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?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do Clothes Make the Toddler?

Photo: Sarah Lee

There are times when I look back at photos of my eight year old self and I want to interrogate my mother as to what she was thinking when she placed me in multicoloured cycling shorts, baggy grey sports jackets or matching denim jeans and shirt. In fashion terms, being a child of the eighties certainly leaves a very distinguishable trademark.

However, once I pause for a moment I realize how lucky I am that I grew up in an age where young girls didn't have to be constantly anxious about whether their outfit was "fashionable" or whether they were as adventurous as their peers. Nowadays, young girls are bombarded with messages that encourage premature sexualisation, through TV, magazines, clothes and accessories. With every passing year it seems as though these messages aim to target increasingly younger girls with Primark recently introducing a T-shirt for three year olds that bears the slogan "Future WAG."

It is well known that a child's early development is absolutely crucial for shaping their future personality, attitudes, and aspirations and I shudder to think what effects these messages may have on young girls' later lives. What will happen to young girls who are offered "role models" such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and who are encouraged to aspire to the life of a footballer's girlfriend? Sadly, there is a market for these items. Parents are buying high heels or bikinis for their seven year-old daughters, and even younger. Our society is so accustomed to the sexualisation of women and young girls that many people no longer question it. 

Thankfully, organizations like Mumsnet have put pressure on retailers to withdraw merchandise which overtly sexualize young girls, and although it will take more than this to alter the widespread sexualisation of women and girls in our society it is a welcome step in the right direction.

For further reading… or to purchase girl empowering gear, visit our Girl Museum Boutique.

-Sarah Lynch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Education and Empowerment

Being able to read this piece means that you have had at least access to basic education. You must also have access to a computer which indicates a higher rate of education. Even to be reading an article that deals with the importance of education highlights the need to provide education to girls in developing countries as a means to combat early marriage and to create empowerment for those who could see their future laid out for them at the age of three. In Afghanistan, literacy level of girls is only 18% while there are on average two people per hundred with access to computers.

A particular discussion at the recent Women in the World conference dealt with the issue of the importance of educating girls in the developing world as well as the difficulty of this. The many participants included Queen Rania of Jordan who is herself dedicated to the education of girls; Katie Couric, a female journalistic forerunner and Kathy Bushkin Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation which aims to, amongst other objectives, to invest in adolescent girls by providing access to education. Kakenya Ntaiya was betrothed at the age of five, but convinced her village elders to allow her access to education. Now studying for a PhD, she has concurrently opened Kakenya’s centres for excellence. Her mission statement for this is simple and profound, "I had a dream where all the girls in my village could go to school."

Growing up in western society, a basic education is taken so much for granted, it is the norm to talk hating school; to hate getting up in the morning and to hate learning. Receiving an education is so engrained in our society that not to go is punishable. To be able to enjoy going to school; to be able to talk about going to school; to be able to read and write is a privilege that is often lost on those who receive it, and not given to those who crave it.

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Don't Cut Girls

Each year over 3 million African girls and women experience genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Why is female genital mutilation performed? How does FGM affect women’s health? Is FGM being prevented? These questions and much more were discussed during the Women in the World Summit. The summit participants discussed global challenges and proposed solutions. Molly Melching is the founder and executive director of Tostan whose mission is “to empower African communities for sustainable development and social transformation in the respect of human rights.”  She discussed how they are" changing the fate of African women by helping end female genital mutilation in Senegal.

Why is female genital mutilation performed? Cultural practices, like FGM, are rooted in set beliefs and social behavior patterns of a particular society. There are many theories on why FGM is performed. Aside from religious reasons, FGM may be performed to control a woman’s sexuality, a prerequisite for marriage, initiation into womanhood, or for aesthetic reasons. Without there being one reason, FGM will be hard to prevent if we do not learn more about this cultural procedure. More information on why this procedure is performed can be found at the United Nations Population Fund.

