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?

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do You Love Your Hair?

Sesame Street’s Muppet video song “I Love My Hair” has more than 800,000 views in less than 2 weeks! The mission of Love Your Body Day (October 20, 2010), see my previous post, is to promote positive, healthy images of women and girls. Sesame Street’s “I Love My Hair” video is doing just that!

On October 12, 2010, Sesame Street launched the “I Love My Hair” video on YouTube. The video stars an unnamed female Muppet, who is dancing and singing about loving her black curly hair.  This video is catchy and a great talking point among parents and their children. This video is ultimately helping “little girls—and their moms—to accept themselves just the way they are by loving their hair.” Joey Mazzarino, head writer for Sesame Street and co-author of “I Love My Hair,” was inspired to write the song based on his 5-year-old daughter’s tight, curly hair. His daughter, Segi, told him that she “wanted her hair to be long or blond like Barbie or a princess.” 

To promote beauty in all forms, the female Muppet sings, Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop, 'cause I love what I got on top -- it's curly and it's brown and it's right up there. You know what I love? My hair.

To read more about the “I Love My Hair” video, please check out “Curly haired Muppet is role model for little girls."
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Did Glee and GQ Cross the Line?

Glee is one of the most popular shows on American television right now. A bit of a surprise perhaps, given that it's a show about an Ohio high school glee club's members—including the teachers—trying to survive the perils of high school. It is immensely popular, however, and the media surrounding it proves that it reaches a wider audience than one would perhaps expect, while still trying to broaden that appeal further.

I can't deny that I was addicted to the first season, perhaps because I was in a high school show choir myself. And although I haven't been able to watch any of the second season so far, I've been unable to miss at least some of the media furor. The largest controversy revolves around a recent photo shoot for the November issue of GQ Magazine. In it, Glee stars Lea Michele and Dianna Agron both pose seductively, and, especially in Lea Michele's case, in a rather minimal amount of clothing (neither are nude, however). Cory Monteith is also in some of the photos, but remains fully, and by comparison, demurely clothed—if a word such as "demure" can be applied to a male in these circumstances.

As with most things, I try to see both sides of the argument. On one hand, Lea Michele and Dianna Agron are both 24, well over the age of consent (Cory Monteith is 28), and GQ is a men's magazine, targeted to men over 18. On the other hand, Lea Michele, Dianna Agron, and Cory Monteith are all playing high school students—and that is how many of their younger fans view them. Additionally, the purchase of GQ is not restricted to over 18 year olds.

I can't deny that in many ways I feel this is much ado about nothing, though to an extent I can see why the Parents Television Council is offended by the photo shoot and the marketing of the show in the manner.  The PTC feels that aspects of the photo shoot verge on “pedophilia” because the actors are playing characters under the age of 18, and are more or less posing as these characters.  While I disagree with that aspect—the characters are under 18, but the actors are not—I do believe the photos are in rather bad taste. What I tend to find more offensive than Lea Michele's open-legged pose on a locker room bench is that the women are scantily clad, while the lone male is always fully dressed.  

I find the photo shoot sexist, perhaps, but I'm not sure I would exactly classify it as offensive. All the participants are over 18 years of age, and the photo shoot is for a men's magazine, so I don't view it as bordering on pedophilia. It is not perhaps the wisest marketing choice for Glee; many people, children and adults both, view and identify the actors as their characters, and as such posing so clearly as high school students is probably inappropriate. Even so, it is up to the individual to differentiate between fiction and reality. But mostly, I feel the photos are in bad taste, regardless of the setting and characterization. 

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Girls as Boys in Afghanistan

Mehran Rafaat, left, and her sisters Benafsha and Beheshta
Image by Adam Ferguson for the New York Times

When you think of Afghanistan, you probably think of the war being waged there and how Osama bin Laden is supposed to be hiding out in the mountains.  Maybe you remember the Taliban and the images of burqa-clad women moving through the streets.  One thing that probably doesn’t come to mind is cross-dressing – but that’s exactly what some girls have been doing for over a hundred years.

A recent New York Times article shed light on the fact that in some Afghan families, girls are disguised as boys during their childhood.  There are several reasons for this practice.  In some cases, economic necessity forces girls to dress as boys so they can work and bring home wages.  For other families, choosing to pass a girl off as a boy helps dispel the stigma of having too many girl children.  But these gender swaps aren’t all mercenary – some families recognize that dressing girls as boys is a way to ensure that their child has better opportunities for education and more freedom. 

It’s interesting that in a society the West often views as oppressive and violently patriarchal, families have found subtle ways to empower girls.  In contrast to countries where females are selectively aborted and newborn girls are left for dead, Afghan families seem to be admitting that girls are just as smart and valuable as boys – they just can’t look like other girls.

