Soon after the election, photographer Katie Henry and writer Ashley Glass were feeling like they needed to do something — anything — that was bigger than themselves. Something that would make people think; something that would leave a positive impact on the world.
Glass and Henry both work at a New York City ad agency, where they regularly spend their days working on creative projects. But they were both looking for inspiration outside of work when an idea finally came to them: They would remind the world that it’s not a matter of if we’ll have a U.S. female president one day, but a matter of when — and inspire girls across America to believe it will be them.
They would call it The When Project.
To do so, they’ve set out on foot nearly every weekend since November to ask girls in New York City one simple, yet powerful question: “What would you do if you were president?”
So far, nearly 100 girls ages 4 to 21 have participated in the project, and their answers have run the gamut.
They’ve uncovered some budding feminists …
“When I become President I will change the standard. People say to girls, ‘If you look pretty’ or “If you wear a nice outfit” you’re worth more than if you are smart. I want to tell girls, “You are perfect, even if you don’t look ‘perfect.'” – Anna
Some civil rights activists …
“When I become President, I would change equality. Even though a lot of segregation and racism went away, I feel like the world is still in it, secretly. In the government and things like that. I would help that all go away.” – Teona
Future environmentalists …
“When I become President, I will target more environmental problems and global warming stuff before other things. Also I’ll support other countries that need our help rather than just worrying about us here … I think we can help other people before we have to worry about ourselves.” – Lauren
And even some … amateur comedians?
“When I become President, I’ll make more comfy shirts for Dads.” – Evelyn
“It’s so interesting to hear what they say,” Glass tells Babble. “They’re so insightful and brave. When we head out to find these girls, we never know who we’re going to find or if we’ll find anyone at all. And that makes it exciting. It feels like we’re modern day gold miners. But the gold we seek is smart, young females.”
Make that smart, young females of varying ages, backgrounds, and life experiences — which luckily, isn’t that hard to find in a city as diverse as New York.
“Our country is a melting pot,” says Glass. “Our project would mean nothing without differing points of view … That’s what we need. That’s what our country needs.”
Since most of the girls are under 18, the photographers are careful to approach their parents first, letting them know what the project is about, and making sure they have their permission to interview their daughters. So far, they’ve found willing subjects everywhere from city parks to art museums, who are all more than game to imagine themselves sitting in the Oval Office one day.
“What’s cool is that when we approach the parents, about 98% of responses are positive,” says Henry. “They’re so enthusiastic about what we’re doing and believe it or not, [they] thank us for it.”
The project has also shown Henry and Glass just how much this election has impacted young girls — and it was a reminder of just how much they’re paying attention.
“We’ve been surprised at how many parents have told us their little girls were following the election closely,” says Henry. “When do you ever hear something like that? We can only believe it was because a female president was running. That’s a bonus we get from going out into the world and discussing our project. We find out how people feel about the current climate and how it does in fact affect the way girls perceive the world and themselves.”
“It’s amazing, in so many ways, to hear an 11 year-old girl say she would stop terrorism,” says Glass. “Not only is she in tune with what’s going on in the world, she’s got a bold heart.”
The Humans of New York-style project is pretty grassroots at the moment — though Glass and Henry are hoping it takes on a life of its own, envisioning it as more of a “social movement” than anything else. And thanks to Instagram and Facebook, it’s well on its way: Girls from all over the country have already been submitting their own photos, along with “when” quotes about what they would do as President one day.
“I read somewhere that up until [about] 7 years of age, girls believe they can become President,” says Glass. “After that age they stop believing it, because they don’t see it. And even though they don’t see a woman behind that podium right now, my hope for this project is that at the very least girls will see other girls believing they will become President one day. And that will inspire them to believe in themselves in an everyday way.”
From the looks of things, it already is.