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?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gender Free?

A Swedish couple have sparked a lively debate by refusing to reveal the gender of their two and a half year old child, "Pop" (not the child's real name). Pop's mother explained "We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset…It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

I must admit that I have a long-held interest in the restrictions and implications of gender stereotypes and I have often wondered what it would be like to watch a child grow up free of these expectations, however, I have also been skeptical as to whether this could ever be possible. Sure you could dress your little boy in pink occasionally or encourage your young daughter to climb trees and play with toy cars, however,  once your child leaves their home or garden how can you hope to change the way they are treated by others? How can you change the way the outside world approaches your child?  You can read a paper on this subject by Dr. Susan D. Witt here.

This problem reminds me of my own earlier years when my mother refused to feed me chocolate, with the good intention that I would learn to enjoy healthy food. However, on a visit to my grandparents she found them supplying me with a feast of sweets and chocolate and I am now firmly a chocoholic. I can’t help but wonder if Pop will adopt a similar strategy in later life, whereby denial and restriction eventually lead to an extreme position, in this case perhaps as an alpha male or alpha female.

Despite these difficulties I admire the enthusiasm and conviction of these parents. I believe they honestly want to raise a child in a manner that is not chosen by society but by the child themselves and that is commendable. I also admire the energy that these parents will require in their opposition to such an ancient system of definition.  For another article about Baby "Pop", click here.

-Sarah Lynch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sexualizing without Consent

One of the biggest stories sweeping through pop culture right now involves pictures that purport to show teenage singer Miley Cyrus's exposed labia. Gossip blogger Perez Hilton posted a picture to his website last week that was angled up Miley's skirt and onto which he had photoshopped genitals. This week he posted another photo (which may or may not be real) showing her leotard riding up a little too high.

This has become a big deal because Miley is 17 and a minor in the United States, and some critics are speculating whether Perez will be charged with child pornography. Perez’s defense is that Miley’s recent behavior excuses him–that through her pole dancing performances and skimpy costumes, she has somehow given consent for these pictures to be distributed around the world (for a different take on this "new" Miley, read this review). Even Reuters, the news agency that owns the latest photo, says that because she was performing for the public, Reuters is justified in selling Miley's image.

But as this article points out, photos like these take power, specifically the power over the most intimate parts of herself, right out of Miley's hands. Perez and Reuters seem to be saying that that it's alright because she asked for this to happen, that her recent behavior shows that she deserves to have herself exposed to the world. This is exactly the same victim-blaming mentality that allows many rapes and assaults to go unpunished: because she dressed sexy, because she flirted, because she went off alone with him … she must have wanted it, so it's fine to forcefully take control of her body. But no one ever asks to be assaulted or raped.

It isn't Miley's age that bothers me so much; rather, it's the idea that people seem to think she somehow asked for nude pictures of herself to end up online. And it's sad that she has to see this attitude displayed against her while she's so young.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Social Networking Safety

Social networking websites, such as MySpace, Facebook and numerous chat rooms are becoming more and more popular for children of all ages. My parents, co-workers, and younger cousins are all hooked on chatting, sharing Facebook quiz results, and uploading new photos to share with their friends. Social networking websites have numerous benefits, but these websites can also be a potential danger to young children and teens. Some potential dangers that parents and children should keep an eye out for are online predators, scams and privacy issues.

When I was in high school, I couldn't wait to log on to MySpace to chat with friends and meet new people. Since my parents monitored my internet usage at home, I would generally log into my social networking account at school. During one on-line chat session, I gave out my phone number to a supposed friend of a friend. I thought giving out my phone number wasn't a big deal, since I had never met anyone I talked to online in person before. However, I soon learned that giving out my phone number was a BIG mistake. I ended up getting numerous phone calls and voice mail messages, even after I found out this person didn't know any of my friends. This incident made me realize that I needed to change my MySpace profile to private, so only my high school friends could access my information. Like me, millions of girls don't see an immediate risk in posting personal information and suggestive photographs. To learn more about what your social networking account should not look like, please check out "Millions of girls using Facebook, Bebo and MySpace 'at risk' from paedophiles and bullies."

Should parents ban social networking websites? Should parents install spyware software or check their child's internet history? Instead of banning social networking websites in the home, parents can encourage children and teens to only list basic information. If you have a social networking website or are thinking about creating one, please do not list personal information such as your home address, telephone number and school name or address. Please check out "7 Ways to Protect Your Kids on the Internet" to learn more about internet safety.

