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?

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Wishes for Girls

The holiday season is upon us once again, and although I’m aware that everybody around the world chooses to celebrate this time of year in different ways it is obvious that regardless of your beliefs, the close of one year and the dawn of another present an ideal time to reflect on what has been and what you hope will come to be. So in the spirit of the time here is a selection of New Year's wishes for girls around the world.

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation."
~Brigham Young

Throughout history, educating girls has generally not been deemed a necessity. Times are changing though and in the developed world, women have surpassed men at many levels of education. While in developing countries, higher rates of high school and university education among women have helped them make inroads to professional careers with higher remuneration. People are fast learning that the benefits of educating girls improve the prospects of entire communities, as women invest more of their income in their families than men do. Yet many barriers still exist for girls seeking education.  Hopefully 2012 will see these barriers continue to fall as the world realises the importance in investing in educating all of its citizens, regardless of gender.

“He who has health, has hope. And he who has hope, has everything.”

Developments in education for girls bring with them the added bonus of improvements in health and health awareness. However, government or NGO intervention to ensure that necessary access to medical care and funding for health initiatives and education is vital for stemming the spread of infectious diseases and preventable health afflictions.  I wish that 2012 ushers in greater emphasis on womens' health, particularly in the areas of reproductive, antenatal and mental health. May all women be empowered with the ability to care for their body and make conscious decisions about what it is subjected to.

Popular Culture: 
“I like the feeling that I’m giving young women self-confidence. It sounds so clichéd, but it can be very moving.”
~Shirley Manson

Girls these days are faced with a tidal wave of influences from popular culture. For parents interested in knowing what they should be promoting to grow bright, brave, creative and confident young women, wading through the murk of modern day culture can be depressing. Rail thin, sometimes child models; sexually suggestive children’s clothing and toys; Photoshopped and airbrushed images; fashions and television which “dumb down” girls all are common place.  So this New Year I’m also wishing for more positive role models for girls around the world. Role models that go against traditional notions of gender, that represent a wide range of bodies and ethnicities, that encourage girls to value themselves for reasons other than their looks and that inspire girls to be interested in areas where women are under-represented.

Now is that too much to ask?

What are your wishes for girls this holiday season?  

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

As 2011 ends, Girl Museum is grateful to all who have helped us continue to exist. From a tweet to a dollar, we appreciate every effort. If you would like to help us for next year and make a tax-deductible contribution before the end of 2011, please take two minutes to donate here. We have big plans for 2012 and would love to see you all there—in a safer world for girls and for us all.

Best wishes and happy new year!
-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

4th Century Man Helps Girls, Becomes Saint

Girolamo Macchietti, Charity of St Nicholas of Bari, The National Gallery, London
Before Santa Claus donned his red, fur-trimmed coat, Father Christmas was better known as third century Turkish saint, St. Nicholas. Known for his generosity to children, the story of his kindness to three unfortunate girls led to the rise of one of our most celebrated Christmas traditions.

St. Nicholas was travelling through a village where there lived a poor man with three daughters. The girls were approaching the age for marriage but, not having enough money for their dowries, their father would soon be forced to sell them into slavery. When he heard about the family, St. Nicholas approached their home at nightfall. Finding the girls' bedroom window open, he threw three bags of money, or golden balls, into the room. The first golden orb fell into the elder girl's stockings which she had left hanging over the fire to dry. The next two landed in stockings at the end of the younger girls' beds. The next morning, the girls awoke to these wonderful gifts and knew that with this new wealth, they would not be sold as slaves.

The practice of leaving stockings hanging on Christmas Eve for "Jolly old St. Nick" to fill with gifts began with this tale. Even St. Nicholas' gift of gold is represented by oranges or bags of chocolate coins traditionally being placed in the toe or heel of the sock.

Through his kind act of charity, St. Nicholas saved three girls from a terrible fate. However, slavery is still a real terror for girls around the world today. Girl Museum is working with the American Poetry Museum and former victims of trafficking to highlight this global problem. You can find more information on the Girl For Sale exhibition website.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Twin boys become brother and sister

Identical 14-year-old twins Nicole and Jonas Maines.
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Nicole and Jonas Maines were born as identical twin boys Wyatt and Jonas Maines.  But from a very young age, Wyatt identified as a girl and hated his penis, while Jonas played and acted as a traditional boy.  Although their parents struggled with Wyatt's inclinations early on, they grew to accept, support, and love Nicole, something that many transgender teens do not have.  Now 14 years old, the twins are in a new school in a new town, both of them having been bullied and threatened, in part because of which bathroom Nicole's used at school.

Nicole and Jonas are helping to shed light on issues of gender identity because they are identical twins and have the same DNA, helping to confirm, along with neurological studies, that people who have gender identity issues seem to be "wired differently."  Nicole is receiving further help from the Gender Management Service (GeMS) at Children's Hospital Boston, which is "dedicated to providing care and support to infants, children, adolescents and young adults with gender identity disorder (GID) or disorders of sexual differentiation (DSDs)."  GeMS is the first program of any size to focus on identity issues in children and adolescents in the United States, and with their assistance, Nicole is undergoing the first (reversible) steps toward gender reassignment surgery at the age of 18.  Because the vast majority of children (about 80%) who identify as another gender will eventually identify as their biological gender, the early steps toward reassignment surgery are delayed until the onset of puberty, which is blocked to stop the secondary sexual characteristics (like male body hair).  Transgendered patients like Nicole receive counselling throughout the process, and should they so choose, the process is reversible until surgery.

