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, September 28, 2011

Men are Men, but Women are Girls

The Golden Girls. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/

Language is a funny thing.  Words often carry connotations and subtle meanings we don't think about on a daily basis, but can greatly affect our language choices and how we interpret things.  These subtle clues and changes in definition may prompt you to think "that's why we have thesauruses" (thesaurusi?), but sometimes the societal overlays cannot be captured strictly by a thesaurus.

Take the word "woman" for example.  Woman, as defined by a dictionary--the one built into my computer's operating system, in this case--means "an adult human female."  Simple and to the point, no?  It does go on to expand the definition in a variety of ways (employment, role, duties, etc.), but in it's essence, a woman is an adult human female.

On the other hand, "girl" has two definitions.  First is "a female child."  Second is where our potential confusion enters: "a young or relatively young woman."

What's wrong with "woman?"  Or "young woman?"  Well, I can't speak for everyone, but connotations have been formed, and, according to Carolyn Bronstein, the author of Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976-1986, "Girls are young and sexual and pretty and focused on their bodies and focused on attracting people of the opposite sex. A girl doesn't have to take things so seriously."  On the other hand, Bronstein adds, "Woman carries the image of an older, strident, militant kind of feminist presence that is, in popular culture today, frowned upon."  In short: "Woman just weighs heavily, and girl is light."  Additionally, every time I've heard the phrase "young woman" used, it's generally condescending.

Hollywood has certainly picked up on this trend.  There were the Designing Women, but mostly we've seen the girls of Sex and the City.  Once upon a time there were Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place (eventually losing the pizza place); the mother-daughter duo of the Gilmore Girls; Gossip Girl is still talking about Manhattan's elite; and reality show The Bad Girls Club is still running.  And who can forget about The Golden Girls?  Those four feisty women showed that, at least once upon a time, being over the age of 50 and widowed or divorced was not all bad.  This fall, all those girls will be joined by New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and on HBO, plain ol' Girls.

Now, I haven't seen these shows, and all I know about them is what I've read (which honestly, isn't much).  But before I saw anything about these shows beyond their titles, I could have told you that they are all about women in their twenties, who are attractive, and primarily in-and-out of relationships (with equally attractive twentysomething men).  Why?  Because they are about "girls," "not women."  And apparently, women aren't fun-loving, attractive, or interesting.

To be fair, I don't know how accurate my interpretation is, but since "friends" isn't a practical name for a sitcom, something else had to be used.  So why girl?  Because it's marketable.  Most females in the demographics that networks are aiming for seem to refer to themselves as girls (or are at least assumed to).  I know I'm guilty of that, and I know I'm not alone.  I don't inherently see anything wrong with choosing to be labeled a girl over a woman, but I am sad that the word "woman" seems to carry a stigma.

"Men" and "man" don't face the same issues, though "boy" can range from mildly insulting to extremely offensive, depending on the circumstances.  But men are lucky.  They not only can be "manly" or "a man's man," but they can also be a "guy" or "one of the guys."  Women don't have such a luxury, or a surfeit of terms.  As "Grammar Girl" Mignon Fogarty says, "It would be nice to have a female equivalent of 'guy,' [...] I suppose it would be 'gal,' but that sounds quite antiquated."

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, September 26, 2011

40,000 female football fans and no men in the stadium

More than 43,000 female fans turned up to watch Turkish side Fenerbahce play.

Football fans are a segment of society plagued by a dismal reputation due to the loutish behaviour many seem to engage in regardless of whether their team wins or loses. However, in Turkey the tide has turned momentarily as women have taken up a golden opportunity to embrace the sport.

Local Turkish team Fenerbahce have been under intense scrutiny lately after allegations of match fixing and inappropriate fan behaviour which included pitch invasions and violence. So in an attempt to repair some of the damage that had been done to the Fenerbahce team’s reputation, the Turkish Football Federation recently adopted a unique approach to crowd management. A two match ban was imposed on male supporters, with the initial intention that the game would be played in an empty stadium. However, 24 hours before the scheduled match organisers had a brain wave and instead offered free tickets for the available 43,000 seats to women and children under 12 years of age.

