Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. And today you are in for something so special. You’re gonna meet one of my most badass friends and you’re gonna hear about her crusade to change the culture of violence against women.
Alexis Jones is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and activist. She’s the founder of I Am That Girl, an organization helping over a million girls transform self-doubt into self-love, and most recently ProtectHer, a program educating male athletes on the importance of respecting women.
She’s one of Oprah’s Super Soul 100, Fast Company’s Female Trailblazers, ESPN’s Pop Culture’s Top 10, and AOL’s makers. She’s hosted several shows on CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports, MTV, and TLC, and has spoken at the White House, Harvard, Stanford, the United Nations, Nike, Dell, Pepsi, and the Girl Scouts.
It’s been too long.
Way too long.
Which we’ve already established.
So happy that you made time to come talk today. I’ve been wanting to do this with you forevs. So let’s go back. Let’s go back to when you were 19 and you were starting…
You mean last year?
I Am That Girl. This organization, what you’ve created is just incredible. I want to hear, for anyone who doesn’t know, a bit about the organization and what inspired you to launch it.
Sure. Kind of our elevator pitch, if you will: a badass version of Girl Scouts for college girls. And we just hit the 1.2 million girl mark, which is super exciting. And just opened a chapter in our 24th country. So that’s kind of like the quick and dirty.
Going back to 19. I feel like for a long time I had these like really eloquent responses of like “I wanted to change the world for girls. Right?” We – that you do. That you’re like just young enough and just naive enough to be like “why not me? Why not now?” But I think if, and especially with you. Like if I’m being really honest, I think I was, one, going through a breakup. Right? Which just like sends you down that hole. Which is just like “who am I outside of this person?” And I needed it. I think that was the truth was that, you know, I grew up in Austin and with no money. And going to a really wealthy school. And I think I – for me that was like my insecurity.
And then I go to USC, which is like that on crack cocaine, right? As far as like wealthy. You know, I remember like pointing out girls in my sorority and being like, “I’m pretty sure her dad owns Disney.” And like, you know, so I think I was hyper insecure. I was going through a breakup, and I just needed supportive girls that I could come and talk to them about the things that matter with no judgment.
And that’s kind of been the impetus. It started with six girls. I said we have a lot of conversations about things that don’t matter: clothes and books and movies and gossip. And what if once a week we had conversations about things that did matter. And those six girls showed up, and six meetings later we had 347 girls. So it started with six, now we’re at 1.2 million. And I think the truth is girls need girls probably more than ever right now.
It’s just having those relationships. I know for me it’s always been instrumental in my life, but as I get older it becomes more and more vital. And it’s not like I need a ton. I just need a handful, just a few people, that I can call at anytime and say anything to and absolutely know it’s a safe space and that I won’t be judged.
Yeah. And, I mean, I think that’s probably a woman thing and a human thing. Right? And I feel like the adulting, like adulting is so hard. And it’s like the older that we get the more you’re like – you just want someone that you’re gonna rattle off something ridiculous and they’re gonna be like, “I totally get it.”
And suddenly in that moment of like the simple phrase like “me too.” And I Am That Girl on social media that does “Me Tuesdays.” And the whole idea is like every Tuesday that you’re reminded that oh, my God. We’re all going through it in some way. And when you have someone who just says like “ah, I know. And I don’t have to understand exactly what you struggle with and I don’t have to have the exact insecurity per se, but you’re not alone.” And I think that that feeling of not being alone is probably the thing that we as human beings gravitate towards.
Okay. So coming out of this world of girl empowerment, now you’ve started a new organization, ProtectHer, and I am so excited about this. Tell us about what this is and what inspired you to start and shift direction.
Sure. So I’ve been doing girl empowerment for a decade. We’re actually about to celebrate our 10 year anniversary for I Am That Girl, which is crazy.
Thank you. And three years ago Trent Dilfer, who’s a commentator for ESPN, won a superbowl with the Baltimore Ravens, and Yogi Roth, who’s the face of the PAC 12 network. Two really good friends. So they called and they said, “Hey, Jones. Is there any way that you can come and give a talk to the top 18 quarterbacks in the country on the importance of respecting girls?”
And I remember my initial reaction, and I always laugh, because you know with girls it’s like we’re like overqualified for something and we’re like, “I don’t know. I just – I feel like I need more experience.” And then you have some like 19 year old dude and you’re asking about like a job and he’s like, “Please, I could totally be CEO.” And you’re like what? They just have this like built in confidence where they’re just like “fake it till you make it. I’ll figure it out.” And they called and they said can you come and give this talk? And I said why me? Like you should invite some dad or some dude that they respect. And, by the way, I have a wedding and I have all these things and I don’t have time to prep for it.