Regardless of Nicole's final decision, she and her family have shed light on the topic of transgender children and teens, and have done so with strength and grace.  If you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with their sexuality or gender identity, please visit the GLBT National Help Center.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

December is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. During this festive season, charities are working tirelessly to highlight the problems faced by young people all around the world suffering from cancer. Every day in the UK, 10 children will be diagnosed with the condition; some will never recover.

Whilst the most common forms of cancer affecting women are breast or lung cancer, young girls are more likely to fall victim to Leukaemia or Hodgkin's Lymphoma. These types of cancer can attack the whole body and successful treatment is dependent on an early diagnosis. Being aware of these symptoms is half the challenge, as they can often manifest as simple headaches or a prolonged lack of energy. 

For parents, there can be nothing harder than being told that your child has cancer. It means long stretches in hospital, witnessing exhausting treatments, and living only with the hope that once it is all over, your little girl will be able to lead a normal, healthy life. Groups like Macmillan Cancer Support and the Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation work hard to provide support for parents and their children. This is particularly true during the festive season when they organise family fun days and run an annual toy drive for kids spending Christmas in hospital.

Other groups in the UK (Little Princess Trust) and the USA (Wigs for Kids) work to help girls who have battled through their treatment and are now in remission. One of the most traumatic experiences for girls undergoing chemotherapy treatment is watching helplessly while they lose their hair. Thanks to kind donations, these girls can have natural hair wigs. The wigs are made from donated hair and their snug fit ensures they won't slip off when children are out playing with their friends. These wigs are not an exercise in vanity, but rather are about helping to restore these brave girls' confidence. So if you are planning a radical new look for the new year, perhaps you could consider donating your ponytail.

There are many – far too many – girls who will be hoping Santa brings them something more than a new doll or the latest iPhone for Christmas. But there is growing hope:  8 out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer today will go on to live for at least five years. You can get involved with one of the many cancer support groups working around the world and help raise awareness of childhood cancer.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Climate change disproportionately affects girls

Eight-year-old Samani, taking refuge with her family after being displaced by heavy floods for almost a year, drinks her morning tea outside a makeshift shelter in Sukkur in Pakistan’s Sindh province. 10 July 2011.
REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

One of the more contentious and fractious issues in politics (at least American politics) is climate change – the science of our deteriorating environment.  Our modern technology and way of living are negatively impacting the Earth’s biosphere, creating chaotic and intense weather patterns as well as rising global temperatures (which in turn are melting our polar ice caps and causing sea levels to rise).  Though scientists are uncertain about the magnitude of these effects, climate change is a fact, which makes it puzzling when politicians try to deny that our planet is in trouble.

Now a new study suggests that the climate change may have the biggest impact on girls.  Researchers have found that during famines and other devastations brought about by changing environments, girls become more likely to be sold or pulled out of school to work.  Girls are also less likely to be taught disaster survival skills, like swimming or climbing to higher ground.  And in cases where girls are rescued from catastrophes, they are often left orphans and can encounter sexual abuse at shelters.

“Climate change is a matter of public health,” researcher Aaron Bernstein has commented, and we would do well to keep that in mind.  Rather than rejecting science or arguing about nuances in the evidence, we should be concerned about our future generations.  Girls will inherit the Earth, and they deserve a healthy planet.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Threads for Teens

Allyson Ahlstrom is an exceptional girl. The 16 year old of Santa Rosa, California not only owns her own teen clothing boutique in Windsor California, but the clothes she stocks are free to underprivileged teen girls aged 13 to 17. In her own words. Allyson states the motivation behind her store Threads for Teens, “I started Threads for Teens to boost self-esteem, give girls hope for the future and give them clothes they will love and cherish.”  

The concept for the store is simple. Girls visit the store by appointment only, after being referred by social workers. On average, each girl receives two tops, two bottoms, a dress (formal or casual), one pair of shoes, sunglasses, a necklace, purse, bracelet and a selection of other small accessories. In order to make the girls feel like they are really out shopping, Allyson has made sure that the space is set up to look exactly like a real store and plans to continue developing the store's aesthetic through funding. 

Allyson’s dedicated and inspirational work caught the eye of SIA’s Founder Region, and was nominated her for the Soroptimist Violet Richardson Award.  The award recognises girls aged 14 to 17 who work to better their communities and the world. Allyson has moved through the various stages of the awards, eventually becoming the 2011 federation finalist and earning herself $1,500 and $3,750 for Threads for Teens in prize money.

Accolades continue to pour in for Allyson. Threads for Teens is was nominated for a StayClassy Award in the Best New Charity section earlier this year and she has continued to develop new initiatives for her charity such as a Back-to-School Backpack giveaway in August 2011. 

The mission statement on Allyson’s website sums it up, “If everyone does a little no one has to do a lot. If we can just brighten the day and lives of a few girls, we change it for all the disadvantaged girls by spreading the word...We are the future leaders of the world. If we can give each other confidence, nothing can stop us. No mountain is too high, no forests are too thick, no oceans too vast from giving girls everywhere the opportunity to succeed.”

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Looking for holiday presents?

