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?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

An Olympic Achievement?

Olympic hopefuls Jessica Ennis, Kerrie-Anne Payne and Victoria Pendleton in a beauty-product promotion.

As the world knows, the Olympics are coming to London this summer, and there seems to be no getting away from the event. Credit card companies, sports clothing manufacturers, even haircare and logistics firms are jumping on the advertising bandwagon: everyone wants a piece of the enormous money-making potential provided by the Games.

Of course, sportsmen have long been chosen to promote products, for the simple fact that fans want to emulate their heroes: therefore, anything they endorse will sell. The London 2012 campaigns have not strayed from this tried-and-tested path: however, the term ‘sportsmen’ is particularly significant. David Beckham, Usain Bolt and Roger Federer (amongst many others) have become almost ubiquitous in the past few years, due to their myriad high-profile advertising campaigns, for sportswear and other items. Whilst a few female athletes (e.g. Denise Lewis and Maria Sharapova) have achieved similar recognition, sports superstardom has tended to be a male-dominated arena, regardless of ability or success in one’s field. 

However, the recent drive for Olympic advertising seems to be quietly ushering in a new age, as many of its star players are women. Cyclist Victoria Pendleton, track and field athlete Jessica Ennis, BMX biker Shenaze Read, and many more of their peers are now big news in terms of advertising. Whilst critics have questioned the dignity of such promotions, I think the critics are missing an important point. Sport has been commercialised for a long, long time:  these women aren’t breaking any rules. 

What this all really means is that female athletes are finally being recognised as legitimate role models and heroines in their own right. After years of being sidelined in favour of their male counterparts, our women athletes’ aspiration qualities are at last being recognised, and who can blame them for making the most of it? After all, sponsorship deals mean more money for equipment and training facilities, which in turn lead to better results, and more medals. 

The girls have always been as good as the boys: it’s about time that the world was reminded of it.

-Chloe Grant
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Living in a crazy time: A visit to the Anne Frank House

Anne Frank Memorial statue in Amsterdam
I’m sitting with a friend on our holiday to Amsterdam. She’s drinking ginger ale, I have a cappuccino and we’re sharing a brownie. We’re both silent, taking advantage of free wifi to catch up on Facebook on our smartphones. ‘This feels very wrong,’ she says suddenly. I know what she means. We’re not just in any old cafe or bar. We’re in the cafe at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, decompressing after walking through the museum and Secret Annex where Anne and seven other people spent two years in hiding before being betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo.

It’s difficult to put into words what the experience of visiting the Anne Frank House is like. I don’t need to tell you that the story of Anne Frank is tragic, or that the Holocaust is a difficult and incomprehensible moment in our history. Amsterdam is famously tolerant and laidback, and yet it was only 70 years ago that people living there were forced to hide or face execution because of their religion, or sexual preference or any of the other reasons that were used to persecute innocent people.

Walking through the empty rooms of the Secret Annex is a strange experience. The rooms have been left unfurnished to better describe the absence the Holocaust created, but it’s hard to hang on to this void as the museum is packed with visitors.* The walls however still bear reminders of exactly who is missing. On one, Anne and her sister Margot’s heights are marked in pencil and in Anne’s bedroom, the walls are covered with cuttings and pictures of movie stars and celebrities she admired. The most poignant sight for me personally, was a mirror positioned at the entrance to the loft where Anne spent a great deal of time looking out the only clear window in the Secret Annex. Visitors cannot access the loft, but this mirror allows visitors below to see the view that was Anne’s only visual link to the outside world.

Was it then appropriate, after seeing a site that is representative of great evil, to sit in a cafe, eating and drinking and checking in with the online world? I honestly don’t know. On the one hand it felt frivolous, as though we hadn’t fully appreciated what we’d just seen. But then I thought that maybe these actions were in some way exactly appropriate. In her diary, Anne longed for freedom and the ability to express herself without fear of persecution. Now 70 years later, I can connect with my friends and the rest of the world from a device I can carry in my pocket.