And they were really adamant. And they said “no, it’s important.” I had worked at Fox Sports and ESPN and was kind of this hybrid. That’s why like me being in a dress and dolled up is like very foreign to me. Like I feel very girly right now, which is wonderful. But I’m normally in jeans, t-shirt, trucker hat.
And so in that moment they said “no, it’s important. Because, one, we actually think the conversation needs to happen from a girl.” Which I just thought that in itself was interesting. And the second thing is they said “no one knows football better than you. So you coming in, you’re like this perfect hybrid of you’re not like a mom coming in. Like you’re the cool older sister and you can talk ball with them, but you can also, with this experience of having worked with girls for 10 years, you can come in and have this conversation with this experiential knowledge.”
So I came in and immediately I called my husband, who’s – turns out to be, one, my first investor for ProtectHer, which is kind of grossly adorable. And, two, the ultimate cheat sheet, because he played professional basketball for nine years. So I called him and I said, “Hey, I just got asked to give this talk to these top quarterbacks and what’s your suggestion?” And he said, “first off, if you’re talking to 18 year old boys, when you say sexual assault prevention, literally their brain doesn’t get past sex.” Right? Like and they’re thinking about like the hot sorority girls that they want to hook up with on campus. He said “so if I were you I would pull pictures of their moms, their sisters, and their girlfriends from social media, and I would put it in your presentation.”
Which the first thing I thought was that’s legitimately sketchy. Right? Is like you’re pulling – like you’re a stranger showing up to this event and – and so sure enough, I did. And he said – because the truth is the minute that they see their faces they’re gonna go from thinking about all the girls they want to hook up with and have sex with to literally the only girls and women in their life they don’t want anyone having sex with.
And, again, I just did it as this favor, but I showed up and I gave this talk. And what was crazy was I said one in four girls, right, will be sexually assaulted on your college campus. And they kinda did the eye roll of like okay, it’s this conversation. We’re the bad guys, right? And I said that means that it’s different when it’s her. And I clicked the next slide. And I memorized all the names of the girls. And I said it’s different when it’s Lauren, when it’s Danielle, and when it’s Marie, and when it’s – you know, and I started going through all these different names.
And all of a sudden even from a body language standpoint these guys went from being like nonchalant, like heads back, eyes rolling, to like sitting straight up in their seats. Because all of a sudden it activated a different part of them. Right? It activated the protector inside of them. And I always say there’s a predilection inside of male DNA. Like men are hardwired to protect. And so are women. And – protectors for all of us.
But what I didn’t realize in that moment, and I think that’s always the best. Right? When something happens organically and you’re like, “Woah, this is a thing.” Was that when that aired on ESPN a week later everything with Ray Rice came out.
So the timing of it was just kind of a divine moment. And overnight I was hired by division 1 locker rooms all over the country. So I spent 220 days a year in locker rooms for the past three years. So it became a thing. Which was, you know, tough love from a big sister saying “I don’t know if you got the memo. It’s not cool actually to disrespect women anymore. And let’s talk about your programming. Let’s talk about all these things of how you’ve arrived at that place where that was ever acceptable.”
So one of the things I think is so brilliant about what has been born from your heart and from your interaction with all these young men in these universities is the approach and the power of the jersey. Can you talk to us about that?
Sure. I think that historically whenever you looked at, you know, gladiator days. Right? It was like what makes a man a man? What makes a woman a woman? But in this context what makes a man a man? And it’s interesting because, you know, the majority of little boys under the age of, you know, 10, when you ask them what do you want to be when you grow up? They want to be some kind of athlete. Right? The way that we have positioned athletes specifically in this country.
And so they’re kind of these 21st century gladiators of kind of this, you know, the physical dominance and the popularity that often comes, the influence that comes with that jersey. And so putting it in the context of the power of the jersey, which is the power of the Superman cape. Right? The symbolism, right? Of what that means.
And so coming in and saying like “do you have any idea how powerful you are?” And then really breaking down the concept of the only difference between a superhero and a villain is who will you choose to serve? You know, do you serve yourself or do you serve others? You know, do you fight for yourself or do you fight for others? And I think coming in and presenting them, again, with no judgment. Right? It’s just coming in and like challenging the status quo and saying with this power what are you choosing to do with it?
And I think for 18 year old boys to have someone present them with the opportunity, and what comes with opportunity is awesome responsibility. And at least inviting them to participate in what that responsibility looks like.
