The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Has Amelia Earhart Been Found?

During an attempt to fly around the globe in 1937, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Over the years, members of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery have made trips to the island in search for Amelia. Glass bottles, makeup, a woman’s shoe and an empty sextant box were found among turtle, clamshell and bird remains.

Last spring, members of the recovery group discovered three bone fragments on the island; which may include a finger bone. Scientists at the University of Oklahoma will be testing the fragments to see if they are a match by testing it against surviving Earhart family members. If the bone fragments are a match, researchers may have a clue into what happened to Amelia. What was were her last moments like? What was she doing on Howland Island?

Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, believes Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, may have landed on the nearby reef and perhaps, survived for months on scant food and rainwater. However, even if they landed safely, the plane would have been slowly into the sea by the tides. Gillespie believes his group would need $3 to $5 million dollars for a deep-sea investigation to look for Amelia’s plane. To read more about this discovery, please read “Bones found on island might be Amelia Earhart’s”.

The result of the DNA test could be revealed in two weeks, but ancient DNA can be “incredibly unpredictable.” If scientists at the University of Oklahoma have trouble with the testing, it could be months before we know if this discovery is related to Amelia or not.

To learn more about Amelia, please visit the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and the Girl Museum’s Heroine Quilt
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Exhibition: Girl Saints

Girl Museum is thrilled to announce the opening of our final exhibition of 2010, Girl Saints.  Girl Saints examines the lives, deaths, and artistic representations of sixteens girl saints.

Part of Girl Museum's mission is to celebrate girlhood, and through our "Girlhood in Art" series we explore ways this has been represented in art history. Depictions of girls being tortured and killed, whatever the reason, is not worthy of celebration. However, the destruction of girlhood is a strong theme throughout human history, with intentions ranging from forgiveness to peace. 

Regardless of your personal beliefs, do the messages justify the images? Visit Girl Saints and decide for yourself.

Don't forget to tell your friends to visit Girl Museum and all our exhibitions!

We're always open and always free.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Virginity Pledges, Purity Balls and Sexual Education

Image via

Formal virginity pledges are a fairly recent phenomenon, starting in the early to mid 1990s.  Though individuals have often pledged to wait until marriage before having sex, it wasn't until 1993 and the founding of True Love Waits and followed by The Silver Ring Thing in 1995 that girls (and some boys) formally pledged to remain sexually pure.  True Love Waits current pledge states:

"Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

For those of us not so biblically minded, this can be a rather disturbing pledge in a variety of ways.  I would never say that a policy of abstinence is a bad thing.  Abstinence is the only surefire way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, and I think most people would argue that sex and its accompanying emotions are complex enough that most teenagers are not equipped to properly deal with the consequences.  However, it is not the pledge of abstinence that I find so troubling; rather, there are several other, more insidious factors that are truly unnerving.  The implications of pledging yourself to an as yet unknown future: a future husband and future children, neither of which you may ultimately want or get.  Compounding the issue is the age of many of these girls; though the “suggested” age for girls taking a purity pledge is shortly after beginning menstruation, 7 and 8 year old girls (and some as young as 4) have attended purity balls and signed a pledge with their fathers.  At these father-daughter formal balls, the girls pledge themselves, but additionally, the fathers pledge to protect and “fight for” their daughters' virginity (and give them a ring, in what has been often described as a “creepy” wedding-style ceremony).  The fathers will vow something along the lines of:

I, my daughter's father, choose before God to war for my daughter's virginity.
I acknowledge myself as the authority and protector of my daughter's virginity.
I pledge to be a man of integrity as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and her virginity. (From the documentary Daddy I Do)

Again, I'm a firm believer in, if not abstinence until marriage, waiting until you are truly ready.  That means knowing the responsibilities and dangers of sexual activities, being prepared emotionally, mentally, and physically, using appropriate protection, and (occasionally old-fashioned lass that I am) preferably waiting until you have an emotional connection with your sexual partner.  These pledges, however, remove not only sexual experience from the picture, but also any knowledge.  By pledging to not have impure thoughts, you essentially remove all sexual education and knowledge from the picture, because talking about it might inspire these impure thoughts.  Additionally, the father's pledge is shockingly sexist and controlling.  I can't speak for all girls and women, but even as a girl, the notion of my father being the “authority” of my virginity would have—at best—embarrassed and grossed me out.

