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, September 30, 2010

Girl Museum's latest exhibition— Hina Matsuri: Celebrating Girls’ Day in Japan

Hina Matsuri display, Katsuura, Japan. Girl Museum, 2010.

We are happy to announce the launch of Hina Matsuri: Celebrating Girls’ Day in Japan, our latest exhibition that looks at the history of this spring festival and how it is celebrated in contemporary public culture using images and video.

Japan has the only official ‘Girls’ Day’ in the world — dedicated to honoring girls, their health, happiness, and successful futures — an idea that should be celebrated by everyone everyday.

Come visit Girl Museum and see the show.
Don't forget to tell your friends!

We are always open and always free.

The Cost of Empowerment? As little as $25


The cost of empowerment? As little as $25.

Twenty years ago, Amir Unisha Bergum was windowed, leaving her and her three children struggling to survive in a slum in Hyderabad, India. Eventually, however, Unisha discovered Mahila Sanatkar Mutually Aided Cooperative Society. Mahila Sanatkar trains women in traditional crafts, then finds and gives them work. Before joining Mahila Sanatkar, Unisha would earn less than $1 a day; now she earns more than $1000 a year. They receive ongoing training, and each group (usually made up of women from the same area) has a joint bank account: all women pay in for the materials, and all profits are shared equally. If someone cannot pay, the other women will cover for her. The women all view each other as family, and protect each other fiercely. Mahila Sanatkar has given Unisha and women like her a skill, an income, a future, and hope. You can read more about Unisha and Mahila Sanatkar here.

Cooperative groups like Mahila Sanatkar are one way that women in poor or developing areas are able to take some control over their finances and lives. Another increasingly popular form is called microlending or microcredit. In essence, microloans are smaller amounts of money that are loaned to entrepreneurs who don't have access to traditional banking options. The money for these loans often comes from individuals around the world, who can often lend as little as $25. The entrepreneur who receives the loan must repay the loan according to a repayment plan, usually including interest. In order to qualify for a loan, applicants must have a business plan, just as they would need for a loan from a traditional financial institution. This ensures a greater chance of repayment of the loan, just as the loan, instead of a donation, ensures the entrepreneur is more invested in the business.

Microloans have been instrumental in empowering women across the globe. By providing access to money, women are able to purchase items necessary to start or expanding a business, making them self-sufficient, as Mahila Sanatkar made Unisha. Though a loan of $250 may seem small to many of us, $250 can buy a sewing machine, allowing a woman who already sews or mends clothes to more than double her output, thereby increasing her income. With that greater income, she can repay her loan, and then, if she chooses and business is good enough, buy another sewing machine (either with or without a loan) and hire another woman to help in the business, thus lifting two people out of poverty. By no longer having to wonder where the next day's meal will come from, she can start to think about education for herself or for her children, and bit by bit, social change takes place. For more on how microloans can empower women and inspire social change, read microfinance organization ACCION's “Microloans for Women: A Source of Empowerment and Social Change”.

Through organizations like Kiva and ACCION, individuals can donate to entrepreneurs around the world, spreading hope and social change. A loan to Kiva is considered a donation for tax purposes, unless you choose to withdraw the money at some point. But for a donation as little as $25, you can potentially change someone's life. Additionally, if the loan is repaid—and most are—you can loan that $25 to someone else, making your money work twice as hard. Microloans really are the gift that can keep on giving.

If you're interested in learning more about lending through microfinance organizations, visit the Kiva website or ACCION website. $25 truly can start to change the world.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Early Puberty for Girls


Recent studies in Pediatrics and Psychological Science suggest that genetics, obesity and the mother’s role can affect when puberty starts in girls. Jay Belsky, an author of the study from Birbeck University London, claims that young girls, “who fail to make a powerful early connection to their first caregiver are more likely to enter puberty early.” Earlier puberty can result in higher rates of depression, teenage pregnancy and alcohol abuse.