How does FGM affect women’s health? Immediate and long-term complications can occur due to female genital mutilation. During the procedure, one can experience shock, infection, fever and hemorrhage. In some cases, the hemorrhage can be of such magnitude to cause the participant to die during the procedure. Long term complications can include urinary discomfort, painful sexual intercourse and dysfunction, hypersensitivity, menstrual disorders and difficult pregnancies (sometimes resulting in fetal death).  More information on health complications can be found at the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund.

How can FGM be prevented? Education, research and guidance are the key steps towards understanding and preventing female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are working together to promote increased advocacy for the prevention of FGM. Public policy, research and work within communities are efforts being raised by the WHO locally and internationally. For over 30 years, Molly Melching’s work has created a movement of women empowerment that is spreading through Africa. Today, over four thousand communities have abandoned FGM in Senegal.  By 2015, the practice of female genital mutilation will come to an end there.

Like Melching, we can all become involved in preventing female genital mutilation. We can learn more about this cultural practice and educate others about the health risks. We can take action by writing letters to our government and international organizations demanding change to improve human rights. Women at Risk and Amnesty International USA: Violence Against Women an provide more information about support, donations and how to take action in preventing female genital mutilation. 

- Samantha Bradbeer 
Junior Girl 
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Half the Sky: The Extraordinary Women of China


For those of us in North America and Europe, China often feels like a land of paradoxes.  Communist yet capitalist.  Traditional yet modern.  Open yet oppressive.  But like any other place, China is more than a collection of assumptions and stereotypes.  And just like anywhere else in the world, its women are seeking to take their places in China and the world.

When we think of women in China, images of bound feet, Beijing Opera, in which women were initially banned from performing, and the submissive, subservient “China Doll” may spring to mind.  None of these are, of course, strictly inaccurate.  There are still a handful of women with bound feet in China, Beijing Opera is still incredibly popular and women have been performing it since the late 1800s, and the obedient and dutiful China Doll lives on in movies and pornography.
The real, modern women of China are richer and more complex than these simple stock images.  Huang Hung, who writes for China Daily (the English language newspaper in China), profiled five extraordinary Chinese women.  These women do not actively seek fame or fortune, but through their actions women in both China and the world are faced with difficult questions and even harder answers: “Are we really half the sky? What rights do we really have? And are we really being treated fairly by the system?”
Wei Sun Christianson is the CEO and managing director of Morgan Stanley China.  She is also the woman who convinced the state-owned China Investment Corp. to purchase a $5 billion state in Morgan Stanley, securing a meeting with the CIC heads while most investment bankers were still sitting in the lobby.
Wu Yi was minister of trade in 2003 when the SARS epidemic struck China.  She was named Minister of Health as well, and because of her actions, China survived the SARS epidemic with minimal damage.  Her strong sense of duty, humbleness, and ability to work with others meant that in a crisis, top officials sent Wu Yi to solve the problem.
Mei Yan’s father built the censorship system in China.  As CEO of Viacom China, she takes on the system.  Because she understands the system and how to communicate with bureaucrats, Mei Yan has been able to change the perspective of the censors.  It is thought that because of her, foreign journalists had a free hand during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Wu Changhua is the Greater China director for The Climate Group.  She has convinced both the government and major Chinese corporations that profit margins and environmental protection are not diametrically opposed.  The largest mobile company in the world, China Mobile, is a corporate partner of The Climate Group, and China is now a major producer of alternative energy.
No one would have ever heard of Deng Yujiao if she hadn’t defender herself when three men attempted to rape her.  After being cornered, she stabbed two of the men with a fruit knife and escaped.  When one of the men died, it was discovered she had killed a government official.  She was sent to a mental institution, and protests ensued.  Ultimately public opinion won out, and a verdict of “excessive self-defense” was announced.
Read more about these women...
- Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Conversations: About Human Trafficking

Over the next few blogs we will be exploring different issues raised by the Women in the World Summit held in March.

