There’s no doubt that 2016 has been a harsh year in many respects—and, as a consequence, safe spaces have become increasingly necessary for those of us on the peripheries. A safe space, by design, often stands as a lighthouse on the Internet, but more and more we’ve been seeing them pop up at events offline, offering solace and inclusivity for people who don’t prescribe to gender, sexuality, beauty norms or happen to fall into that vast and ubiquitous category of whiteness.
Enter Girl’s Club, a Montreal-based collective of artists committed to creating all-embracing experiences and opportunities on and offline for anyone who has ever felt marginalized, unacknowledged or experienced narratives of erasure. Initially conceived by artist Emmett Rose and musician June Moon, Girl’s Club is a response to the ever-present “boy’s club” mentality and lifestyle. And it all started with a t-shirt.
Last summer in Parc Jarry, a popular pool-side destination in Montreal, Moon and Rose were lying in the grass, venting shared exasperations of feeling oppressed by societal norms. Both creatives, they wanted to make something to identify their politics. That’s when the idea took shape to brand a t-shirt—instant visual solidarity—thus launching “Girl’s Club” in bright pink cursive letters on a white tee.
The shirt now represents a movement. Wearing it, as co-founder Moon explains, “symbolizes being able to safely occupy space based on my needs as a girl, and connecting with other girls who also seek community.” Co-creator Rose echoes this sentiment and says she believes “reclaiming the word girl is where it starts, and then the club is the movement of what comes after that.”
Despite its moniker, Girl’s Club has managed to avoid being exclusionary by restructuring the standard definition and understanding of what it means to be a “girl.”
“We view the term “girl” as nonbinary,” says Dre Cardoza, the content editor of Girl’s Club’s online component, a lifestyle blog. “A girl is anyone who harnesses the power of femininity—and to us, femininity is a force that can be wielded by any sex, gender or orientation. A girl is anyone who occupies unsafe territory and, against all odds, rises.” As Maiko Rodrig, the online visual director of Girl’s Club, describes it: “We’re creating this femme, queer-positive community.”
Historically, “girl” has been understood as a pejorative term, loaded with negative connotations. It’s often used as an act of dismissal, a way to undermine and silence. “Girl has been cornered into a very strict definition of a young woman which comes with all these prejudices of weakness, naivety, innocence and frivolousness,” says Rose.
Cardoza, (a.k.a. Goth Shakira, a bright light and feminist meme-maker of Instagram fame) explains the role that the t-shirt has played as an inclusive fashion statement. “Girl’s Club presents a direct affront to a hierarchy based on exclusivity, which is what many streetwear companies marketed towards boys have built their brands upon,” says Cardoza. The tee serves as both a political and social tool: it’s a way to contend with the masculinity of streetwear, and it’s a brand that has created a togetherness in communities that have historically felt othered.
When I heard about Girl’s Club, I started reflecting on my own experiences being called a “girl.” So far, it’s always been a shameful insinuation of something damning I had done in the eyes of the beholder, usually a man. I felt embarrassed by my tendencies as a girl, or worse yet, shamed by the seeming contradictions highlighted by occupying the space of that word. I also felt being labelled a girl afforded me very little access into the world that seemed dominated by men. How many times had I said, “I’m not like other girls,” or even thought it, as if it permitted me entrance into something I presumed was better?
It took my years of unlearning to confront myself and reconcile the sad display of my own prejudices towards my gender, a result of my own internalized misogyny. Without realizing it, I perpetuated the trauma of everyday micro-aggressions of being a girl in this world onto myself—and other girls too. When I shared these thoughts with Rose, she agreed. “Girl’s Club, for me, comes out of trauma,” says Rose. “Trauma that most girls experience when you embody the identity of a girl. We needed a club to be there for each other during that healing.”
With every act of inclusivity, from its dedicated aesthetic to its editorial mandate, Girls Club is attempting to usurp spaces that have traditionally been shut off to femininity. “It feels limiting that in order to be taken seriously, you have to mask your femininity and to throw on your baggy clothes and blend in with the boys, who will never quite accept you,” says Rose. “So it was important to include all kinds of femme expression, all the way from butch dykes to non-binary people to high femmes.”
The Girl’s Club collective may be one small transgressive act, but it demonstrates on a large scale how one of the best ways to move forward is through a dialogue of openness and inclusivity. And perhaps, most tellingly, that’s why the mandate of Girl’s Club states: “If you want to be in the club, you’re already part of the club.”