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?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Girls, diets, books, authors, and responsibility.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a writer myself, and I don't believe in censorship, but in the freedom to write what you wish.  Writers write for many reasons: because we're obsessed with it, because we want fame and notoriety, because we need a paycheck.  Every writer has their own reason.  And in this age of blogs and other forms of self-publishing, it's not that difficult to get your work out there (and even make some money or a name for yourself), even if none of the big publishing houses choose to pick up your work.  But Paul Kramer did get picked up by a publishing house, and it's caused quite a stir.

Kramer wrote Maggie Goes on a Diet, which is about a 14 year old "chubby" girl who is constantly being teased and bullied by her classmates for being overweight.  To try and make herself feel better, she raids the refrigerator, but ultimately goes on a diet and starts exercising.  As she becomes thin, she also becomes popular, and the star of the soccer team.  Maggie Goes on a Diet will be released in mid-October.

I believe that writers--as well as anyone else--have the right to say what they want.  However--to quote from Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, The American President
You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.
In short, true freedom of speech means that not only do you have the right to say what you wish, but you also must allow others the right to say what they wish.  This includes their right to criticise your work.

When I write these blog posts, I try very hard to present a balanced viewpoint.  I try to see all sides of the argument, and present multiple sides; I know that very few issues are actually black and white.  To use the previous post (written by Junior Girl Miriam Musco), "Poledancing for fitness" as an example, I can absolutely see why people are outraged.  For better or for worse, pole dancing has become linked with strippers and sex, and we don't want to associate that with young girls.  On the other hand, though, it doesn't have to be associated with stripping/sex, but if I think that it is, I assume you think it is, and so  I assume everyone associates it, and everyone does.  Now they think that a girl who pole dances is a slut/stripper/tease/prostitute/daughter of irresponsible parents, because of the bandwagon effect that society has.  I think pole dancing can be an excellent fitness routine, and fun.  I think it's completely fine that girls be allowed to try it, but I also think that perhaps a) the studio shouldn't have posted pictures of the girls and b) maybe now is the time for the parents of those girls to explain why society thinks girls learning to pole dance is inappropriate.  And hey, maybe some minds can even be changed in the process.

I don't think controversy that surrounds Maggie Goes on a Diet is any different.  There is a good message in the book: eating healthy and getting exercise helps build self-esteem.  But it seems to be lost behind the message that if you're a girl,  being fat is bad because it makes you unpopular, while being thin makes you popular.  I think that girls should be encouraged to eat healthy and get exercise--I think all of society should be encouraged to do that!  But I can't sit back and watch a middle-aged man (who's a little "chubby" himself) essentially tell girls that fatties aren't cool.  Girls are so prone to eating disorders at his targeted reading age (grade and middle school), and it doesn't take much to push them over the edge, potentially causing life-long self-esteem, health, and body issues.  Additionally, there are some thoughts that restrictive pre-pubescent dieting can restrict normal growth.  But parents are responsible for teaching and setting healthy diets and activities for overall well-being, not for popularity's sake.

I won't argue that writers have a responsibility to society.  At best it's a disingenuous argument, and at worst, censorship gets involved.  While those in the limelight, be they politicians, actors, writers, or the generic "celebrity," are scrutinized, and often held to a higher standard simply because they're famous, I don't think it's fair.  I'd like to see everyone set a better example, and I'd love it if those in the limelight did adhere to the highest possible standards, but it's not going to happen.  Part of the peril of fame is that people scrutinize and criticize your actions.  And when unhealthy messages are being sent to the most vulnerable among us, I think we have every right to stand up and say something.

For a video about Paul Kramer's Maggie Goes on a Diet, which includes some of the text (which, as a writer, I think is hokey and not very good, but that's a different issue), click here.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Poledancing for fitness

Putting pictures of girls in a dance class on Facebook seems pretty normal, right? While some parents might object to any image of their children circulating on the internet, most people would hardly find this objectionable. But what if these pictures were of girls at a pole dancing class?