The result was the highest female attendance at a men’s match in world football to date. Fenerbahce's vice-president Ali Koc was quoted by CNN as saying, "This atmosphere was one of the kind and historic in the sense of Turkish football as well as international football...The women of Fenerbahce sports club have shown us what they can do for their club, what they can do for Turkish football and I think this was an event that was exemplary for sports."

Koc continued to praise the initiative, describing the change in the atmosphere compared with a typical game as, "Lots of songs, a lot of chanting and solidarity." He also said, "A man has less patience waiting in line for tickets. Coming to the stadium of course men are lot more loud and more synchronized but the women were a lot more passionate and a lot more encouraging."

 It’s unrealistic to think that these high levels of female spectators will continue after the 2 week ban on males comes to an end, but it will be interesting to see whether female attendance climbs. Will this stunt have done enough to open Turkish men’s eyes to their behaviour? Will women and children feel comfortable attending matches again or was this opportunity only a momentary sanctuary in what is usually a threatening environment? The Fenerbahce organisation having been trying for some time to provide a more family-friendly environment, so hopefully this is their first positive step on the road to achieving their goal. 

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Women in TV

Jane Lynch

The 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards took place earlier this week and although many viewers have expressed dismay at the same shows winning over and over again (I’m looking at you Mad Men and Modern Family) the event did highlight the bumper year for women in television and film. 

Jane Lynch (of Glee fame) was hilarious as the evening’s host, but the true celebration of sisterhood came in the announcement of the award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. In a move apparently masterminded by Amy Poehler of Parks and Recreation, the nominees broke with tradition by jumping on stage as their names were read out, earning a standing ovation from many in the audience. When Melissa McCartney was announced as the winner for her work in Mike & Molly she was handed a glitzy pageant queen crown ensuring that the evening descended momentarily into an off-beat Miss America pageant.

Although it cannot be given the full credit  for this sea change in the favour of women, the success of the movie Bridesmaids earlier this year is sure to have had a significant impact. Even though marketers deemed the best way to promote this film was by pointing out that it didn’t suck like any other movie with a predominately female cast, the Judd Apatow produced comedy has surpassed Sex and the City as the number one grossing female-oriented R-rated comedy of all time. And it seems that as a result, film and television execs are finally waking up to the fact that not only are women actually funny but projects can still be profitable when they are given edgier leading roles.

So what does this trend mean for girls? Well fingers crossed it will continue, and as a result allow our screens to be filled with with not only more positive female role models but also more accurate representations of girls and women. If grittier roles and more high-quality shows are created for female actors and viewers, a whole new generation of young women may be inspired and the boys’ club of Hollywood could possibly find itself diminished as the playing field becomes more gender neutral.  

The list of strong female directed shows and films this year is already growing - The Good Wife, 2 Broke Girls, The New Girl, The Help, and Hanna to name but a few - are providing much needed relief from the Cougar Town, Gossip Girl, Kardashian saturated female viewing Hollywood has previously seen fit to market towards women. It seems that we’re finally moving away from the days when Sex and the City was considered the pinnacle of female viewing. And don’t it feel good.

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Average-sized ≠ Plus-sized

Shannon Skloss

Nancy Upton received the highest number of public votes in American Apparel's "The Next Big Thing" plus-size modeling contest.  Sadly, the student and blogger from Texas was told that she won't be the face of their new plus-sized line.

What's truly unfortunate, however, is that in a country where the average woman is a size 14 (and sizes vary widely from company to company anyway), American Apparel's new "plus-sized" line is targeted to the size 12-14 demographic.  In other words, the average size of an American woman is what AA defines as "plus-sized."