The truly disturbing factor of virginity pledges and their associated purity balls is the extreme lack of education these girls (and boys) receive.  Generally they receive abstinence-only education, and when they do break their purity vows (it's estimated that 90% will do so) they have no knowledge or understanding about birth control pills, condoms, or STDs.  This is made even worse if they've been surrounded by people who pass on misinformation like “condoms don't work,” as Denny Pattyn of The Silver Ring Thing does.  While condoms are not 100% effective, to say they are faulty is accurate and harmful, and can cause girls to be distrustful of any and all birth control.  Is it any wonder that so many teen mothers come from abstinence-only backgrounds?

For more information on these topics, you can watch the documentary Daddy I Do.  There, you can also look for screenings near you, or ask to be put on the wait list for the DVD.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Science Cheerleaders

Let’s be honest:  when we think of cheerleaders, we usually think of something like the movie Bring It On. Something like a bunch of bubblehead blonds in skimpy outfits, whose goal in life is to win competitions and capture the perfect boyfriend.

Blasting that stereotype away are the Science Cheerleaders. They’re a group of former professional cheerleaders who all went on to have science and engineering careers.  These women now get together and perform cheers aimed at getting girls interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Some people have criticized the Science Cheerleaders for sexing up science, but I disagree. I think it’s important for girls to see that any type of women, no matter what their interests are and how they perform their gender, can be smart and successful in a STEM career.

I come at this issue from the perspective of a former science nerd. When I started college I was a physics major and one of the very few women in my department. I also happened to be (and still am) a woman who likes dresses, shoes and getting my nails done Sometimes it felt like I had to struggle every day against the notion that in order to appear smart, I had to tone down these characteristics of my personality and act more “like a man.”  And it wasn’t just other people who displayed this attitude – I had to fight to keep from projecting these notions on myself.

Although I ultimately decided to switch to another major and a different career field, the memories of my days in science – of earning one of only 3 As in my Physics 301 class, of being the only women out of eighteen men selected for a summer research program – still inform how I tackle the world.

As I learned at the Reimagining Girlhood conference earlier this fall, by the age of twelve many girls are reluctant to take science classes because they fear that having a STEM career will doom their social and romantic life.  This is a sad fact of girlhood, so I applaud any effort to show girls that they can be and do whatever they choose.

- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

One Girl, One Dress, One Cause

Sheena Matheiken, “The Uniform Project.”

For the past two years, The Uniform Project has been raising money for the charity. Last year, Sheena Matheiken wore the same black dress with donated and/or thrifted accessories for 365 days to raise money for the Akanksha Foundation, which helps children in India receive an education. Sheena raised over $100,000 for the Akanksha Foundation while being eco-conscious and experimenting with personal style.

To learn more about “The Uniform Project” and Sheena Matheiken’s adventure, please read "One Girl, One Dress, 356 Days Later: Catching Up with ‘The Uniform Project’ In Its Home Stretch."

Could you wear the same dress every day for a year? A month? This year The Uniform Project is focusing on one dress, one month and one cause. This month Aki Goto is wearing one dress to raise money for Songs for Kids. Aki hopes to raise $5,000 this during this project because it will allow musicians to play at the cancer center in the Egleston Children's Hospital for one year. To learn more about Aki Goto, please check out Year 2: Pilot Series 1 Dress. 1 Month. 1 Cause.

Want to wear a dress for a cause? Check out DIY U.P. Need some ideas on how you could wear the same dress every day? Watch The Uniform Project picture book video.

- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rangoli - An Indian Folk Art

Girls making rangoli in Andrah Pradesh. Photographer: Santosh Korthiwada.

Rangoli or Rangavalli, literally meaning a creeper drawn with colors, is an ancient decorative art practiced by women and girls in India. Rangoli is basically designs drawn with one or many colors, drawn on the floor in a front yard, a courtyard or passage. The design ranges from quite simple to very intricate. Though it has its origin in rural settings, today even the most urbane have not forgotten this art.

Rangoli is also considered a form of worship as it has very symbolic meanings. Most of the motifs used are inspired from Indian mythology. Some of the most popular are the feet of Goddess Lakshmi- deity of wealth and prosperity, paisley- a symbol of fertility and prosperity, the planets representing the days of the week, also various geometrical patterns, etc. Some of the motifs are derived from folklore as well. It is believed that Rangoli can also be used as a protection against evil spirits or the evil eye and positively it can invoke the benedictions of gods and goddesses.

Traditionally, Rangoli is made of rice paste or slurry. Now, during the festive season, you can purchase colors of various shades in their powder form. Rangoli is commonly made outside the main door of one's house during Diwali, the festival of lights, which is celebrated in the month of October or November. However, in the Bengal and southern parts of India, making Rangoli or Kolam with rice paste or dry rice powder is an everyday practice. Rangoli in Bengal is called Alpana.

To learn more about making your own Rangoli, check out Activity Village.
- Shruti Gautam
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eating Healthy Matters

Do you find yourself eating junk food when you aren’t even hungry? Do you eat too much or drink too many sugary drinks? Are you not sleeping a full 7-8 hours each night? As a student, I generally feel tired, hungry and even grumpy at times. What is to blame? My diet.

According to Girls’ Life magazine and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, young girls today are relying on the wrong foods, eating too much, drinking too many calories, and not sleeping or exercising enough. Many young girls and young women eat junk food to avoid stress, anxiety or difficult situations. I tend to eat junk food or drink multiple sodas while studying for a test.

Pizza, sodas and baked goods are the top three calorie sources for kids. In fact, these foods take up approximately 40% of your daily calorie intake. Instead of eating a lot of junk food at once, drink water, eat fruit or eat only small amount of junk food. 

While watching how many portions you eat is important, it is also important not to deprive yourself. Many young girls fall into dangerous diet habits, like starving themselves all day only to binge on junk food later. Instead of participating in crash diets, young girls should eat a healthy breakfast—even if it’s only an apple and yogurt—snack on healthy foods throughout the day and of course eat lunch and dinner. Small snacks like fruits, veggie, almonds, and even popcorn can keep your stomach satisfied until your next meal.

Eating right can help, but sleep is key to staying healthy. Lack of sleep can make you crave sugary foods more, so try to sleep 7 or 8 hours each night. I use to get about 5 hours of sleep each night until I forced myself to have a bedtime. Although I sometimes would prefer to watch TV, going to sleep at the same time each night has made me feel a lot better in the mornings and not as tired during while at work.

To learn more about weight gain among teens and how to prevent it, please read Girls’ Life magazine’s “Weight Matters; The Frightening Reasons Teens are Supersizing Themselves in Record Numbers”.

To learn more about the dangers of crash diets, please read “Your Feelings: Eating Disorders”
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Lesbian in the South Tells Her Story

Photo by Laurel Golio for We Are the Youth

The United States has recently seen too many suicides by gay teens and young adults, which has made people more conscious of the bullying these youth face.  Some good projects have come out of these tragedies, including the “It Gets Better” video series, and the “We Are the Youth” photojournalism series.  Looking at the “We Are the Youth” website, I was particularly struck by the story of Audri, a butch lesbian teenager growing up in Mississippi.