With the holidays upon us, you might just be needing a gift for that special girl in your life.  The Girl Museum Boutique has a selection of shirts, hoodies, stickers, water bottles, mugs, tote bags, and more, bearing Girl Museum's logo and positive messages about what it really means to be a girl.  The Boutique also features designs created exclusively for us by Outsider artist Sara Morsey.  If you're looking for that special gift for someone this season, visit the Girl Museum Boutique!  And never fear--the shop accepts a variety of currencies, so you're covered wherever you are!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Twilight Series

Unless you’ve been in a coma or living under a rock for the past five years or so, you’ve probably heard of the Twilight franchise.  The four-book series, which has been adapted into five blockbuster movies, has become popular with teenage girls (and with some of their mothers as well).  The Twilight phenomenon can be explained by the way author Stephenie Meyer weaves supernatural elements into an adolescent love story.  But beyond selling of romance among the undead, what messages are these books sending to girls?

The Twilight books center around Bella Swan, an ordinary teenage girls who moves to a new town in Washington.  On her first day at her new school, she meets the handsome Edward Cullen and quickly falls in love with him.  Edward eventually comes to share her feelings and the two begin dating, even though this is a dangerous situation for Bella.  Edward is a vampire who has trained himself to drink only animal blood, but being around Bella is a constant temptation to give up his “vegetarian” ways.  Thus, the specter of violence and death constantly hangs over them.

Bella devotes a considerable amount of her life to this relationship, so much so that her friendships wither and her father begins to worry that she’s turning into a hermit.  At various moments in the series, Bella describes Edward as the center of her life and her reason for existence.  Her whole world begins revolving around him, to the point that when Edward breaks off the relationship for a few months, Bella thinks that she doesn’t want to live without him and falls into a months-long depression.

Bella’s devotion comes despite the fact that Edward is a less-than-stellar boyfriend.  He tries to tell her who she can be friends with and where she should go, and at one point he even disables her car to keep her from visiting someone.  Edward also confesses that before they were dating, her used to sneak up to Bella’s bedroom at night and watch her sleep.  Rather than being alarmed by this, Bella finds this behavior romantic.

As their relationship progresses, Bella decides that she wants to become a vampire so that she can be together with Edward for eternity.  Becoming a vampire has risks – not only is the transformation painful, but vampires have to keep their immortality secret, so Bella must cut off all contact with her family and friends.  Never does she waver in her desire to become like Edward, because she believes that this will be the ultimate expression of her love.

In the final book of the series, Bella and Edward marry and finally sleep together.  Edward’s lust for her blood is so strong when they have sex he damages their bed and leaves bruises all over her body.  Bella soon becomes pregnant with a human-vampire hybrid, which grows too fast for her body to accommodate and begins crushing her from the inside.  Through all this she refuses to have an abortion, and the birth of her daughter nearly kills her.  

These visions of love as controlling and sex as deadly are unsettling, but what I found most disturbing was Meyer’s take on consent in sex.  When one of Bella’s friends, a boy named Jacob, confesses that he is in love with her he forces her to kiss him.  Bella later describes this kiss as an “assault,” but a few chapters later she kisses him again willingly and decides that she does have feelings for him.  Edward also has a tendency toward aggressiveness:  right before their wedding, he breaks his vow to stay a virgin until they are married and tries to have sex with her.  Bella struggles against him, but Edward doesn’t stop until she pushes him off of her.

There is also the story of Rosalie, one of the members of Edward’s coven.  Everyone in this coven was turned into a vampire when they were on the brink of death – in Rosalie’s case, when she was gang-raped by her fiancé and his friends and then left for dead.  When Rosalie tells this story, she holds herself and her vanity responsible for this attack:  “It took some time before I began to blame [my] beauty for what happened to me – for me to see the curse of it.  To wish that I had been … well, not ugly, but normal.”

In wading through all this mess of all-consuming relationships and quasi-rape apology, there was one thing I liked about Meyer’s writing:  how she talks about a teenage girl’s sexuality.  In all of the books Bella is quite open about wanting to have sex with Edward, and this desire is wholly her own.  She isn’t sleeping with her boyfriend in an effort to please him, or because she’s trying to work through past traumas.  She wants sex, period, and isn’t ashamed of it.  Bella describes her desire to Edward as such:  “… Right now, physically, there’s nothing I want more than you.  More than food or water or oxygen.  Intellectually, I have my priorities in slightly more sensible order.  But physically …”

All in all, the romance in Twilight is not a great example for teenage girls to follow.  In the world of Stephenie Meyer, love is a domineering, overbearing force; men are forceful with their lovers; sex is a dangerous act that women are responsible for controlling; and pregnancy must never be terminated, even when a mother’s life is a stake.  The only positive thing in this series is the honest portrayal of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening, but those few passages can’t make up for the other, overwhelmingly regressive notions of love and relationships.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Short skirts or trousers only?

Getty Images
SKIRTING THE ISSUE: Trouser options have been introduced at some New Zealand high schools,
but most girls still opt for skirts.

High school girls' hemlines are one of those issues that crop up all over the world on a regular basis. Skirts that are too short, skirts that are too long–it seems that no matter which skirt style schools adopt as uniform they are likely to  run into problems with non-compliance. Frustrated school officials waste precious teaching time policing the ongoing battle as the steady stream of students filters through their doors year after year.

Recently the issue has received more press than usual as some schools in Britain have combated the problem by banning skirts entirely, instead requiring their girls to wear trousers. The principal of one such school, David New, was reported as saying, "We didn't want to waste any more time on it. It [now] means that teachers can concentrate on what's important in education."

With all due respect to David New and his school, I tend to think that they're dreaming if they think they won't be wasting any more time on uniform monitoring. Although they may have won the battle of the hemline, the uniform war will continue to rage through challenges to hair colouring, footwear, nail polish, piercings, makeup–the possibilities for misdemeanours are endless. School uniforms are intended to level the playing field, saving students from the distractions of fashion with blanketed conformity.