A studio in the U.K. offers "pole fitness" classes to children and has put photos of its girl students on its Facebook page. The studio calls these classes a form of gymnastics and says that they focus only on fitness, not on any of the sexiness usually associated with pole dancing. The girls are required to wear tiny shorts and crop tops, but instructors says this is necessary because dancers need to grip the pole with their bare skin.

Although some parents are fine with enrolling their daughters in pole fitness classes and having pictures posted online, others are upset that underaged girls are being depicted in poses usually associated with "gentlemen's clubs."  One commenter likened the Facebook pictures to "child grooming."

But is it really wrong to let children try out a new form of fitness, and then proudly display their accomplishments on social media? For many of these girls, pole fitness classes are probably just a novel form of ballet or ballroom dancing. They lack the context to see pole fitness as risqué, and it's adults who are projecting this image of sexiness run amok onto them.

On the other hand, it's nearly impossible to decouple any form of pole fitness from its origins in strip clubs. One of the sad facts of life is that some people will sexualize girls, and portraying them wrapped around poles while not wearing much only makes a pedophile's job easier.

So maybe Facebook pictures of girls in pole fitness classes is a bit much. But let's not discourage them from staying active and expressing themselves by blowing a dance class out of proportion.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cheerleading for strip clubs

Cheerleading has long divided opinions on whether it is empowering or degrading for women. A recent incident in Christchurch, New Zealand has once again thrown the issue into the limelight as a cheer squad made up of girls as young as 9 were used to promote Calendar Girls, a local strip club, at an ice-hockey match.

Opponents of cheerleading denounce the pursuit as being sexist as it objectifies women by presenting them in a highly sexualised manner for the benefit of men who watch sports. But those that champion the pursuit refer to the high levels of skill and fitness required by cheerleaders (as it combines dance and gymnastics), as well as the camaraderie and team spirit at its heart.

The cheerleading squad were announced as "The All-Star Cheerleaders, brought to you by Calendar Girls." Imagine how the audience must have felt. Can I hear an I-C-K? Surely by announcing the squad in connection with a strip club any positive sporting and team spirit connotations were lost and any sexualisation that could have been inferred from the routine, uniforms and chants would have been automatically highlighted.

So whose responsibility was it to protect the girls in this situation? Jacquie Le Prou, the owner of Calendar Girls, states in the article that she specifically asked for older girls to take part. Yet the squad sent was predominantly made up of girls aged 15 and 16 year olds and even included a 9 year old. The cheer squad's coach ignored this request, failed to inform parents as to where the sponsorship for the event was coming from, and was not even present when the event took place. Clearly she must take some of the blame. But parents, even when they were informed at the eleventh hour that a strip club were sponsoring the squad did not pull their daughters from the event. Realistically, parents should not have been forced into this difficult position in the first place. Le Prou herself could have reiterated her requests and made and approved the squad in advance. And event organisers, fully aware of both the strip club's involvement and the cheer squad's could have enquired about the performers' ages in advance and made concrete specifications on a minimum age which would have been acceptable given the circumstances. It makes me wonder whether they even considered the implications of their chosen sponsor for what was otherwise presumably a family friendly event.

I'm not suggesting that strip clubs should not be able to advertise in any capacity. However, as an organisation dedicated to adult entertainment and gratification common sense must come into play their marketing presence. Connecting a 9 year'old to such a brand is just plain gross.

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Girls love Lego

PHIL REID/Dominion Post
BUILDING BLOCKS TO SUCCESS: Nine-year-old Sophia Webster, of Karori,
with her winning entry in the National Lego Building Competition.

How many nine year olds can boast that they’ve built a house? Sophia Webster can. Well it’s a house made of Lego and only big enough for her dolls to reside in, but a house all the same. In fact, Sophia’s early architectural talent, creativity, and dedication have earned her first prize in New Zealand’s annual national Lego building competition

Lego in its most basic form has been applauded as a gender neutral toy. Those uniform, primary coloured blocks that can be turned into anything and everything (but hurt like the dickens when stepped on in bare feet) are embraced equally by boys and girls. So why when I read this story about Sophia did I think “Wow that’s awesome – a girl showing the boys how it’s done”? 