Aside from online predators, children as well as adults should limit their personal information or set their profiles to private, because scammers may try to steal and use personal information. Photos and status updates may also reflect badly on the user when looking for employment or applying for college. To read more on how your profile can affect your life, please read "The 5 Facebook Dangers: Perils That Have Nothing To Do With Internet Predators."

Although social networking sites can be fun and useful, we must remember that everyone can see what we are doing online. Please talk to your children about internet safety and check out the Girl Scouts Internet Safety Pledge.

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Single Ladies" at Seven Years Old

Beyoncé performing "Single Ladies"

A video recently making the rounds on the web has been shocking many people. In it, a group of seven-year-olds wearing shiny bikinis and thigh-high boots are shaking, shimmying, thrusting, and grinding to the song "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," which they performed at a World of Dance competition in Pomona, CA. The video is disturbing, to say the least. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Mean Girls where the main characters dance to "Jingle Bell Rock," except that the outfits are skimpier and the girls a decade younger. The video can be seen here, as part of an article about the controversy. Though the girls are undeniably talented, their costumes were neither necessary nor appropriate for the venue or their age group.

There has been a lot of moral outrage surrounding this video, but an article in this week's New York Times magazine took a different approach. The author cited research showing that early sexualization leads girls to have an unhealthy view of their own sexuality. Researcher Deborah Tolman has spoken to many teenage girls who talk about their sexuality in terms of others, rather than how they feel or what they experience on their own. These girls put on a "performance: while ignoring their own desires, and Tolman theorizes that this stems from pressure on younger and younger girls to present themselves as sex objects.

This is an interesting take on girls and the images they project (or which society projects onto them). Many times the issue of girls and perceived sexuality is framed in terms of modesty and a fear of predators, but the evidence here is that there are long-term emotional consequences. If that's the case, we need to be better mentors for today's girls.  They should not have to look to celebrities to figure out how to dress and act. They should be able to look at us, their family and friends, for guidance in their lives.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How young is too young?

Abby Sunderland, 16, on her cell phone as she departs Marina del Rey, Calif. on Jan. 23, 2010.
Photo: Richard Hartog AP

Recently we wrote about Jessica Watson, the 16 year-old Australian girl who sailed around the world on a solo voyage, making her the youngest person to ever complete such a journey. Abby Sunderland, a slightly younger 16 year-old American girl, set off in late January of this year, trying to complete the same feat.  On the 10th of June, however, she ran into a severe storm in the Southern Indian ocean, which knocked the mast off her sailboat and caused Abby to activate her emergency distress beacons.  Two days later, she was rescued by a fishing vessel and her sailboat was abandoned. You can read about Abby's side of the story (and her parents') on her blog.

Abby's voyage has garnered controversy on several fronts.  There have been concerns about her age, the time of year, and weather while Abby was in the southern hemisphere, and if her parents should have allowed her voyage at all.  Additional controversies have sprung up over the cost of Abby's rescue and the recent news that a reality show about the Sunderlands and Abby's voyage was discussed prior to her setting off, though it was later scrapped. Though it is clear that Abby was and is in fact mature enough to handle a solo circumnavigation of the globe--as shown by how she kept her head when her boat was disabled--there are some valid concerns raised.

Of biggest interest perhaps is the role her parents played. I don't question their overall fitness as parents or Abby's ability to handle the challenge, but it seems as though parents in general are allowing their children to take bigger and bigger risks at younger and younger ages. Though I believe that everyone should follow their dreams and be encouraged to strive for these dreams, it is also the responsibility of parents to keep their children safe. With children like Abby Sunderland and Jessica Watson, it can be very difficult to walk the fine line between nurturing and encouraging a child's dreams, and protecting them from unnecessary risks.

So where does that line get drawn? How do you determine if a child is mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to take on certain challenges and tasks? And how do you separate your ambitions for your child from theirs? Abby, Jessica, Abby's brother Zac (until recently he was the youngest person to sail solo around the world), and the countless others who strive to be the "youngest to ever" do something are not alone, and it seems the list is growing year-by-year, and the ages are getting younger all the time. On the 22nd of May this year, 13 year-old Jordan Romero became the youngest person to summit Mt. Everest; he's also climbed six of the seven highest mountains on the seven continents.

Don't get me wrong; I applaud these dreams and goals, and am in awe of the discipline, dedication, and determination that is needed to achieve them. But I am forced to wonder if the kids striving for these goals are under pressure from parents or coaches. I also have to question if these kids are always prepared to tackle these challenges; at 13, for example, I have a hard time believing the human body is really ready to withstand the extreme conditions Mt. Everest. At what point does "young" become "too young?"