According to these studies, girls are hitting puberty earlier and earlier. One recent study reported by Psychological Science found that “more than 10 percent of American girls have some breast development by age 7.”  Why are girls developing sooner?  Genetics may play a role, but recent studies may suggest that the “early disconnect with mom may speed onset of puberty in girls.” Disconnect between the mother and daughter is believed to create insecurity.  

According to Psychological Science, insecure girls have their periods approximately 2 months earlier than their peers. Increased insecurity may create an uncertain, risky environment. Jay Belsky believes the home environment primes the female body to start puberty earlier. Both studies discussed above can be found at ‘Early Disconnect with Mom May Speed Onset of Puberty in Girls’.

Does this mean that working mothers are to blame? No. Although there is an increase in insecurity among children in day care, Jay Belsky states, “there is no relationship between day care and insecurity,” if the, “child’s experiences at home with the mother are secure.” 

The quality, not the quantity, of attachment time affects young girls. Based on this study, it is believed a mother who is, “unable to be sensitive and consistent in responding to her baby daughter’s cues may worsen an insecure attachment,” by spending more time with her.


What do you think? Is more research needed before we can link puberty to anything other than genetics?

- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Defining Our Terms

Curious about Girl Museum?  Wonder who we are, why we exist, and how we came to be?  The Girl Museum's inaugural exhibition, Defining Our Terms answers those questions about itself, and takes a look at what it means to be a girl.  Defining Our Terms examines how girls are defined and classified throughout history and in various cultures.  Girls are daughters, princesses, warriors, servants, and temptresses, but can they just be girls?  Check out Girl Museum's Defining Our Terms exhibition.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Generation Stressed


Do you ever ask yourself "Why aren’t there more hours in the day?" I’ve always been busy, detailed-orientated and push myself to make deadlines. As a high school student, I was constantly busy and always looking for more projects. My teachers encouraged me to take on more extracurricular activities, while my parents expected good grades. By my junior year of high school, I was involved in the Drama Club, Scholar’s Bowl, editor and report for the Raider Review, Students Who Care, and I worked part-time at a nearby clothing store. Although my grades never suffered, I always felt stressed, tired ,and overworked. Looking back, I should have taken a summer off and just relaxed. Instead of relaxing, I took college classes at the local community college.

According to the 2009 national survey by the American Psychological Association, over 30% of teens feel overwhelmed by school. Young girls are overwhelmed because they believe their parents and teachers expect them to be perfect. Experts believe over-scheduling is the cause for an increase in stress levels among teenage girls. For example, Hannah, a thirteen year-old, told Girls’ Life Magazine that she is “freaking out about an application to Harvard and how she’s going to up her standardized test scores”  ("Generation Stressed," February/March 2010 Issue). Hannah, like many other students, feels the pressure to start preparing for college early.  Parent pressure, classroom competition and the desire to be the best may be some of the underlying causes to an overworked and overwhelmed student. Although it is great to be ambitious, stressed students may experience depression, increased anger, less sleep, eating problems and harmful behavior. To learn more, please read an online copy of the Girls’ Life article "Generation Stressed." 

How can you deal with stress? Instead of hiding your feelings, seek out a guidance counselor or someone you trust. Seeking out support is not complaining. Or you can scale back on your activities. Although I’m still busy, I try not to say yes to every activity my mentors recommend. I’m currently focusing on graduate school, the Girl Museum and working at the library. Sometimes I feel guilty for saying no to projects, but I know  both my body and mind need rest to stay healthy. Please read "Help Me Feel Less Stressed" for ideas on how to reduce stress.

 

-Samantha Bradbeer

Junior Girl

Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sexual Standards and Stereotypes


This month, American audiences will be introduced to two movies that, on the surface, seem very different. One is Easy A, a modern-day version of The Scarlet Letter that follows a teenage girl who fakes losing her virginity. The other is The Virginity Hit, a gross-out comedy about friends who conspire to get their friend laid for the first time. What's interesting about these two movies, as one writer points out, is that they highlight the uneven standards about sex that exist between girls and boys.

