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?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do all costumes have to be "sexy" costumes?


Whatever happened to being a ghost for Halloween? A ghoul? A favorite cartoon character or toy? To be fair, you can still dress up as the last two (including this moderately questionable "Monster High" outfit), but it seems over the past decade or so, costumes for women and–disturbingly–girls are now "sexy."  Want to be a pirate for that Halloween party? That's great, as long as it's a "sexy pirate." If you're happy showing off your cleavage or your leg up to your thigh (and beyond), great! You're sorted. But if you want something that looks more like it's out of history, or at least Pirates of the Caribbean, with very few exceptions you'll be shopping in the men's department.

I love Halloween, and I always have. Along with Thanksgiving (a holiday that really needs to exist outside of the US and Canada), it's one of my favorites. Dedicated to dressing up and having fun and scoring as much candy as is humanly possible, it's pretty basic. I'm too old to realistically go trick-or-treating these days, but I still enjoy decorating the house, dressing up, and handing out candy to kids. Because I'm inept at sewing and design, I buy costumes. And I'm all for showing a little leg and some cleavage occasionally, but I'd really like the option to get a quality costume that doesn't require that I do those things. But at least I'm old enough to be able to wear something like that and not get strange looks. This "sassy" costume, however, while not displaying cleavage, is not what I would describe as particularly piratical nor appropriate for a child. And while this one is clearly for adults, what self-respecting raider of the high seas would wear that?  It's not practical!

Lest you think my only interest lies in pirates, I've also done extensive research into zombie costumes (presuming 5 minutes is considered extensive). Zombies are great because zombie make-up can range from very simple to incredibly complex, and the costume can just be ratty old clothes. But if you wish to give away your hard-earned cash, take a look at this selection of zombie costumes.


To be fair, both of these costumes are listed as "boy" zombie costume and "girl" zombie costume.  But the rest of the female zombie costumes look more like this:

     
  

While I think zombie costumes are awesome, zombies are not sexy. At all. They're dead.

I could go on and on, but the proliferation of female costumes into the "sexy" realm is at best frustrating, and at worst disturbing. For another take on this topic, read Peggy Orenstein's article "Sexy Costumes for Little Girls Aren't Cute" over at the New York Times.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Teen drinking more harmful to girls than boys?


Teenagers drink, no matter how much we try to stop them.  It doesn’t matter what kinds of laws we enact, and at what age they’re legally allowed to drink.  The fact that drinking is against the law only makes it more alluring for teenagers.  

But drinking heavily as a teenager can have consequences – and those consequences might be more detrimental for girls than for boys.  A study published earlier this year found that when girls and boys consume proportional amounts of alcohol, girls seem to be more negatively effected.  Specifically, girls with a history of binge drinking had lower levels of activity in brain regions that control spatial activities.

One factor in this disparity might be that girls tend to weigh less than boys, and so equal amounts of alcohol have a greater impact on their bodies.  Another reason for this difference between girls and boys could be due to the one thing we pride teenaged girls on:  maturing faster than their male counterparts.  Girls who binge drink are soaking their brains in alcohol at a time of rapid cognitive development, while boys their same age are progressing at a slower rate.  

Should we use this information to educate girls about the risks of drinking?  Sure, but just lecturing them won’t make a difference.  We need to teach them to be safe and healthy, and use this research to show why binge drinking can have lasting consequences.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tennessee woman helps Cambodian sex trafficking victims


Ryana Dearmond is 24 years old, and at the end of November she's moving to Cambodia for two years to teach a culinary school.  Through The Center for Global Impact, she'll work with girls who are 14-18 years old.  Ryana views this as her chance to make a real difference in the lives of girls who are affected by the sex traffic trade.

About 60% of Cambodian children are sold into sex trafficking at least once, with a third of those children being affected by trafficking on a regular basis.  "These girls are hurting," Ryana says.  "I'm excited about the opportunity. I've been given the opportunity to go make an impact. And I don't want to miss any opportunity."

After teaching the girls basic cooking skills like sanitation and proper knife techniques, Ryana will teach the girls how to make hot wings and ranch and bleu cheese dip--the girls want to learn how to make an American dish.