Audri talks about the usual torments from school peers, and how more traditionally feminine lesbians got treated much better than she did.  But what was interesting to me was how loving her parents were – both her mom and her dad accepted her sexuality, and her mom even joined Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

I think the reason I find Audri so fascinating is because I take such a dim view of the South.  I grew up near New York City, in a pretty liberal area, where it’s a common assumption that Southern states like Mississippi are backwards and deeply conservative.  In the North we like to pat ourselves on the back and pretend that we’re a lot more progressive than those Dirty South folks.  After all, Mississippi isn’t always helping to deter this perception:  their state flag contains the Confederate “stars and bars,” a symbol of the four years that many southern states broke away from the U.S. and tried to form a new country based on the right to own slaves.

And yet, as Audri shows, people in the South can have pretty big hearts, especially when it comes to their children.  Her family reminds us that we all need to come together to support LGBT youth in spite of our prejudices, and that we need to examine our where our own communities fall short on acceptance. 

Audri makes a good point at the end of her story about why she doesn’t want to leave Mississippi.  She says that “nothing ever changes when all the gay people leave.  And conservative people will never be used to a butch lesbian holding another girl’s hand, or two guys holding hands, if they don’t see it.” 

Here’s hoping Audri can stay strong and win people over in her home state!

- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Connecticut Cheerleaders Ask for Uniforms with More Coverage

Bridgeport Central High School cheerleaders Tedah Chan and Heidi Medina aren't happy with their skimpy uniforms.

Every year, young girls’ clothes seem to get shorter and tighter. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that it’s hard to find an age appropriate costume for young girls and perhaps even harder to find cheerleader uniforms that aren’t skimpy.

Last month, Heidi Medina, the captain of Bridgeport Central’s cheerleading squad, asked the Board of Education members if they would allow their daughters to wear an outfit that shows her midriff. Heidi Medina and her teammates told the board that their uniforms do not meet cheerleader regulations for meets. Cheerleader uniforms should cover the athlete's midsection when standing at attention.

"It really hurts our self esteem," Bridgeport Central senior Ariana Mesaros told the Board of Education, according to the Post. "I am embarrassed to stand up here dressed like this. Is this really how you want Bridgeport to be represented?" The Bridgeport cheerleaders’ uniform plea was requested just a month after a recent study of college cheerleaders linked eating disorders to bare midriffs. 

To learn more about this study, please read, 'Study: Eating Disorders and Bare Midriffs - Cheerleaders At Risk'. To prevent possible parent concerns and possible self-esteem problems among the girls, the Board of Education has decided to purchase black bodysuits for the cheerleaders to wear under their uniforms.

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Typical Girls

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Ari Up died last month. You might not know who Ari Up was but she was a member of the punk group The Slits. The Slits were formed when Ari was only 14, a product of growing up in a household that had many musicians staying and passing through. The Slits became known for their provocative performances and lyrics which explored the role of women in their society.

“Who invented the typical girl?
Who's bringing out the new improved model?
And there's another marketing ploy
Typical girl gets the typical boy.”
- Typical Girls by the Slits

Punk, with its DIY attitude, meant that women could start their own bands with the same ease as men. Patti Smith arguably heralded the start of punk in America, with her lyricism and music style. And from Punk (The Slits, Siouxie and the Banshees and Xray Spex), through to Post-Punk in the 80’s and the Riot Girrrl movement in the 90’s (Bikini Kill), women have had a presence in music that gets superseded by whoever is the current pop princess. While the Britney Spears of the world sing about perfect love and pleasing your man, bands like Breeder and L7 sing about the issues that affect women.

 Women playing in their own bands, playing their own instruments and writing their own songs has constantly remained underground.  Though I’m a failed musician (could never quite get the hang of the guitar) these women have influenced me in the way I live, in the way I seek to be treated by others and in what I hold valuable in people. Don’t be a Hannah Montana when you can be an Ari Up.
- Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Barbie Video Girl?