Obviously, freedom of expression is still challenged and modern technology has created new problems and issues that need to be negotiated, but it made me realise how lucky I am. I am free in a way that Anne was never and could never have imagined. I have no idea if she would have liked Facebook, but I think she may have appreciated a world where so many people are able to share their experiences freely without fear of persecution.

*If you are planning to visit, I would recommend booking a ticket in advance, either online or at tourist information offices in Amsterdam as there was a very long queue to get inside.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Men are just big boys – can women be big girls too?

Roller Girl
We’ve all heard the sayings ‘men never grow up’ and ‘boys and their toys’  but recently I started wondering whether girls too have childhood games or toys that they have never really given up. According to a recent article, a man’s toys are an expression of his identity and give him the sense of being king of his own little kingdom. I can see how this is true; nearly every man I know spends time in his own virtual kingdom of video games. Many express themselves through the collection of figurines, comics, toy trains, even BMX bikes! No-one questions this as it has become a social privilege of being a man.

Women on the other hand have no such social privilege. You don’t hear of the girl who collects comics, rides a BMX and spends most weekends on her Xbox, but why not? I decided to do a bit of research and found that nearly all new adult gadgets are primarily aimed at men and those that were aimed at women were not toys but gadgets to help with the washing up or gardening!

Is it that women do enjoy playing games and using gadgets but because it’s not socially accepted, they don’t make a habit of it? I certainly indulge in a few childish pastimes; I still own a skipping rope and if it’s a nice day I occasionally go out and practice my crossovers, I also enjoy dance and sports video games along with many other women I know.

Having asked around, there are many girls over the age of 20 who still love their cuddly toys, have collectable figurines and who still use their rollerblades. All of these however are occasional enjoyments to women, whereas for men it is a regular escape and if the men are all playing, then it looks like it’s up to us girls to take care of the real world!

 Thankfully there are still female ambassadors out there for the girls who do love to play, including Suzie Perry from British TV’s ‘The Gadget Show’ but these are few and far between, so if you too are a big kid I say speak up, after all why should the boys get to have all the fun!

-Emma Hatherall
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How to Give to Charity and Get Paid Back

Georgina Virginia Navarro Ruiz with the groceries Kiva loans helped her to buy
April is the Month of Microfinancing, so this seems like a good time to talk about something that I think is a really great initiative. You might remember the Oxfam adverts that said, “Give a man a fish and he will feed himself and his family for a day, but give a man a net and teach him to fish and he will feed himself and his family for a lifetime.” The basic premise of that phrase is that low-income individuals are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if they are given the basic tools to do so. This is also the principal philosophy behind microfinancing.

Microfinancing is a way of extending credit to those who don’t have the kind of collateral needed for a bank loan. It has been shown to be particularly beneficial to women living in poverty as they usually have no access to financial aid. It’s commonly said that empowering women through education or access to a steady income empowers an entire community; women such as Anisa Tarboosh who is now a prominent member of her community, in part thanks to microfinancing.

There are several initiatives that can allow individuals to become microlenders, but the one I have personal experience with is Kiva is essentially a way of giving to charity... but then you can get your money back. Donations are a minimum of $25 (which may seem like a lot, but remember, you’re almost certainly going to get your money back!). When you log onto the site you can then choose your borrower. Each borrower has a profile and profile picture, explaining who they are and what they need a loan for. This personal side to giving really appeals to me – since being on the site, I have donated money to Agustina so she can buy furniture for her pub and to Georgina so she can buy basic groceries for her general store, both in Peru.

Kiva provides you with statistical breakdowns of your loans by gender, country and sector which is actually really interesting as you can see which sectors you invest most in, and whether you have a gender bias – I favour women working in the food industry in Peru, it seems.

