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, July 29, 2011

A correlation between loss of virginity and divorce?

is pretty common among married couples today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t painful for everyone involved.  I think it’s safe to say that most people who are married, considering getting married or who might ever get married would do whatever they could to stay together.  Now a new study shows that for women, there is a correlation between getting divorced and losing their virginity at a young age.

At least, that’s how the study authors are framing it - they claim that girls losing their virginity before age 18 indicates a stronger likelihood of divorce as an adult.  But looking more closely at the data indicates that another factor is at work:  unwanted sexual encounters.  The highest rates of divorce were seen among girls whose first experience of sex was either forced or coerced.

This makes a lot of sense, because rape can really screw up your views on love and relationships (to say the least).  So can sexual experiences where one partner feels bullied to go along with the other, rather than being willing and excited.  Neither of these situations sets up a good model for how healthy romances work. 

So yes, preventing divorce may begin in girlhood.  But it’s not about just telling girls to wait; it’s about telling girls to wait until they’re comfortable, until they feel they’re ready.  It’s about telling girls that sex should be an enjoyable experience for them, not something they feel they need to do to please a partner.  More importantly, it’s about telling boys that forcing sexual acts on a girl is never okay, and that both people in a sexual relationship need to feel valued, listened to and respected.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Support the Girls Book Blog

If you like this blog, consider visiting Girl Museum's Girls Book Blog, a project created by the Girl Museum to encourage girls to read, write, think about and share books that are important to them.  We're always eager for new submissions, so if you or a girl you know (between the ages of 9 and 16) wants to share a book with us and other girls, we'd love to hear about it.  If you want to participate, contact the Head Girl.  Make sure you include your age, school level, and where you live.

Also be sure to visit our exhibitions and Girl for Sale.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Extreme Hair and Makeup" Ban

School leaders in Lake County, Florida want to ban "extreme hairstyles, unnatural hair colors and no makeup that affects direct eye contact in the classroom" to their dress-code policy. According to Chris Patton, a schools spokesperson, doing so "will minimize disruptions in the classroom."

Do you think certain kinds of hairstyles, hair color or makeup can be a distraction? Patton believes unnatural hair colors or hairstyles might be a safety issues. Students might be teased or bullied about their hair color, while bangs that are blocking the eyes might be a "safety thing."

What do you think constitutes an extreme hairstyle, hair color or makeup? Patton notes long bangs, bright hair colors and eye-shadow "that goes way off the side of your face almost like how a rock-star would have" as distracting.

High school students from Leesberg believe that the ban will keep them from expressing themselves. If the ban is approved on August 22, students that continue to express themselves with 'extreme' hairstyles, hair color, and makeup could be banned from extracurricular activities.

To learn more about the ban, please read "No extreme hair and makeup in Lake County schools."

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services

If you check out our exhibition Girl for Sale, you’ll notice that we talk about girls being trafficked all over the world.  Oftentimes, when we think of trafficking, we imagine girls from Asia being sold to tourists or smuggling underage Eastern Europeans into Western countries.  But, as I learned from reading Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, the truth is that many girls are trafficked within their home countries.  Often, because they aren't forced to travel great distances, many people see them as willing participants in the sex trade, rather than as victims of exploitation.

Lloyd comes to this subject from a unique viewpoint:  she is the director of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), New York’s only organization that helps girls who have been domestically trafficked.  Every day, Lloyd works with teenaged (and younger) girls who have been uprooted from their homes and schools, fed lies by a much older pimp, beaten, raped, and forced to perform sex acts for adult men.  Despite all these girls have been through, and the fact that they are not legally adults, law enforcement often treats them as criminals.  In many cases, girls who are caught selling sex can go to jail for extended periods of time.

Lloyd's perspective isn't just based on others' stories, however – she was also a trafficked girl whose life was controlled and nearly ended by several pimps.  She recalls how as a seventeen-year-old runaway she turned to stripping and prostitution in order to survive.  She was in "the life" for almost four years before a church group helped her realize how valuable she was and how she could do so much more with her life.  This knowledge of how girls become trafficked and how difficult it is to get out helps Lloyd explain just how much work it will take to end the cycle of domestic trafficking.

