Haley Parsley - Girls Gone Great Recipient 2017
My friends and I sat in front of our high school principal. We were proposing something out of the ordinary: a drive to collect feminine hygiene products for local women’s shelters. The meeting had been going well; the principal had been receptive to our idea and was encouraging. Finally, she smiled and suggested, “Why don’t we put the collection boxes in the girls’ bathrooms?”
We looked at each other nervously, because we had considered this option but decided against it. We didn’t want our project to be discreet. While we understood our principal’s concern that the drive would be met with derision or ridicule, especially from boys, we believed in our classmates’ capacity for empathy and we wanted to give everyone a chance to participate. We were tired of women’s issues being thought of as problems just for women.
As a public school student in Baltimore City, I’d begun to notice the glaring injustices that surround me. Baltimore is an incredible place, but it’s also a place riddled with poverty and homelessness. I had also participated in the 2015 Point-In-Time Count for Baltimore City, which takes a census of people experiencing homeless across the United States in order to distribute federal funds. While surveying the people we met on the street, I saw a volunteer give a woman a bag of tampons and pads. This moment stuck with me — like many women, I knew the experience of not having a sanitary product immediately available when I needed it, and I thought about how much harder that experience would be for someone who is homeless.
My friends and I decided to create a project that would help women who didn’t have our privilege. I proposed a tampon drive at our school: we would help women experiencing homelessness, who frequently have a difficult time accessing sanitary products, and we would draw attention to their experiences. Our hope was that by contributing, our peers would see that they could make a difference in the world around them — this would be a powerful experience for the students as well.
Our principal doubted our decision, but she allowed us to place collection boxes in the lobby of our school. We knew we would get some donations, but we were astounded by the generosity of our fellow students — some boys even told us they were taking a special trip to CVS and walking down the “feminine hygiene” aisle for the first time. We collected 85 boxes of pads and tampons and $115, and brought both money and donations to two shelters in Baltimore, including YES Drop-In Center, for teens experiencing homelessness.
We had spent the previous summer publishing a zine, called Beast Grrl. What started as a project to disseminate feminist artwork and writing grew into a professionally printed publication, funded by several grants, receiving submissions from around the world. After our tampon drive, named “Code Red,” we renamed ourselves Beast Grrl Collective and decided that we would add community service events and art projects to our mission. “Code Red” was transformative for us because we realized that a project that seemed so daunting at its inception
was doable if approached with passion and zeal. Along with helping women experiencing homelessness, we showed our peers that they too were able to make a change in the world around them.
Fostering a belief in one’s ability to change the world is Beast Grrl’s greatest goal. Since our tampon drive in 2015, we have published five issues of Beast Grrl Zine and hosted a series of projects and events around Baltimore, including a workshop series, anti-street-harassment day of action, and an after school program for middle school girls.
This year, we addressed the issue of campus sexual assault. As a high school senior, this issue has been on my mind while visiting colleges. I realized it was difficult to figure out how safe a school really is, so I undertook a project called “IX for Title IX.” After researching everything from campus sexual assault policies to Title IX, the gender discrimination law which protects women from campus assault, I assembled a booklet to highlight nine factors students should consider when assessing the safety of their prospective colleges. I hope to empower my fellow students to make choices that protect themselves and hold colleges accountable for their safety.
In college, I plan to study human rights and gender studies. I feel lucky that through Beast Grrl, I have found a passion. Though I don’t know exactly what my future career will be, I know that I want to be an advocate for women and girls. I want to fight for justice, to restore rights to women. I want every person to become empowered to make changes in their community.