After witnessing her teenage daughter suffer from bullying in high school, Gig Harbor mom Diane Stefanowicz decided she wanted to make a difference in how women and girls treat each other.
“We felt an overbearing affect of girls being negative to each other,” Stefanowicz said. “From my child being bullied up to my 80-year-old grandmother dealing with drama from her sorority sisters. We want to make girls think twice about their actions.”
Together with her close friend, Robin Saathoff , the women developed a curriculum and clothing line, Rodiwear, which promotes respect, love and understanding between girls, and men, too.
The clothing line supports local nonprofits and the development of The Girl Promise. Stefanowicz and Saathoff have been working on the clothing line and curriculum for more than one and half years, teaching at Gig Harbor schools and creating apparel for people of all ages and sizes.
“One of the things we teach is when you meet someone new to try and find three strengths immediately,” Saathoff said.
The duo work to teach young girls how to communicate, share, respect others and to be tolerant of differences, starting with having each girl take The Girl Promise.
“The Girl Promise is I promise to love and respect other females no matter what differences we have,” Saathoff said.
Saathoff is a preschool teacher and is excited to start spreading the positive message to her young students.
“I can see it as young as my students,” Saathoff said. “A lot of it is because children learn from example. So we are also hoping to reach out to mothers and women role models so that they can teach by example.”
Saathoff and Stefanowicz consulted with Dr. Mary Graham, a psychologist at the University of Seattle, who has been friends with Stefanowicz since they were college roommates.
Graham, who is preparing to be a teacher in Vietnam, said she was interested in helping Saathoff and Stefanowicz find accurate information to start building their curriculum. Girls and women often feel the need to compete with each other, which can lead to toxic and negative feelings between one another, Graham said.
“Women haven’t always been equal in society,” she said. “And we are still working towards that. But the competition lies from the scarcity of resources women had back then, while living in a more male-dominated society. Women were offered less opportunities so we had to compete. It’s call internalized oppression.”
Graham has seen in her work and in studies that internalized oppression is a learned behavior that makes women subconsciously pit themselves against one another.
“That’s why the majority of the time women might feel resentful if another women gets an opportunity such a promotion,” Graham said. “This is a problem in all marginalized communities. How we behave around girls helps them learn these behaviors. I do support (Rodiwear’s) cause, as a sounding board.”
The two women started designing shirts, sweatshirts and other clothing items with the word “Girl” on them in an effort to promote the idea and to bring funds into developing the curriculum, and to some local nonprofits that help women, such as children’s hospitals and The Dream Builders Project.
Soon Saathoff and Stefanowicz are hoping to start their own nonprofit website, wearegirl.org.
“We have a vision of taking over Tacoma and the peninsula,’ Stefanowicz said. “One day Ellen DeGeneres will be wearing our shirts.”
“Schools are coming to us because they want this message,” Saathoff said. “We talk about what it means to make and be a friend, we do (presentations) defining respect, tolerance and how to work together to stop bullying. And we apply it to everyone, men and women, because we want to raise kind leaders.”
The women have met in many local schools to teach other girls and have them make the promise. A couple high school girls were really attracted to the idea of making a friendlier atmosphere between young women in Gig Harbor, so they now wear the apparel to school and spread the message on social media.
Emma Young, 15, and Ella Heckman, 15, are both freshmen at Gig Harbor High School, and they have been trying to get more girls involved in The Girl Promise.
“I feel like we want to set a good example,” Young said. “We don’t want to be in competition. It’s like Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘A house divided cannot stand,’ so we need to stick together to reach our goals.”
“Girl gives me a voice,” Heckman said. “I have been hoping to create awareness and friendships. It’s opened my eyes to see it’s not just me feeling like there is a lot of issues, it’s everyone. I am trying to say no to slander.”
Saathoff and Stefanowicz are selling Rodiwear and promoting The Girl Promise from within Saathoff’s home, but soon are hoping to expand and reach a larger audience. For now, they are ecstatic to see local girls taking on the challenge to be kinder.
“We want to teach girls how they can reach goals together,” Saathoff said. “Who do you want to be and what actions will you take to achieve that? We are trying to lead by example.”