So what can we do for these girls?  The most effective solution is to address the conditions that put girls in harm's way.  Many trafficked girls come from poor, dysfunctional families of color.  By addressing and trying to correct these disparities through programs, girls can have a chance to see that they have other options.  And by treating trafficked girls as victims rather than lawbreakers, we can nurture their spirits and help them transition out of "the life."

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sex changes for babies

Hindustan Times, 26 June, 2011

We've previous written on India's missing girls, but going a step beyond female foeticide, some families are now paying for their young daughters to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It costs about $3200, but can save the parents money down the road, as they won't have to pay for a dowry (despite dowries having been illegal in India since 1961), pay for "unnecessary" education, or face a limited-to-non-existent earning potential.

What will be encountered down the road, however, is certain infertility and possible impotence. The children (usually between the age of 1 and 5) undergo genitoplasty, or the physical surgery of changing the genitalia from female to male, as well as receive male hormone injections to "create" a boy.  According to Dr. V. P. Goswami, "Genitoplasty is possible on a normal baby of both the sexes but later on these organs will not grow with the hormonal influence and this will lead to their infertility as well as their impotency.  [...] Parents have to consider the social as well as the psychological impact of such procedures on the child."

Besides the confusing, painful, and terrifying affects on the child, there are other concerns.  In India there are currently 7 million more boys than girls in children under the age of six.  Down the road, this can potentially lead to problems for boys finding suitable marriage partners their age.  And some feel that the problem lies in a system of misplaced values.  Ranjana Kumari a leader in the campaign against gender-based abortions said "People don‘t want to share their property or invest in girls’ education or pay dowries. It’s the greedy middle classes running after money. It is just so shocking and an outright violation of children’s rights."

Yes it is.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Child Brides

Yemeni Child Brides
Photo: Stephanie Sinclair

When we think of child brides, we might imagine that the practice of handing over very young girls for older men to marry is a vanished tradition. Or we might be aware that these ways of life still exist, but putting a face to the girls trapped in these marriages can be hard.

Recently, National Geographic magazine published photographs, video, and an account of young girl's marriage to a much older man. This article is both fascinating and horrifying–it highlights just how ingrained this practice is in some cultures, and how many families feel powerless to resist tradition.

As open-minded citizens of developed nations, it can be hard to come to terms with damaging practices in other countries. On the one hand, we want to respect every culture and understand why people observe their traditions. On the other hand, we cringe to see women treated badly and girls having their futures stolen away. How can we reconcile these two viewpoints?

Evidence has shown that most child marriages have a decidedly negative impact on girls. The young brides can be pulled out of school permanently in order to serve in their husbands' households. Some are beaten by their husbands or their new in-laws. Many begin to have children very young, which is difficult on their still-developing bodies and confines them to a housebound life. And although husbands are told to keep away from their brides until the girls reach physical maturity, plenty of prepubescent girls are raped by their adult husbands.

So what can we do to help end this practice? Experts note that many child marriages take place in poorer cultures where women are not as valued as men. Providing equal education to women and helping people pull themselves out of poverty can go a long way to creating a society where women are valued for their minds and are recognized as a vital part of the population. That's a big task, but for those who see value in every culture and every human being, that's also hopeful.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Girls Rock Science

Winners (from left to right): Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose, Naomi Shah
Image from Google Blog

Congratulations to the winners of the the first Google Science Fair, Lauren, Shree, and Naomi! 

These three girls won for projects ranging in topic from studying harmful effects of food to improved cancer treatment. They were awarded a trip to the Galapagos, scholarships, and internships. All very practical and deserved.

Well done Google. And BRAVO Girls!
-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mommy, am I fat?

Good Morning America

Taylor Call, a six-year-old from Houston, Texas, is making headlines because she thinks she is overweight. After a cruel comment from another girl at her school, Taylor asked her mother, "Mommy, why is my tummy so fat?"