As the borrower repays the loan, Kiva email you with updates on their progress as well as informing you how much of your money has been repaid. Once the whole amount has been repaid you can choose to give again or withdraw your money. I’ve been a member of the site for about four years now and for my initial $25 investment I have actually donated $225! Not a bad investment and certainly more money than I would normally be able to donate to charity.

Kiva itself recognises that whilst microfinancing can play a significant role in alleviating poverty, it is not always the most appropriate method. However, it is definitely a useful tool and, to be honest, I LOVE being a microlender. It’s a way of giving to charity – potentially a significant amount over time – but without spending money! Win-win all round.

You can go here to watch a cute video that further explains Kiva’s work, or go here to sign up to the site itself.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Meccano: inventive toys, creative children, future revolutionaries?

Erector Set, oil on canvas, 100x100cm by Dirk Polak.

Earlier this year, Ceri wrote about the new cliché Legos for girls. I thought it would suit if a similar glance was cast at Lego's predecessors: the so called Mechanics Made Easy and later Meccano, a real breakthrough in educational toy manufacture. Each kit consisted of nuts, bolts, tools like spanners, and pieces of colored perforated strips and plates made of tin, with which ingenious kids could build steam engines or mechanical constructions.

Frank Hornby produced the first sets in 1901 aiming “for the engineers of tomorrow;” by 1914 there was a large factory based in Liverpool, UK and nine years later the monthly Meccano magazine was issued, filled with instructions and examples of working models. The company survived the First World War and along the way many changes in the parts’ colours and metallic elements, until 1980 when the Liverpool plant was officially closed. Meccano sets are still manufactured by the original French subsidiary, by Exacto Ltd of Buenos Aires in Argentina, and they are also found with the brand name Erector Set.

It comes as no surprise that Meccano constructions had a strong impact on children’s lives and their later career choices, mainly because they changed their way of thinking while providing them with numerous possibilities of building and reinventing themselves. As an example of this effect, Graham Greene, one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, in the first chapter of his novel The Power and the Glory (1940) cites a Meccano toy, when Mr. Tench the unhappy English dentist recalls how he became a dentist like his father: “They tried to tempt him with Meccano: but fate had struck. There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”

In 1977, an old booklet of a Meccano construction box became the ground for Dirk Polak to start up painting and shape the music group Mecano, the Dutch band-milestone in the music scene of the post-punk era (plus the most profound influence during my adolescent years and still!). Words may fail to describe the sui generis rendering of the verses, sang out by Dirk Polak’s impeccably assertive voice, or his constructive ability in coining new phrasings. For what it's worth, he is a musical genius, an epic performer that turns every single listening into a lifetime's experience and a restlessly productive artist. Polak’s music and artworks are obviously provoked by the concepts and structures of the Meccano toys, therefore so amazingly innovative.

Apparently, Meccano’s corporate members thought that girls deserve a chance to these revolutionary games and launched a new range in June 2010. Just the likewise Lego range designed with girls in mind, the Pink Construction Tool Box includes parts for them to build more ‘refined’ vehicles and is sparkling girlish. How exactly a girl with an inclination to construction sets would care if her tool boxes were pink and shiny is beyond me.  Meccano is a classic educational procedure that helps kids to develop confidence, self-discipline, and coordination skills. Why exclude girls from this learning opportunity or create for them another stereotypical experience? Maybe next time give girls an actual chance and loose the glittery pink accessories, because all they need is just imaginative toys!

-Magda Repouskou
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Who was Kitty Fisher?

Kitty Fisher, by Joshua Reynolds - her every move was followed by the media

If you thought the kiss-and-tell girl was a 20th/21st century phenomenon then you’d be wrong. Long before the days of Jordon and Monica Lewinsky were the Georgian girls who craved fame and used their feminine wiles to get it.  Kitty Fisher was one of the more well known 18th century celebrities: she was a born of humble beginnings and rose through society through introductions to various wealthy men. She had soon acquired many conquests including the Earl of Coventry and was reported to have spent £12,000 a year on maintaining her lifestyle. She even had her own nursery rhyme:
Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it
Not a penny was there in it
Just a ribbon round it
There are varying reports as to the meaning of this rhyme; some take it literally to mean that Lucy was poor and lost her purse and the wealthy kitty found it. Others see a more seedy meaning behind the rhyme; some believe that pocket could mean patron and that Kitty stole Lucy’s husband. The last two lines would then imply that he was unable to have children, or that he had no wealth.