Though much can be said about the expansion of American waistlines, it is important to remember that the great blonde bombshell herself was extremely curvaceous, if not actually a size 14 (Jezebel wrote a great article about Marilyn Monroe's size and figure).  Yes, many Americans are overweight, some drastically so.  But that doesn't make it ok for companies like American Apparel to play off of insecurities, or seemingly mock those who don't look like traditional AA models.  Upton wrote in The Daily Beast
The puns, the insulting, giggly tones, and the over-used euphemisms for fat that were scattered throughout the campaign’s solicitation began to crystalize an opinion in my mind. How offensive the campaign was. How it spoke to plus-sized women like they were starry-eyed 16 year olds from Kansas whose dream, obviously, was to hop a bus to L.A. to make it big in fashion. How apparently there were no words in existence to accurately describe the way American Apparel felt about a sexy, large woman, and so phrases like “booty-ful” and “XLent” would need to be invented for us—not only to fill this void in American vocabulary, but also make the company seem like a relatable, sassy friend to fat chicks.
American Apparel has some positive things going for it: they pay their workers well and offer affordable family health care.  But their ad campaigns have always been sleazy, for lack of a better word, and a lot of controversy (to say the least) surrounds founder Dov Charney.  This campaign is no different.  So Nancy Upton enlisted the aid of her photographer friend Shannon Skloss, and submitted a series of photos mocking the campaign.  Surprisingly, her entry was accepted (entries were moderated before being posted) and she won the popularity contest, but a clause in the competition gave AA the right to use a different entrant, or even none of the entrants.  So sadly, we'll not be seeing Nancy Upton modeling for American Apparel any time soon.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bachmann vs. HPV Vaccinations

Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry

Last week, cable news network CNN hosted and aired a debate among Republican Party candidates, and one of the more contentious issues (besides CNN serving as co-host) that arose was the HPV vaccination for girls.

At one point in the debate, Representative Michele Bachmann challenged Texas Governor Rick Perry over a law he signed that mandated girls in Texas to receive an HPV vaccination.  Bachmann argued that this law “forced” girls to take a “potentially dangerous drug,” even though this vaccine has been found to be safe and effective for preventing transmission of the disease.  Bachmann later released a video further explaining her stance on the vaccine.

So why is this vaccine so controversial?  On the surface, Bachmann and her supporters claim that any law mandating a health procedure is unlawful and intrusive.  But the issue goes much deeper than this.  As some writers have pointed out, the distaste for this vaccine seems to be related the disease it prevents.  HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and it is recommended that girls be immunized by the age of twelve, before they become sexually active.  Some conservatives believe that exposing preteens girls to any knowledge of STIs, even in the name of prevention, will somehow propel these girls into sexual relationships.

What’s being overlooked is just how common and how serious HPV can be.  The American Social Health Association estimates that up to 80% of sexually active people will be infected with HPV at least once.  Left untreated, genital-to-genital transmission of the virus can lead to cervical, anal, vulval, vaginal, and penile cancer, and oral transmission can lead to mouth and throat cancer.  The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective method for curtailing transmission, and since many states require other types of immunization before children enter school, it only makes sense to add this vaccine to the roster.

Unfortunately, the political circus that’s currently swirling around the United States seems to be burying the health benefits of this vaccine in favor of moralizing.  Let’s hope our politicians can learn to put public health above their own private views.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Becoming-Girl by Chaya Avramov

The Humorist, Chaya Avramov, 2011.

In conjunction with the publication of the online cultural journal Rhizomes special issue on Becoming-Girl, we are launching an exhibition by contemporary artist Chaya Avramov.

Her pieces focus on various representations of girlhood. You can see more of her work at her gallery.

Also check out ‘Becoming-Girl-Museum’, our collaborative article in this edition of Rhizomes.


-Ashley E Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Education Conference for Middle School Girls

On October 8th, Sacramento State University will be holding the "Expanding Your Horizons" conference. The conference is aimed at getting middle school girls interested in math, science, engineering, and technology.  The keynote speaker is software manufacturer Synergex International president Michele Wong.  Workshops are diverse, and include topics like "Apply and Fly," "Blood Solutions," "My Car Will Run on That?," and "Strawberry Short-Cut to DNA."