For more information on the human trafficking trade, please visit Girl Museum's exhibition Girl for Sale.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Unwanted girls getting wanted names

The national average of 914 girls for every 1,000 boys is the worst since India became independent in 1947
(AFP/File, Raveendran)

In Mumbai, over 100 girls will be getting new first names soon. These girls, simply by virtue of being, well, not boys, were named Nakusa by their parents. Nakusa means "unwanted." Because girls are considered more costly and less prestigious than boys, many parents would rather have boys, and as we've written before, the gender ratio in India is becoming dangerously unbalanced.

Satara district health officer Bhagwan Pawar has been one of the driving forces in the area attempting to change the negative attitudes exhibited toward girls. He told AFP that 222 Nakusas have been identified and that "The most probable reason for them being called 'Nakusa' is that they were the second, third or fourth child in that family and the parents wanted a boy."

One of the things Pawar is trying to combat is the social and psychological damage done to these girls. He said, "Many of these girls that we've identified don't want their name. They feel very bad about it, so there is a psychological impact."

Sudha Kankaria is an activist who has worked with renaming the Nakusas, and describes them as "living examples of prejudice." She worries that because of a lack of self-esteem and the discrimination they face the Nakusas will pass these same insecurities onto any daughters they might have. "It's a vicious circle and we should break it. With this project, we are benefiting two people: the Nakusas and the future Nakusas," Kankaria said.

The girls will have their names legally changed, including school documents and official records. They will also be given certificates, signed by Pawar and another local government official.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chess is for Girls

Bonnie Trafelet for Chicago News Cooperative

Every year for the past I don’t even know how many years, it has been my New Year’s resolution to learn to play chess. As you may have discerned from the frequency at which it features at the top of my self-improvement list, chess is still not a talent which I can lay any claim to. Heck, not even any basic knowledge. I am officially a duffer.But unlike me, hopefully many other girls will be inspired to tackle the monochromatic board after a presentation to Chicago elementary school pupils by Chess Grand Master Susan Polgar.

Born and raised in Hungary, Polgar has been playing chess since she was in diapers. At age 4 she earned her first victory, taking out the 11 and under category at the Budapest city championships while seated on a stack of phone books and pillows so she could reach across the board. Her passion for the game has continued, and now 38 years after that first win she holds the title of Chess Grand Master – the first woman to do so.

Polgar’s involvement with the sport of chess extends beyond crushing opponents; she is also focused on inspiring and supporting girls in the field. This desire stems from the treatment she experienced first hand while competing at all levels of the game. She says of her early days in the sport, “It was very much ingrained that women were not able to play. A lot of experts and elite players believed that we were not physically able to do it, our brain was not big enough or that we couldn’t keep quiet long enough.” She believes that this line of thinking and the lack of support that comes with it are the reasons why most girls drop out of competitive chess by fourth or fifth grade. Through the Susan Polgar Foundation and the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Texas Tech University, Polgar aims to change this. The foundation sponsors chess events throughout the United States and offers chess scholarships to the Texas Tech University for students who excel in college tournaments.

But Polgar has even bigger plans for the sport. Her belief in its ability to assist in the study of maths and science, as well as the more general skills of discipline, analytical thinking, focus, patience, and time management inspires her dream “to get in front of education decision makers and convince them to make chess part of the curriculum for K through second grade. That’s when thinking patterns and habits are formed. It should be mandatory, like physical education.”

Whether or not Polgar’s dream is realised remains to be seen.  But if it is it would be a check(mate!) in the box of alternative thinking for improving maths and science performance for girls.

*Duffer: Chess slang term for a very poor player. Also called woodpusher, patzer.

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reddit's "Jailbait" finally shut down

Reddit screenshot discussing the pornographic images

For six years, the website Reddit has existed as a news aggregation site with a twist–it features over 67,000 communities devoted to all kinds of topics, where users can post content and comments. Though this type of news site has allowed millions of members to share information and find like-minded users, one community has drawn ire from Reddit fans as well as critics across the internet.

Jailbait was a Reddit community whose members posted pictures of underaged girls and then make sexual comments about them. Over the years there have been many complaints that Jailbait was creating a forum for sex offenders to brag about their exploits. Reddit never attempted to shut this community down; instead, staff members used the First Amendment's free speech clause to defend the continued existence of Jailbait. Technically, Jailbait was legal, since none of the pictures featured nudity or sex acts. Still, as a privately owned company, Reddit was not bound by censorship laws and could have stepped in at any time to shut this community down.