People then, just as now, were obsessed with sexual gossip.  Newspaper columns became devoted to it and it became the subject of many magazines and books. The 18th century girls became experts at exploiting the press and gossip to earn a living, the minor celebrities of today are merely following in their footsteps. The problems with a career such as this though still remain; the lack of privacy, the false rumours taken for reality and the sheer exhaustion of having to have so many high profile lovers.

Eventually, Kitty Fisher married a politician but died just four months later from small pox.  In the end she had managed to build herself up from nothing, just like many of the gossip page girls of today, so is it about time we started seeing these women as business women with a brand rather than the ‘fake celebrities’ that so many label them as?

-Emma Hatherall
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Emma Watson’s Pixie Cut Strikes Controversy

Image from

Emma Watson, the young woman who as girl brought us Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, has now shed that girl image and become the face of Lancôme’s “Rouge in Love” lipstick.  And that’s not all she has shed.  Last year after wrapping Harry Potter, Emma sheared off her signature long locks and opted for a chic new pixie cut.  While the Wall Street Journal declared this move as one of the most influential haircuts of 2011, not all of her fans approved of this daring departure from her usual look.

Recently in a candid interview with the Independent, Emma expressed some of the criticisms she’s been facing due to her haircut.
"I had journalists asking me if this meant I was coming out, if I was a lesbian now." She rolls her eyes. "That haircut did make me realise how subjective everyone's opinion is. Some people were crazy for it and some people just thought I'd lost my [mind]. All I can do is follow my instincts, because I'll never please everyone."
I can honestly say I relate to Emma’s frustration, as recently I was subjected to similar commentary due to a new short haircut.  Confusion doesn’t even describe my reaction to complete strangers labelling me as a lesbian due to the way I looked.  Really?  Does homosexuality have a ‘look’ now?  Have we not moved away from such archaic stereotypes in recent years?  I was even further shocked when a colleague assumed I was a lesbian due to a combination of my ‘look’ and using the term ‘partner’ instead of boyfriend or husband.  Is this the state of things?  Where by your appearance or vocabulary determines your sexuality???  And when did a haircut become something more than just a haircut?  It seems like a grand leap to take from haircut to homosexuality, which I am baffled by the connection and worry about such narrow-mindedness.  Similarly, it is completely puzzling to me that a hairstyle can be applauded by the fashion industry and yet sparks such conflicting sentiments in others.  Emma’s candour and ability to remain unscathed by the critics is impressive.  With so many issues already out there for young girls to worry about, let’s hope that a haircut can just stay a haircut.

-Marisa Lindholm
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Too much, too soon

Walking through town on Friday evening I passed a high end beauty salon and was amazed to see about 20 children aged around 7 having a birthday party! They were all sat on the floor surrounded by cakes, crisps, and jelly and ice cream while they were shown a range of cosmetic products. It served me yet another reminder of the speed at which our girls seem to want to grow up these days which saddens me a great deal.

When I was a young girl I was very girlie and loved wearing pretty clothes but this never involved make up or hair products. I wore make up for dancing exams and had hair ribbons that matched my school uniform and favourite outfits but that’s as far as it went.

I remember being excited when I was allowed to wear CLEAR nail varnish for special occasions–I was about 10–and I didn't start to wear make up regularly until I was 16, and then only because my peers were, not because I wanted to.

My sister, who is 5 years younger than me, seemed to grow up quicker–but then she had me to follow. She had a nail studio complete with coloured false nails and nail art when she was 8.

However, today seems to be 100% worse in encouraging girls to wear cosmetics etc. Make up, hair products, and jewellery are aimed at much younger audiences. Children as young as 4 or 5 can get free make up with certain shoes or magazines–even for their dolls.

This has been the case for a while and is worrying enough. However the growing trend of paying for young girls to have makeovers concerns me. A friend of mine recently took her daughter, aged 4, to have her nails done as a treat. Innocent enough on the face of it but it strikes me that this is something that could quite as easily have been done at home, without the expense, and would not have exposed a young child to more extreme forms of makeover experiences that were undoubtedly occurring or being advertised in the salon at the time of her visit.

We complain constantly about celebrities and the media encouraging and exposing our girls to the beauty and cosmetics industry too much. However, by paying for "treats" in this way we are reinforcing the idea that image is all that matters and not what is on the inside that counts?

-Jessica Galley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Disney Princesses: Portraying real inspiration, not eternally soppy and seductive characters

Having read Natalie Montayah’s blog post "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair," I have to say that I disagree with her argument.

To a certain extent what Natalie says is true – girls are encouraged to search for their Prince Charming and have fantastic hair – however, I found my prince and celebrities have the hair, not just Disney princesses, and so it must be possible somehow! However, this is only when you take Disney’s princesses on the surface – look deeper and there are many inspirational and independent princesses in the Disney films.

I also argue that in terms of Disney the term princess can cover any lead female character – irrespective of whether they are truly royalty. After all, do we not teach our young girls every day that each one of us is a princess in our own right?

Snow White, in her relationship with the Seven Dwarves, shows us that friends can come in all shapes and sizes, and that life can be happy no matter what situation you find yourself in.

Jasmine, in refusing to marry Jafar, is the iconic royal Princess who stands up to her father to fight for her own freedom and dreams.

Belle on the other hand, sacrifices her own freedom in order to give her father his, stands up for herself against Gaston and, in her relationship with the Beast, teaches us that it is what is on the inside that matters, not what we look like.

Ariel, in her search for a better life, leaves her family and then fights her father and Ursula of course, for the life that will result in her personal happiness.

Pocahontas, through her relationship with Captain Smith, exposes us to the fact that skin colour does not matter in the search for love.

Esmeralda teaches us that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their appearance or status in community.

Most inspirational of all, Mulan, in becoming a boy saves the lives of her father, her fellow troops and even the Emperor. In succeeding in this she shows us that girls can be just as capable and strong as boys. 

You may say that this does not indicate an independent woman, as they all end up with their true love at the end of the film. This is true; however, I argue that not one of these women would be with their ‘Prince Charming’ if they did not love them. They have all conquered huge obstacles to live their lives as they wish. If these are not inspirational role models for young girls may I ask who is?

-Jessica Galley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is Britain discouraging young people from experiencing culture?

13 year olds Ashleigh Robinson and Emily Downs were refused entry to Salford Museum and Art Gallery
because they were 'too young' to view exhibits on their own.

During their recent half-term school holiday, rather than going shopping or watching TV, 13-year-olds Emily Downs and Ashleigh Robinson decided to spend the day at the museum. Whilst many would consider this an admirable choice of leisure activity for two young people, the Salford Museum and Art Gallery in Manchester, UK clearly had issues with their visit. 

Rather than encouraging the girls in their endeavour, staff turned them away, on the grounds that they were ‘too young.’ The museum has a policy of not admitting children under 16 unaccompanied by an adult, for their own ‘safety,’ according to a Salford Council leisure executive. Ironically, their refused entry meant the girls had to wander unsupervised through an unfamiliar area, whilst they waited for Emily’s mother to collect them.

Child protection is obviously a serious issue, and it’s great that museums are taking it seriously. However, in this case, has the ‘nanny state’ gone too far? Whilst it’s perfectly sensible to question the advisability of a 6-year-old wandering a museum alone, surely teenagers like Emily and Ashleigh possess the judgement and intelligence to visit independently: banning them from doing so was not only patronising, but insulting. As Emily said, it made her feel ‘not trusted.’