It may have something to do with the gradual shift Lego has made in their marketing approach which began in the 1980s. Struggling to compete with the popularity of Mattel’s Barbies and Hot Wheels, Lego began releasing editions of their once neutral bricks with specific gender targets in mind.  Although inherently girl centric boxed Lego sets have been sold, many flopped and were never attempted again, while those with themes designed to appeal to boys such as pirates, castles and space craft flourished. Now don’t get me wrong, as a little girl I would have loved a set of Lego with any of these themes (in fact I’m currently coveting this) but it certainly was not a toy that any of the adults in my life thought to buy for me. Some parents complain that this masculinisation of Lego has meant that girls are no longer able to identify with the toy as female features and faces are left off the Lego men and therefore lose interest in the toy. In the article about Sophia’s Lego success her mother states that her daughter’s skill stems from her father’s obsession with the toy, showing that Lego-mania is a family trait in the Webster household. 

It’s likely Lego loving youngsters are oblivious to the gender debate which surrounds their favourite toy. But Sophia’s beautiful dolls' house creation proves that Lego remains a suitable medium for a multitude of creations, regardless of the gender bend they are thought to hold.  

So congratulations Sophia!  Not only is it great to celebrate the success of girls in a range of fields but you have rekindled my desire to tinker with those little coloured blocks once again. 

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Young Model Sues Photographer

FOR WHEEL: Hailey Clauson is snapped straddling a motorcycle during a shoot that also
produced a "spread eagle" shot that she is now suing over.  Photo by Jason Lee Parry

Sixteen year-old Californian model Hailey Clauson and her parents are suing photographer Jason Lee Parry and several retail companies that have released and/or used suggestive photographs of Clauson. The parents are seeking a total of $28 million in damages.

A year ago, at the age of 15, Clauson worked for Ford Models. According to the lawsuit by Clauson's parents, Ford Models agreed to never release the photographs in question. The photographs of Clauson, straddling a motorcycle and carrying a six-pack of beer, have appeared on t-shirts for multiple companies, including Urban Outfitters. Parry claims the photographs were stolen from him and after being released online where picked up by retail companies.

According to the New York Post, the lawsuit claims "the portrayal forces Clauson, now 16, to be the object of prurient interests and provides wallpaper for the likes of pedophiles."

Photographers and fashion magazines have been known to push models "beyond their comfort zone," but what if parents are present and grant their permission? Parry claims Clauson's parents were present and "gave him permission to publish the pictures."

Who is to blame for the pictures being taken in the first place? The parents? The modeling agency? The photographer? Are these photographs suggestive to you? 

To learn more about the lawsuit, please read “Underage model suing photographer for sexy photos.”

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publications are not responsible for sex trafficking

Sample ads on

In the conclusion of a strange case involving sex trafficking, Ashton Kutcher, and one of New York’s newspapers, a federal judge recently ruled that a publication containing ads selling under aged girls cannot be held responsible for the girls’ victimization.

This ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by a teenage girl who was sold on the St. Louis regional section of  Backpage is a classified ad website that operates many different sites targeted to different regions around the country, much like Craigslist.  Although it is supposed to function as a place to do things like buy used cars and place dating ads, in reality the personals section had become a notorious clearinghouse for buying and selling sex.  

It’s an open secret that many under aged girls are trafficked through Backpage, as was the case with Craigslist.  But after years of complaints that girls were being sold through its “Adult Services” section, Craigslist eventually shut that part of its website down.  Backpage has repeatedly refused similar requests.  So one girl took matters into her own hands and sued Village Voice Media, which owns Backpage, for creating the space where she was trafficked.

While this suit was pending, Village Voice Media went on the defensive and used its print media to try and discredit activists working against trafficking.  Its biggest holding, the New York alt weekly The Village Voice, ran a cover article earlier this summer satirizing the career and personal life of Ashton Kutcher, who has spoken openly about the problem of trafficking.  The front page of that Village Voice issue even featured the headline “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight”, a direct jab at the “Real Men” ads Kutcher has produced, which encourage men not to buy girls.