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

High Heels, Higher Education

I live in ballet flats at work, weekend trips and on most date nights. Ballet flats are my shoe staple for the entire year. Although I love the sass and look of high heels, they tend to sit in the back of my closet until I have to attend a formal event. High heels can be painful for my toes and sometimes heels can make me feel like I’m doing a work-out for my hamstrings. Wearing high heels on a daily basis can also pose some health risks like a sprained ankle or knee problems. To read more about how high heels can affect your health, please check out “Suffering for Beauty: High Heel Health Risks.”

High heels will never go out of fashion, but it seems like younger and younger girls are starting to wear heels. I remember girls in my high school wearing high heels to school for special occasions, but I see tweens and children as young as Suri Cruise, four year-old daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, are wearing high heels in public. In previous Girl Museum blog posts, we have discussed the pressure to wear certain clothes and make-up as a young girl. Are young girls also feeling the need to wear high heels? When did you start wearing high heels? Aside from playing dress-up and special occasions, would you let your young daughter wear high heels?  For another article on this topic, read "High Heels on Little Girls? Families, Doctors Fret About Dangers."

The Daily Mail recently reported that one can learn how to walk in high heels during a six-week course, specifically aimed at teenagers, at South Thames College. Learning how to walk in high heels correctly may prevent some health problems, but the course—titled 'Sexy Heels in the City'—claims to prepare young girls for the “business world and their social lives.” The instructor of this course, Chyna Whyne (author of Mastering The Art Of Wearing High Heels and former back-up singer to Elton John) claims her “life was made a misery because she was not taught how to walk in such shoes” at a young age.

Although the college is offering a unique course, the college is under fire from both British and U.S. critics because the instructor’s salary is subsidized by British taxpayers. Do you think this course will help build self-confidence? Or do you think this course is a waste of time and money?

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Open Diary

Image Courtesy Samantha Bradbeer

I started keeping a diary after meeting my first crush in 5th grade.  My first diary entries primarily consisted of thoughts about school, my crushes and dreams. Over the years, my diary entries have evolved into scrapbooks and blog entries.  My handwriting and spelling may have improved, but like my 10 year-old self I still like to dream about my future and on occasion can be very stubborn about my mistakes.

Why do I keep writing—and now blogging—in my diary? I believe a diary is great way to reflect on your personal story and feelings. A diary can tell you a lot about yourself, including how your likes and dislikes have changed over the years. Plus, if I become a famous curator and explorer (I hope!) my diary can be a great start to creating an autobiography.

Do you have a diary? Do you still keep one? I plan on giving my diaries to my future daughters or nieces, so they know that their feelings are normal. I believe the Open Diary: Chronicling The Hidden World Of Girls project can have a similar outcome worldwide. The Open Diary project has pictures and videos of diaries created by girls and young women around the world. Some of the diaries have artwork, newspaper clippings and/or calendars of daily activities. If you are interested in sharing your diary with the “Open Diary: Chronicling The Hidden World Of Girls” project, click here for instructions

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More Teens Using the "Rhythm Method" of Birth Control

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a study about teenage sexuality.  The findings from this study were pretty similar to responses given six years ago, with two notable exceptions among teenage girls:  more said they used the “rhythm method” as birth control, and more said they were comfortable with children being born to unmarried mothers.  The article can be found here.

The statistics on girls using the rhythm method are worrisome because this is such an imprecise and complicated form of birth control; according to study author Joyce Abma, it has a 25% failure rate.  Serious adherents to the rhythm method must use a mathematical formula for when to avoid sex, since the difference in menstrual cycles among women creates variations in fertile and infertile periods.  I can understand that girls may think this is a free form of birth control, but the hassle and uncertainty of the rhythm method make it highly unreliable.  This is especially true for teenage girls whose maturity levels and sense of responsibility aren’t fully developed.  For more information on the rhythm method, visit Gynae Online.

The fact that more teenage girls are accepting of pregnancy outside of marriage is also troubling because it may imply that these girls don’t see the risks of teenage pregnancy.  It is now more common for adults to have children outside of marriage, but there is a vast difference between stable adults parenting--whether in in a committed relationship or not--and teenagers, lacking in education and maturity, trying to provide for a child.  Teenage girls often overestimate their ability to care for children, so this increasing acceptance of unmarried mothers could mean that more and more teenage girls don’t understand the realities of motherhood.