It’s refreshing, too, that this practice is an accepted as a part of the Afghan culture.  Americans, on the other hand, can get pretty nervous about children and gender.  Many people are uncomfortable with boys who reach for dolls instead of trucks, and girls with short haircuts are sometimes ridiculed (just pick up a tabloid and see the reactions to Shiloh Jolie-Pitt).  Many of the children interviewed for this article say they feel more comfortable as a boy, and their parents seem to be okay with that.

So maybe it’s time to reexamine our stereotypes about Afghanistan – maybe we can learn something from their society.
- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love Yourself, Love Your Body

Shannon Wu, from Orange Village, OH, a 2010 Poster Contest Winner

As a preteen, I would always find something wrong with what I saw in the mirror. I thought my hair was too thick and not long enough, my legs were too skinny and my skin was too pale. Classmates would tease me about these qualities, so I always thought there was something wrong with the way I looked.

By the time I entered high school I started to accept myself. I’m not sure how it happened, but one day I just started to think---yeah, I’m pretty in my own way. Today, I’m thankful for my thick, long hair and in fact I actually need a hair cut! I like my fair skin, because it’s different and I stand out. My legs may still be skinny, but few people have teased me about them now that I stand tall and am proud of who I am, inside and out.

The biggest obstacle many women face is overcoming the media’s views on what an ideal woman should look like. Photos of movie stars and fashion magazine spreads make women and young girls believe we need to change something about ourselves, but the truth is these images promote impossible standards by airbrushing every flaw away. Approximately 80% of women dislike something about their body. Instead of talking about what we dislike, why don’t we talk about what we love? I love the light freckles across my nose and my blue eyes. Do you love what you see when you look in the mirror?

Celebrate what you love about yourself on Love Your Body Day, Wednesday, October 20, 2010. Love Your Body Day was launched in 1998 by the National Organization for Women Foundation (NOW Foundation):

In response to unhealthy and exploitive images of women in the media, NOW Foundation established the Love Your Body Campaign to promote positive, healthy images of women and girls, protest harmful and offensive advertisements, and raise awareness about women's health issues.

 Each year, a poster contest is held to encourage the participation of young women and artists, and the resulting poster promotes the Love Your Body Day events. The project is immensely popular on high school and college campuses. In 2001, the Project was so popular that we distributed 1,500 kits for organizing programs and received endorsements from more than 850 organizations.

How can you celebrate Love Your Body Day? Indulge in your favorite food or activity, throw a private party or send a Love Your Body e-card. Please check out this year’s poster winners, which can be sent as e-cards.  For more ideas on how to celebrate, please read Love Your Body: What You Can Do.

To learn more, visit the Love Your Body Day website.
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Teenage Mothers as ... Celebrities?

This week's covers of OK! and Us Weekly

Eighteen years after the first season The Real World, it seems that every subject under the sun has been given the reality treatment.  There are shows about wedding dresses, prep school kids and celebrities with drug problems, to name just a few.  But in the past year, MTV has built two different shows out of something you might never wish to see as reality TV fodder:  teenage pregnancy.

16 and Pregnant, which is in its second season, tracks a different expectant teenager in each of its episodes, chronicling each subject’s trimesters as well as the relationships with boyfriends and family.  A spin-off, Teen Mom, follows the lives of four of the most popular teenagers from 16 and Pregnant as they navigate through motherhood (or in one case, putting a baby up for adoption).

The producers say that they decided to create these shows in order to dispel any myths that teenage parenthood was glamorous or easy.  And indeed, many episodes show boyfriends reacting badly to the news and parents trying to tell their teenagers what to do.  The financial struggles of being a teen mom and the educational opportunities that must be put on hold are also highlighted.

But, as this article points out, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are not immune to the problems that plague many reality shows.  One is the financial incentive of appearing on reality television – one source claims that each teenager earns $5,000 per episode and is also given a college scholarship.  Some critics say this undermines the financial difficulties of teenage mothering.

Added to this is the fame that comes with being on TV.  Lest you think that pregnant teenagers would never become celebrities, consider that fact that every girl featured in Teen Mom has been on the cover of at least one American glossy tabloid.  What kind of message are these magazines sending by giving teen moms the same kind of coverage as accomplished actresses?

Finally, there is the aspect of just how “real” these teenager’s stories are.  Only a few of the girls admit to being on government assistance, and most are white, middle-class and suburban.  Where are the stories of receiving welfare checks and having to use food stamps at the grocery store?  Why don’t we see any accounts of what it’s like to try and raise a baby in poverty-stricken inner cities?