I think that no matter how you feel about this ruling in favor of Village Voice Media, the company has acted very poorly.  Instead of admitting that crimes are committed and girls are abused through its revenue-generating content, Village Voice Media has instead attacked the very people who are trying to keep girls out of the sex trade.  Sure, Ashton Kutcher makes a pretty easy target, but he’s doing good work in bringing to light the trafficking problem that makes girls into commodities.  Village Voice Media could at least act like it cares, but it seems to be focused only on its bottom line.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Freedom of speech includes the right to post racy photos

In an interesting twist to the First Amendment, a judge upheld that high school girls have the right to post "slutty" pictures of themselves online without recrimination from their schools.

Obviously this is simplifying the matter somewhat. Over the summer, separate from school activities, a group of girls at a slumber party posed in a series of racy pictures, using lollipops and other props to simulate sexual activities. Another girl showed the photos to the school principal, who deemed that, despite being at a private function, the girls involved had violated the school's code of conduct. As such, he banned the girls from participating in any extracurricular activities for the school year. Two of the girls argued, with the support of the ACLU, that their First Amendment rights were violated, with a judge eventually vindicating them.

The judge was not impressed with the actions of the girls, stating, "the speech in this case doesn't exactly call to mind high-minded civic discourse about current events." However, he did agree that the girls have the right to post racy photos of themselves on social networking sites without being punished by the school.

While I think the girls didn't exhibit any thought about their actions and the potential consequences, I do have to agree that they have the right to post the photos, and as such, the right to any potential fall-out that may occur. To the best of my knowledge, there was nothing in the photos that referenced their school, and so banning the girls from extracurricular activities was probably not acceptable, though a not-uncommon response by employer and potential employers.

You and read the judge's opinion and ruling here.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Girl Risks Life to Save Boy

Nicole Kissel, 12, describes how she attempted to rescue drowning victim Dale Ostrander, 12, during a press conference.
Photo by Don Ryan / AP

Nicole Kissel, a twelve year-old from California, put her life on the line to save Charles “Dale” Ostrander. As Dale, a twelve year-old from Washington, struggled to stay above the surface of the Pacific, Nicole heard him yell, “Help! Help!” 

Nicole turned her boogie board around and started paddling in Dale’s direction. Nicole’s father shouted for her to return due to the dangerous conditions, but Nicole reached Dale and pulled him onto her board. Paddling towards the shore, turbulent waves knocked Dale and Nicole off the board. Although Nicole was able to get back on her board, Dale disappeared back into the water.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mendez, a volunteer water rescuer, changed into his wetsuit and with a colleague, launched two jet skis. They pulled Dale out of the water and performed CPR until Dale was transported to a nearby hospital. Dale’s pulse returned and he was sent to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

Authorities believe the “reprieve on Nicole's board helped spare the life of 12-year-old Charles "Dale" Ostrander.” 

Dale was moved out of intensive care on Wednesday, August 11 and is in fair condition. Nicole visited Dale and spoke with the press about what happened before official rescuers arrived at the scene. 

Nicole refuses to be called a hero.  She believes she did what anyone else would do. "When someone is about to drown or someone needs help, you don't really think about it before you go out to help them," Nicole said. 

Nicole will be returning to California soon to go back to school. Nicole told the press that she “might tell her friends that she almost drowned, but won't say that she was saving someone's life when she did.” She just wants to keep life “normal.”  

-Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No more co-ed classes

Seventh grade students study math in their all-male classroom at Arlington Community High School on the first day of school in Indianapolis, IN, on Monday, August 8, 2011.  Olivia Corya / The Star

When school resumed at Arlington Community High School in Indianapolis, Indiana on Monday, students had a very different experience from the year before.  Instead of the usual co-ed experience in the classrooms, the 7-12 grade students of Arlington instead found their classes were single gender.  Girls began their school day earlier--and ended earlier--than boys, and were segregated even at breaks and during lunch.  All this as part of a major push to see academic improvement at Arlington, which is one of six schools in the Indianapolis Public School district slated for potential state-takeover if test scores don't improve.