Image courtesy

For years Barbie has been the target of criticism for her unrealistic proportions, occasional lowbrow career choices(McDonalds cashier; bride; or my personal favourite - Christian Louboutin Cat Burglar), lack of cultural diversity and questionable choice in men.

However, the most recent backlashaimed at the famous blonde has come on the back of her most recent attempt to reinvent herself for the 21st century and embrace technology.  Manufacturers Mattel have fitted Barbie with a video camera hidden in her necklace and a small colour LCD screen in her back which has the capacity to record 30 minutes of video which can then be uploaded to the internet. 

Understandably psychologists and privacy experts are concerned about the potential negative impact of placing this sort of technology in the hands of children. As Lawyer Michael Pearce of Australian civil liberties firm Liberty Victoria has said, “It's possible that the Barbie camera might pick up some personal and private events that you would rather not be publicly disclosed.”  

And as people are fast realising, once something makes it onto the internet it really can be near impossible to ever remove completely. I know that I certainly would not appreciate footage of myself plastered across the internet eating dog biscuits, sporting my self-executed bowl cut or any number of other embarrassing milestones from the days when I was brushing Barbie’s golden tresses.

However, I think that boycotting toys of this nature is not the answer to these publicity and privacy issues. Children are growing up in an ever increasing technological age and simply willing marketers to refrain from targeting internet capable toys at this young market is unlikely to have any substantial impact. Instead we should be encouraging our children to approach such devices wisely, to understand both the positives and negatives associated with them and treat them accordingly.

With new parents creating an online presence for their children often from the day they are born (and sometimes even before they arrive), their exposure to the internet is no longer a question of if, but when. Barbie should not be the only one taking the fall for this – children require guidance dealing with the internet on all fronts, not only to avoid later regrets, but to protect them. Adults the world over should have the foresight to realise this now. 

- Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Universal Children's Day

Once upon a time there was a little girl. 
She was born into a family who loved her and watched her grow with delight. She spent her time running around, falling over, fighting with her siblings, playing with her friends, making up with her siblings, fighting with her friends, cycling towards magical kingdoms, spending never-ending days on the beach, and being happy. 
She was me.

The magical kingdoms still exist.
Celebrate Universal Children’s Day and find yours.

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl

To celebrate Universal Children’s Day, I share with you the 1954 poem of the late, great Dorothy Law Nolte who so eloquently expresses guidelines for older generations to help children navigate the perilous waters of their youth - to emerge as strong, successful and compassionate adults.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with hostility,
they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule,
they learn to be shy.
If children live with tolerance,
they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement,
they learn confidence.
If children live with praise,
they learn to appreciate.
If children live with fairness,
they learn justice.
If children live with security,
they learn faith.
If children live with approval,
they learn to like themselves.
If children live with acceptance, and friendship,
they learn to find love in the world.

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl

Celebrating Childhood

A new born child is like clay. An adult is a reflection of the circumstances that has moulded him/her to his/her present. As a child, a human being lives in his/her purest form. The world calls it innocence. Does a newborn baby know what its religion is? Does the baby know whether it is rich or poor? Does the infant know which region does it belong to? We are born with a mind as blank as a slate. We are an echo of the hand that has written on our slate.

November celebrates the spirit of childhood universally. In India, Children's Day is celebrated on November 14, the birthday of India's first prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru or Chacha (Uncle) Nehru as he was fondly called by kids. Nehru believed that children should be nurtured carefully as they are the citizens of tomorrow.

I remember as a kid we used to have cultural program in school on November 14. Unlike kids performing on stage, which was a usual affair, on this particular day teachers used to perform for us. After the program was over we all used to go to class where the class teacher distributed sweets and snacks. Those days will not come back, but it’s difficult not to watch 'Tom & Jerry'. I know I am not the only person in the world when I say as a kid I hated drinking milk.

