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NOW conference recognizes Pinellas Girls Inc. documentary

The girls were tired of seeing the picture of a scantily clad woman when they passed by the strip club billboard on their way to school every day.

It was offensive and degrading, they said. So the 50 girls, all ages 9 and 10, produced a documentary protesting that image.

On Saturday, the National Organization of Women awarded Girls Inc. of Pinellas with the Girl-Powered media award for their 18-minute video, Being Safe in Our World.

The video highlights the effect the explicit billboard had on the girls and its relation to violence in the community, using interviews with the children, government officials and parents.

"I feel that the sign is telling people that women are good for what is on the outside, not the inside," said one of the girls interviewed in the five-minute clip shown at the award ceremony.

Last summer, the girls spent part of their 10-week Operation SMART camp learning how to use videocameras, interview people and edit their final project. They also studied the First Amendment and the link between graphic images and violence against women.

"It's so disrespectful because the parents are embarrassed for the children seeing that," said Crystal Oullette, age 10. "It makes girls feel like they have nowhere to go and they're not worth anything."

The billboard in front of the Bottoms Up Gentlemen's Club on 66th Street in Pinellas Park is no longer up, and the business is closed. Girls Inc. executive director Renee McInnis, 57, would like to think that the project played a part in that.

"I think that it's exciting because we don't have to see that sign and try to close it down anymore," said Julie Thielmann, 10. "Girls shouldn't have to see that."

Girls Inc. of Pinellas is a 50-year-old nonprofit youth development agency that provides a variety of programs to support and educate girls. The organization plans to produce more documentaries this summer. This year's theme: respect.

"Never doubt that a small group of girls can make a difference," McInnis said. "They're learning that they're a force to be reckoned with."

Biz Carson can be reached at ecarson@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

A feminist political battle cry filled a packed boardroom Saturday afternoon during the National Organization for Women Conference:

"Fight Back!" shouted the crowd during the Political Landscape for 2012: How Feminists Can Design Winning Strategies session. "We're going to win!"

The Times sat down with NOW president Terry O'Neill, 58, to talk about female politicians and the organization's involvement in the 2012 elections.

When I think of female politicians, I immediately think of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann who are making headline news.

They're making news, they're making headlines. But you know who is making a difference for women are politicians like Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is the first secretary of state ever to insist on meeting with the organized women's movement in every country she visits. She doesn't just meet with the important women in each country, she meets with the organizations. … That's empowering women on a scale the United States has never even tried to do before. That's real leadership for women. Getting on TV alone is not leadership.

Do you think there is still a stigma surrounding female politicians?

Absolutely. Women politicians more than any other identity group of politicians are subjected to misogynistic and racist attack that would not be permitted of any other kind of politician. It is still okay to attack Sarah Palin for having a baby. It is still okay to attack Hillary Clinton for being strong, to attack Sonia Sotomayor for being proud of her Latina heritage. So, yes, we are absolutely still singled out.

Is the U.S. ready for a female president?

I think the U.S. is ready for the right female president, but right now the only candidate that is announced (Bachmann) is completely wrong and will not pull women's votes. The women won't vote for her because she opposes women's rights. Women will vote for politicians that stand for women, and Michele Bachmann is not such a politician.

Has NOW made any endorsements for 2012?

Yes, we have endorsed Lois Frankel who is running to unseat Allen West (in Florida's 22nd Congressional District). And we are going to win that one.

We also endorsed Kathy Hochul (who won the May special election for New York's 26th Congressional District) and let the record show that we won that election. … You can tell when a candidate is a really strong feminist because the NOW Political Action Committee endorsement is really hard to get.

NOW conference recognizes Pinellas Girls Inc. documentary 06/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 25, 2011 9:43pm]
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