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, June 30, 2011

Extreme May-December Marriage

Doug Hutchinson (51) tied the knot with Courtney Alexis Stodden (16) in Sin City

In my last post, I talked about Thandie Newton and the affair she had with a director at the age of 16.  This week, the celebrity world brings us more news about teenage girls and older men – except that this relationship involves a marriage.

Last month, actor Doug Hutchinson (who has appeared in The Green Mile and on TV shows Lost and The X-Files) married Courtney Alexis Stodden.  He is 51, while she is just 16.  In order for their marriage license to be valid, one of Courtney’s parents had to give legal permission, since she is still a minor.  In subsequent “media rounds,” Courtney’s mother has proclaimed her daughter a “good Christian girl” who remained a virgin until she was married, while her father has praised Doug as a “great Christian man.”

There is so much wrong with this story that I’m not quite sure where to begin.  How does a 16-year-old girl go about meeting and dating a man three times her age?  What kind of man in his fifties thinks it’s perfectly normal to marry a teenager?  And what kind of parents would so willingly sign off on their daughter’s marriage to a much older man?

This, I think, is the most disturbing aspect of this story.  The idea that parents would hand over their daughter in marriage echoes the practice in pre-modern cultures--such as rural areas in developing nations and Europe until the end of the Victorian era--of marrying girls off to adult men so that families would have one less mouth to feed.  Our society has now come to a point where women are offered the educational resources and support systems to provide for themselves, so the idea that a teenage girl would feel she had to depend on a much older husband is disturbing.

I just hope that Courtney can grow to become her own person within this marriage, instead of an appendage to her husband, and I hope she doesn’t feel trapped by matrimony.  I also hope that other girls can see that this relationship isn’t glamorous, but rather a sad reflection on the values of this girl’s husband and parents.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What do Disney Princes and Princesses teach our children?

Ah Disney. Admittedly I’m a fan, and Mulan is my favourite but I’m not that much of a fan.

I could talk about how when trying to find some children’s dress up clothes that the only girls clothes on offer are Disney princess outfits, while the boys could be cowboys or ninjas; or I could talk about how the idea of waiting for a prince is detrimental to young girls ways of thinking but to be honest, this cartoon (via Boing Boing) pretty much sums it up....

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Math doesn't suck

Danica McKellar may be best known as Winnie Cooper from TV's The Wonder Years, but she is also an author and education advocate for young girls. McKellar is the author of bestsellers Math Doesn't Suck, Kiss My Math, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed. Each book encourages young girls to feel confident that they can and will succeed in mathematics. Math concepts in McKellar’s books are easy to understand and are described in an entertaining format.

Girls are just as capable of achieving in math as boys, no matter the grade level. Why are young girls struggling with math? Why are many young girls only completing the bare minimum for math courses in high school and college? Are girls not interested in math due to sociological reasons?

Young girls that struggle with math might feel shy or are tempted to dumb down themselves, but no one should have to dumb down themselves to feel accepted or attractive. Stereotypes depicted in magazines, on television and other forms of media may play a role on why many young girls are not excited about math. To learn how McKellar is trying to make math fun, please read “Getting Girls Hooked on Math: A Conversation with Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar.”

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

India's girls are disappearing

Baby Anushka was almost not born

Are you valued?

Are you valued because you’re a girl?

Imagine not being valued because you’re a girl...

In some parts of India, there is a trend of placing far more importance on having boys than girls. This has led to abortions of female fetuses. The belief is that having a boy is much more beneficial for the family, as girls do not bring in dowries (dowries have been illegal in India since 1961). While some mothers continue having baby girls despite this belief, the ratio of boys to girls is changing and if it continues will lead to an unhealthy balance. While there is are strategies to protect India’s baby girls (sex-selective abortions are illegal), they are generally seen as not enforced and not working.

India’s abortion rates are on the rise as many middle class and well off families are able to afford to check the sex of the baby at an early stage and can then decide what to do if it’s a girl. Many of these abortions are forced.

For more on this topic, and to see what the Indian state of Bihar is doing, read "India's unwanted girls."

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Empowered female or just another killer?

Last year I wrote a blog about the movie Kick-Ass and in particular about the character Hit-Girl. I enthused about how great a role model she was and how great it was to see girls represented in a refreshing way in films. Recently, another film was released called Hanna. Hanna is about a girl raised alone by her father, who basically teaches her to be a killing machine – again, a character in the vein of Hit-Girl, although Hanna is a more serious film.

I think Hanna is a great character, but an article in the UK paper The Guardian starts off imagining a film that celebrates an adolescent boy “who’s trained from birth to kill other people.” The journalist continues by remarking that there would be outrage at a film like this but because it’s a girl there isn’t.

This article brings up a few interesting points. Is it sexism that we make cult heroes out of girls like Hanna and Hit-Girl, when there is the possibility that outrage would arise if there were male characters of the same ilk? Do we celebrate these roles because female characters like these celebrate empowerment? Or is there cause for concern as these may merely be the product of masculine fantasies?