The study notes that teenage pregnancy has become more visible in pop culture because of a few high-profile young mothers.  Bristol Palin, a daughter of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, became a mother at 18, and Jamie Lynn Spears, the sister of Britney Spears, had a child at 17.  As children born into famous and wealthy families, these two girls were sheltered from the harsh economic realities most teenage mothers face, and the media tended to focus only on the positive side of these pregnancies.  Similarly, the movie Juno presented an unrealistic portrait of teenage pregnancy, according to Gloria Feldt, as discussed here.

The findings from this study should stir people to realize that we need to present a more realistic picture of teenage pregnancies, and that we need to better educate girls about their sexuality.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sports and Role Models on TV

Everyone knows that when children--or anyone, for that matter--are involved in sports and athletics, they are healthier physically.  It's also fairly well known that participation in sports helps children to be more successful, socially and academically.  Girls especially have a better body image and higher self-esteem, and are less likely to smoke, drink, or become pregnant at a young age.  Both boys and girls learn teamwork and leadership skills, as well as how to set goals and develop the discipline necessary to reach those goals.  There can be no doubt that sports participation, be it as part of a school or local team, or just pick-up matches in the neighborhood or with a church/youth group, are incredibly beneficial.

But where do girls turn for athletic role models?  According to the 2010 Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows 1989-2009 report, only 1.9% of the televised sporting news in the US was devoted to women.  Clearly, girls are at a massive disadvantage when it comes to looking to sports news for athletic role models, as 96% of the news is dedicated to male sports.  There is an upside, such as it is, however.  Over the last 20 years, reporters have become significantly less derogatory in how they refer to female athletes, possibly lending weight to the old adage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Possibly more disconcerting that the lack of coverage is the type of coverage that is there.  Most of the televised news coverage of female athletics is either about controversial or negative events.  On one had we see highlights of Usain Bolt's newest world record, while on the other we see Marion Jones and her use of performance enhancing drugs.  Little to no mention is made of Stacy Dragila's multiple world records in the pole vault.  No mention is made of the multitude of male soccer players who remove their shirts after scoring a goal, but when Brandi Chastain scores to win the Women's World Cup for the American team and rips off her shirt (leaving her in a fully covering sports bra) it's unseemly.  Never mind that we see women in far less every time an advertisement for lingerie appears on the TV.

So where can girls turn for sports role models?  It's left up to parents, coaches, and teachers to both encourage girls in sports and find the positive stories and role models.  Though I think it can be argued that perhaps they should be seeking out positive role models for both boys and girls anyway, the extra pressure to counteract the televised news coverage (and lack thereof) is frustrating.

You can read an article summarizing the report here, and the full 2010 Gender in Televised Sports report here.  Additionally, an interesting paper entitled "Extreme Roles of Women" can be found here.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sex and Responsibility

A research team from Johns Hopkins University recently conducted a study looking at awareness of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers.  They found, among other things, that less than a quarter of male teenagers receive any kind of information from doctors about safe sex (the article can be found here).  These findings are not explicitly about girls, but girls inhabit the wide chasm between teenage boys who are aware of safe sex practices and those whose doctors haven’t addressed this pressing issue.

I wish this wasn’t an issue at all, because I believe teenagers lack the maturity to understand all the consequences of sex or even to enjoy it.  Yet the fact is that teenagers have sex, and both partners need to be aware and prepared in order to remain healthy.  But if boys aren’t being told all the facts by their doctors, who should be their most accurate and complete source of information, then the burden of safe sex falls unfairly on the shoulders of girls.

Just think about the costs associated with safe sex:  birth control pills can cost up to $70 (though the average price is between $15 and $50) a month without health insurance.  The pill only protects against pregnancy, not against diseases.  Add condoms into the mix and a girl buying her own birth control could potentially spend close to $100 a month.  If only the girl in a relationship is aware and taking responsibility, sexual health becomes pretty expensive–especially considering that this girl will probably make less money than her boyfriend in her lifetime.

Besides the financial costs, a lack of awareness among boys can also take an emotional toll on girls.  There is already a lot of stress placed on teenage girls, including peer pressure, keeping up in school, and applying for college.  Making girls bear the entire burden of safe sex is unfair, particularly if they are pressured into sex or forgoing birth control.

The study’s authors praise the medical system for being “really set up to serve women” but I don’t think that’s true.  It seems that doctors, whether consciously or not, are reinforcing a system that creates unequal responsibility.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.