What do you think of when you think of girlhood?  Maybe you remember playing with friends, going on vacation with your family, or spending time in school.  Generally we think of the impressions that we made, the things that we learned from and the memories that shaped us.  Though not every aspect of our girlhood was enjoyable, we usually think of times when we were happy.

Now, what do you think of when you think of slavery?  Most people will talk about the American Civil war, plantations in the Caribbean or serfdom in Russia – all events that happened in the past.

Would you ever think to associate girlhood and slavery?  Probably not – which is what makes modern-day slavery such a pressing issue, according to Luis CdeBaca.

CdeBaca is a United States Ambassador-at-Large whose job is to combat human trafficking around the world, including in his own country.  He estimates that 17,500 people brought as slaves to the United States and 70% of them are forced sex workers.  Many of those enslaved are children.

These numbers are shocking, as they ought to be, and they point to one of the biggest problems in combating slavery today:  most people simply don’t know.  This is because those involved in human trafficking work to keep their victims hidden, but also because most people assume that slavery has been eradicated.  Without awareness and knowledge, we can’t even begin to tackle this issue.

That’s why it’s so important for governments around the world to acknowledge this problem, and for people all over the globe to work together to end human trafficking.  We need to remember that this is not just a problem in poor, third-world countries.  The fact that there are slaves in the United States and elsewhere in the so-called ‘developed world’ is shameful.  We should all be concerned that every day, women and girls around the world are being deprived of their right to choose their own life path.

- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

For more information, check out the Girl Museum Facts page with several resources for information about Sex/Slave Trafficking, also try the Human Trafficking Project.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Lady Joins Girls Inc.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In March 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama began serving on the National Honorary Chair of the Girls Inc. Board of Directors. Girls Inc. is a non-profit organization, which hopes to inspire, educate and motive young girls to be “strong, smart, and bold.” They currently have multiple programs that help girls develop leadership and team work skills, become involved and earn higher scores in math and science, and develop skills against peer-pressure.

As the Honorary Board Chair, the First Lady will help Girls Inc. by, “creating opportunities and resources for girls to learn and grow.” Mrs. Obama has already shown her dedication to providing resources for young girls during her stay in the White House. For example, Mrs. Obama’s Let's Move! campaign promotes health awareness and the wellbeing of all girls. In the campaign video, Mrs. Obama, alongside her daughters Malia and Sasha, talk about the importance of parents and children become involved in eating healthier and becoming physically active.

Mrs. Obama’s experience in the Let’s Move! campaign goes hand-in-hand with the Girls Inc. as both programs help young girls face challenges and allow girls to discover their potential, while becoming health conscious. She stated in their press announcement that, "Exposing our young people to new ideas, introducing them to the larger world beyond their own life experiences, and inspiring them to become the leaders of tomorrow is of paramount importance and I am pleased to serve as Honorary Board Chair of Girls Inc.," said First Lady Michelle Obama.

You can become an advocate for young girls by supporting Girls Inc. and visiting the Let’s Move! campaign support pages. 

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy 100 Years Girl Guides and Girl Scouts!

Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is celebrating one hundred years as the largest voluntary organization dedicated to girls and young women in the world. Ten million members will join the celebration, however, this milestone also marks an important period of reflection.  In particular, WAGGGS deserves great credit for the way it has adapted and incorporated new methods to deal with the changing attitudes and concerns of young girls today, which are very different to one hundred years ago.

The association continues to promote its traditional focus on community development and outdoor pursuits. However, it has also successfully implemented new features such as a cultural awareness badge, increasing focus on developing confidence and self esteem, fundraising for developing countries as well as continuously changing and developing its distinctive uniform to reflect changing fashion trends among its members.

This article focuses on the association’s changing uniform, which may seem like a rather trivial point, but the uniform actually provides an excellent example of the way in which the Girl Guide Association monitors and responds to its members continuous development. Further, the uniform’s unique colour and style demonstrates the way the organization promotes individuality and fun among young girls. Too often large organizations retreat from change and few actively seek to engage with its members wants and needs in the way the WAGGGS has successfully done for a century.