But really this goes against human nature. People always want to stand out, and teenage girls who are beginning to experiment with their own personal style and the ability to distinguish themselves from their peers, while at the same time finding ways to fit in are particularly susceptible to trends and societal influences.

Add to this the fact that short-skirted schoolgirls are a prevalent stereotype throughout pop culture (think fresh-faced Britney singing Hit Me Baby One More Time) it’s no wonder girls resort to folding the waistbands on their skirts in an effort to show a little more leg.

When schools in New Zealand were questioned whether they would consider banning skirts in favour of trousers as a solution to the skirt problem the response was mixed. But what really interested me were the reasons schools gave for wanting to make sure that their girls adhered to skirt length regulations. One teacher said, "We are concerned for the girls' modesty... We want to protect their dignity and keep them safe. We also believe it is respectful to our male pupils to have our girls attired modestly." Some feminists might argue that changing female attire on account of male desires is unequal treatment. Personally I sympathise with the plight of teenage boys who, thanks to raging hormones and new found urges, may struggle to keep their minds off sex without the added pressure of being surrounded by short-skirted females. But I do think that saying making sure that girls are attired modestly is protecting their safety is verging on victim blaming if sexual assault should occur.

So what do you think about school girls' hemlines? Are trousers a better alternative? Or are uniform issues inevitable no matter what students are required to wear?

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

GlobalGirl Media – A New Style of Reporting

A Global Girl reporter believes in the power of her voice to change the world!

Appalled by the lack of dialogue, critical awareness or accurate representation of women and girls in new media, a group of female filmmakers, broadcasters and journalists collaborated to form GlobalGirl Media (GGM). The organisation aims to empower high-school aged girls from disadvantaged backgrounds by giving them a voice in the global media universe and their own futures as citizen journalists.

The circumstances that inspired the founders of GGM to initiate the programme were double-pronged. The first was that they recognized that the vast majority of mainstream news reporting focuses on violence, celebrities, or disaster, while the everyday experiences and points of view of the general public (and girls in particular) goes unheard.

The second reason was that it became obvious that although teenage girls are prolific users of the internet, social networking (particularly Facebook), and phone texting, in web editorial, gaming and social media development around the world fewer than 5% of the people in influential positions are women.

To attempt the change these trends the programme encourages girls to speak out about the issues that affect them and their communities through new media. But there is the added problem that girls from impoverished areas are often unable to access such technologies and so are being left behind in this digital age. GGM solves this issue by providing the girls with the necessary tools for them to become blogging journalists in the form of equipment, education and support.

As they say on their website, GlobalGirl Media invests in girls to become their own agents of change in bridging the gender digital divide, providing concrete skills with which to improve their personal situations. We firmly believe that working with young women around the world to find and share their authentic voice is an investment in our global future.  

GGM works by pairing US communities with international cities, creating a peer-to-peer international network of girls. The girls are trained to work with small-format video (camcorders or cellphones). They also have Academies operating in various parts of the world and pair with NGOs on projects and in order to select deserving girls for the programme.

If you are interested in learning more about GlobalGirl Media, donating to their cause or becoming involved yourself visit their website.

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sanitary Pads change Somali Girls' Lives

Fartun Abdi Hashi at work. Photograph: Abdi Hassan/IRIN

In Somalia, when a girl gets her period, she will often need to miss school or work because of a lack of sanitary supplies.  Out of embarrassment and shame, girls miss out on education, sometimes dropping out altogether, because makeshift pads of paper and leaves are ineffective.

The Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD) is changing that.  With support from a variety of agencies, including Unicef and UNHCR, GECPD has been able to employ young women to made sanitary pads.  The GECPD educates at least 800 girls, and at any point 7-8% of the girls have their period.  With so many girls missing classes or feeling they needed to drop out, in 2009 GECPD decided to take matters into their own hands and keep the girls in school.

Besides ensuring girls receive an uninterrupted education, the project also provides much needed jobs for 60 girls and young women, who are able to make on average 20 to 30 pads each day.  These much needed jobs mean the girls can help provide for their families, as they make about $150 a month.  Plus, the majority of the material for the pads is locally sourced, and they are reusable.  They are also cheaper than imported pads, selling for half the price.  The packages GECPD make come with 6 sanitary pads and two pairs of underwear.

The packages have changed many girls lives for the better: as 17 year old Bureqo Ali, one of the girls employed by the project says, “We are wearing them and making a living out of it.  It is a wonderful feeling.”

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Too Young to Model

People Magazine, 25 August 2003.
Photographer: Dana Tynan
How young is too young to model? It seems that designers, magazine editors, and advertisers everywhere are of the opinion that the fewer years a model has under her belt, the more likely it is that she will get to wear theirs. Debate around this issue has been gaining momentum this year, with concerns finally resulting in a pledge by modelling agencies to ensure that girls under the age of 16 would be ineligible for runway work at New York Fashion Week. 

One casting agent has sparked heated debate by stating that aspiring models are too old to work at 16. Naomi Fitzgerald de Grave, head booker at Sydney-based GEAR Model Management believes that international brands are only interested in 13 or 14 year old faces. She has a point. Many of the models who are now household names had great success from a very early age: Kate Moss, Brooke Shields, Kimora Lee Simmons, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Gisele Bündchen, and Karolina Kurkova were all between the ages of 13 and 15 when they started working. 