But then, something illegal did happen. Last week, a Jailbait user posted a picture of a 14-year-old girl in underwear and admitted that he also had several nude shots of the same girl. In the hours that followed, dozens of users posted comments asking for access to those pictures. The original poster eventually put up a picture of the girl performing oral sex and sent similar pictures to other users in private messages.

Reddit's staff got word of this post six hours after it went up and in response shut down the entire Jailbait community. Most likely, this was a preemptive act to ensure that Reddit wouldn't be held liable for distributing child pornography. It's sad, though, that an explicit picture of a child was what finally shuttered Jailbait–not the thousands and thousands of sexual comments that appeared hourly, describing acts that would place anyone on sex offender lists.

What's also sad is that Reddit was more worried about censoring its users than it was about girls being sexually harassed on the internet. Reddit made a choice in keeping Jailbait open for so long, and that choice seems to indicate that it values its bottom line more than it values girls.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold: Two Female Directors

This isn’t a piece about how there aren’t enough female directors or how women tend to get sidelined into making pictures about girl meets boy, then obstacle, then girl and boy in love, the end formula.  That is a piece for another time.  Instead, this is just drawing your attention to two interesting directors at the moment who each have films coming out.


Ramsay’s new film We Need to Talk About Kevin looks at a school massacre and the situations leading up to, and after it. Scottish director Ramsay doesn’t shy away from hard subjects, if her previous films are anything to go by. Her debut, Ratcatcher (1999), looks at a boy as he navigates his way through poverty, a hostile Glasgow, an alcoholic father, and a diminishing search for hope. Morvern Callar (2002) has Samantha Morten playing a woman whose partner commits suicide, leading her to put her name on his unpublished manuscript. 


Arnold’s new film is an adaptation of Wuthering Heights which has gone down well at the Venice film festival. It is also notable as Arnold has cast a more age-appropriate (than previous adaptations) Cathy, as well as a black Heathcliff.
Arnold has already created waves with Red Road (2006),  a film that looks at an introverted woman and CCTV. Another film of hers is Fish Tank (2009), which is about a young girl who likes to dance, has no friends, and sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend - as that;s an incredibly glib summation of the film, you just need to seek it out.

I hope these women encourage you to not just support female directors but also independent cinema. Go to the movies!

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Jane Eyre


Ok, so clearly I am incredibly late to the party when it comes to Jane Eyre, as I’m sure loads of people have already read the book.

It took me ages to read anything by Jane Austen as I was full sure that I would dislike her work; to my surprise, I really enjoyed them and continue to do so (helped along by the various televisual and cinematic Mr Darcys that have popped up along the way). At the same time, I was full sure that while I enjoyed the wit of Jane Austen, anything by the Bronte sisters was going to be full of the windswept, overwrought, dramatic romance that I can’t stand, so it was only recently I picked up Jane Eyre on the advice of a friend.

Jane Eyre was quite a modern book for its time; we see how Jane thinks, how she feels and how other characters’ actions affect her. This is in contrast to the outward face she gives the world. She is self-improving and strong willed. I really like her and I really like the book. I appreciate her putting her own self-respect before anything else. It’s easy to put modern standards on period literature – many might talk about the feminist stance of the book; how Charlotte Bronte shows that the ultimate dream is to marry a wealthy man and have children. But this is giving the book a disservice. Jane Eyre highlights the plight of governesses, a caste of society that goes unappreciated it seems. Becoming a governess was a position for those few well-educated, but generally poor (though genteel) women.

Jane Eyre shows us that heroines needn’t have to make grand gestures to gain our respect; having self respect, strong principles and maybe adhering to these in heart-sore circumstances can be enough.

-Julie Anne Young
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The dollars and cents of teen pregnancy


We all know that teenage pregnancy is tough on the girls who have babies before they’re out of high school.  Studies have shown that teenage mothers are more likely to live in poverty, not complete their education, and suffer from serious stresses and  a poor quality of life.  But beyond personal upheaval, teenage pregnancy exacts a cost on society too – a cost that can be measured in dollars and cents.

According to the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit group, babies born to teenage girls cost the state of Mississippi $154.9 million in 2009.  This figure was calculated by factoring in the expenses of foster care, social services provided to low-income mothers and children, and incarceration of children born to teenage girls.