Unfortunately, this is what happens to all types of reality TV shows – real life tends to fall by the wayside.

- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For Girls, By Girls

A few days ago, the United Nations Foundation announced their latest campaign called Girl Up.  This campaign is aimed at empowering American girls to help girls in the hardest-to-reach developing countries through awareness and fundraising. It encourages supporters to give a “High Five” to girls in developing countries by taking 5 minutes to learn about issues facing other girls or donate $5 to help provide support through clean water, school supplies, health services and more.

The motto ‘for girls, by girls,’ is targeted for American girls between the ages of 10 to 19 to bring support to the 600 millions girls living in developing countries. With statistics stating that less than half a cent of every dollar earned for developing counties goes to specific programs to help girls between the ages of 10 to 16; Girl Up is set to change the trend. Building a health center or buying a notebook so a girl can go to school are only a few of the programs designed for girls in developing countries.  

Over the next few years, it will be great to see the success of the Girl Up campaign. Whether or not girls become actively involved with Girl Up, this campaign can became a valuable educational tool and resource in presenting issues effecting girls in developing countries. In giving American girls the opportunity to educate themselves on these issues, they will be able to understand the importance of raising awareness and the impact they can have.

For more information on Girl Up and, visit their website on ways to get involved and spread awareness.

- Vanessa Jorion
Junior Girl
Girl Museum

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Drive to Be Perfect: Unhealthy Competition

How much competition is too much competition? The media, teachers, parents and friends push girls to be competitive in school and sports. Although it’s good to meet your own goals, is competition becoming unhealthy for young girls?

Today, girls feel the pressure to be nice, do well in school, succeed in extracurricular activities and never have a bad hair day. Emily, a 15 year-old, tells Girls’ Life Magazine that she felt like she had “to pull back and not try so hard” when her track teammates started making rude comments about her success. Similarly, Katie, 16, started playing tennis “poorly to avoid conflict with the team captain.”

Why are girls not going after what they want? Rachel Simmons, author of the Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, claims it’s “a matter of lingering gender rules.” Although “confidence and competition are critical tools for success,” they are not considered feminine traits and “openly competitive behavior undermines the good girl personality.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look and act your best, but experts believe that the amount of pressure facing girls today is causing school and social activities to become more intense. Too many goals and a lot of pressure can result in bottled up feelings, which can lead to an increase in acting out, depression, eating disorders or even self-harm.

To reduce the pressure, young girls can strive to surpass personal goals one goal at a time. Trying to achieve one personal goal as opposed to trying to please others—can increase happiness, develop self-confidence and create a balanced, healthy life. To learn more about Unhealthy Competition, please check out this article

- Samantha Bradbeer
  Junior Girl
  Girl Museum, Inc.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Experts Say Underwear is Marketed at Children

The purchase of my first bra is not a happy memory. I remember being mortified when my mother proudly informed her friends of this momentous occasion. I had no desire to blossom into a young woman – boobs were for grownups - a segment of society which I had no intention of ever joining. This is why I have been baffled by a recent report that Australian underwear company Bonds have released a line of brightly coloured bras targeted at girls as young as six named ‘bralettes’. 

Media and members of the public are in an uproar over this perceived ‘adultification’ of young girls. Bonds’ decision has been called ‘irresponsible’ and their motivation behind the move deemed to be “greedy money-grubbing” drive purely by profit. People have called for a boycott of Bonds’ products and the company have decided not to stock the bras outside Australia. 

Had it not been for Samantha Bradbeer’s recent post on the growing trend of early puberty in girls, I probably would have joined the ranks of these irate commenters but now I’m not so sure. Bonds have defended their decision saying girls were maturing earlier and looking for support and ‘concealment’, and based on recent research perhaps they have a point. 

While it is fairly obvious that few girls as young as six will require a ‘bralette’, at least those that do mature early have options. And by presenting brightly coloured ‘fun’ options maybe a sense of normalcy can be achieved in what is potentially a traumatic change for girls experiencing early onset puberty. It also seems to me that parents are looking for someone to blame rather than making sensible parenting decisions on their own.

Instead of demanding that Bonds withdraw bralettes because they are feeling pressured by their daughters to purchase them, couldn’t they just say no? Every time that their child asks for a toy or sweet, which they don’t want to purchase, they certainly don’t insist that the company withdraw it. But really more to the point, how many six year olds really want a bralette, or of those who do, how many would actually wear theirs? Once they realise that they are uncomfortable and unnecessary surely they are discarded and left to lie forgotten in the bottom of a dresser drawer. 

What do you think about Bonds’ decision? Is there a real problem here or is this just a storm in an A cup?

- Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.