We asked Olivia Gardner, founder and leader of IATG: University of Colorado, Boulder, to interview the founder of I AM THAT GIRL, Alexis Jones! Their conversation covers IATG, Alexis' latest venture: ProtectHer, and so much more. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
IATG: What lights your heart up and fuels your fire?
Alexis: I always use the saying “loving people back to life.” I think that seeing people witness their potential, even if it’s for a few seconds, is definitely what lights me up. It reminds me of Wendy, in Peter Pan, when they sprinkle fairy dust and suddenly get to fly that’s my kind of my jam.
IATG: There are many mantras that have boomed from I Am That Girl, so what is the one that moves you to your core and keeps you going?
Alexis: I’m probably tied for two. One is the idea of collaboration over competition. I think that’s something that has just been a throughline throughout my life. How can we, in whatever capacity, collaborate instead of compete? That is a mantra certainly in my personal life, but also in my professional life. The other one that I think has kind of changed my entire life is the idea of how do we contribute instead of merely consume. How am I always making sure within my friendships and relationships that I’m giving more than I’m taking? But, then also I use that in my professional life. How am I constantly making sure that whatever project I’m working on that the project is always more important than any ego associated with it?
IATG: ProtectHer is about redefining manhood and tackling the narrative around sexual assault. I AM THAT GIRL is about shifting girl culture from self-doubt to self-love. Both focus on college students, so where does this desire come from?
Alexis: I think the reason I have a personal passion for college is I kind of think it is the first time after you turn eighteen you’re charged with thinking for yourself. Right up until then your parents are telling you what to do and your coaches and your teachers are telling you what to do and you have a very set schedule. For me there’s something unique about college, it’s that age and that first time where you’re like “What do I think about this?” or “What do I want my schedule to look like?” and it is the first time where someone has the freedom to start authoring their own life.
I think being able to come in and help them and ask them the right questions to help them figure out what is the best way to live their lives and help challenge their belief system is an exciting age to work with. Within girl culture, up until this point, we’re kind of programmed to think that we should be threatened by each other. It’s also the age where you’re able to wrestle with a little bit of philosophy, a little bit of quandary and curiosity. There is something about that, that lights me up. Whether I am talking to I AM THAT GIRL or talking to young men with ProtectHer, we’re having ninety percent of the same conversation: “Who will you choose to be?”
IATG: What is the intersection of I AM THAT GIRL and ProtectHer?
Alexis: The whole point is that you’re never going to see social change only speaking to half the sky. In order for us to ever see any shift around sexual assault and violence against women, we can’t be only speaking to women. Men are required in that conversation and up until now they haven’t been invited to sit at our table. I think as long as men and women don’t collectively come together, especially around violence against women, nothing will ever change. I realized that when I was working with I AM THAT GIRL and having done that for a decade and having done women’s empowerment for the majority of my life, I realized that our brothers need a safe place to also question culture and to turn self-doubt into self-love because that is not a girl problem. Insecurity is not a girl problem; that’s a human problem and working with girls I realize we were so lucky to have something like I AM THAT GIRL.
I started looking around. What do our brothers have? How do they figure life out? The way that [IATG members are] able to come together and talk every week and have conversation prompts and be supported with social media and have this organization that reminds us we’re badass, what do guys have? If I AM THAT GIRL is a sisterhood, ProtectHer is a brotherhood so that we as a generation can come together and help solve some of the biggest problems that our world is being faced with right now.
We’re basically given two ways in which we’re told that we matter – our physical attractiveness and the attention that we get from boys. In every single movie, in every bit of advertising, in the ten hours of media a day that we consume, that is the consistent message of being a “successful” woman: this attractiveness and impossible definition of beauty. Between that and the attention we get from boys that makes us poorly programmed. It’s like we’re going through exercises to become Barbie all day, every day and that is so limiting. That corrodes an authentic confidence based on all the shit that actually matters like our integrity, humor, creativity, passion, or empathy, and all the other stuff that gets thrown to the wayside. In the same way that girls are poorly programmed, guys are just as poorly programmed. When we start looking at manhood - be rich, be famous, bang as many girls as you can – that is equally limiting. Again, it throws out all the stuff that actually matters and that’s why I think it’s a sisterhood and a brotherhood. The truth is we’re all basically being brainwashed. How can we inject more compassion and empathy and vulnerability into humanity, into our generation?
IATG: Because ProtectHer is about sexual assault, where does Title IX come into play?
Alexis: We have 313 major Universities under federal investigation for how they poorly handle sexual assault, which is a Title IX issue. The truth is, at the collegiate level, sexual assault falls under Title IX because it is technically considered a form of sexism and Title IX is all about equality around access to education. ProtectHer is ideally preventive medicine for triggering Title IX infringement.
IATG: How does ProtectHer tackle sexism?
Alexis: I think a big part of it is that there is a lot of blind spots, especially for men, around sexism because of how poorly programmed they’ve been by mass media. It educates them on the fact that the majority of these guys don’t even realize that what they’re doing is disrespectful, that what they’re doing is potentially against the law. How do we best educate these young men so that they don’t find themselves in a position where they have any kind of infringement on the issue?
IATG: What does ProtectHer do for the climate of a campus in terms of shifting attitudes and breaking the institutional norms?
Alexis: We’ve identified male athletes, specifically, as the trendsetters on the majority of campuses. If we can identify the people who are setting the trends and potentially the people who can disrupt the trends, especially social norms, and educate and equip them with the right tools and the right way to communicate in circumstances, then others will follow suit.
IATG: What is your wisdom for any college wondering if ProtectHer is right for their campus?
Alexis: There is not a campus out there who can afford to NOT invest in a program like ProtectHer. I am very biased and I think ProtectHer is the most effectively communicated program for male athletes on the issue of sexual assault prevention.
IATG: What would you say to girls pursuing sports?
Alexis: Keep kicking ass. Anything where a girl is using her body actively, I’m big fan of because it reminds us that our bodies are verbs and not adjectives. I think that is an important distinction because I think the whole world tries to convince us that we’re ornaments – to look a certain way and dress a certain way, like Barbie dolls, but Barbie dolls are stagnant. Being reminded our bodies are meant to function, seeing it functioning, performing, and doing things gives us a different respect for our bodies.
IATG: What would you say to your younger self?
Alexis: It all works out perfectly. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Perfectly did not mean pain-free. Pain is your greatest teacher. The version of you who stands on the other side of every heartbreak is a braver version of you. You can’t mess up your life even if you tried.