Why did Taylor ask her mother this? Tanya Call, mother to Taylor, told Good Morning America that her daughter went onto explain how a girl had asked her why she was fat while the pair were in the bathroom. Although this incident happened a year ago, Taylor has seen been bullied about her weight from other peers. 

This might just appear as kids being kids, especially since Taylor is at a healthy weight for her age and height, but sadly younger and younger girls are developing body issues. The University of Central Florida reported in 2009 that nearly half of the three to six-year olds who took part in a study on body issues said they worried about being fat. The National Eating Disorder Association has also noticed an increase for hospitalizations of eating disorders for children. Between 2000 and 2006, hospitalizations admitted for to eating disorders for children under the age of twelve has nearly doubled!

Although the media, magazine covers, and advertisements are partly to blame for featuring one perception of beauty, parents need to also remember that their own body issues might also affect young girls. Good Morning America asked a panel of five to eight-year-old girls about body perceptions earlier this year. One young girl admitted that she heard her mother say she wanted to go to the gym because she is overweight. Another girl admitted to learning about her teacher's new diet. These conversations may seem insignificant, but they are affecting how girls see themselves.

To learn more about Taylor Call and Good Morning America's panel, please read "Mommy, my tummy's too big: What would you do if your SIX-year-old daughter was worried about being fat?"

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gender-free Preschool

Children playing in the garden of Egalia.
AP Photo/Scanpix Sweden, Fredrik Sandberg.  June 20, 2011.

Here on the Girl Museum Blog we've previously written about women fighting back against the stereotype of girls being pretty in pink, and a Swedish couple who is attempting to raise their baby "gender free" by refusing to reveal the child's sex.

Taking a slightly different tact from the parents of "Baby Pop,"the Egalia preschool in Stockholm, while being fully aware of the sex of the children, the children are not referred to as "him" or "her" and are not described as "girls" or "boys," but rather as "friends."  Every detail has been examined with a close eye, from the colour of the toys to ensuring that building blocks have been placed next to the play kitchen--to show that the value of construction and building with blocks is no higher or lower than playing house.  Nor has the school tried to deny or downplay biological differences--all the dolls at Egalia are anatomically correct (as well as being of a variety of races); instead, the goal of the school is to separate biological differences from interest and ability. 

Although there is some controversy surrounding Egalia (it is taxpayer-funded, for one), since the school opened in 2010 only one family has removed their child, and there is a long waiting list for admittance to Egalia.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spotting an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders come about in a variety of ways: stress, a desire to exert control of an aspect of one's life, low self-esteem, desire for acceptance, and many other reasons exist.  Teenagers are particularly at risk, as the teenage years are tough, what with school and activities, trying to fit in and be popular, and trying to find one's place in the world.  Add into that the hormones of the age, and it's no wonder than so many teens develop an eating disorder.

According to co-authors Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Michael F. Roizen, and Dr. Ellen Rome of YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens: A Guide to a Healthy Body and Happy Life, some signs that may point to an eating disorder include
  • Unreasonable concern about a specific body part
  • Eating rituals that are new or different
  • A change in posture or clothing style
  • A desire to be alone, particularly while eating or immediately after, or secrecy in eating and exercise habits
  • Becoming increasingly self-concious
  • Negative comments about oneself's and looks
  • Dramatic weight loss or fluctuations
  • Moodiness

There are many more potential signs of an eating disorder, and while this list is by no means exhaustive, someone with an eating disorder may exhibit, some, all, or possibly even none of these signs.  But if you or someone you know has or might have an eating disorder, seek help and let them know that you're there for them.  And most importantly, make sure the affected party gets treatment!  Eating disorders can be fatal--without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%.

For more information on eating disorders, please visit the section "Eating Disorders" at Kid's Health.  If you or someone you know may need treatment for an eating disorder, please visit the Mirasol Eating Disorder Treatment Center website.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.