Even film stars are picked out by designers to be the face of their brand from ridiculously young ages. Just look at Dakota Fanning. The young star recently admitted that in 2007 at age 12 she "really wasn’t old enough" for the clothes she wore while modelling for Marc Jacobs. This revelation comes just days after Fanning's most recent Marc Jacobs perfume campaign was banned in the UK. In it Fanning sits demurely, looking even younger than her 17 years, while the flower shaped bottle is lodged between her legs–a pose which censors deemed too sexually suggestive, particularly in light of the model's young age. 

Rival modelling agencies are jumping into the fray and strongly disagreeing with Fitzgerald de Grave's claims by saying that models are unlikely to be taken on by European agencies until they are at least 16 or 17. And yet, a whole new generation of doe-eyed beauties are now coming through the ranks at even more alarming ages. Just look at Thylane Loubry Blondeau. The French 10 year-old who has been working since she was 4 has already starred in various campaigns for major children's brands, graced the cover of Vogue Enfants, walked in a Jean-Paul Gaultier show, and featured in a Vogue editorial which explored the exploitative side of fashion's relationship with extreme youth.

But that's exactly it, isn't it? By employing such young girls, the fashion industry is not only cashing in on the insecurities of aging women determined to hold on to their youth, they are also exploiting the naivety that is inherent in anyone that has not yet made it to adulthood. Fitzgerald de Grave might not be wrong about European agencies' proclivity for hiring young girls, but should she be encouraging it? I think not. 
-Briar A. Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Girl is an Emotional Creature

Eve Ensler, CNN-IBN.
Exciting news from the world of West Coast theatre! Eve Ensler’s new play 'Emotional Creature' will open at Berkeley Rep on June 15 and run for a month. The script, monologues and songs for and about girls, is based on her very cool book, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. To read more a find out how to get tickets, check out this article in Playbill. 

While the Playbill article claims it will be a world premiere, an earlier version with the fuller title 'I Am an Emotional Creature' opened in Mumbai in November 2009 with an all Indian cast and directors. Here she is being interviewed on CNN-IBN.

If you have a spare 20 minutes or so, check out Ensler’s moving TED talk also given in India about her work, travelling and talking to girls, and ‘embracing your inner girl’. 

Girl Museum is looking forward to this play, which is sure to be creative and provocative. If you live in the SF/Berkeley area and would like to review this play for us- please drop me a line.

Check out Global Girl Media's interview with Ensler rehearsing her play in Johannesburg and the V-Girls inspired by the book.
-Ashley E Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Mourners release balloons in memory of Ashlynn Conner, 10, at Crown Hill Cemetery in Ridge Farm near Champaign today.
Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune
What ever happened to sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me?

A 10-year-old girl so desperate to escape the taunts of schoolmates commits suicide. It is beyond sad. And it is a delusional and self-righteous society that accepts it and doesn't get outraged by such a thing. 

Talk to your children about bullying. Think about what you say in front of them. Watch what they are watching on television.

Mean girls aren't cool. And there is an organization that aims to combat girl bullying called just that. Equally there is a US government initiative called Stop Bullying as well. Let's get informed and start asking questions.

Many condolences to Ashlynn's family.
We should never have to read another story like this again. 

-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum  Inc.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Personhood" amendment threatens birth control options

This past Tuesday, which was Election Day in the United States, a “personhood” amendment to Mississippi’s state constitution was put to the vote.  This amendment, had it passed, would have not only outlawed abortion but also made many forms of birth control and reproductive assistance illegal.

The concept behind this amendment was that life begins at the moment a sperm cell embeds in an egg – and so this law would have banned any birth control method that can possibly inhibit a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus and continuing to develop.  This would have made the morning-after pill, hormonal birth control pills, and intrauterine devices illegal, because all of these birth control methods rely in part on preventing zygotes from remaining in the uterus.  This law also had the potential to prohibit in-vitro fertilization, since extra fertilized eggs produced in this process are sometimes discarded.

Thankfully, Mississippi voters rejected this amendment, but the fact that it was even submitted as legislation is disturbing.  This law was medically unsound because a woman is not considered pregnant until a zygote implants on the uterine wall – in fact, home pregnancy tests won’t register as positive until this happens.  But beyond defying science, this law would also have put a huge dent in the separation of church and state that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The personhood amendment was sponsored by Personhood USA, an advocacy group that aims to “serve Jesus” by pushing legislation that defines life as beginning at fertilization.  This organization is trying to push its religious doctrine into United States law, which is a clear violation of our national Constitution.

What makes this law even more ironic is that birth control is one of the best solutions for reducing the abortion rate.  Preventing conception from taking place at all leads to less unwanted pregnancies, which in turn means that fewer women will seek abortions.  Also, as I’ve previously written here, Mississippi spends an extraordinary amount of money each year to deal with the consequences of unplanned teenage pregnancies.  Birth control is the logical choice to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and Mississippians weren’t fooled by Personhood USA’s campaign.  If one of the most conservative states can reject laws like this, maybe there’s hope for the future of reproductive freedom.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dutch Girls: Top models of the Golden Age

Portrait of Maria van Oosterwijck, Wallerant Vaillant, 1671, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
At Girl Museum, we are usually happy to see other institutions produce exhibitions about women, but at the same time we have to be cautious about the interpretation. Dutch Girls: Top Models of the Golden Age is a new exhibition on until December 12 at the Schiphol Airport annex of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

It is a small collection of 17th century portraits of well-to-do women. ‘Top models’ is a bit cliché, surely connoting a value system that would be heretical at the time these works were painted. These were important women, not models, because then models were not important women and the suggestion would have been equally heretical. Although vanity images do continue to be popular today, they are now typically in the form of sex tapes, nip slips and fake wedding portraits. 