I think it’s great too. It’s an invitation, not a confrontation. You know? We’re obviously talking about sexual assault and violence against women right now. But even as a broader concept, the idea that we have problems as a society, and then going to the very people who could help us solve those problems and not pointing a finger or telling them they’re the problem, but saying, “Hey, you could be the cure.” That was one of the most moving things to me about understanding what you’re building with ProtectHer. Because who wants to be yelled at? Who wants to be told that they’re horrible or that they’re wrong? And I just think it’s genius, the approach, because it allows people to let their guard down a little bit and then step up and have courage.
Yeah. I mean, one of the things I always, you know, preface with is I’m not a survivor of sexual assault. That means that my closest family members are and eight out of my best girlfriends are. And so this isn’t – there’s not a nonchalance about the issue. And kind of the beauty of coming from the girl empowerment world and doing that for a decade is I always have a name and face and story for every time people talk about girls in statistic form. Right? And we talk about like this pandemic level, and we’re beyond pandemic level at this point as far as the sexual assault. And I always also preface with the fact that the truth is, this isn’t a locker room problem. This isn’t a university problem. This is a systemic cultural problem, and violence against women has existed since 5th century BC. And as recently as 1996, you know, and I don’t know if you’re a Game of Thrones fan.
Of course I am.
Me too. And in every single episode, and that’s what’s kind of blown my mind, in every single episode thus far, and I think we’re on – we’re a little behind. So season four, season five, there’s been some form of violence against women. Right? And it’s become so accepted, because historically that was part of war. Right? And as recently as 1996 Amnesty International put out this statement saying that for a long time rape within war was a byproduct. And not only a byproduct. They went as far as to say it wasn’t just that. It was a strategy.
And, I mean, as recently as like the late 90s that it was still a strategy. And so I guess I say that only to like put parentheses around violence against women. This is something that has existed forever. And now we’re just in a position, especially with technology and especially with social media, to be able to really amplify the truth and the reality around it.
Yeah. And start to change the conversation and enlist men to help be part of the solution.
Exactly. And, again, it was one of those things that Brad was incredible insight on it. Right? Which is I’ve heard this conversation every single time. And he was I think 6’9” when we were 16. Right? So he was an incredible athlete. They knew he was gonna be good at like 11. So he’s played competitive sports from the time that he was 10, 11 years old. And he said “I’ve heard this conversation so many different times. And he said and the truth is I always ended up, as an alpha 6’9” male athlete, felt bad for being a dude.” And he was a good dude. You know? And he said the truth is 99% of guys in locker rooms would never intentionally rape a woman like against her will as she’s screaming, trying to, you know, get them off of her.
And he said so one of two things. The only approaches he’d ever seen was one of two things. They would either bring a survivor in who would retell this horrific experience. And so, again, 99% of these guys are like, “Oh, my God. I would never do that. So this isn’t relatable to me.” Right? Because I’m not that. Like what you’re describing would never happen on my watch. If I walked in and saw it, like that would never be acceptable. Or – and they shut down. Right? And it becomes unrelatable to them.
Or they bring in an officer who says if you do this, XY and Z, rape, that’s 14 years in prison. Again, “I would never do that, so this isn’t a conversation that relates to me.” And so it was his kind of brilliance of how do you invite us into a conversation? Because also every dude wants to be a hero. You know, that’s also hardwired. There’s a predilection for that. So the truth is that so much of even – and I’m absolutely a feminist. But part of the feminism movement to exclude and/or to make men feel excluded I think was and is…
Not the answer.
Not the answer.
Yup. No, that’s why I was really moved when I saw the documentary and I saw all of the footage from what you’re doing and the impact it’s having. It’s really incredible. I’m curious. You’ve been on the road now for three years talking to young men 220 days a year. Have you seen any changes from day one through now in terms of their receptivity? Is there more resistance? Like, what’s it like?
Well, one, I just think because we’ve had so much press coverage that it’s just so much easier. Like it’s just – you’re not having to explain what you’re trying to do. I’m not – my team isn’t having to say like, “No, it’s different. I promise. And these are the reasons why.” And we’re not having to like differentiate as much.
Or sell as hard, probably.
Or sell as hard. Although what’s crazy is our – my team has never one time made an outgoing phone call. So you talk about power of word of mouth, you know, when you talk about marketing you talk about having a brand or a product that speaks for itself that you don’t have to pay a publicist to go out there and like try and get you attention, that we’re not putting in all these phone calls. Because we’re like, trust me, you really want this girl to come and speak to your team.
