Native American activist Daunnette Reyome is one of a growing number of Mavericks—teen girls taking over the Internet one post at a time on a new social networking and media-making app launched this April by a team of women dedicated to lifting up young feminist voices.
Reyome has been using Maverick since last October; she opened up her profile after speaking at the UN’s Day of the Girl events. The new app encourages girls to support one another, listen to one another and use their own creative voices—and provides them with a safe space that allows for unmitigated authenticity. That makes Maverick different than the plethora of apps dominating the screen times of most girls, such as Instagram and YouTube, where negative feedback and the pursuit of “likes” often overshadows real connection.
“[Maverick is] built for positivity,” Reyome explained to Ms., “and it’s not put there so people can comment negative things about each other. It’s there so that we all have something to relate to and we all have something to talk about with each other.”
Catalysts on the app range from YouTube personalities to musicians, Olympians to activists. Their challenges include attempting to tell the “best dad joke,” requests for feminist advice for young boys, invitations for users to talk about their first period. Instead of “likes,” Mavericks react to each other’s posts with badges, rewarding their fellow users for being creative, daring, unstoppable or unique.
Reyome, who gained national attention last year in a Teen Vogue video about cultural appropriation, uses the app to promote her activism on behalf of indigenous women. “The app itself is for empowerment, empowering anybody who uses it,” she says. “I can go on there and speak about something that I really believe in, and whoever read it could get their own opinion on it.” This summer, Reyome called on girls to share what they love about their culture in a Maverick challenge.
“The thing about Maverick is its really focused on empowering girls—and it’s not only for girls—but it’s really focused on positivity. Nothing that is inherently negative, or homophobic or misogynistic can really get put on the app because of the algorithm,” said Anais Richard, a Catalyst from Brooklyn. “I really like that since a lot of younger girls use it, they can grow up with it and the different versions that will come and really learn more about feminism. And I think that’s what makes it different than Instagram or YouTube, which is that a lot of negativity, and bullying and body shaming is put out through those platforms, and Maverick is completely different.” Richard, who identifies as a pansexual, hopes to see more queer representation on the app in the future, telling Ms. that “it’s important for younger people to know about queer-related things.”
Girls like Reyome and Richard get to speak openly on Maverick about the topics that interest them or inspire them without fear of harassment, threats or backlash. Instead of engaging in toxic Twitter wars, they’re rewarded for speaking up and speaking their truths. According to its co-founder and Chief Content Office Catherine Connors, that’s the whole point.
“It’s a space where their ideas get activated— in silly ways, in socially driven ways, in creative ways,” Connors told Ms. “It’s an environment in which the currency isn’t do people think you’re pretty or popular, but are you doing something fun or doing something interesting?”
In her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, author and journalist Peggy Orenstein questioned the transformation of “girl power” from the days of riot grrrl—when “Girl Power celebrated ability over body”—to the days of the Spice Girls and the current moment. “Even as new educational and professional opportunities unfurl before my daughters and her peers,” she noted, “so does the path that encourages them to equate identity with performance, pleasure with pleasing.”
Connors hopes to steer girls down the better path. “The research on girls’ social development has shown us the same thing for decades,” she told Ms. “During early adolescence, the majority of girls stop raising their hands, participating in sports and extra-curricular activities, taking risks, and stepping into leadership roles. In short, they stop believing in themselves. And it’s not because we don’t tell them that they should believe in themselves—it’s that they don’t get enough real opportunity to prove to themselves that they can.”
Maverick is giving girls the space to provide that proof—which might be just what our culture needs to transform “girl power” into tried-and-true empowerment.