The promotional video clip is a bit naff too. Clearly the guys have been asked to stereotype contemporary Dutch girls rather than about the art. 

If you see this exhibition, please let us know what it is like and what you think about it.  Too bad it is just at the airport gallery.

-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Girl Scouts accept transgender girls

 Bobby Montoya

Since the 1990s, Girl Scouts of the United States of America has accepted gays, but had not taken a clear stance on transgendered girls.  But after Bobby Montoya was told that she could not join a troop because she had “boy parts,” her mother spoke to the media, and the Girl Scouts of Colorado immediately released a statement clarifying their stance.

Bobby has identified as female since the age of two, and even asked his parents why he wasn't a girl.  Bobby dresses in more traditionally female clothes, and enjoys playing with dolls and My Little Ponies.  It was his wish to join his sister in Girl Scouts as well.  After this incident, however, Bobby has made even more of an effort to outwardly act as a girl in all aspects of his life.

This is a step in the right direction by an organization that does much for girls in the US and around the world, but can be a bit slow in accepting others—not only were gays not welcomed prior to the 1990s, atheists were also unwelcome.  Hopefully this will encourage other Girl Scout councils to take a close look at their policies and ensure a welcoming community for all.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Judge beats daughter, sees it as no big deal

For years, one of the many points of contention in debates across the United States has been whether hitting a child is ever justified.  Some believe that any type of physical punishment is wrong, while others think that a mild spanking can be a form of correction – while some parents feel that it is their right and their duty to whip their children for misbehaving.  Falling into this latter camp is William Adams, a Texas judge who was caught on film beating his daughter with a belt.

Judge Adams' daughter Hillary put a video clip on YouTube this week that shows her father abusing her while her mother looks on.  Hillary, who has cerebral palsy, set up a hidden camera to capture this footage, which suggests that these beatings were a regular occurrence.  The judge's reasoning for harming his daughter was that she needed to be punished for illegally downloading music.  A statement released by Judge Adams' lawyer can be found here, released a few days after he was quoted as saying "It happened years ago.. I apologized. It’s not as bad as it looks on tape."

As blogger Amanda Marcotte has pointed out, this kind of corporal punishment seems to line up with the kind of child-rearing practices promoted by fundamentalist Christians.  The judge hasn't identified himself as a Christian (fundamentalist or otherwise), but he has run for election on a Republican platform, which on the more conservative end has a great deal of overlap with evangelical Christianity.  Books by prominent evangelicals like James Dobson encourage parents to hit their children, sometimes with objects, to "correct" their behavior.  Conservative Christianity also likes to remind wives and children that it is their duty to "submit" to the man in a household.  This submissiveness all too often leads to unchecked patriarchal power and creates situations where a father feels well within his rights to beat his children.  Hillary Adams, being both young and female, was doubly victimized by these beliefs.

Though there are many rational arguments over whether children should be spanked or not, any decent human being can agree that beating and whipping a girl is child abuse, especially if that girl is disabled.  It's sad that a culture exists where this type of parenting is tolerated and even celebrated and encouraged, but this is the natural result of an extreme patriarchy.  By bringing this viciousness to light, I hope that Hillary Adams and other victims like her can show just how dangerous corporal punishment can be for children. 

The video that Hillary Adams uploaded can be seen here, but be warned that it is incredibly violent and highly disturbing.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Black Girls Rock!

Beverly Bond founded Black Girls Rock! In 2006 in order to provide positive role models for young girls of color and a sense of empowerment.  This year's Black Girls Rock! Awards show will celebrate actresses and singers, as well as sports figures, political activists, and human rights activists.

Black Girls Rock! strives to “promote positive images of women in media,” but the largest missions by far are the arts and mentoring programs for teens and girls of color.  The programs are diverse, and include such activities as poetry workshops, a DJ academy program, the “Taste the World” program (exposing other cultures through food), college campus tours, and the Queens' Camp for Leadership and Excellence.

For more information on Black Girls Rock! or ways to get involved, visit their website.  The 6th annual Black Girls Rock! Awards show will air in the US on Sunday November 6th on BET Network.  

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do all costumes have to be "sexy" costumes?

Whatever happened to being a ghost for Halloween? A ghoul? A favorite cartoon character or toy? To be fair, you can still dress up as the last two (including this moderately questionable "Monster High" outfit), but it seems over the past decade or so, costumes for women and–disturbingly–girls are now "sexy."  Want to be a pirate for that Halloween party? That's great, as long as it's a "sexy pirate." If you're happy showing off your cleavage or your leg up to your thigh (and beyond), great! You're sorted. But if you want something that looks more like it's out of history, or at least Pirates of the Caribbean, with very few exceptions you'll be shopping in the men's department.

I love Halloween, and I always have. Along with Thanksgiving (a holiday that really needs to exist outside of the US and Canada), it's one of my favorites. Dedicated to dressing up and having fun and scoring as much candy as is humanly possible, it's pretty basic. I'm too old to realistically go trick-or-treating these days, but I still enjoy decorating the house, dressing up, and handing out candy to kids. Because I'm inept at sewing and design, I buy costumes. And I'm all for showing a little leg and some cleavage occasionally, but I'd really like the option to get a quality costume that doesn't require that I do those things. But at least I'm old enough to be able to wear something like that and not get strange looks. This "sassy" costume, however, while not displaying cleavage, is not what I would describe as particularly piratical nor appropriate for a child. And while this one is clearly for adults, what self-respecting raider of the high seas would wear that?  It's not practical!