In the first blog I wrote about Hit-Girl, I talked about how characters like her were good role models over someone like Hannah Montana, but should we be worrying about the effect someone like Hanna or Hit-Girl is having on young girls? Could these roles be implying that violent behaviour is acceptable because they are female? Do women deserve to be violent because it is their turn? What do you think?

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From Donna Reed to Alice Waters

When the words "home-cooked meal" come up, they often conjure up Donna Reed-esque images of a woman with beautifully coiffed hair, heels, a nice dress, and an immaculate apron serving up a beautiful, perfectly presented meal.  In other words, a Stepford Wife, or perhaps Bree from Desperate Housewives.

Or maybe you picture something different.  Perhaps a weary-looking woman who has already put in 9 hours at work, only to come home and cook a meal for her family (most of whom have already been home for a couple of hours).  Or maybe that same weary woman, instead of cooking a meal, decides to throw some frozen meals in the microwave or oven.  Alternately, maybe you see a woman, frustrated by her dislike of cooking tossing something haphazardly together, with an equally haphazard taste.

What the phrase "home-cooked meal" rarely invokes, however, is an image of a man in the kitchen.  Say the words "professional chef" however, and it's unlikely you'll picture a woman.  Estrella Gutiérrez interviewed Venezuelan (professional) chef Helena Ibarra to discuss why men dominate the professional chef scene.  You can read the entire Q&A here, but I've included a few highlights below.

Women didn't want to be slaves any more, or work professionally at what they were trying to liberate themselves from,' renowned Venezuelan chef Helena Ibarra told [Inter Press Service], explaining why women have taken so long to compete in a workplace as symbolically feminine as the kitchen.  [. . . ]
They didn't want to be slaves any more. When the world of work opened its doors to women, they turned down cooking because they weren't interested in it.
To them it was a chore and an obligation that they wanted to be free of; they wanted to be something other than cooks in the new world of work they had conquered. They did not want to inherit the slave status of their mothers, whose undervalued work it was to cook and raise their children.
What interest could they possibly have in peeling potatoes and doing the dishes, when they had to do the same things at home? Women have yielded professional cooking to men, because it wasn't part of our liberation process. And that's why we took so long to fight for our place in it. [ . . . ]
[ . . . ] Restaurants were conceived as businesses, and running them required a chef, or boss, which is what the word means.
He could serve bad food or treat the staff poorly, but his mission was to make a profit. And one boss has to measure up to another boss. Women weren't allowed to reach that position, even though the chef might have been recreating his mother's recipes.

Luckily, the times, they are a-changing.  Cooking schools now have similar numbers of male and female students.  And with such successful chefs as Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), Rachael Ray (30 Minute Meals), Angela Hartnett (Gordon Ramsay's protégé and Michelin Star awardee), Iron Chef Cat Cora (also Executive Chef for Bon Appétit magazine), Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking and TV's The French Chef), Anne Burrell (instructor at the Culinary Institute of America and Food Network host/chef) and many more, women have a wide range of role models, both in personality and cooking style.

Being a professional chef isn't easy.  Although TV can make it seem glamorous at times, being a chef means very long hours at work (sometimes up to 16 hours a day), where you're always on your feet in a hot, humid kitchen, with a lot of other people in often too small a space.  That's disregarding the regular burns and cuts that chefs receive.  Even so, some people find it rewarding, and after many women have rejected it for so long, it's nice to see women struggling to take their place alongside men in a role that is, ironically, more traditionally feminine.

For more on women in the restaurant industry, read "Just call me Chef."

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Casting Couch

Minuit -- Paradis -- 2007 -- Miles Aldridge

There are two movies I’ve seen recently and enjoyed, despite their very different plotlines.  For Colored Girls is a dramatization of series of poems by Ntozake Shange that depict the lives of black American women.  Vanishing on Seventh Street is a thriller about five people who survive a mysterious apocalypse.  So what do these movies have in common?  They both star the talented actress Thandie Newton, who was also featured in Crash as a woman assaulted by a white police officer.

Thandie Newton has been in the news in the past few days after talking about having an affair with a director when she was 16.  In an interview with InStyle magazine, Newton said that while making the British film Flirting, she began a relationship with the movie’s writer and director, who was 23 years older than her.  She says she doesn’t consider herself a victim, but also admits she felt coerced and ultimately entered therapy.

It should be noted that in the UK, where this relationship took place, Newton was above the age of consent, which is 16.  I’d also like to point out that not every relationship with a significant age gap is inherently unhealthy.  But I think in this case, it’s pretty clear that this director was able to take advantage of a young, inexperienced girl who suffered from the consequences.  In most workplaces, this would be considered sexual exploitation.  Being a creative, artsy type does not excuse an older man from being a predator.

