Meet Mahika Chopra!
Mahika is currently seven years old and is already becoming the superhero she was always meant to be through the extraordinary after-school program The Girl and I.
Widening the Lens
As a second grade student in Chicago, Illinois, Mahika is just beginning to find the power of her voice. Mahika has been a part of The Girl and I for three months and has completed multiple modules which includes making a movie with her peers and creating her own superhero, but this take on superheroes was a little unorthodox.
“...We looked at strong girls and we made our own superhero characters...”
Instead of looking at conventional superheroes, Mahika and her friends created their own superheroes based on some of the superpowers that they had, like patience, friendship, and kindness.
After this superhero module, Mahika participated in a movie making module where herself and her peers wrote, directed, lit, and acted in a film based on female empowerment. Mahika was a gaffer (which I had only just learned about in this interview), which meant that she worked on the lighting aspect of the movie.
But why make movies? Why create superheroes?
Mahika then went on to explain the premise of the movie that she and her friends made: “So...there was this girl called Ella and she wasn’t allowed to do things and there was this knight who kept her in a dark room because she did stuff that girls weren’t supposed to do, but then she got out of the room and um these girls called the spectacular sisters. She started playing with them and then the knight came and said they’re not allowed to play, so then there are these other 3 girls who were called Lima, Stella, and Mary. They were singers and dancers so the knight’s telling them (Ella and the spectacular sisters) to be like them (Lima, Stella, and Mary) cause they sing and dance inside, but they don’t sing and dance inside just cause they’re girls. They sing and dance because they want to….and there is this girl called moonlight who hides in a tree and then she hears the conversation and jumps down from the tree and all the girls start fighting the night and then the night gets put into the dark room.”
Did this play have the flow and character development of Shakespeare? No. Did it cover a load of complex-societal topics simple enough for girls ages 5-12? Oh yes, it did.
Whether it was looking at gender roles, the need for girl-on-girl support, or the way that “knights” feel that they have the power to tell other girls how to act, this movie looked at a lot of deeper issues that girls have to face every day. By introducing these topics to them early in narratives they can understand, these extraordinary young women begin to understand the concepts of “gender roles” from a young age. It is this early exposure that begins to build the confidence that girls tend to lose when in middle school.
It worked. By being in this girls-only space and by doing these projects, Mahika was learning these complex societal ideas in ways she could understand and she was learning how to take risks. The Girl and I is exposing these girls ages 5-12 to terms that they regularly would not hear in their everyday curriculum, but by allowing them a safe space to let their guard down and by giving them concrete projects, they are learning higher ideas; they are learning that nothing is too advanced for them if they have the time, they are learning complex ideas about gender and injustice, and they are learning to be themselves unconditionally
Being a Girl
Part of me wanted to end the interview after Mahika dropped that quote on me, but then I began to wonder a little bit…
How do seven-year-olds face gender inequity?
What does that look like?
Normally, I don’t think that a seven-year-old girl could point out the varying and unjust treatment between genders, but The Girl and I has begun to teach Mahika and countless other young girls what this treatment looks like and how to change it.
“There’s this one time when I was in school,” Mahika told me “and I used to play soccer cause we had the soccer team at our school, but I was the only girl who played soccer, but I realized that girls don’t have the same rights as boys because those boys wouldn’t let me play soccer with them for some reason.”
She then continued to talk about female rights internationally: “I read this book called The -- Stories of Rebel Girls and I read about a lot of these girls who are being treated differently in different parts of the world, and they have to fight for their life….Girls don’t have the same rights as boys. Well, they didn’t have the same rights as boys in the past and some girls in certain parts of the world still don’t have the same rights as boys.”
What Mahika said reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the one and only Audre Lorde: “I am not free, while any woman is unfree, even if her shackles are very different from my own.” Mahika, along with all of the other girls within the program The Girl and I are learning such large ideas through their own narratives and readings. They are expanding their world to include others who do not have the same privileges as they do, and they are learning this radical empathy while simultaneously learning how to be confident in themselves and express themselves to their fullest potential.
So whether girls learn how to be doctors, learn how to be programmers, learn how to be directors, or learn how to be ballerinas, they must first learn how to be their own superhero.
Inspired by Superheroes
Written by Sabrina Schoenborn
Transcribed by Amanda Lucas
Photography courtesy of Gauri Kapoor