Once I was stuck in a heavy traffic jam in the scorching heat of a June afternoon. People were impatient. Horns  honked madly. Amidst all that chaos I saw a smiling face. The child was sitting on the wooden plank of a bicycle cart. Her age could not be more than two and amidst all the confusion and swearing she was giggling in all her glory. Her mouth was covered with saliva, but that did not bother her. She was enjoying the chaos.

When her luminous eyes met my eyes I could not help but smile back. That was one scene in the stage of life which got etched in my mind forever. This picture not only celebrates innocence, but also sends an important message. Life can be harsh at times. Confront your problems with a smile and you will feel things getting easier.

-Shruti Gautam
Junior Girl

November 20 marks the day that the UN ratified the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

Get to know your rights and help protect children.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is Facebook Good for Girls?

Sometimes it seems like all we hear about Facebook are the negative things:  how it sucks up people’s time, how it allows your moments of bad judgment to follow you for years, how it’s just a poor imitation of real life.  So it’s refreshing to hear that Facebook may actually be doing some good for teenage girls.

In a recent study issued by the Girl Scouts, more than half of the girls responding to a survey reported that social networks enhanced their friendships.  The researchers also speculated that Facebook may help girls who feel isolated to connect with others who share their interests. 

Of course, there are some qualifications to the study’s positive findings.  68% of girls reported being bullied or gossiped about on social networks, and 40% said they thought badly of someone after seeing some of their online content.  In addition, 41% of girls admitted that they try to make themselves seem cooler online.

As for me, I’m quite relieved that Facebook didn't become popular until the summer before I went off to college.  I was a pretty lonely teenager, and I can only imagine that my lack of friends would have been all too clearly spelled out on an empty social network page.  It was only as I started college that I began to truly feel comfortable with myself, and comfortable in sharing myself and my thoughts.

But I admire today’s girls, who are forging ahead online without any guidance from the past.  If social networks are going to give girls confidence, and let them feel that they have something to contribute to the world, the let the Facebook away.
- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Women of the Year

Katie Spotz, Constance McMillen and Dr. Hawa Abdi & her daughters, Glamour Women of the Year 2010.

For the past twenty years, Glamour magazine has celebrated women’s achievements through their Women of the Year Awards. Both celebrities and everyday young women are celebrated for their actions in this year’s Glamour Women of the Year awards. The Women of the Year award winners have taught us that we should fight for what is right, one person can make a difference, to love yourself and that we can learn from failure.

The Glamour Women of the Year 2010 winners include the singer Fergie, the young sailor Katie Spotz, the actress Julia Roberts, Queen Rania, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters, the high school student Constance McMillien, the fashion designer Donatella Versace, Our World’s Female Heads of State, and the athletes Lindsey Vonn, Mia Hamm and Lisa Leslie. The Lifetime Achievement Award winner for this year went to the actress and singer, Cher.

Constance McMillien was honored at this year’s Glamour Women of the Year Awards because she had the courage to stand up and say she is proud of who she is. Constance just wanted to go to the prom, however her high school objected to Constance brining her girlfriend as her prom date. Constance called the American Civil Liberties Union to report the harassment and injustice she faced at school; however the result was not what she’d expected. Constance was soon faced with a lawsuit, prom was cancelled and many of her fellow students were angry with her. After standing up, her high school eventually enforced a nondiscrimination policy and provided a large settlement. Constance plans to use her settlement for college. To learn more about Constance, please read 'Constance McMillen: The Accidental Activist'.

To learn more about this year’s winners, read 'Women of the Year 20th Anniversary Special'.

To learn about previous Women of the Year honorees, check out 'Women of the Year Turns 20: A Look back at Honorees'.

Over the years, Glamour readers have responded to past Women of the Year honorees by donating to the charities they support. This year the Glamour Women of the Year Fund is helping thousands of women and children being cared for by Women of the Year 2010 honoree Dr. Hawa Abid’s refugee camp in Somalia.  Life saving medical treatments and literacy training is needed. 

To learn more about the refuge camp’s needs, please read 'How to Help'.

