UMass student launches YouTube series to empower women

By Rachel Ravelli

Collegian File Photo
(Collegian File Photo)

With the Students Allied For Gender Equality Club, University of Massachusetts freshman Ashley Olafsen has launched a YouTube video series called “Standing Up For Yourself” in order to provide an open space for women to share their experiences with racism and sexism.

By offering females a chance to vocalize their thoughts, Olafsen hopes that the series will serve as a medium through which women can empower one another.

“I hope to demonstrate that no one is alone in their experiences,” said Olafsen, a women and gender studies and communications double major. “Women should not be afraid to stand up whenever they are uncomfortable.”

Olafsen said her idea for the web series was inspired by a summer workshop she co-founded in Hopkinton, where she is originally from. The five-day workshop called “MOVE” (which stands for Motivate, Overcome, Value, Empower) uses “presentations, guest speakers, small groups, activities and fun games or sessions” to “promote self-confidence and positive body image,” according to the workshop’s website.

“At 16 I gave my first ever self-confidence empowerment workshop, alongside three of my best friends,” Olafsen said on her website. “Since then, I have co-created and delivered over 25 workshops and have created YouTube videos, speeches and more.”

Olafsen decided that starting a YouTube series featuring individual testimonies would be another way in which to promote self-confidence and empowerment.

Corinne Daley, a junior studying communications and international relations, is helping to advertise and recruit students for the series.

“We both know the power of social media,” Daley said. “I hope it brings attention to the discrimination women face in everyday life due to societal standards that need to be changed, and will be changed if we talk about it.”

In addition to offering workshops and producing videos, Olafsen has spent the past three years writing and editing “Survival of the Prettiest,” a non-fiction book written in a language and style easily accessible for middle schoolers, a demographic that commonly starts experiencing challenges with their female identity. Olafsen wrote the book so that it is enjoyable for college-aged students as well.

Olafsen is also the editor of a weekly newsletter, “Project Move Weekly,” an open online forum that publishes stories, poetry and other material that expresses a voice for young women.

Olafsen says that although she is used to writing about feminism, she hopes that film will powerfully record, highlight and reflect experiences she explains are uniquely female.

“I decided to get involved in this because of my own personal experiences and those of my friends,” Olafsen said.

The first video of the series has been released and examines how race fetishes are offensive to females. The first speaker, identified only as Emma, says that she feels objectified as both a woman and an Asian, but that she doesn’t “think that people even realize what they are saying is so rude” when they say things like “You’re such a beautiful Asian girl.”

“In particular to the UMass audience, I hope students will see that they are not alone in their experiences and therefore this will encourage them to stand up and make change,” Daley said.

Anyone interested in getting involved in “MOVE,” “Project Move Weekly” or the “Standing Up For Yourself” video series can contact Ashley Olafsen at [email protected]

Rachel Ravelli can be reached at [email protected]