These cost figures are probably higher than in other states, because Mississippi has a teenage pregnancy rate that is nearly double the average for the entire United States.  Still, Mississippi is just one state out of fifty.  Extrapolating from these figures, girls having babies in the United States can easily be a multi-billion dollar expense every year.

Perhaps these economic figures, rather than individual stories of girls struggling to raise children, may finally convince policymakers that the United States needs to do much more to prevent teenage pregnancy. Rather than abstinence-only education, which conservative educators blindly believe in, schools need to teach students about how to prevent pregnancy and how to have healthy sexual relationships.  But beyond talking about sex, our society needs to learn what factors put girls at risk for becoming teenage mothers – things like poverty, unstable families, and being the daughter of a teenage mother – and work to remove these barriers from girls’ lives.

Because I can think better things $154.9 million can be spent on.

-Miriam Musco
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Noble Women win Nobel Peace Prize

Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Photo: AP

Three amazing women have been awarded the Nobel Prize today as an official gesture towards all women who have fought peacefully for change in their countries. The 2011 prize is divided in three “equal parts” between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for “their non-violent struggle, for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work.” 

These women have met incredible challenges and gone beyond survival. Complacence and compliance does no favors to women in oppressive societies. While the Nobel committee hopes that these women will be symbols to others to rise up, it is a long and dangerous road in many countries for women to even speak out. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t.

As Gbowee powerfully states, "I am a symbol of hope in my community, on the continent, in a place where there is little to be hopeful for…If you are a symbol of hope, you don't do it because you are expecting a reward. You do it because you are expected to do so and there are people that are relying a depending on you in your community.''

Awesome.

-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Awesome Girl Role Model: Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation

Amy Poehler has been an awesome comedian for many years, but recently it’s become apparent that she is also an awesome role model for girls.  From the roles she plays on TV to the work she does for women’s rights and health, Amy Poehler is a great woman to look up to. 

On Parks and Recreation, Amy plays a woman who loves her job more than anything else, and her character is now running for office!  This is one of the first popular TV shows to show a heroine running for public office, and especially to show it in a positive light. 

Her own creative projects include a webseries with the sole purpose of empowering girls to be happy being themselves.  Smart Girls At The Party is a talk show that highlights the accomplishments and interests of girls all around the United States.  These girls are feminists, musicians, gardeners, and yogis.  By showcasing these girls, Amy and the rest of the creators of the series show the participating girls as well as the girls in the audience that the things that girls already do are valid and impressive.  This kind of focus on and appreciation of girls and girl culture is rare and exciting. 

Along with her work in entertainment, Amy Poehler has done work for women and girls in the activist sphere.  This year, Amy sponsored a campaign with Planned Parenthood, encouraging people to donate when the organization needed it most, and vowing to match donator’s contributions.

-Kaitlin Froom
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Effect Change for Girls

I dare you.

Powerful words.
Striking images.
Disturbing statistics.

Girl Museum supports the work of Girl Effect by engaging with these issues every day.

Yet it is imperative to get offline and connect with the realities described in this video. It isn't just girls in other places (no matter where you live) that face grim and oppressive futures. They are everywhere.

Do more than blog. Do more than retweet.
Liking a message does nothing but make you feel better.
To make change we must act.

Get to know why things are the way they are.
Empower yourself with knowledge and you can understand better how to make the world a better place for girls.

-Ashley E Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc

Monday, October 3, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Although breast cancer isn't often associated with girls--incidents of breast cancer occur in less than 7% of women under 40--it's not unheard of, and girls and women shouldn't be complacent.  Susan G. Komen (for whom the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation was named) was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33, and died three years later.  Establishing a lifetime of healthy habits and routines early on can aid in early detection, and one of these habits is a regular self-exam (you should also regularly examine moles for any changes as a method for detecting skin cancer).  Self-exams are by no means foolproof, but they can be used to detect changes early on.  These changes may or may not be cancerous, but the earlier they are spotted, the sooner a doctor can determine if cancer is responsible.

This October, make a pledge to support the women in your life and encourage regular self-exams, as well as mammograms (if in an appropriate age group).  For more information on breast self-exams, including what to look for and how to do them, please visit BreastCancer.org's Self-Exam page.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.