Empowering Women

By telling her story.

Emily Smith and  Mary Beth Gore.

Emily Smith and Mary Beth Gore.

We women are our own worst critics—if you’re a woman, you’ve probably heard this before. And maybe this statement made you angry because you disagree. Or maybe it filled you with sorrow because you can say from first-hand experience that it’s true. When Mary Beth Gore heard this statement while watching the documentary Miss Representation, she decided to do something about it. She decided to start Her Story, a series of profiles on women with a connection to the Birmingham area.

“I want all women to know their story matters,” says Gore, a 24-year-old social worker. “It is a very empowering experience for a woman to share her story and know that it’s meaningful.”

Instead of criticizing other women Gore wants to uplift women by helping their voice be heard. She teamed up with Emily Smith to help her with Her Story, which they launched in January. Over the year Gore and Smith have shared stories of women of different age groups and different walks of life—from stories of women who have survived gunshot wounds and battled eating disorders to stories of college students and stay-at-home moms.

For each of the monthly stories, which Gore posts on her website marybgore.com, Gore shares an interview with a different woman and Smith takes photographs of each one, so they can put faces to their heartfelt stories. The stories are written in a casual, conversational tone and in first person from Gore’s point of view. Thus, the reader feels as if she is sitting with Gore as she interviews the woman who is sharing her story.

Gore and Smith make no claims of being journalists.

“I’m not a writer and she’s not a photographer, but we took this on,” Gore says.

Smith had just purchased a new camera when Gore contacted her about taking pictures for the project.

“I just jumped in,” says 22-year-old Smith, who is currently in school studying to be a teacher. “I think (the photos of) our January person were the first pictures I had taken with my camera.”

Smith says getting attention for her photography didn’t cross her mind when she agreed to help with Her Story. “It was just for doing a good thing and showing women it’s okay to be women,” she says. “It’s okay to be flawed and the pictures don’t have to be perfect. And neither does the writing.”

Gore says it was important to her that Her Story showcase the stories of women from diverse backgrounds. 

“That was the one thing I was strategic about,” she says.

One hope that she and Smith have for the project is that it will show women they don’t have to live up to someone else’s idea of the right way to be a woman.

“We have these two sides of women— you’re either very feminist and this is how it has to be or you’re like, ‘No I don’t want to be a feminist! I want to fit in this gender role.’ But where is the middle ground?” Gore asks.

“We all have something good to say. We all believe things and feel things because of our stories that brought us there. That’s what I feel like Her Story is doing. We’re sharing that and there’s no wrong or right.”

Gore and Smith say they aren’t consumed with counting their pageviews.

“It just matters that that one person reads what they need to read,” Smith says. “It’s all about reaching women who think either they aren’t amounting to enough or that they have something to prove. And they don’t. We’re just women who need to stick together.”

Gore and Smith hope the stories they’re sharing have an impact on the people who read them, and they say this project has had an impact on them as well.

“This has been a very humbling process for myself,” Gore says. “Even though I knew my heart behind it was very pure and I wanted this to be about other women there’s still that voice in the back that’s like, ‘You’re doing such a good job. You’re really trying to change the world.’ And I think through this process of hearing how empowering these stories have been and the reactions that these women are getting, it’s not, ‘Oh, you and Emily are so amazing!’ It’s ‘Oh, I loved that woman’s story!’ It’s been so humbling, because this really has nothing to do with us.”

On December 1 at 6 p.m. at the Christ City Center in Bessemer, Gore and Smith will host Her Story Celebration, an evening celebrating one year of stories. The evening will include dinner, time to explore vendor booths featuring women-owned businesses, and a panel discussion with some of the women featured in the Her Story project this year. Tickets are $10 in advance via EventBrite.com and $15 at the door. All proceeds will benefit Grace House Ministries.

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