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HERstory: How to Start a Girl Gang

Marissa Lair and Gillian King were two recent grads when they realized that they needed support in the transition from post-secondary education to the workforce. They grew up as childhood friends, went in different directions for post-secondary and then returned to the same area they grew up in. They talked about wanting help and direction during this new period of their lives and realized that the lack of support in their community could be an opportunity for them to create this space.

So, what is HERstory?

Ultimately, the community members of HERstory have shaped the community group into what it is today. HERstory tackles real-life issues like mental illness – including eating disorders, depression, trauma, self-care, feminism and social expectations. During monthly online check-ins, quarterly retreats and special events, Marissa and Gillian have created a safe space where women can take off the mask that we put on for social media, regardless of age, sexual orientation, race, religion and geographic location. You can follow HERstory on Instagram to read stories about community members and strong, empowering women.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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I have learned so much about what it means to actually love and care for myself through this community and I enjoy hearing other women’s perspectives and experiences.

About the Founder: Marissa Lair

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Marissa graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2018, where she studied international development and was a sister of Alpha Omega Sorority. Marissa has lived in Spain and Germany and hopes to expand her work in international student affairs. Marissa is the community engagement officer and creates most of the aesthetically-pleasing Instagram content.

About the Founder: Gillian King

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Gillian is a certified Child and Youth Worker and is a graduate of Durham College. Gillian was a part of her school’s Delta Psi Delta chapter. Gillian wants to continue to study within the mental health field and is the program officer for HERstory, meaning that she facilitates discussion.

What obstacles did you face when starting HERstory and how would you do it differently now?

Gillian: We started from the ground up with no following so it’s been a long push for the engagement & numbers that we would like to be seeing. We have done a lot of learning. Since we started this initiative in one night and hopped right into things, we failed forwards a couple of times before we gained real momentum. However, progress is progress. Funding was another obstacle.

Marissa: One thing that was difficult at the start of our journey and continues to be an uphill battle for HS is gathering community support for a gendered program. Women’s empowerment still feels like a very taboo topic to bring forward, and attracting a supportive audience has been a different experience than, for example, if we were a mental health focused organization or had a different social objective. The tricky part of running with a feminist agenda is doing so in a tactful and respectful manner, as to not be perceived as unsupportive of male-identified or non-binary people.

I think, if we were to repeat the startup process, we would have taken our time with advertising this new program, and familiarized our community with our objectives. We started HERstory within a day, as it went from a lofty lunch conversation to starting a Facebook page in a matter of hours. Had we known then what HS would grow into, we would have had a softer launch to give HS the best start possible as well as facilitate meaningful connections within Grey/Bruce.

Do you think sorority life impacted your vision of HERstory?

Gillian: Being a part of a sorority definitely sparked my interest in women’s groups. With both of us being in sororities and building some female connections, we saw the disconnect in services and community upon moving home and that was really the catalyst for the development of HERstory.

Marissa: Being in a sorority was such a powerful introduction to what a group of passionate young women can accomplish collectively. I have many fond memories of bonding with my sisters at our weekly meetings, our annual retreats and regular socials with fraternities. Sorority life created strong relationships that I carry with me to this day and acted as the catalyst for my most favourite connection activity: storytelling.

Though I did not realize the impact it was having at the time, being in a room of supportive and compassionate women allowed me to speak my mind, get comfortable being uncomfortable and taught me to pursue the advocacy projects I am passionate about. These foundational skills and value of sisterhood absolutely came into fruition with HERstory. (Thanks WLU ΑΩ <3 )

What has been the most rewarding part of this journey so far?

Gillian: The most rewarding part has been hearing words like “you are changing lives.” This was said to us at one of our retreats and I will never forget the indescribable feeling this brought over me. As easy as it is to get caught up in numbers and logistics, just knowing that we are helping at least ONE other human, is a great reward. Since that point, we’ve seen a shift in our programming and retreats with the attendance growing. I love that we get to build strong connections and show other women that their stories are valuable and worth telling.

Marissa: The most memorable and rewarding part of our journey thus far has been our retreats, bar none. We have been so fortunate to connect with friends and strangers alike over shared life experiences that facilitate raw and emotional storytelling. This process can be extremely liberating and uplifting for those involved. Seeing women come together and create deep connections is refreshing, and it holds a very special place in my heart and Gillian’s to know we have had a hand in creating this space.

If you’re interested in following HERstory, you are welcome to follow their Instagram, Facebook page and/or blog. New members are always welcome to join online meetings and retreats. Happy International Women’s Day, and I hope Gillian and Marissa inspire you like they have inspired me.


*Responses may have been edited for clarity*

References:

https://www.herstorygreybruce.com/about