Lest you think my only interest lies in pirates, I've also done extensive research into zombie costumes (presuming 5 minutes is considered extensive). Zombies are great because zombie make-up can range from very simple to incredibly complex, and the costume can just be ratty old clothes. But if you wish to give away your hard-earned cash, take a look at this selection of zombie costumes.

To be fair, both of these costumes are listed as "boy" zombie costume and "girl" zombie costume.  But the rest of the female zombie costumes look more like this:


While I think zombie costumes are awesome, zombies are not sexy. At all. They're dead.

I could go on and on, but the proliferation of female costumes into the "sexy" realm is at best frustrating, and at worst disturbing. For another take on this topic, read Peggy Orenstein's article "Sexy Costumes for Little Girls Aren't Cute" over at the New York Times.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Teen drinking more harmful to girls than boys?

Teenagers drink, no matter how much we try to stop them.  It doesn’t matter what kinds of laws we enact, and at what age they’re legally allowed to drink.  The fact that drinking is against the law only makes it more alluring for teenagers.  

But drinking heavily as a teenager can have consequences – and those consequences might be more detrimental for girls than for boys.  A study published earlier this year found that when girls and boys consume proportional amounts of alcohol, girls seem to be more negatively effected.  Specifically, girls with a history of binge drinking had lower levels of activity in brain regions that control spatial activities.

One factor in this disparity might be that girls tend to weigh less than boys, and so equal amounts of alcohol have a greater impact on their bodies.  Another reason for this difference between girls and boys could be due to the one thing we pride teenaged girls on:  maturing faster than their male counterparts.  Girls who binge drink are soaking their brains in alcohol at a time of rapid cognitive development, while boys their same age are progressing at a slower rate.  

Should we use this information to educate girls about the risks of drinking?  Sure, but just lecturing them won’t make a difference.  We need to teach them to be safe and healthy, and use this research to show why binge drinking can have lasting consequences.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tennessee woman helps Cambodian sex trafficking victims

Ryana Dearmond is 24 years old, and at the end of November she's moving to Cambodia for two years to teach a culinary school.  Through The Center for Global Impact, she'll work with girls who are 14-18 years old.  Ryana views this as her chance to make a real difference in the lives of girls who are affected by the sex traffic trade.

About 60% of Cambodian children are sold into sex trafficking at least once, with a third of those children being affected by trafficking on a regular basis.  "These girls are hurting," Ryana says.  "I'm excited about the opportunity. I've been given the opportunity to go make an impact. And I don't want to miss any opportunity."

After teaching the girls basic cooking skills like sanitation and proper knife techniques, Ryana will teach the girls how to make hot wings and ranch and bleu cheese dip--the girls want to learn how to make an American dish.

For more information on the human trafficking trade, please visit Girl Museum's exhibition Girl for Sale.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Unwanted girls getting wanted names

The national average of 914 girls for every 1,000 boys is the worst since India became independent in 1947
(AFP/File, Raveendran)

In Mumbai, over 100 girls will be getting new first names soon. These girls, simply by virtue of being, well, not boys, were named Nakusa by their parents. Nakusa means "unwanted." Because girls are considered more costly and less prestigious than boys, many parents would rather have boys, and as we've written before, the gender ratio in India is becoming dangerously unbalanced.

Satara district health officer Bhagwan Pawar has been one of the driving forces in the area attempting to change the negative attitudes exhibited toward girls. He told AFP that 222 Nakusas have been identified and that "The most probable reason for them being called 'Nakusa' is that they were the second, third or fourth child in that family and the parents wanted a boy."

One of the things Pawar is trying to combat is the social and psychological damage done to these girls. He said, "Many of these girls that we've identified don't want their name. They feel very bad about it, so there is a psychological impact."

Sudha Kankaria is an activist who has worked with renaming the Nakusas, and describes them as "living examples of prejudice." She worries that because of a lack of self-esteem and the discrimination they face the Nakusas will pass these same insecurities onto any daughters they might have. "It's a vicious circle and we should break it. With this project, we are benefiting two people: the Nakusas and the future Nakusas," Kankaria said.

The girls will have their names legally changed, including school documents and official records. They will also be given certificates, signed by Pawar and another local government official.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chess is for Girls

Bonnie Trafelet for Chicago News Cooperative

Every year for the past I don’t even know how many years, it has been my New Year’s resolution to learn to play chess. As you may have discerned from the frequency at which it features at the top of my self-improvement list, chess is still not a talent which I can lay any claim to. Heck, not even any basic knowledge. I am officially a duffer.But unlike me, hopefully many other girls will be inspired to tackle the monochromatic board after a presentation to Chicago elementary school pupils by Chess Grand Master Susan Polgar.

Born and raised in Hungary, Polgar has been playing chess since she was in diapers. At age 4 she earned her first victory, taking out the 11 and under category at the Budapest city championships while seated on a stack of phone books and pillows so she could reach across the board. Her passion for the game has continued, and now 38 years after that first win she holds the title of Chess Grand Master – the first woman to do so.

