Marilyn Fezza of Weston is working to make sure upcoming generations of women are empowered and confident.
“I think young women deserve support and they deserve good role models,” she said. “It’s a huge disservice when society doesn’t give that to them.”
Fezza is the founder of a new organization called the 7 Sisters Project, named after Fezza’s seven aunts who live “scattered across the globe.” The project is designed to empower young women by giving them a voice.
To do that, Fezza hosts “summits,” four-hour talk-show style conferences for college students.
At each summit, women come together to talk about life, problems they face, love, world news, and anything else that comes up in the conversation.
With Fezza as host and leader of discussions, rotating panels of women share stories in front of the audience. Each panel gets 15 minutes and everyone in the audience has the opportunity to speak if they want to.
Conversation structure is loose, but specific topics, such as women in leadership, female oppression and gender norms are talked about consistently.
Fezza seeks to cultivate an environment that is fun and comfortable for each girl who attends, while “validating the individuality” of everyone at the summit.
Ultimately, Fezza wants to take influence away from pop culture figures and marketers and give confidence and power back to every young woman.
“Society and marketing puts baggage on young women and it leads to a lack of confidence,” she said. “I think popular culture is dumbing girls down, and we want to put the power back in their hands.”
Fezza has held three summits so far, most recently at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. She hopes to host four more in the tri-state area this year and eventually wants to take the summits on the road.
“I want to do a college tour and eventually take this to more remote and less affluent areas,” she said.
Fezza acknowledged that young women in this area may have different problems from young women in other areas, but the “beauty of the project” is that topics and conversation are fluid and can be customized in different areas based on what problems women in those areas face.
“Seven Sisters represents a global community of women,” she said. “I think we have the ability to open up a global conversation for girls and by girls.”
Fezza wants to break down barriers of race and religion in the summits to bring forth an environment that is accepting of all different kinds of women and their individual situations.
“We want to expand girls’ worldviews by exposing them to each other’s stories,” said Fezza. “If you’re a Muslim American I want you to have the chance to share your story to a crowd that will accept you.”
Fezza believes this generation of young women values authenticity above all, and the summits will satisfy those desires.
“We’re amplifying the voices of the young women,” said Fezza. “I like the talk show format because we are giving the stage to the women, not a celebrity guest, but real women.”
Fezza views the 7 Sisters Project as an entertainment company, as each of the summits is, according to her, simultaneously entertaining and informative.
“I want to disrupt mainstream media by creating intelligent and meaningful programming that showcases the stories of real women,” Fezza said. “Just because something is entertaining doesn’t mean it needs to be vapid.”
In the near future, Fezza wants to expand the 7 Sisters Project canon by offering live-streams of summits and creating scholarships to help girls attend college.
Additionally, Fezza wants to create weekend-long workshops where girls can come together, spend time with each other and learn new skills.
Fezza is deeply influenced by Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation model of donating profits to charity.
“Paul Newman proved that every company doesn’t need to be solely about the bottom line,” she said. “A company can bring a good social change.”
Fezza began the 7 Sisters Project with her daughter Marisa, a human resources manager at the food company Blue Apron.
Marisa, 25, lives in New York and isn’t as involved in the day-to-day operations as her mother, but Fezza says her daughter is an integral part of the organization.
While at Sacred Heart High School in Greenwich, Marisa created a documentary for a class about how “pop culture dumbs down girls,” and that film was the “spark that created the idea for the 7 Sisters Project.”
“As we watched Marisa navigate through high school and college, we watched girls as they struggled with bad behaviors,” said Fezza. “If a girl in high school isn’t doing drugs or drinking she can be labeled as an outcast. I hope we can help give her some confidence back.”
Next up, Fezza is hoping to bring the summit to New York University and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, which are her alma matters.
She also wants to bring the 7 Sisters Project to organizations that aren’t colleges so young women who aren’t in college can attend the summits.
“The response to this whole thing has been very encouraging,” she said. “People are constantly telling me that there is a real need for an organization that works to empower young women, and I am happy to fill that.”
Fezza said society as a whole really needs to “invest in women” on a higher level.
“We really need women’s voices to be heard prominently,” she said. “I think women bring something different to the table.”