You haven’t seen what girls can do — and what they’re most passionate about — until you get 30,000 of them together in one online space.

Dreaming of a more empowered tomorrow

21-year-old Rozan Talevian started this Vancouver-based online space, Inpower, in 2014. It started off innocuously, a small Facebook group centred on Vancouver’s North Shore that encouraged self-identified women and non-binary people to come together and share advice, stories, and questions among themselves. Two years later, the group has the population of a small city — but Talevian isn’t surprised. She saw the need for a communal space for young women like herself, and it was only a matter of time before she would create one herself.  

It’s called ‘Inpower,’ an open forum for anything from memes, to relationship advice, to serious discussions on race, gender, relationships, and mental health. Are you curious enough to search it on Facebook? You won’t find it.

It’s a ‘secret’ group, invite-only, and at any given moment there are at least a thousand girls waiting for their invitation to be approved. Want to be added in? Ask around — one of your friends is surely a member.

The invitation-and-approval process may sound elite, like an after-hours club, but it’s this way simply because of the limited (wo)manpower that runs it.

I am one of five administrators (admins), girls who are on-call 24/7 and have the ability to monitor content, delete harmful posts, remove members, and check each requested profile for catfish-like qualities. I was added a few months after Inpower first began and, as an introverted person, I found that this online community was an easier outlet for me to voice opinions that I had always wanted to talk and learn about.

None of us five admins of this group have ever met in person. Though we’re from the same city, technologies like Facebook have collapsed the physical space that was once needed to debate, implement ideas, and maintain friendships.

Ask and you will receive the help you need

Rachel Carrier, a joint SFU English and communication major, has been a regular contributor for almost a year. She knows that there are bound to be clashes in a group so large and diverse. However, what she finds most gratifying is that there’s always help for those who need it, whether that’s “guys, I’m stranded downtown and have no way of getting home. Is anyone awake and can pick me up” or “I just found out my boyfriend has been cheating on me and I have no idea what to do” or “I’m thinking of going vegan – any advice?”

“I love following up on the crazy stories and seeing the girls encouraging the others to be happy,” Carrier adds. “For me, it’s like having a big sister or cool aunt always to ask for advice.” So how about 30,000 big sisters? This kind of mentorship and community has surely helped many find the support they’re looking for.

Talevian stresses the need for empathy and empowerment in the group. As it gets bigger, she hopes that members will keep the core mission of the group in mind: to connect women through positive relationships. “I’m a firm believer that we become who we surrounded ourselves with,” she explains. “I wanted to create a space where positive relationships could spread like a domino effect.”

Any and all topics are welcome for discussion on Inpower, within the basic rules of thumb: no cyber-bullying or personal attacks. No selling of drugs or alcohol. No nudes. But then there are the trickier, subjective situations that open up questions about inclusivity and free speech.

Mounting pressure to moderate the group

When the admins face popular pressure to kick out members who openly endorse Trump, do they have that ‘right’? When they delete abrasive comments on a post about whether white girls should get dreadlocks (the general consensus: they shouldn’t), are they perceived to be silencing women of colour? How does the language used in relationship posts inadvertently alienate gay, trans, and non-binary members? And, most importantly, at what point does free speech become harmful?

It’s questions like these that Jana Ghimire, full-time admin and SFU visual arts major, often muses on. Ghimire has been a member for three years and an admin for almost a year. Her presence in the group is measured and low-key, and she’s most fascinated by the topics that reveal the stark differences in people’s personal views.

Every hour of the day, issues that young women face in every area of their lives — and don’t always have a comfortable or communal space to discuss IRL — are unabashedly talked about. Wherever it is that you stand on issues like sex positivity versus slut shaming, cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation, or feminism versus ‘equalism,’ one thing is for certain: when it comes to the issues that matter to them, these young women refuse to stay silent.

They’re vocal, but are they informed? A majority of Inpower’s membership base are young women at high school or post-secondary age, and it’s evident that they have been desperate for a place to ask some very pressing and personal questions. Many of the submissions to Inpower’s anonymous posting system ask about things like birth control options, STI diagnoses, abortions, and sexual abuse help. Ghimire says this content shows a “concerning lack” of sexual education and resources available to young women.

“We try to provide legitimate resources to these questions, but since it’s basically an open forum, misinformation can be shared as well,” she says. “I can’t help but find it worrisome that these young women don’t feel like they have anywhere else to turn.”

In the future, the admins plan to host live streamed question and answer sessions with qualified health professionals to address some of the more common questions.

Inpower is bursting at the seams with potential to become something bigger than a Facebook group. Talevian, an aspiring musician and entrepreneur, has planned charitable events for female artists under the Inpower banner. Her end-goal is to trademark the name and start a non-profit. Talks of creating an app is also in the works, to the end of moving the group onto an external, less restrictive platform. Finally, local hair, makeup, and tattoo artists offer special Inpower giveaways and discounts for members of the group.

A group not immune from problems

Perhaps even more meaningful are the safe spaces for intersectional communities that have followed in Inpower’s wake. Unfortunately, SFU sociology student Mariyah Ali has noticed a disturbing trend for young women to be dismissive or uninformed of the issues that people of other races, cultures, and religions face.

When comments like, “There’s no racism in Canada,” or “Stop being so sensitive,” crop up in the threads, Ali does her best to reach out to the commenters to make them aware of how their attitudes are harmful.

Still, this constant obligation to educate can be emotionally tiring. That’s why, for Ali, a spinoff group called WOCpower (“Women of Colour” Power) has become her go-to group. Smaller and more tight-knit, it’s a place for girls of non-European ethnicities to come together and know that their experiences as minorities will receive empathy. As well, people of other sexualities and genders can find friendship and resources in the LGBTQA+ adaptations of the group.

Aside from other questionable spinoffs like Himpower (an online forum for men’s right activists which was originally created to mock Inpower), there doesn’t yet appear to be a similarly empowering space for young men — but all it takes is one person with a vision to start it. Every day, groups like these crush the idea that online communities are somehow not as legitimate as the ones in the real world.

Of course no online space is truly safe. This is the first thing that an Internet-savvy user will tell you, and probably the first thing you should understand before venturing online. Fake profiles will find their way in, personal posts will be spread outside the group, and not every opinion will be treated with respect. There is lots of work to be done within the 30,000 viewpoints, lifestyles, and cultures that make up Inpower, and the admins can’t do the work alone.

“I feel like if people entered conversations with an interest in better understanding each other, then it would facilitate growth and learning,” notes member Emily Rose McTavish, a joint Gender Studies and Women’s Studies and English major who is critical of the ‘mob mentality’ that can take place in the group.

Moving forward

Talevian agrees with the need for empathy. “When we’re online, we need to remember that these are human beings we’re interacting with,” she says. “We need to be the role models that we want to see.”

For the members of Inpower, an inclusive, respectful, and safe space is an ideal for which to strive. Hopefully, a mission to spread positivity, and a communal effort to enforce this mission, will influence the members’ offline relationships as well. Three short years after Inpower’s inception, there is a foundation in place that can only get better: a community for a girl to spill her guts and know that she can count on sympathy, good vibes, and no-bullshit advice from her peers.