It was head coaches giving head coaches my phone numbers. Being like this is the first time we’ve heard a speaker on this issue – one, I curse like a sailor. Right? So like f*** is my pause word. And, again, it’s like when it comes to football the analogies I could use. I remember one kid raised his hand and he was like, “You know, know, I just – like am I a bad guy for like hooking up with a girl?” And he was like trying to use this analogy about bragging in the locker room about hooking up with this girl who was really drunk.
And I paused for a second and I said, “Yeah, it’s just kind of like, I don’t know, Roethlisberger like bragging about beating like the Lions in ‘08.” And like there was this long pause and he was like, “Oh, yeah. Okay.” And after the talk he came up and he’s like, “I’m not gonna lie, you make a lot of sense.” You know? And so I think it’s kind of this combination of being able to come in and speak their language and meet them where they’re at, again, with no judgment, and simply say “we’ve never needed you as much as we need you right now. Can you be a part of this? Because up until now we’ve talked a lot about you, but we haven’t really talked with you.”
And I think that the shift I’ve seen has been, one, just exponentially more interest. And it – because when it went on SportsCenter, SportsCenter called and that was like game over. Right? That was like overnight it was like ring ring ring. But also the NCAA within the past three years as of last week just announced that it’s a mandatory policy now that schools invest in some type of preventative education. That didn’t exist three years ago.
And we’re seeing, you knw, bills being passed around affirmative consent. I lobbied for one here in Texas. And so just seeing the support that before it was, you know, banging on doors being like, “This issue matters. What can we do? You know, to make it better?” And now it’s like everyone’s on board. And now it’s like another army. Right? Of “put me in, coach. Like, tell me how – tell me what I can do to support.” Tell me how I can get this into my kid’s school or, you know, even athletes themselves saying I’m not gonna go to a school that isn’t investing in, you know, educating me so that I don’t find myself, yeah, in a sketchy situation. And/or that I don’t find one of my peers, you know, one of my student athletes in a sketchy situation.
That’s kind of been one of the more shocking I would say over, you know, the past couple years is having top picks at universities saying, “Great. I would love to come and play tennis at, you know, whatever school. But I’m not coming to a school that isn’t protector certified. I’m not coming to a school,” you know. And so seeing the athletes themselves take the initiative to be like, “Woah, you know, I have sisters. I know how important this is. And I want good guys on my team, and I want to be surrounded by people who edify me.” And I think that of everything has been like the most inspiring is the athletes themselves saying “it’s not enough that, you know, we have 150 million dollar, you know, annual budget. If you can’t find room, which is less than 4% of how much you’re paying our head coach,” that’s a compelling argument. And we haven’t seen a school say no yet.
That’s really incredible.
I think that that’s the – yeah. The exciting stuff.
And so it is scalable now? Like is there a program? So you’re able to come talk. Do you have other people that you’ve trained? Or how is it working?
Yup. So that’s what we’re working on right now. Is we’ve identified a handful of other speakers who I think are brilliant and different, and that’s what’s awesome is you need to hear different kinds of stories. So we’re gonna have a short roster of people that we’re able to send out. Because I always joke I’m not Santa. And I’ve been on the road so much that I’m like trying to find a model where I’m not on the road over 200 days a year.
And then as far as the program goes the good thing is it’s turnkey. So you can literally go to the website, you can, you know, put in your credit card information, put in your school’s information, and you can at least get the four part program automatically integrated into every single locker room. Every single male sport as of right now. And then we’ll have different speakers as options.
So incredible. I’m so, so happy for you and so thankful that you exist. And as I was listening to your story and as I was going through everything I was thinking to myself. I’m like, “Gosh, Alexis and I met years ago.” And it feels like you are so uniquely positioned to help make this culture shift happen. So cool.
So for anyone watching who wants to get involved either with I Am That Girl or ProtectHer, where can they go? What can they do?
Sure. I Am That Girl, just go to the website. IAmThatGirl.com. And ProtectHer is spelled Protect H-E-R.com. So anyone who’s interested in either. And we give a portion of the proceeds of ProtectHer to I Am That Girl, because they’re my babies.
They’re your babies.
Yeah. So we did an official partnership between the two. Because I Am That Girl is predominantly girls on college campuses, and ProtectHer right now is for college and high school boys.
Yeah, and that’s what’s also really cool. Seeing the symbiotic relationship that we can’t continue to have conversations in silos with just girls or just boys. That this isn’t a women’s movement anymore. It’s a human movement. And I think it requires all of us.
Yeah. It does. So one last question before we wrap up, and then maybe go grab some tacos or something. So many folks in my audience are changemakers, aspiring changemakers. For anyone that’s listening right now and they feel like, “Oh, my goodness. What Alexis has been able to do and the impact she’s been able to make, I want to do something like that.” Whether it’s in this particular universe or it’s on another issue. Lord knows we have enough issues. We need brave people to step up and tackle them. And they’re feeling overwhelmed like where do I start? How do I get going? It feels so unattainable. What would you say to someone just starting out?