Happy Birthday, Girl Guides and all the best for the next hundred years!

- Sarah Lynch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heroines Quilt is now online!

Hello everyone.

Girl Museum is proud to launch our Heroines Quilt--the result of hard work and input from many women from around the world.  Many thanks to them all!

You are still able to participate--check out how.

Remember to visit Girl Museum regularly as we have more exhibitions and ways to participate coming soon.

Thanks and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Weighing on Baby Fat, Especially for Girls

The article, 'Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All', appeared in the New York Times on March 22.  It summarizes several recent studies that have suggested that patterns of childhood obesity may form as early as infancy.  Some of the experts quoted recommend that parents be cautious about overfeeding young children, and that doctors not shy away from labeling toddlers obese. 

This article has generated a lot of controversy online because of its suggestions that the weight of children needs to be monitored from a very young age.  I think this article and the research it presents are especially pertinent to girls because the vast majority of people with eating disorders and body image issues are female.

It concerns me that researchers and doctors may be pushing for weight control in young children because society’s pressure on women to be thin has been trickling down to younger and younger girls.  It’s not uncommon for elementary school girls to call themselves fat or compare their bodies to those of their classmates.  Many women can recall being teased either about their weight or their eating habits – I distinctly remember the ridicule I endured from some of the girls in my church youth group when I pounced on a chicken wing a little too eagerly.  If doctors start harping on weight at a young age, girls may start to feel as though their pediatricians are reinforcing their negative body images.

On the other hand, I have seen young children who are obese and it saddens me to see them limited in what they can do.  Girls should be able to spend their time running, jumping, playing, and exploring the world around them, but weight can curb the physical activities of a child.  I’ve recently been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a reality show where the British chef visits the town labeled the ‘Unhealthiest City in America.’  There are a few obese children on the show, such as a visibly overweight four-year-old girl whose entire family has obesity issues.  

The show also spotlighted a teenage girl whose weight prevented her standing and chopping vegetables for more than an hour, and who later revealed that her doctor had given her just seven years to live.  The fact that weight will limit these girls’ lives is upsetting, especially because at young ages children are not entirely in control of their food - parents must take responsibility in the eating habits of children.

Maybe I just wish for a world where girls can be girls and can have limitless opportunities.  A place where activity, learning and personal development occupy girls’ minds, instead of food and body size.

- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pretty in Pink?

Korean artist Jeongmee Yoon, from the Pink and Blue Project

Growing up, many boys often play with LEGOs, toy trucks, and balls, running around outside and getting dirty.  Many girls, on the other hand, play with dolls, E-Z Bake Ovens and play 'dress-up.'  Twin sisters and mothers Abi and Emma noticed this disparity.  While Emma’s daughters received gift after gift of dolls, fairy princesses and toy make-up kits, Abi’s sons were given dinosaurs and toy trains.  However, what really pushed Emma over the edge was her daughter’s sixth birthday party.  Out of the 40 presents her daughter received, only three were not specifically targeted at girls: some colored pencils, and two games.

Out of a frustration with the stereotypes that girls are burdened with from birth, the sisters founded Pinkstinks in 2008.  They believe that girls are forced into “a pretty little box,” one that emphasizes looks and traditional views of femininity, whereas boys are allowed to be rowdy, explore and get dirty.  The goal of Pinkstinks is to change how girls are marketed to, encouraging retailers and manufacturers to examine the greater impact these stereotypes can have on girls as they age.  Much of the current marketing tells girls that the only correct way to be a girl is to be interested in fashion and appearance.  Experts see this trend as more disturbing when girls get older, citing tween and teens girls becoming more obsessed with their looks and suffering from low body image.  Read more...
Pinkstinks are trying to change the way companies target girls as well as putting out positive messages of their own. Their site promotes strong role models for girls, provides a forum for girls’ voices to be heard and suggestions for products that do not advocate being a princess.  