The Virginity Hit is supposed to be funny, so it doesn’t even try to examine the emotions and consequences that come with losing your virginity. Instead, the characters go through a series of adventures and comic mishaps, much like a teenaged version of The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Easy A, by contrast, is a cautionary tale full of lessons learned. When word gets around that the main character may not be a virgin, she is alternately shamed or objectified. Eventually she finds that her life now revolves around what she supposedly did, and she is devastated. (Sample line from the trailer: "I always thought losing my virginity would be more … special.")

These movies and others like them are reinforcing negative stereotypes about the first sexual experiences of boys and girls. For boys, losing their virginity becomes a quest, and they should be rewarded and congratulated for achieving their goal. Girls, on the other hand, are traumatized by sex and end up suffering dire consequences.

The question is whether these movies are simply mirroring the true experiences of teenagers, or if they are in fact influencing attitudes by presenting these gender dichotomies as fact. I don't really know for myself–I was a virgin throughout high school, and when I finally did start experimenting in college I had friends who offered me applause rather than guilt. I'm glad I was able to bypass this kind of drama, but I feel for any girl who has to endure shame and mockery for having sex–for doing the exact same things that boys do.

You can view the trailer for Easy A here, and the trailer for The Virginity Hit here (for your information, it’s pretty crude).

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Huge Weight, Huge Self-Esteem


As a society, we generally want our girls to be healthy, happy, and well-adjusted, with a positive self-esteem.  Being healthy doesn't necessarily mean model-thin, and happiness and good self-esteem can be found in all builds of people.

So what happens when society and self-image collide?  ABC Family, a US cable TV station, is exploring these issues of health, weight, and self-esteem in Huge, a new TV series that premiered in June 2010.  Huge is set at Camp Victory, a "fat camp" for teenagers, and centers around Willamina "Will" (played by Nikki Blonsky), a girl sent to Camp Victory by her parents, but against her wishes.  Will claims to be happy about herself and her weight, saying at one point "I'm down with my fat... my fat and I are like BFFs."  She's even planning on gaining weight while at Camp Victory, while everyone else struggles to lose weight.

Although there are occasional flashes that Will is unhappy, perhaps in part because of her weight, it's refreshing to see overweight characters on TV in a starring role, not cast as "the sidekick" or "the friend," but who are truly developed, nuanced characters in their own right.  It's doubly refreshing that at least one character is proud of who she is.  Haley Hasselhoff, another cast member, believes that Huge can help girls develop a healthier body image.  And certainly, presenting overweight teens in a more positive light can't hurt the self-esteem of overweight teens.

There are criticisms as well, and well-founded ones, though most critics still applaud presenting overweight people in a positive manner.  Being overweight is undeniably unhealthy, and can lead to a wide range of medical problems.  One concern is that Huge will actually discourage overweight teens from losing weight; viewers will see that Will--and by extension, Nikki Blonsky--is happy with her weight, and so they won't see the very real health issues that can go hand-in-hand with excess weight.  Huge deals with health issues like diabetes in a natural way.  Executive producer Kim Rozenfeld says "the health risks, including diabetes, will not be glossed over or over-dramatized on Huge."  He also said "We attempt to illustrate a lot of the conditions that revolve around teen obesity, but in a way that ties into the story and the characters, so makes more of an impact. . . . [One] episode is not about [diabetes], but it's a featured part of the character, so we try to incorporate it organically."

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Visions of Peace Project: A Call for Art

Girls, what’s your vision of peace? We challenge girls to participate in the Visions of Peace Project, a collaborative art competition between the Girl Power Project, Hip Hop Education, and Girl Museum. Girls from all over the US are invited to submit their creative interpretations of peace. This collective vision will be featured at Girl Museum and at a local viewing (stay tuned for more information).  It is no coincidence that the deadline for submissions for the Visions of Peace Project is on World Peace Day, September 21st.

ART SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

All art must be in the size of 8.5in x 11in
We will accept electronic image files (you can scan the artwork and email it to us)

Send artwork to:

Girl Power Project
PO Box 324
Cheltenham, MD 20623

or email electronic images to stefanie@girlpowerproject.com

25 winners will be selected to exhibit at the Girl Museum and also will receive a tote bag full of goodies.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Leopards and Lilies

Swapna Biswas

Art is a means to express oneself. It does not deal with the absolute, but with the perception of the artist based on what he or she feels about society. Art encompasses a wide range of creations and expressions such as music, films, photography, literature, paintings, and sculpture. It’s difficult to define art in a simplistic manner. Art can mean different things to different people.

The earliest recorded evidence of women artists can be roughly traced to Classical Greece where Pliny the Elder talks about the existence of women artists and has laid special emphasis on Helena of Egypt. Since then there has been no looking back. Throughout the ages women have contributed to the development of arts but their contribution has always been sidelined. As a subaltern group, not much had been written about them. 

However, with the waves of feminism which washed the shores of the 20th century, the subject of women artists and depictions of women in art breathed a new life, and thanks to the efforts of Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro the world finally woke up to the contribution of women in art. The feminist art movement talks about art by women artists that reflects the lives and various experiences of women.

Swapna Biswas, a recipient of the 2007 Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award in Canada, is a 27-year-old contemporary artist from India who has used the canvas as a medium to portray her experiences as a young girl and a woman. Swapna completed her masters in painting from Kala Bhavan, Vishwa Bharati, Shantiniketan in 2008. She has several national as well as international shows to her credit. Her works were a part of “The Pop Up Show” at the IMA Foundation, London in 2010. Back home she was awarded a scholarship by the Government of India in 2007-2009.

A cook of grade one and a graceful host, Swapna offered me a generous bowl of home cooked payas or kheer (a dessert made of rice and milk). She is pursuing Masters in museology from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara where she is currently based and working. She has also acted in a bengali-telugu movie named Prithvi directed by Sisir Sahana, as well as being a trained singer.

The following interview with Swapna gave me a sneak peek into an artist's mind.

Swapna Biswas

Q.  Swapna, how do you see yourself as an artist?

 A. My work represents duality in a feminine aspect. As an artist I have explored the relation between the psychological state of mind of a young girl and the society.

 Q. Can you throw some light on the human animal symbolism used in your works?

 A.  Humanity and animalism are two states of human mind. I have used leopards, tigers, snakes, etc. to express vulgarity, sexuality, and ferocity which are animal instincts beside a self-image representing humanity with all its sensitivity, tenderness, love, and emotion. Animalism on the other hand is also all about violence and destruction, which again is inherent to humans as well.

 Q. Taking it to another level, is not this symbolism a metaphor for the feminine and the society at large?

 A. Definitely. In my works the self-image is often shown lying expressively or provocatively. From the time immemorial to the present times the female body is just considered as a tool to satisfy the male lust and aggression. Rape, domestic violence, eve teasing, trafficking, molestation, etc. are some of the ways in which these urges are manifested. The animals in my paintings are also a metaphor for these violent forces of society.

 Q. What about the flowers and jackfruits?

 A. I have extensively used flower motifs in my painting that symbolize the feminine. I grew up in Bengal and the garden of my ancestral house had many jackfruit trees. As a kid I was always fascinated with jackfruits. Later I incorporated them in my paintings. Jackfruit, I believe, is a symbolic of duality in the nature of human beings. The exterior is rough, brittle and thorny but the interior is soft and sweet. The society creates violence and at the end of the day it’s the society itself that suffers. The human psychology is a very mysterious and a dynamic attribute.

Swapna Biswas

-Shruti Gautam
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Girls' Education in Iraq

Iraqi girls walking to school.

Rowayda Faris, host of the youth radio show "Shabab al-Nahrein" (The Youth of Two Rivers), recently asked guests and callers to voice their opinions on girls' education in Iraq. Callers discussed whether or not young girls should be prevented from studying in a war zone and how an education can affect marriage prospects.

An anonymous female caller said, “Having a diploma is the same as having a weapon” for women in Iraq. This comment made me feel both empowered and heartbroken for women. If Iraqi girls are receiving a great education, they are gaining self-confidence, the ability to understand their own country’s laws, and preventive measures against diseases. However, a girl receiving an education can also be viewed as a double-edge sword in Iraq. One caller’s father said, “If a girl studies too much, it will just make people get divorced” and if young men finish school without jobs, “why would we let girls study?” These statements may explain why never enrolling and/or pulling girls out of school early is common in rural areas.  To read more about this discussion, please visit "Iraq on Air: Should Girls Study?"

Although more and more young girls are being pulled out of school, 100% enrollment rates and high literacy levels were common for both girls and boys in Iraq prior to the Gulf War. Wars and economic problems over the past twenty years have created budget deficits and dilapidated educational institutions, displaced teachers, and forced children into the workforce. While fighting for both rural and urban girls to be allowed to attend school, international agencies have been involved in rebuilding educational programs in Iraq since 2003. Rebuilding, providing security, and collecting school supplies is a great start towards allowing Iraq to reach high enrollment and completion rates for both boys and girls again. To learn more about rebuilding the educational system in Iraq, please read "Once Seen As a Model, Iraq Struggles To Rebuild Its Education System."

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

15 Year-Old Pageant Queen Loses Crown Over Hair Color Dispute

Olivia with her pageant-friendly blonde streaks, left, and her new dark look.  Photos / Supplied, Wanganui Chronicle

Over the years, pageant winners have lost their crowns for numerous reasons; including lingerie-like modeling photographs. Olivia O’Neil, pageant winner of Miss Teen Wanganui, recently gave back her crown after photographs surfaced of her newly dyed brown hair on Facebook. Barbara Osborne, the Miss Teen Wanganui pageant organizer, originally asked Olivia, a fifteen year-old from New Zealand, if her new hair was a wig. After Olivia admitted that it was not a wig, she began to wonder if pageant life was for her if she wouldn’t be allowed to do something different with her hair. In response, Osborne said “Well you better decide, miss. Hand over your crown with an attitude like that. I’m sure someone will step into your place with manners.” According to the pageant spokesman Jeavan Goulter, Olivia lost her crown because she did not “maintain the image” she had when she won the pageant.

After handing over her crown, Osborne allegedly told Olivia that “she would not go far in this world.” In response, Olivia went straight to the New Zealand Herald to share her story and tell others how pageant girls are treated. Olivia said she and her competitors were criticized from everything about their weight to their complexion and even yelled at by Osborne. Although pageant panels may not sugar coat advice, Olivia’s father believes comments like this are unfair to young girls who are still developing. To read more about Olivia, please check out “Web row ends pageant dream.”

Does it really matter what color your hair is? Should pageant winners and participants only be able to represent one form of beauty? Can pageants be healthy competition or do they create low self-esteem for contestants?

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Suffrage and Women's Politics in India


 Women in India have been given the right to vote by the Constitution of India from the moment it came into being since January 26, 1949.  It is indeed a matter of great  misfortune that many women do not  exercise this privilege due to ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, and other related factors.  On the other hand  there is a significant female population which not only votes for their choice of candidate but also  actively participates in the day-to-day administrative works of the nation.  Post-independent India has seen many female faces in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, as well as the Rajya Sabha, Upper House. Even the freedom movements of India are incomplete without women participation. 

On March 9, 2010, The Women Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, according to which women are entitled to  reservation of 33% of all the seats in the Upper as well as the Lower House of Parliament, and all the state legislative assemblies in their respective states. In addition to this seats in academic institutions and jobs are also reserved for them.

The Bill was passed amidst great uproar. There were cynics, skeptics, people who swore by it, people who voted against it, and people who chose to be indifferent about it.  I may not be the right person to comment critically on it, as only time will tell whether this bill has really benefited the Indian woman or not. All I can say at this juncture is that it is indeed a great step towards women empowerment, provided the Bill is not misused and does not fall into prey of double standards.

-Shruti Gautam
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.