Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Get your Swag on, Girl!

Cynthia Brown is a brilliant confluence of strength, intellect and spunk. The founder of the Girl's Guide to Swagger, her initiatives have been the fulcrum of confidence-building for many women and girls. Here's our conversation with her. 

Image: Cynthia Brown
What inspired you to start the Girl's Guide to Swagger?
Early on in my career, I was in charge of a construction project. My organization had hired a contractor to build affordable housing for single parents, who were finishing their education and getting their lives on track. The man who was running the construction for the contractor didn’t approve of having a young woman being in charge of the construction. He was always challenging my decisions and didn’t show me much respect. One day he called me out to the construction site to take a look at an old dump site that had been found while excavating for the foundations of the new housing. When I got there, I could see why he had been so excited for me to come to the site. When the front loader began to dig up the old tires and other junk, it had disturbed many snakes that were hibernating for the winter. There were dead snakes everywhere – on the ground, hanging from the bucket of the front loader and live snakes waking up and crawling around. All the guys working on the site gathered round to see if I would run away screaming. What they didn’t know was that I was a tomboy growing up and that I’m not afraid of snakes. I calmly discussed our options for taking away the tires and other trash and then turned to go. The site superintendent asked me: “But, what about the snakes?” I said “They are garter snakes, they won’t hurt you,” and walked across the site back to my car. When I turned back to look, all the guys were still standing around the big hole in the ground, looking very disappointed that they had not been able to scare me away. In that moment, I found my own internal well of confidence and began to think of it as swagger.

What is your definition of "Swagger"?
When I started to talk to other women about finding their confidence, I saw that there were many places to begin. Some found their confidence at work, others in sports or at school or even at church or in a relationship. I saw that there was a way to be your authentic self and at the same time get the respect you need to be effective in your life. It was clear to me that women who have lots of confidence have more fun in life and get more of what they want, too. Understanding who you are and what you want and going after it with confidence is swagger!

You've worked in many different fields - what got you to work on women's and girls' rights?
While I was working on developing housing for women and children, I became more and more interested in all the cultural barriers there are to equality for women. It made me angry to see that women and children were the targets of domestic violence and often had to leave their homes and everything else behind to save their lives. My anger inspired me to begin to work more directly on equality for women.

What, in your opinion, holds women back from truly enjoying the positions of equality they are rightfully entitled to?
Across the world, women face legal and cultural barriers to equality. Many religions support old views that men are superior and therefore should be the head of the household and have dominion over all things. Our world is out of balance with too much male dominance and the suppression of feminine wisdom and ways of being. I’m sure that if there were a better balance of male and female energy in the world, we would have a more peaceful and equitable place to live.

What does being a woman mean to you?
I was the oldest child in my family and was called upon to be a mature and a leader early in my life. As a result, I found the masculine part of my personality first. It was only after my son was born that I began to know the feminine side of myself and connect strongly with other women. For me, being a woman means knowing and embracing all sides of yourself, hearing your inner voice, and doing what you can to make the world a better place.

Tell us a bit about “Empower the Girl” and “Swagger Art”      
One thing that I’m really excited to be working on is an upcoming conference called Empower the Girl. It will take place October 12 in New Mexico, USA. Girls and women from all over the globe are invited to participate by being part of an art contest. We are accepting submissions of photos, drawing, painting, cartoons and sculpture. There are cash prizes and the winners will have their art included in the book The Girl’s Guide to Swagger. Find out more here:

Hop on the Swagger train with these links: