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 clichĂ©d, 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 fiancĂ© 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.