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birth Control for 13-Year-Olds?

In what has been a very controversial decision, the National Health Service Trust for the Isle of Wight has started a new pilot program.  Emergency contraceptive services—namely, the “morning-after” pill—can be given to anyone between the ages of 13 and 16 (16 being the legal age for sexual consent in the UK) but those under 16 cannot receive regular birth control pills without parental consent.  Noting the “gap in the arrangements,” Dr. Jenifer Smith, the Director of Public Health at NHS Isle of Wight said that “It is not for the health service to moralise on the rights and wrongs of underage sex . . . .   A girl aged 13 to 16 could access emergency hormonal contraception whenever needed but would not be referred to the Sexual Health Service for counselling and a discussion about the longer term effects of their sexual activity such as sexually transmitted infections.”

In essence, the program allows for specially trained pharmacists to, after a private discussion about potential side effects and complications of hormonal contraception (including the morning-after pill), provide a one month supply of a progesterone-only birth control pill.  The pharmacist would also discuss sexually transmitted diseases and make a referral to the Sexual Health Service.  Additionally, after a week, there would be a follow-up by the pharmacist, and after 21 days, a follow-up by a nurse from the Sexual Health Service.  Anyone under 16 would be automatically referred to the Sexual Health Service, and if someone were to try and access the service a second time via a different pharmacy (without seeking an appointment with a GP), the individual would be contacted again.  Lastly, everyone using the service is strongly encouraged to talk to a “parent or other responsible adult.”

The Isle of Wight NHS decided not to publicize this new program, presumably because of the outrage it would potentially cause.  Even so, an article in the Daily Mail was critical of the program, and was also, according to the NHS pharmacist interviewed for the article, highly inaccurate.  You can read his response here.  The Guardian also published an editorial with both sides being represented.

Though I am appalled that kids as young as 13 (and younger, sadly) are sexually active, denying them access to birth control will not prevent them from having sex.  And though condoms are available at any age for anyone to buy or access from the free condom distribution scheme available from Isle of Wight pharmacies, I think it's unreasonable to expect or assume that one or both parties would want to use a condom.  The program is no substitute for parental involvement and sexual education (which are not substitutes for each other, either), but it's a step in the right direction.  While providing assistance, it also offers some education and encouragement to talk to an adult.  And yes, in a small percentage of people, the pill can have serious side-effects.  But those side-effects are no different if you're 13, 16, 18, or 30.  And though perhaps a 13 year-old is less inclined to look for the signs of a blood-clot, I'm not truly convinced a 16 or 18 year-old is much more responsible.

This program is a mixed blessing.  While it won't solve teenage pregnancy by any stretch, perhaps it will lower the rate slightly, and hopefully it will educate girls about their options and the consequences of their decisions.  What I really hope for, though, is a breakthrough in allowing girls to be sexually responsible—whatever their age—without the stigma that so often goes along with girls and sex.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Very Tween Halloween

Major Trouble Tween Costume

As Halloween is around the corner, many people are making the big decision on what costume or persona they will become for the day. Those who opt out of creating their own costume can turn to stores and retailers who have costume sets available for purchase, anything from a police officer to Zorro.

So what's the issue? Over the past month, many blogs and mothers have been commenting on the risqué costumes retailers have designed for "tweens." A tween is a child who ranges in age from 9-12, known for popularizing The Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana as they are too young for adult costumes, yet too old for children costumes.

Though Tween costumes are said to be modified from adult costumes to have longer skirts and more overall coverage, moms have blogged that these costumes are still too sexy for their young girls.  Looking at the image of Major Trouble, I would have to agree that this costume is too short and inappropriate for a 10 year-old to wear as they are trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. Even with the addition of leggings or a jacket, mothers need to consider if the costume they are purchasing could attract unwanted attention and keep their tween girl safe.

Have a great and safe Halloween!
-Vanessa Jorian
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Conference Report: Reimagining Girlhood: Communities, Identities, Self-Portrayals’

This past weekend (Oct 22-24), I attended the ‘Reimagining Girlhood: Communities, Identities, Self-Portrayals’ Conference at SUNY at Cortland.  Though I’ve been with Girl Museum for several months, I’m still new to the academic discipline of Girlhood studies, so it was interesting to learn just what exactly professors and their students are studying.  To my delight, the talks I went to focused mainly on two topics I’m fond of—pop culture and international issues.

Before I get to the panel sessions, though, let me share what I learned about Girlhood studies from Sharon Mazzarella, the keynote speaker and Director of Communication Studies at James Madison University.  Girlhood studies programs arose because many early education researchers focused on boys and then tried to apply their findings to girls as well.  Scholars began studying education in a girls’ context, and then began studying girls as a group.  

Mazzarella pointed out that Girlhood studies has moved beyond a “girls in crisis” mentality studying only disorders in girls; instead, researchers emphasize girlhood as an exceptional and unique life phase.  I found it especially interesting when Mazzarella asked the audience members what academic departments they were coming from, because it turns out that those who study girlhood come from a huge variety of background.  There were art historians, educators, women’s studies researchers and many, many others.

The variety of topics I learned about over the weekend was astounding, but I’ll try to give the highlights here.  Many of the presenters took on subjects from popular media that girls enjoy, and looked at them through a critical lens.  I was unfamiliar with some of the subjects, so it was interesting to hear what these presenters thought.  I learned, for example, that Justin Beiber seems to be rehashing to same tired gender stereotypes about control and faithfulness in relationships; that the main characters in the Twilight books are just a hair’s breadth away from being in an abusive relationship; and that the Spice Girls stole “Girl Power” from the Riot Grrrl movement.

I also got a chance to see some of the pop culture I enjoy in a different light.  One presenter analyzed Lady Gaga’s 'Bad Romance' and found it more than a little disturbing, as it seems to glamorize terrible, unwise relationships and features kidnapping and sex slavery in the music video.  Another researcher studied how girls and boys present themselves on their Facebook profiles, and found that women are much more likely to portray themselves as sexy, funny, or dominated, while men tend to show their strength or their cars.  

My favorite talk was about Taylor Swift, whose music I hate to admit that I enjoy, even if I’ve never really stopped and thought about its message.  Adriane Brown at Ohio State University did a good job of showing how Swift’s music subtly reinforces a message that sexuality is dangerous and makes you into a victim; and how she cashed in on a white, childlike innocence after being upstaged by rapper Kanye West at the 2009 Video Music Awards.  Of course, none of this stopped me from downloading Swift’s album (which came out the day after the conference ended) and playing 'Dear John', the ultimate ruined-by-an-older-man song, many times.

Not every session, however, was about entertainers.  Emily Bent from the University of Galway, Ireland, presented an interesting paper about her experience at the UN 54th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  She imagined that this conference, which brought girls to the UN, would attract international attendees.  Instead, the majority of girls were from the developed world, and seemed to view many girls in poorer countries as illiterate victims who needed to be rescued.  This “missionary girl power”, as Bent termed it, is yet another misguided facet of colonialism that is damaging to girls’ causes all over the world.  

In the same vein, Jessica Taft of Davidson College spoke about how girls in more privileged countries tend to focus on international girl issues, to the detriment of the problems in their home countries.

There were many other interesting talks with information that was all new to me.  For example, did you know that South Korean girls abroad have their own social networking website, called Cyworld?  Did you know that by age 12, many girls give up on science and math as careers because they think it will interfere with romantic relationships?  And have you ever heard of the Japanese practice of ganguru, where girls darken their skin and dress in “gangsta” clothes in opposition to traditional notions of femininity?  

These new realities I was exposed to gave me much food for thought and I’m glad I had this chance to expand my horizons and gain a new understanding 

Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
- Girl Museum