In fact, Bluhm is not a little girl who just got mad about Seventeen and happened to start a massive protest. She’s a blogger for SPARK Summit, a youth activism organization run by adults. Which is to say: the story of the Seventeen protest is not the story of Julia Bluhm taking action, but the story of an established organization taking action through one of its representatives, Julia Bluhm. Here is how SPARK Summit describes itself, on its website:
SPARK is a girl-fueled activist movement to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media.
And here is how Julia Bluhm describes herself, in her Change.org profile, from whence she launched the petition:
As a feminist, [Bluhm] not only wants to put a stop to sexualization and stereotypes of girls in the media, but also to negative stereotypes of ballet dancers.
Right below that, there’s a description of her connection to SPARK. This isn’t to rob Bluhm of credit; she did good work. But she didn’t do it alone, and to the extent that the Seventeen protest is being reported as Julia Bluhm’s protest, it’s being misreported.
And that misrepresentation is both sentimental and sloppy. Bluhm’s victory statement specifically directs credit, and supporters, back to other SPARK initiatives: “This is a huge victory, and I’m so unbelievably happy. Another petition is being started by SPARK activists Emma and Carina, targeting Teen Vogue.” And it signs off with a variation on the organization’s slogan: “We are sparking a change!”
If I sound crabby: Well, I am, a bit. But the media’s tendency to sentimentalize and simplify activism—and, particularly, its tendency to pick out lone heroes or heroines, normal people granted exceptional powers to fight evil—is an alarming one. A responsible account of social change should not, generally speaking, have the same plot as the first Spider-Man movie. And not only because this sort of thinking is trite, or lazy: Because it misrepresents the basic principles by which activism works.