Feature: Q & A With G Day Creative Director Madeleine Shaw

G DayG Day is a social movement designed to empower and celebrate girls as they transition into their teen years. With a focus on community, connectedness, and communication, the G Day events strive to connect girls and their champions (parents/guardians and other support figures) to welcome, witness and receive girls as they enter the next phase of their life journey.

I sat down with Madeleine Shaw, Creative Director of G Day, to learn more about the initiative and how it’s making a big impact for girls both locally and across Canada. Here’s what she had to say:

What made you decide to start this initiative?

G Day is a dream that I had as an adolescent girl myself. For me, the idea of becoming an adult woman seemed like the most powerful and amazing thing that someone could possibly experience. I simply could not believe that it was going to happen to me! It definitely felt worthy of a celebration, however I was not part of any cultural tradition that had such events. I imagined being welcomed into a room full of kind and experienced adults who would welcome me into their sisterhood.

I forgot about it for many years – I was in my mid-40s and my own daughter was heading into early adolescence herself – until I was asked to speak at a Pecha Kucha Night Vancouver event in 2013 on the topic of Women Transforming Cities (video is here). I said that I would make a place where we could bring our daughters to support them and make them feel special – to welcome them as they transitioned between childhood and adolescence in a community context. Shortly thereafter, I met an event planner who had been in the audience who expressed an interest in helping me, so I decided to go for it. The first G Day took place on April 28, 2014 with 250 girls in attendance.

What are some of the challenges that young girls face that you hope to address with your program?

G Day seeks to support positive self, peer, family and community relationships, as well as more directly addressing self esteem, body positivity, leadership, creativity, mental health and media literacy, among other issues. Developmentally, adolescence (starting at around age 10) is a time when girls are very receptive to experiential and social-emotional learning. We are using these tools – rather than a more traditional information-based model – to create positive emotional underpinnings for whatever other programming that they partake in elsewhere.

It’s like giving them a massive emotional shot in the arm before they head into a challenging social climate.

Our theory of change is that when girls are younger, they are given a sense of their value based on things like what sports they like, their creative talents, what subjects interest them and so on. When puberty starts to hit, there is a sudden shift in the media culture that tells them that what actually matters about them is their appearance. G Day exists to basically say: you are awesome right now, and we are showing up as a community to support and celebrate that. It’s like giving them a massive emotional shot in the arm before they head into a challenging social climate. We are trying to support the voice inside them that will keep cheering them on even when they doubt themselves or are being sucked into social competition and comparison.

What makes G Day different from other empowerment programs/events for preteen girls?

For starters, G Day is a celebration, which is actually code for ritual. In other words, rather than being a “program”, it’s a rite of passage: a special time when we gather as a community to observe and support people moving from one phase of life to another (baby showers, weddings and graduations are all rites of passage).

G Day is not about giving advice or even information (it does not teach about sexual health, career options, nutrition, etc), choosing instead to create a unique, story-based experience that is designed to help the girls feel things like safety, delight, exuberance, freedom and being energetically held by their community. Our G Day Victoria Community Leader calls it “a tangible experience of mattering”.

G Day also notably includes parents (“Champions” in the G Day lexicon, to be inclusive of Grandparents, Godparents, step parents, Aunties and Uncles, mentors, social workers and so on), the idea being that we also want to engage those closest to the girls in their daily lives. Most of them have likely not experienced anything like G Day when they were young either, so we also like to honour the “inner adolescent” in people supporting girls. G Day does not have modules or anything like that: really it’s just a special day, kind of like a birthday. It is a beautiful complement to the other wonderful programs that are out there.

What can girls and their champions expect from attending your events?

For girls, just to have fun. It sounds simple, however having fun is underrated! It’s about feeling comfortable and having interesting conversations, dancing, hearing great stories and being in a special place with their peers. For the Champions, we have separate programming for part of the day where it is a little more information-based. We bring in experts to talk about things like supporting girls during puberty and the hypersexualization of girls in the media and what to do about it.

Rites of passage traditionally have three parts: gathering as a community, a ritual challenge or separation, and reunification where the people we are there for are welcomed into their new phase. G Day follows this pattern, with the girls and champions starting the day together to metaphorically be “the Village” that it proverbially takes to raise a child, separating for a couple of hours during the middle, and then coming together at the end in a moving ceremony. Then we dance and have dessert!

Tell me more about how and why someone should consider becoming a G Day Community Leader.

It’s really about whether it’s something that calls you: you’ll know. Take a look at this video to hear one person’s story: the idea just connected with her. It’s a very demanding but rewarding leadership experience. The profiles that we have seen so far in people who have done it or expressed interest includes sexual health or other educators, celebrants, social change leaders, and civic and other social change leaders. Not all of them have been moms. It’s a unique opportunity to use your skills and serve your community doing something that matters deeply to you, without having to start from scratch. We have a comprehensive guidebook and set of tools including a curriculum.

How do you see your message growing across Canada – and beyond?

I definitely think of G Day as a movement. We are looking to host G Day Toronto again in 2018, as well as events in Whitehorse and possibly Calgary. We obtained registered charitable status in March of this year, so are now fundraising and building our organizational capacity. Everything has been done so far on a shoestring, with a few incredibly generous donors and sponsors (thank you LUSH and Lunapads!), an amazing board of directors, fabulous volunteers and a deeply talented Program Coordinator.

I would like to see our events held in multiple cities and towns across Canada and then see what opportunities or partners show up in the States or elsewhere. My vision is not to have larger events (like WE Day) – it feels important that they stay relatively small (the last Vancouver G Day had over 300 people and it felt a bit out of control to me). For for the next one (taking place on October 20th at the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby) we are back down to around 230 attendees. In order to do this, I would like to develop a Leadership Summit or other form of training. My overall philosophy is being curious about what wants to happen, as opposed to what I want to make happen.

Are there plans to expand your message to boys as well?

If there is a team that wants to leverage what we have created with G Day to do something for boys, I would happily share information and cheer them on from the rooftops, however for now I have my hands more than full and want to get what we are doing right. A follow up model that I would equally love to see is a gender-inclusive event where we skip the binary girl/boy gender division entirely and simply honour the transition between childhood and adolescence in our youth. I feel like, for me at least, this is a more likely scenario. Stay tuned!

Is there anything else you want our readers to know about G Day?

That G Day is secular, not just for moms and daughters (dads, trans, and non-binary Champions are more than welcome!), that it is not a menarche (first period) ritual (some people assume this because of my association with Lunapads) and that it welcomes transgender girls (in fact, we are proud to be welcoming our first former G Day attendee this year as a Presenter. Tru Wilson and her Mom Michelle attended the second G Day Vancouver in 2014 and will be joining us at the front of the room this time on October 20th!

NOTE: The event in Vancouver in October has now sold out, however check the G Day site for upcoming events, or donate to this initiative here.

Madeleine ShawAbout Madeleine Shaw, Creative Director, G Day:

Madeleine holds the G Day vision, guides and creates content and nourishes key relationships, including the G Day Team, Advisors, Sponsors and Community Leaders. She is a graduate of Queen’s University, the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the THNK School of Creative Leadership. As the parent of an adolescent daughter, she feels incredibly privileged to have the chance for her experience and inspiration as a parent to be shared through G Day.