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, January 28, 2011

A Girl at the Oscars!


This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards.  You’ll find many Hollywood stars and seasoned actors  on the list, but also a nomination for 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as Best Supporting Actress for True Grit.

True Grit is a remake of a 1969 John Wayne movie.  It revolves around a girl named Mattie (Hailee’s character), who hires a mercenary named Rooster Cogburn to track down the man that killed her father.  Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn on his mission to find the killer, despite the advice of many people to wait quietly at home.  On the course of their journey, Mattie proves she has “true grit” by helping Cogburn track down the killer and eventually fighting back when she meets the man.

When the movie was originally made, some felt it was not an entirely faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel it was based on.  The book is narrated by Mattie as a woman looking back on her childhood, but the John Wayne version focused more on the adventures of Cogburn and his sidekicks.  In contrast, this version of True Grit stays more faithful to Mattie’s narrative process, delivering the story back into the hands of a 14-year-old girl.

Hailee isn’t the first girl nominated for an Oscar, or even the youngest.  Tatum O’Neal won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1973 for her role in Paper Moon, making her the youngest person ever to win an Oscar. At just a year older, Anna Paquin won the 1993 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Piano.  A handful of 10-year-old girls have earned Best Supporting Actress nominations:  Mary Badham in the 1962 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, Quinn Cummings in 1977’s The Goodbye Girl, and Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine in 2006.   In addition, several other girls have also scored Best Supporting Actress Nominations throughout the years – Bonita Granville in These Three in 1936, Patty McCormack in 1955’s The Bad Seed, Linda Blair in The Exorcist in 1973, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver in 1976,  and most recently Saorise Ronan in 2007’s Atonement.  In the Best Actress category, Keisha Castle-Hughes remains the only girl to have ever earned a nomination, for Whale Rider in 2002.

Let's wish Hailee good luck, and hope she takes home a trophy on February 27th!

- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Girl with a Pearl Earring


Image via http://www.art-reproductions.net/vermeer-jan/girl-with-a-pearl-earring-around-1665

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction, primarily because I have the opportunity to “travel” back in time. I can imagine being a princess or even a servant girl in the 1600s. The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite novels because it describes what might have happened during the painting’s creation. In the novel, the artist Vermeer hires a servant girl to be his assistant and asks her to sit for him while wearing one of his wife’s pearl earnings. This novel has it all; romance, deception and intrigue. The novel inspired a film and a play by the same name.

The painting Girl with a Pearl Earring is currently housed in the Mauritshuis gallery in Hague.  The Girl with a Pearl Earring is sometimes referred to as ‘the Dutch Mona Lisa, because of the young girl’s expression and the mystery behind the painting. Who is the young girl in the painting? What is the significance of the turban and pearl in the painting? Was this painting commissioned?

One of the reasons I like the painting Girl with the Pearl Earring is because the young girl cannot be placed into a specific context. The young girl seems ageless and could be from any background.  Some researchers believe the model for this painting is Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria. Maria was approximately twelve years old around the time the painting is believed to be created. Similarly, Magdalena Van Ruijven, the daughter of Vermeer’s principle patron Pieter Van Ruijven, may have sat for the painting. Or perhaps, a servant girl is the Girl with the Pearl Earring like Tracy Chevalier describes in her novel.

To learn more about the painting, please read “The Girl with a Pearl Earring: An In-Depth Study”.
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Look into the World of Child Beauty Pageants

Image via http://bust.com/blog/2011/01/13/enough-to-make-a-grown-woman-cry.html

I’ve never had the pleasure to see any episodes of the reality TV show Toddlers and Tiaras, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds awful.  Two recent episodes reinforce just how warped this show really is.

Toddlers and Tiaras focuses on the world of beauty pageants for girls.  For those of you who may not have heard about these spectacles, they’re basically Miss America pageants for the elementary-aged set.  Girls as young as two have their hair teased and their faces shellacked with makeup and then dress in child-sized gowns and “compete” against each other to be crowned the winner of the pageant.  It’s kind of creepy seeing these girls dressed and made up like adults, when they should be running around and actually enjoying their childhood.

In the past, child beauty pageants were an American subculture that rarely crossed into the mainstream (with the terrible exception of JonBenet Ramsey).  But now that reality TV seems so eager to introduce the viewing public to all kinds of weirdness, we’ve now got a view of what really goes on in the world of girls’ pageants.  And what a terrifying world it is.

On one episode of Toddlers and Tiaras, a mother has her five-year-old daughter’s eyebrows waxed.  The girls is visibly distressed and pleads with her mother to skip this treatment, and the mother admits that the girl is probably upset because the last time she had her eyebrows done, the waxer managed to peel some of the skin off her face.  Still, the mother insists on going through with the procedure, but is only able to make the girl comply by waving a bag of candy in front of her face.

A week earlier, Toddlers and Tiaras featured a two-year-old dancing in a cone bra that is almost exactly like the one Madonna wore during her Blond Ambition tour.  It should be pointed out that this was an outfit the girl’s mother picked out.

What’s troubling about these two girls is how early they’re being made to conform to stereotypes about beauty:  that you must hold yourself to a certain standard of attractiveness, regardless of how much you suffer, and that it’s never too early to be sexualized.  It’s horrifying that these pageants exist, but it’s even worse that there are parents who gladly subject their children to this kind of torture.  And that there’s now an audience of willing spectators.
- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys


I work in a sandwich shop, which isn't exactly a glamourous position in the best of times, and certainly not where I planned to end up after two university degrees.  Between the economy and a variety of woes—at least some of them self-inflicted, I must admit—I remained primarily unemployed until I permanently relocated to England last year.  After three years of living with my parents, volunteering, and doing a few temp jobs as they came up, I managed to land a job here in England less than a month after settling.  Granted, it's in a sandwich shop, it's only part-time, and the pay is minimal, but at least I'm employed.  Being employed in any form is better than not at all, and volunteering and other activities keep me engaged with things I do enjoy.

What is interesting about my work is watching people interact with others, reject stereotypes, and, all too often, reinforce stereotypes.  Being the only American in the area, I face a lot of stereotypes every time I go into work, but what frustrates me more than reactions to my accent is how some people respond to gender.  It's particularly noticeable with mothers (or grandmothers) and their children, although I've seen it in fathers as well.  The people who absolutely must have the gingerbread with the pink buttons for their daughter, or any color other than pink (or lavender) for their son, really make me crazy, and not just because I have to pick through all the baked goods to find the “right” colors.  I recognize that it's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but on the other hand, it makes me wonder—and worry—for the other stereotypes that are being passed along or reinforced by the parents.

I'm all for girls liking pink and boys liking blue, but I'm also all for girls liking blue and boys liking pink.  To be fair, I've never been partial to either color—I'm more of a red, purple, and black sort of gal—but watching people dismiss items because they don't meet some sort of prescribed color scheme doesn't make sense to me.  I've actually seen a woman refuse to buy a toy for her daughter because “my daughter can't have blue.”  How she found a toy targeted to a girl that wasn't pink (a pastel blue Disney Princess scooter in this case) was beyond me.  Don't believe me?  Go to Toys “R” Us and walk along the front, looking up the aisles.  You'll know when you find the “girl” toys: you'll be assaulted by an aisle or two of nearly solid pink.  Even more, it'll consist mostly of dolls: if you go to the “Girls' Toys” page of Toys “R” Us' American website, the title of the page is “Dolls and Stuffed Animals – Barbie and Twilight.”  I'm fine with girls playing with dolls, and even playing mommy, though that was something I never had any interest in (I beheaded all my dolls after stripping them naked, and Barbie wasn't allowed in the house).  And I loved—and still love—stuffed animals, which I think are fabulous for both genders.  But don't get me started on the Twilight phenomenon (a movement that could potentially set feminism back 30 years, and is wholly inappropriate for young girls).

What I truly don't understand is why, when toy companies, marketing executives, and the media are already blatantly pushing so many things onto children, so many parents just go along with it.  If you daughter likes pink of her own volition, great!  And if you like pink, I can understand why you would lean toward items that are pink (should I have children, they will have many hippos, because *I* like hippos).  But why would you make a concerted effort to procure pink items for a girl if she nor her parents have expressed an overwhelming interest in the color?  Ease?  Because she's “supposed” to like pink?  It may only be a color, but I still worry that a few steps down that path is a “Future WAG” shirt, thong underwear on a 12 year old, or even teen pregnancy, which is now being glorified.

Maybe I'm overreacting.  I probably am; this isn't a new occurrence by any means, I just see so much more of it by dealing with the public every day.  Even so, I still worry about the standards being set, and wonder if I'm the only one who's concerned.

For more reading on historical and scientific studies of pink and blue, check out “Should we not dress girls in pink?” and “Boys like blue, girls like pink – it's in our genes”.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Teen Pregnancy in Tennessee


Image via http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/01/14/teens-pregnant-menphis-high-school/#

Today, 86 young girls are pregnant or have had a baby at Frayser High School in Memphis, TN. 

Pregnancy is not a new problem at this school, nor is it in the state of Tennessee. The teen pregnancy rate is approximately 15-20% in Memphis, while the pregnancy rate at Frayser High School is over 26%. Alicia Williamson, a former student, told KTUU “There were a whole lot of bellies. You had to watch out so you didn’t bump into them”.

The city of Memphis plans to fight teen pregnancy with the help of the nonprofit organization Girls Inc. Deborah Hester Harrison, the executive director of Girls Inc. in Memphis, believes that part of the increase in teen pregnancy rates is at least partly due to popular television shows, such as “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.” Girls Inc. and the city of Memphis are promoting the new campaign –“No Baby!”—is designed to education both girls and boys about the risks of pregnancies and how to prevent them.