The cost is $25, which includes lunch.  There are workshops for parents as well, also costing $25 with lunch included.  The conference sells out quickly, and is limited to 340 students.  For more information and to register, visit the Expanding Your Horizons Conference site.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Too pretty for homework

Once again, we here at Girl Museum are writing about the fashion world. We've been covering it a lot lately, I know, but there's just been so much fodder we can't resist. This time, we're not questioning models and parents and photographers, but instead, the messages that some t-shirt companies are sending out via little girls' chests.

J.C. Penney has just removed a shirt for sale from its website because of parental outrage (though they've left several other questionable other shirts still on sale, including one that says "I love bling" and another that says "My best subjects: Boys, Shopping, Music, Dancing"). The shirt they pulled said "I'm too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me." Seriously.

I'm all for funny t-shirts. Lord knows I used to own a lot of them, usually with snide commentary from Hot Topic, though my current wardrobe consists primarily of solid color, short sleeve tees, with the only variations being color and neckline. I'm by no means fashion conscious, but I am message conscious.

I'm also old enough to be aware of the layers of subtext in a message, which obviously most girls aren't (though their parents should be). A shirt that says "I'm too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me" can carry multiple messages. One of those, perhaps the one that was meant, or at least most commonly understood by girls is "I'm pretty so I've got my brother wrapped around my finger."  Not a great message–and some potentially creepy additional subtext there–but kinda funny (I guess). And it can be expanded upon to imply that "Because I know I'm cute, I can get everyone to do what I want by looking cute." Too bad that only worked for me when I was six and in a sushi bar (apparently little white girls with manners who also speak enough Japanese to order sushi for themselves get free food). So maybe I'm just jealous. But I think the real message, the insidious, damaging message, is that "I'm pretty, so I don't have to be smart, because someone else will do it for me. Because I'm pretty."

This is a dangerous message, and it's shocking that in the English speaking world, in 2011, we're still encouraging our girls to be pretty over smart. In 1994, there was a Teen-Talk Barbie who said "Math class is tough!" No encouragement, just an implication that it's hard because she might have to think, or even, heaven forbid, work and study a bit. And only a few months ago, there was a shirt that said "Future trophy wife." Bad enough on a university student, but horrible on a 6-12 year old. There's no way that's a positive message, least of all because trophy wives inevitably get left for younger trophy wives. I also take issue with the sweatpants that have writing across the . . . shall we say buttocks? I don't know or care if you're "juicy" but if you're juicy there, well, maybe you should see a doctor about that.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Movie Review: Trust

Movies about "tough subjects" can be a chore to watch. You feel like you're supposed to learn something at the end, or else you get sucked into a maudlin cryfest that feels like a Lifetime Movie Special. But I recently saw a movie that dealt with some serious girlhood issues but wasn't preachy, unrealistic or sugar-coated, and I'd like to recommend it.

Trust is about Annie, a 14 year-old girl from a loving, stable family who goes through the many insecurities of teenage life: wanting to be accepted, feeling misunderstood by parents, and learning to cope with change. But instead of confiding in friends, Annie starts talking to a boy she meets online, who seems to get her and listens when she's lonely. This boy seems nice at first, until he reveals that he's actually older she initially thought. When Annie finally agrees to meet this boy, she discovers he’s actually a man in his thirties. She gets upset at first, but this man wins her over by telling her she's intelligent and pretty. He charms her so well that she agrees to go to a hotel with him, where he rapes her and then disappears out of her life.

Annie is reluctant to tell anyone about what happened, but eventually the police are notified and the FBI gets involved, pulling her whole family into an investigation that is never fully resolved. Through all this Annie has to deal the ramifications of this crime on her social and personal life.

One of the interesting aspects of this movie is that it dwells on the culture in which men feel they can pursue sex with girls. Throughout the movie, Annie's father is seen working on an advertising account featuring barely legal models posing in very little clothing, and in one scene we see a colleague talking about what’s he'd like to do with a 19 year-old waitress. Though Annie's rapist is clearly a predator, the society we live in is all too eager to sexualize women just a few years older than Annie.

Though it's not at all an escapist popcorn movie, I would urge you to see this movie if you're interested in the welfare of girls. It’s important for everyone to know just what girls can encounter in their lives, and how we as advocates can help them.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.