Everyone is a creator and should be encouraged to make art for themselves or to share with others regardless of age. Also, every person has at least one life story that deserves to be shared, whether through writing, film or visual arts. How many folks have lost someone and then realized they never asked important questions or heard meaningful stories from their loved ones’ lives? I encourage people reading this to make a list of questions for someone special in their lives and then take the time to have meaningful Q&A.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Prather Stafford.
Erin Prather Stafford is a writer and women’s rights activist. Frustrated by ongoing research that shows the underrepresentation of women in artistic professions (especially in leadership roles), she launched Girls That Create in 2019. This online platform is for parents and caregivers who are raising future generations of filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, dancers, actors and more. Erin began having an interest in the media’s portrayal of women while earning her undergraduate degree in communication at St. Edward’s University.
She went on to earn an MA in gender and international development from the University of Warwick and is the Executive Producer of the award-winning documentary WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES. The film had its national broadcast on Independent Lens | PBS. Erin is also the recipient of a Barbara Jordan media award and IABC Gold Quill Award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Several years ago, I joined the team behind WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES. The documentary explores the enduring legacy of Wonder Woman and how powerful women are often portrayed in mainstream media. It also encourages girls to be creators of the media they want to see. Fast forward to 2019. I came across research that made my heart sink. Specifically, 2018 data from The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found women comprised just 4 percent of directors working on the top 100 films, 8 percent on the top 250 films, and 15 percent on the top 500 films. I then did more digging and realized the underrepresentation of women creating mainstream work was occurring in other artistic fields, not just film.
I am the mother to two young girls and found myself wondering what I could do in my small corner of the universe to address gender imbalances in media. I want my girls to live in a world where more women’s stories are told, heard and read. One day I was solo at Target, pushing the cart, and it hit me that I could start an online parenting platform that supports the parents and caregivers of creative girls. It was a wave of emotion…one that both exhilarated and frightened me. This of course meant I had to do it. Within a couple of months Girls That Create was online.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Over the last several years there has been an incredible movement to close the gender gap in STEM fields. I applaud that work and absolutely agree that if a girl is interested in STEM, she should be encouraged to pursue this passion. At the same time more and more people are recognizing the A for art should be included in STEM to make STEAM. The A matters. One (of many) reasons is the arts help girls think outside the box and develop creative problem-solving skills. However, what if a parent is raising a daughter who truly comes to life when she is painting, dancing, designing, filming etc.? Sure, she likes math, but what if she is happiest writing stories and exploring the world through interviewing others? I firmly believe there is enough room in the world for the girls pursuing STEM and also for the girls who choose the Arts. Also, there is the lingering stereotype of the starving artist. Yes, not everyone is going to win say a Pulitzer or GRAMMY, but to push girls away from their artistic passions because of fear they’ll not be able to support themselves is extremely detrimental. The Creator Spotlight series on Girls That Create features women who have found success in artistic careers. Its purpose is to inspire girls while also showing parents success in the arts is possible. Also, can you imagine a world without the arts? Art has the power to change opinions, instill values, uplift spirits, translate experiences and so much more. It is absolutely imperative women have a seat at the table in this crucial field, and that begins with girls being encouraged to be creators.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Influence starts at a young age. I remember riding with my mother to deliver Meals on Wheels and also observing her work on a variety of community projects. She was part of a women’s group who started the first shelter for domestic violence survivors in my hometown. My mother instilled the idea of including not excluding if you want to make necessary change happen in the world.
Another mentor is a supervisor I had while working for a nationally recognized medical center. She continues to be a positive force in my life. A lesson she taught is never make decisions out of fear and to always be authentic in your decision-making. Even if it means you’re going to anger or disappoint people. Also, you’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them and grow.
Last is my great-aunt. In her 70s she began laying the groundwork for an arts center because she saw the need in her city. She oversaw the transformation of a vacant Fire Department Administration building into a facility that now houses art gallery spaces, a theater, clay studio and more. Classes are held for kids and adults throughout the year. My great-aunt showed you’re never too old to make significant change happen in your community.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
The first comes from my maternal grandmother. She told me, “Walk into every room like you’re thinking about buying the place.” I always remember her words right before I’m about to make a presentation. A few years back there was a study on how power-posing and posture can positively influence behavior. One of the examples used was the classic Wonder Woman pose where she stands centered, straight and with her hands on her hips. I think my grandmother wholeheartedly would have agreed with the benefits of striking that one.
The next words of advice come from the musician/actress Cher, “Women have to harness their power — it’s absolutely true. It’s just learning not to take the first no. And if you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner.” Once when working on a major feature story, I needed access to sources in a roped-off area. I knew their firsthand accounts would make or break the piece. Several times I was told access wasn’t possible. Instead of going back to the hotel, I walked the event parameter until I located someone whom I could pitch my case for talking with these important sources. Not only did I receive an all access badge, but I got a personal escort through the entrance. Throughout the entire situation I remained rooted in knowing I had every right to those interviews. It was just about finding a way in.
Last piece of advice, “Your job is what you’re paid for, your purpose is what you’re made for.” I heard this recently at a conference and wish those words had crossed my path years ago.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Right now, I am working on developing a Girls That Create podcast and book based on the website. There has been a lot of positive inquiries into both projects. My hope is the podcast will be launched by the end of the year.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Admittedly I am very much on the Brené Brown bandwagon. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to hear her speak in-person, and there were similar points to those she discusses in her Netflix special. You’d be amazed how much using the statement, “The story I’m telling myself” helps when having a disagreement or serious discussion with someone. I highly recommend watching that powerful talk on Netflix or her free TED Talk online. Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” was also a significant read for me. Additionally, I love to listen to KERA’s show Think with Krys Boyd (KERA is North Texas’ PBS and NPR station). Boyd is a wonderful host who has these thought-provoking, in-depth conversations with dynamic guests. You can subscribe to the show as a podcast, which I highly recommend.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Again, it goes back to that idea of inclusion, not exclusion. Everyone is a creator and should be encouraged to make art for themselves or to share with others (regardless of age). Also, every person has at least one life story that deserves to be shared, whether through writing, film or visual arts. How many folks have lost someone and then realized they never asked important questions or heard meaningful stories from their loved ones’ lives? I encourage people reading this to make a list of questions for someone special in their lives and then take the time to have meaningful Q&A.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
During high school my mother gifted me one of Maya Angelou’s books. I have been a lifelong reader of her work since. One quote I keep up in my office is “If you teach, you have to live your teaching.” For me that basically translates into if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.
How can our readers follow you online?
WONDER WOMEN: www.facebook.com/WonderWomenDoc
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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