Visit Pinkstinks or their sister website, Cool to be Me

- Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hit Girl & My Girl- Thoughts on Representations of Girls in Movies

Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl

Having just seen Kick-Ass, a movie about superheroes, which features a foul mouthed, violent adolescent girl, I thought about some representations of girls in movies and how a controversial character like Hit Girl could become a new cultural icon as well as a heroine for many.

Hit Girl is eleven years old, swears like she has forgotten how to use other nouns and verbs, and can lop a man’s leg off without flinching. But she is also brave, strong, resourceful, funny, loves her dad and likes going bowling. An unfortunate product of her dad’s upbringing, she is sweet as well as deadly. Understandably the film will court controversy because of her and, of course no parent would want their own child to emulate any of her actions, but she is incredibly compelling to watch.

It’s interesting how girls are represented on the big screen. I loved watching Vada in the My Girl films. She was brave and headstrong but she saw a friend die. I don’t think Hannah Montana or any of the High School Musical kids would ever have to go through the emotional hardships she (and us watching) did. I just wonder at the influence of some movies aimed at girls now. If, for example, Hannah Montana’s only problem is that she can’t find the right clothes to wear, how does this influence her girl viewers and their priorities? Watching Vada lose a friend told us that life can be hard, people go away but you should enjoy your time with people and live your life. Watching Hit Girl on screen made me hope for more interesting representations of girls in movies…

- Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Girls Celebrate Earth Day

Charles E. Shoemaker/The Gazette

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day is just around the corner! 

Celebrated on April 22, Earth Day is designed to appreciate the environment, promote awareness of related issues and provide an opportunity to become involved in your community. 

How can you become involved in Earth Day? Just like the Girl Scouts, every young girl can help make their community a better place.

The Girl Scouts program is a youth organization dedicated to enriching the lives of young girls. Last year on Earth Day, Junior and Brownie Girl Scout Troops from Luxmanor Elementary and Tilden Lane Middle schools helped make their community a better place by cleaning-up the Heatherton Lane Tributary. Garbage bags and gloves were donated to the Girl Scout Troops by the Alice Ferguson Foundation. The foundation helps connect people of all ages to the environment and history of the Potomac River Watershed. Participating in an Earth Day activity allowed the Girl Scouts to give back to their community and their environment. They learned how to work together and take on leadership roles.  Read more...

Like the Girl Scouts in Montgomery, Maryland, we all can get involved with beautifying our community and world. How can you get involved? Girls and boys of all ages can recycle soda cans, plastic and newspapers. Find a recycling center near you.  You can also make fun and creative crafts out of recyclable materials. 

There are several resources about Earth Day.  For the most information on how to recycle and save money by ‘going green’, visit the Earth Day Network.  

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Many thanks!

After a month of celebrating girlhood heroines in honor of Women’s History Month, Girl Museum would like to send a special thanks to everyone who worked and participated on the project to make it successful. And to those still thinking about it, go ahead and send us a submission. It will become a part of our ongoing Heroines Quilt exhibition that will be launched later this month.

We are excited about our exhibitions on the horizon, especially, Across Time and Space: Representations of Girlhood in the Arts, which will be opening in early May.  Check the Girl Museum site often as we are regularly adding new elements. We have some big plans for our web update. So if you have any suggestions of things you would like to see on our new site, let us know.

As always, for cool gifts with a message, shop at our Boutique. And for recommended reading, check out our Girl Museum Shop of Books and Exhibition Tools.  Also don't forget to fan us, friend us, share us, follow us...

As 2010 progresses rapidly towards the midway point, Girl Museum would like to encourage those who can to donate $10 dollars to our cause. Times are tough all around and while we know nothing is truly spare, it will help us keep this fledging project alive.

Visit our website or click the Paypal DONATE button from this page.

Thanks again for all your support--EVERY PENNY COUNTS--not April fooling!