Polgar’s involvement with the sport of chess extends beyond crushing opponents; she is also focused on inspiring and supporting girls in the field. This desire stems from the treatment she experienced first hand while competing at all levels of the game. She says of her early days in the sport, “It was very much ingrained that women were not able to play. A lot of experts and elite players believed that we were not physically able to do it, our brain was not big enough or that we couldn’t keep quiet long enough.” She believes that this line of thinking and the lack of support that comes with it are the reasons why most girls drop out of competitive chess by fourth or fifth grade. Through the Susan Polgar Foundation and the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Texas Tech University, Polgar aims to change this. The foundation sponsors chess events throughout the United States and offers chess scholarships to the Texas Tech University for students who excel in college tournaments.

But Polgar has even bigger plans for the sport. Her belief in its ability to assist in the study of maths and science, as well as the more general skills of discipline, analytical thinking, focus, patience, and time management inspires her dream “to get in front of education decision makers and convince them to make chess part of the curriculum for K through second grade. That’s when thinking patterns and habits are formed. It should be mandatory, like physical education.”

Whether or not Polgar’s dream is realised remains to be seen.  But if it is it would be a check(mate!) in the box of alternative thinking for improving maths and science performance for girls.

*Duffer: Chess slang term for a very poor player. Also called woodpusher, patzer.

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reddit's "Jailbait" finally shut down

Reddit screenshot discussing the pornographic images

For six years, the website Reddit has existed as a news aggregation site with a twist–it features over 67,000 communities devoted to all kinds of topics, where users can post content and comments. Though this type of news site has allowed millions of members to share information and find like-minded users, one community has drawn ire from Reddit fans as well as critics across the internet.

Jailbait was a Reddit community whose members posted pictures of underaged girls and then make sexual comments about them. Over the years there have been many complaints that Jailbait was creating a forum for sex offenders to brag about their exploits. Reddit never attempted to shut this community down; instead, staff members used the First Amendment's free speech clause to defend the continued existence of Jailbait. Technically, Jailbait was legal, since none of the pictures featured nudity or sex acts. Still, as a privately owned company, Reddit was not bound by censorship laws and could have stepped in at any time to shut this community down.

But then, something illegal did happen. Last week, a Jailbait user posted a picture of a 14-year-old girl in underwear and admitted that he also had several nude shots of the same girl. In the hours that followed, dozens of users posted comments asking for access to those pictures. The original poster eventually put up a picture of the girl performing oral sex and sent similar pictures to other users in private messages.

Reddit's staff got word of this post six hours after it went up and in response shut down the entire Jailbait community. Most likely, this was a preemptive act to ensure that Reddit wouldn't be held liable for distributing child pornography. It's sad, though, that an explicit picture of a child was what finally shuttered Jailbait–not the thousands and thousands of sexual comments that appeared hourly, describing acts that would place anyone on sex offender lists.

What's also sad is that Reddit was more worried about censoring its users than it was about girls being sexually harassed on the internet. Reddit made a choice in keeping Jailbait open for so long, and that choice seems to indicate that it values its bottom line more than it values girls.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold: Two Female Directors

This isn’t a piece about how there aren’t enough female directors or how women tend to get sidelined into making pictures about girl meets boy, then obstacle, then girl and boy in love, the end formula.  That is a piece for another time.  Instead, this is just drawing your attention to two interesting directors at the moment who each have films coming out.

Ramsay’s new film We Need to Talk About Kevin looks at a school massacre and the situations leading up to, and after it. Scottish director Ramsay doesn’t shy away from hard subjects, if her previous films are anything to go by. Her debut, Ratcatcher (1999), looks at a boy as he navigates his way through poverty, a hostile Glasgow, an alcoholic father, and a diminishing search for hope. Morvern Callar (2002) has Samantha Morten playing a woman whose partner commits suicide, leading her to put her name on his unpublished manuscript. 

Arnold’s new film is an adaptation of Wuthering Heights which has gone down well at the Venice film festival. It is also notable as Arnold has cast a more age-appropriate (than previous adaptations) Cathy, as well as a black Heathcliff.
Arnold has already created waves with Red Road (2006),  a film that looks at an introverted woman and CCTV. Another film of hers is Fish Tank (2009), which is about a young girl who likes to dance, has no friends, and sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend - as that;s an incredibly glib summation of the film, you just need to seek it out.

I hope these women encourage you to not just support female directors but also independent cinema. Go to the movies!

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Ok, so clearly I am incredibly late to the party when it comes to Jane Eyre, as I’m sure loads of people have already read the book.

It took me ages to read anything by Jane Austen as I was full sure that I would dislike her work; to my surprise, I really enjoyed them and continue to do so (helped along by the various televisual and cinematic Mr Darcys that have popped up along the way). At the same time, I was full sure that while I enjoyed the wit of Jane Austen, anything by the Bronte sisters was going to be full of the windswept, overwrought, dramatic romance that I can’t stand, so it was only recently I picked up Jane Eyre on the advice of a friend.

Jane Eyre was quite a modern book for its time; we see how Jane thinks, how she feels and how other characters’ actions affect her. This is in contrast to the outward face she gives the world. She is self-improving and strong willed. I really like her and I really like the book. I appreciate her putting her own self-respect before anything else. It’s easy to put modern standards on period literature – many might talk about the feminist stance of the book; how Charlotte Bronte shows that the ultimate dream is to marry a wealthy man and have children. But this is giving the book a disservice. Jane Eyre highlights the plight of governesses, a caste of society that goes unappreciated it seems. Becoming a governess was a position for those few well-educated, but generally poor (though genteel) women.

Jane Eyre shows us that heroines needn’t have to make grand gestures to gain our respect; having self respect, strong principles and maybe adhering to these in heart-sore circumstances can be enough.

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.