For the first time in a decade, pregnancy rates have jumped over 3% and the abortion rate has also gone up 1% among teenagers. Why has pregnancy rates among teenagers increased?  Researchers believe poverty, lax use of birth control, or sex-education programs that only focus on abstinence are may be to blame.  To learn more about the rise in pregnancy rates and sex-education funding, please read “Rise in teenage pregnancy rates spurs new debate on arresting it”.

Interested in learning more about teen pregnancies? Please read previous blog posts discussing  the glamorization of teen mothers on television and the controversial decision to allow girls as young as 13 to be on birth control.  
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mothers Influence Tanning in Teens

Image courtesy http://img.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2008/02_03/sunbedG_468x308.jpg

Researchers Mary Kate Baker, Joel James Hillhouse and Xuefeng Liu believe excess indoor tanning can be linked to young girls visiting salons with their mothers. Baker’s study, published in Archives of Dermatology, focused on the tanning habits of 227 girls, ages 18-30, from East Tennessee State University. Nearly 40% of the women in this study said their first tanning experience was with their mother. These study participants started tanning approximately two years earlier than the other participants; starting at age 14 instead of age 16.

Study participants that started tanning at age 14 are believed to be “five times as likely to be ‘heavy’ tanners as college students.”  Lead researcher Mary Kate Baker, a doctoral student at East Tennessee State University, was not surprised with the group’s findings. Baker grew up in a “community where indoor tanning was prevalent, and young women who want to start tanning before they reach 16 or 17 have to rely on their mother not only to transport them, but to pay for their tanning.” To learn more about this study, please read “For teens, ‘tanorexia’ starts with Mom”.

Using tanning beds regularly can create health risks. In 2009, the World Health Organization reported that “tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation are among the top cancer risks, as deadly as arsenic, mustard gas or cigarettes.” To learn more about health risks caused by tanning beds, please read “Study: Frequent tanning-bed use triples melanoma risk”. Interested in sun safety tips? Please read "Sun Safety: Solutions for Teen Girls and Tanning".

Should tanning beds be banned for those under 18? Last year, the Food and Drug Administration considered a ban on tanning beds for minors. Would you be against a tanning ban?
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Children as Models

Image courtesy www.vogue.fr

I’m usually a fan of the slightly ridiculous images that constitute fashion ads and editorials.  Images like Julianne Moore curled up with lion cubs and a Bulgari purse, or Victoria Beckham hiding out inside a giant Marc Jacobs shopping bag, are creative and amusing, at least to me.  But like any art form, fashion photography has limits of taste and places it just shouldn’t go.  The latest issue of French Vogue seems to have blown past these boundaries by including a fashion spread featuring young girls modeling adult clothes.

All fourteen images in this editorial are of elementary-ages girls wearing dresses designed for adult women.  The girls are also heavily painted with makeup, and posed like the disaffected models that are usually featured in these types of spreads.  It is disconcerting, to say the least, to see girls slathered in eye shadow trying to imitate the pouts and heavy-lidded looks of older models.  It’s even more disturbing to see them lounging on animal-print rugs and wearing stilettos and skirts hiked up around their thighs.

Some are arguing that this shoot is merely an extended version of the dress-up games many girls play.  To me, though, there is a huge difference between play and actually being styled for fashion photography.  Most of the time, dress-up for girls is pure fun and involves old Halloween costumes and their mother’s ratty castoffs, and little (if any) makeup.  French Vogue, however, decided to dress these girls and pose them as if they were grown women, when in fact these girls have undeveloped bodies and no grasp of the sexuality that adult clothes and attitudes can convey.

There’s some evidence that many people feel a similar uneasiness with this photo spread.  Carine Roitfeld, who was a longtime editor of French Vogue, recently left the magazine in a hurry, and there is speculation that she was fired over this editorial.  Perhaps under a new editor French Vogue can go back to normal (whatever that means in the fashion world) and  lead the way in saying no to offensive photoshoots and embracing not just adult models but also diversity and healthy body images.
- Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Bra for Emergencies?

Image courtesy http://ebbra.com

Finding the right bra really can change your life. The Emergency Bra, created by radiation-exposure expert Dr. Elena Bodnar, doubles as a protective garment in case of a disaster. For example, the wearer can simply unsnap the bra, separate the cups and place one cup over your head to prevent breathing in dangerous gases. The second cup can then be given to a friend. The Emergency Bra could be beneficial during a forest fire, volcano eruption or biological attack.  A counterpart device for men is currently in the works.

Dr. Bodnar was inspired to create the Emergency Bra after participating in the evacuation of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986. After witnessing the devastating effects of the disaster, Dr. Bodnar wanted to create something that could not only help block radiation particles, but also be readily accessible.

According to the Emergency Bra's website, "The goal of any emergency respiratory device is to achieve tight fixation and full coverage. Luckily, the wonderful design of the bra is already in the shape of a face mask and so with the addition of a few design features, the Emergency Bra enhances the efficiency of minimizing contaminated bypass air flow."  

To learn more about the Emergency Bra, please read “In Case of Emergency, Please Remove Your Bra”.
- Samantha Bradbeer
Junior Girl
Girl Museum, Inc.