As might be expected, the decision to make the majority of classes at Arlington single-gender isn't the most popular among students.  Many parents and guardians think the idea is worth a shot, however.  Teachers also noticed a difference, with one noting that her students (all girls) were more focuses during their classes.  And not all classes are single-gender; art, music, and advanced classes remain mixed, as do extracurricular and non-academic activities that were previously mixed.

Though a few students think that it might be for the best--some admitted that they found members of the opposite sex distracting in class--other think that it will only serve to create more problems.  Some claim that boys (and girls) will spend more time trying to sneak off and see others, while other state that allowing girls to be around boys is beneficial, as the distraction of the girls prevents boys from fighting with one another (time will tell for that argument).

Leonard Sax, who is a major proponent of single-gender teaching, insists that teacher training is the key to success--simply separating the kids isn't enough.  Arlington teachers have received statistics about the success of single-gender teaching, but have yet to be trained in how to best reach their students, and what strategies are most effective for boys and what strategies work best for girls.  That will come down the road, hopefully sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, it's challenge enough to impose this new structure on the students of Arlington.

To read the full story please visit At Arlington, coed classes are a thing of the past.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ten-year-old supermodel

Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau

Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau is just ten, but she's already being suggested as fashion's next major model. Posing for French Vogue magazine, Blondeau was heavily made-up, with her hair expertly teased and styled. She's also wearing clothes designed and presumably targeted for women twice her age or more.

Unsurprisingly, a controversy about Blondeau, her parents, and the fashion and modeling world in general has blown up. While I do support those with a talent (sailing, ice-skating, singing, acting, etc.) taking advantage of it at a young age–if they want to–I have a difficult time swallowing the notion of a 10-year-old girl wearing a dress that's open in the front to the waist as talent. There's playing dress-up, and then there's playing dress-up and having it photographed and put in an internationally famous fashion magazine.

There's no doubt that Blondeau shows talent as a model, and I support that. But I can't support a little girl wearing clothes designed for an adult and displaying them in such a provocative manner. Additionally, what does Blondeau's career say about the public and the fashion industry? Why would anyone want to see adult clothes modeled on a little girl unless she's playing dress-up for fun? While I understand modeling isn't about realistic expectations or how clothes will look on "the average person," it's just strange to see slinky dresses and exceedingly heavy makeup on a little girl. Lastly, what kind of message does this send to other girls Blondeau's age? It's generally considered that kids are growing up or being forced to grow up too quickly, and images like Blondeau's represent a flat-out unrealistic ideal for most girls or women of any age, but that's a hard lesson to teach anyone, let alone a ten-year-old.

For more on Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau, including some additional images of her Vogue photo shoot, read Far too much, far too young: Outrage over shocking images of the 10-YEAR-OLD model who has graced the pages of Vogue.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vaccinating boys to protect girls

One in five Americans have a sexually transmitted disease, and the most common STD is the human papilloma virus.  HPV has been linked to cervical cancer, and for the last several years, health officials have been encouraging teen girls to get vaccinated against HPV.  Though some people are opposed to the vaccination because they believe that it will encourage promiscuity, many others look upon the vaccination as a positive step toward protecting girls and women from both a very common form of STD as well as cervical cancer.

The vaccine was approved for use by males in 2009, and now some doctors are encouraging boys to get the vaccine as an additional step in protecting girls.  Not only will this "herd immunity" approach be beneficial for girls, but HPV can also potentially cause genital warts and anal cancer in boys and men.  Medicaid and many private insurance companies cover the cost of the vaccination (around $400) for girls, but for the moment, boys are far less likely to be covered.  Why though?  The vaccination protects boys from HPV, as well as possible future illnesses, so I find it interesting that girls can be protected, but not boys.

At least the times are changing: at one point, erectile dysfunction medication--aka Viagra--was covered by most insurance plans, but far fewer plans covered birth control.  Thankfully, that  will change completely by August of next year: "The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines in Washington Monday requiring health insurance plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover several women's preventive services, including birth control and voluntary sterilization."  This change, of course, comes with its own moral opposition.

Regardless of the controversies, it's nice to see that the sexual health and safety of girls is being taken more seriously.  By protecting the health of our girls, we protect the health of everyone.  And hopefully boys will take part in protecting themselves and girls.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.