First off, that’s such a good question. Because I think in the world of inspiration, right, it’s easy to be like “I’m so inspired by this person.” And then like you watch a, you know, you listen to a podcast or you watch a video and you’re like, “That’s amazing. They’re amazing.” You know, but the truth is I think immediately recognizing death by comparison. Right?
So the minute that we’re looking at people that we admire the most and, you know, the Elizabeth Gilbert’s of the world for me. The Brené Brown’s of the world for me. That I look and I’m like “oh, my gosh. Like six New York Times best sellers. Like, what’s that like? I want that life.”
I think it’s, one, just halting long enough to realize death by comparison of, you know, when I started I Am That Girl, like I said, it started with six girls. So we oftentimes look at like point A and then we look like point B that is like what would take a decade, right, to actually get there. And we think that we’re gonna achieve it within a year. So, one, just that recognition. And then this is a silly little technique, but I learned it because I have like severe anxiety. I like get stressed out about everything. And one of my girlfriends says that stress exists in like the reptilian brain. It’s that fight or flight. And she said so whenever you find yourself of like analysis paralysis kind of thing where you’re like, “I have to make a decision. So many things,” and your brain goes into that reptilian side, she said if you literally start counting backwards from 10. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Out loud and you pause long enough, it actually brings your consciousness back to a logical place inside your brain where you can make good decisions and you’re not operating from that, “I don’t even know where to begin.” So that’s like a tiny trick that my friend taught me.
And I think as far as figuring out what to do, like start somewhere. And if that’s making a phone call to a friend saying “I want some accountability around X, Y, and Z.” If that’s putting a list of five people down who are gonna be like your tribe who are gonna help you figure out what you’re passionate about. If it’s Googling and finding that local shelter. Because we all want to do things in theory, but Googling that local shelter and scheduling “I’m gonna go there on Thursday and see if there are volunteer opportunities. Or I’m gonna put in a phone call.” I think taking like tangible action and scheduling that action is pretty powerful.
Is the first step.
That was like 15 steps. But yeah.
No, no, no. It’s great. Because I, you know, so much of what I do and so much of what we do here on the show is I’m always, and my audience knows this, it’s like insight without action is worthless. Same thing with inspiration. Inspiration without action is kind of worthless. So I love it. It is. It’s just about taking that first step. And I think another thing I would add to this whole conversation about, you know, you see people, you see people making change in the world, and you feel like “how do I ever get there?” You know, laying the comparison aside I think it is taking that first step and not needing to have a whole plan. Because you’re gonna figure it out as you go. It’s gonna change at every step of the way. Your vision and what’s possible and the resources that come and the people that you meet. And it is, it’s like that amazing Martin Luther King, Jr. quote about you have to take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take that very first step.
And the resilience of “I can fail fast.” That’s always like I’m such a failure. Like people are often like oh, you know, you can like reference these like professional accolades. And I’m like no, no. I just fail really fast. And I just try not to do that same one again. But, again, it’s that leap of faith of like I don’t know what the next, you know, steps 2 through 150 are. But I know that step one is XY and Z. And it reminds me also of Indiana Jones.
I don’t know if you ever – I was a big fan.
But taking that leap of fain on the bridge where you just have to like close your eyes and you’re like, “Please be there when I…” and then you like take the step and you’re like, “Okay. Step one.” So yeah.
Brilliant. Well, Alexis, thank you so much for being you. I am one of your biggest cheerleaders. I adore you and I hope we’re gonna have you back on and we’ll have more conversations in the years to come.
Thank you, love. Same.
Now Alexis and I would love to hear from you. So we covered a lot of ground today, but I am curious. What’s the one idea or the one nugget or the one insight that really stuck with you and why? Leave a comment below and let us know. Now, as always, the best conversations happen over at the magical land of MarieForleo.com, so head on over there and leave a comment now. And when you’re there, don’t leave without becoming an MF Insider. That means subscribing to our email list. You’re gonna get instant access to an audio I’ve created called How To Get Anything You Want. Plus you’ll get some exclusive content and special giveaways and personal updates from me that I frankly don’t share anywhere else.
Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams, because the world needs that very special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching and we’ll catch you next time on MarieTV.
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Very very sexy, very smart, very ready to take control of everything like I always do.
Just throw shit against the wall.
It’s fine, I’m just going to hit myself with my bangles. So I feel like we’re really on point.