Of course this practice is nothing new – in fact, the notion that directors and movie producers expect women to sleep with them in exchange for roles has long been termed “the casting couch,” and there are many examples in film history.  In 1955, the 16-year-old actress Natalie Wood began an affair with 44-year-old Nicholas Ray, her director in Rebel Without a Cause.  The actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Megan Fox have both reported being asked for sexual favors from potential directors at the starts if their careers.   Perhaps most famous is Roman Polanski, and his still-ongoing sexual abuse case of Samantha Geimer.  But just because this practice has become ingrained in Hollywood culture doesn’t mean we should look the other way, or chalk it up to “creative genius.”  Instead, we should encourage girls to use their talents to pursue their ambitions, and not give license to men to take advantage of younger women.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Support Girl Museum

Girl Museum is always looking for community involvement and support, and we've got a wide range of ways to get involved. We're always interested in taking on new interns, or if you're not interested in a longer-term commitment, why not get involved with an exhibition? If you've got an idea for an exhibition, we'll help you develop it and put it online. If you're part of an organization who would like to partner with Girl Museum to produce an exhibition, we'd like to hear about it.

The Girl Museum blog is another way to get involved. Have a news story about girls?  Know something cool that girls would like to know? Go ahead and tell us about it, and we can post it on our blog. Know a girl who's excited about a book she just finished? Have her write about it and submit it for the Girls Book Blog.

There are plenty of other ways to support Girl Museum as well. Tell your friends and neighbors, and promote us within your social networks. Visit the Girl Museum Boutique, or send us a donation.

As always, be sure to visit Girl Museum and take a look at all our exhibitions! Also, please visit Girl for Sale, a collaboration between Girl Museum and the American Poetry Museum.

The Head Girl can be reached here. And remember, Girl Museum is always open and always free.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

School Yearbook Scandal

High school yearbooks are a great way to preserve memories forever. Years from now former students will be able to pull out their yearbooks to share those memories with friends and their family. Not everyone will want to do so now. A few schools have recently been reported in the news after yearbook advisors failed to notice or remove inflammatory quotes. 

The 16-year old yearbook editor at River City High School is in hot water for including a dedicated page focusing on the cheerleading squad. The page is titled “Who Wears Short Skirts” and it is accompanied with two photographs. The main photograph is showing the squad with their skirts raised, while the other is a cropped shot of just the girl’s legs. The cheerleading squad is described as being “dolled up in gloried underwear.”  The cheerleaders and their parents are quite upset with this depiction of the squad.

"I was really mad. I was just shaking…I called my mom, and I was crying" Breannah Gully, a cheerleader at River City High School told ABC.

River City High School is not the only school in trouble for yearbook quotes. Other school yearbook editors decided to include the "5 worst people of all time" and senior quote allegedly by Adolf Hitler.  Please read “High school yearbook snafus anger parents” to learn more.

How are the schools reacting to the yearbook scandals? Superintendent Randall Williams of Russellville Middle School told the media that he “asked the printing company to cover the list with pieces of tape.” Other school officials have told angry parents that the language used in the yearbooks are “not libelous, nor does it harm the school’s mission to education students, so it’s protected by the First Amendment.

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nigerian baby-farming

In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, human trafficking is ranked the third most common crime.
Photograph: Will Curtis/Getty Images

On June 1st, Nigerian police announced that they had raided a "baby factory" in Aba over the weekend.  A doctor, Hyacinth Orikara, and 32 pregnant teenage girls were arrested and rescued.  The girls were told that they would be paid between 25,000 and 30,000 naira for their babies, depending on whether the baby was male or female.  The babies would then be sold--for illegal adoption or to be used in rituals--for between 300,000 and 1,000,000 naira.  Some of the girls also told police that friends who had been there before recommended the clinic.  The girls were to be either charged or transferred to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons for more investigation.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to buy or sell babies, and the practice can earn a perpetrator 14 years in jail.  However, most Nigerians live on less than $2 a day, despite being a major exporter of crude oil.  As $1 is worth approximately 156 naira, the girls were earning between $160 and $190 for their babies, which were then being sold for somewhere between $1925 and $6425.

So many things horrify me when I read stories like these.  The notion of buying and selling anyone--babies or otherwise--disgusts me, particularly when the babies are to be tortured and/or killed in a black magic ritual, as some of these babies would have been.  Others would have been sold into prostitution, and some sold for illegal adoption.  I'm saddened by the fact that there are those out there who wish a child and want to adopt but either don't know they are adopting illegally (or possibly can't afford to go through legal channels) or worse, don't care.  I'm also saddened by the plight of the pregnant teenagers.  Some of them were duped into going to the clinic, some of them may have consciously chosen to sell their babies.  While that would make them complicit on one hand, on the other, they are teenagers and victims, not guilty.  $160 is a lot of money to these girls.  What does that say about all of us?

For more information on this story, read "Nigeria 'baby farm' girls rescued by Abia state police" and "Nigerian 'baby farm' raided – 32 pregnant girls rescued."  For more information on trafficking in general, please visit Girl for Sale.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.