or housekeeper. What other harmful side effects of women’s under representation in the film industry have you witnessed?
Erica: The lack of decent roles for women in the film industry is shameful. Plenty of people have no idea about the achievements of women filmmakers. The recent #MeToo movement has shown how prevalent sexism still is in our society. Under-representation is even worse for women of color. When girls see only men in powerful and prominent film roles, their self-esteem suffers, they take fewer risks, and their expectations for themselves lower.
Miss Independent: Aside from workshops such as your own, what can we collectively do to illuminate the career path of film making, especially for young women?
Erica: We can seek out and watch films made by women and those that feature women in leading roles. Promote these films among your family and friends; make sure they know about them. There are so many great films that women have made, going back to beginnings of the film industry, that are completely ignored
Miss Independent: Why do you find it important to specifically focus on women in their teenage years? In your opinion, why do we see a drastic decrease in confidence skills of young girls during this time, and why is this decline so problematic?
Erica: It’s well known that many girls lose confidence as they approach adolescence. By then, they’ve internalized the message that society is mainly run by men, and that girls must be perfect at everything they do to even be considered competent. The media reinforces this with its lack of representation of women. It’s a powerful message, and one that is extremely damaging to teen girls’ sense of themselves. It leads to depression and self-harm in many girls. I experienced it myself as a teen, and it took me years to overcome.
Miss Independent: What do you think gender parity both in the scenes and behind the scenes can do for the film industry?
Erica: Gender parity is the key to changing the world of film, which is not a safe place for women, as the stories of people like Harvey Weinstein illustrate. If 50% of the directors in Hollywood were women, what a difference that would make. Currently, the statistic is somewhere around 4%. The quality of the stories that would be told, the focus on women’s lives and the female “gaze” would be a tremendous change.
Miss Independent: What can women do to be better mentors to other women?
Erica: First of all, I want to give a shout-out to all of the women who have been and currently are mentors to each other. We can always do better, however. Women can actively promote each others’ work, can reach out to younger women and girls, and create programs like Girls’ Voices Matter.
Miss Independent: How can we get in touch with you? (e.g., podcast, email, website, social media, etc.)
Erica: We’re on the web at www.girlsvoicesmatter.com, Instagram, and Facebook. I send out an email newsletter about every six weeks.
Miss Independent: What do you do to relax?
Erica: Great question! I’m a writer as well, so I’m pretty busy, but my hobbies are gardening, reading, hiking around my home in Eugene, Oregon, and keeping chickens. I also make videos.
Miss Independent: Who is your biggest role model / inspiration?
Erica: There have been so many, but an early inspiration was Dr. Jane Goodall, whose work I studied as a girl. My parents subscribed to National Geographic, and I would read the articles about her work with chimpanzees with fascination. I thought she was so brave, living all alone in the jungle for months at a time. She’s still one of my favorite people. Both of my grandmothers were amazing people too; my maternal grandmother was a photographer and my paternal grandmother was a creative person who sewed, wrote, drew, and gardened, and also work in aerospace for many years.
Miss Independent: What has been your favorite travel destination?
Erica: I moved to Oregon close to three years ago, and I’m still discovering this beautiful state. So far I love visiting the Oregon Coast, which is wild and wonderful. I also love traveling in Europe.
Erica, thank you again for participating in this interview. Your responses are so empowering and insightful. The mission of Girls’ Voices Matter is inspiring, and its impact immeasurable. I cannot wait for what’s to come!