A sign-in register of under 16s would be equally effective as a protective measure, and far less offensive to those concerned.

Ageism, in all its forms, is not something to be promoted. Museums are always saying that they want to attract younger visitors: perhaps they can, if young people are given a little more credit.  

-Chloe Grant
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Say no to persecution in the press

Livvy James with her mother.

Ten year old Livvy James has gender dysphoria. Born a boy – Samuel – Livvy always felt that she should be a girl.

Having lived as a girl at home she took the decision, supported by her school and her family, to return for the new school year as a girl in September and live as Livvy in the public eye rather than privately in her own environment.

Criticism has come from many quarters, including the press, that her mother shouldn’t encourage her behaviour and that she will eventually grow out of this phase and so shouldn’t be displaying it to everyone.

Livvy herself has publicly reported on television that she often feels frustrated and angry at the treatment she receives – sometimes even suicidal.

Her mother Saffy explains that the school has been very supportive of the way in which Livvy and although she is still occasionally called a freak the bullying has overall decreased since she began living her life publicly as opposed to privately.

Livvy cannot have any treatment for her gender dysphoria for another two years and is not allowed to take female hormones until she turns sixteen.

She is now campaigning against the use of derogatory terms in the press, such as ‘tranny’ and ‘gender confused,’ as they leave emotional scars for those suffering with conditions such as hers. There have been almost 2000 signatures on her petition already and it will eventually be passed to the Press Association.

Livvy James may only be ten but she is an inspiration to us all.

-Jessica Galley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Real Men Don’t Buy Girls

Last year in America, male celebrities lent their voice to the “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” YouTube campaign

The campaign was launched by the Demi and Ashton Foundation (DNA).  The foundation set up by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher aims to give a voice to those who want to take a stand against child sex slavery. With a website featuring celebrity endorsements and links to survivor stories, the campaign hoped to target men in America who are still willing to illegally pay for sex with girls. The global sex trafficking industry generated an estimated $32 billion in annual profit in previous years; and all of this money is earned off of the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of women and girls, some as young as twelve. 

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher dedicated a great deal of time and effort to this cause, stating on the campaign’s Facebook page “We believe that the right to be free is a building block of our DNA.” With the high profile couple no longer an item, however, activity on the DNA Foundation’s online presence seems to have slowed. Given the high impact potential of celebrity endorsed campaigns, I hope that the DNA Foundation continues to fight for this cause, despite its founders personal difficulties. If you feel the same, visit the website and share the ad campaign. Remember, real men don’t buy girls.

The Girl Museum is also doing its best to highlight this global issue. Visit our Girl For Sale exhibition site to learn more.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The kindness of strangers

Photo of the author taken by Danny Bird.

I am not one for timekeeping. Let me re-phrase that. I am great at deadlines and turning up for work on time (or even early!), but I never seem to get my timings right for a ‘Night on the Tiles.’ What usually happens is that I am practically ready to go out but have to leave before any make-up touches my face. So my solution? Bring it with me! This normally sees me doing my make-up on public transport. I was recently in this predicament when I started to notice other people’s reactions to me and the people were divided. Half looked on in disbelief and disgust at the sheer sight of a girl with a make-up bag on her lap, unashamedly dolling herself up. The other lot were willing me to get half of it down my face. 

Another thing I am not one for is to feel embarrassed for anything I do, as well as not believing in plastering my face with foundation or primer. A bit of blush, eyeliner and mascara is enough for me. Though I do like to experiment with my eye shadow. Which is why I was so shocked at some of these unruly faces staring back at me. I mean, it is not that I’m unaware of how drastically cosmetics can change one's face, but I simply use it to highlight my features and express my personality.

But one thing I did not expect was that once I had finished and was getting off the train, a lovely females said “Well done honey! I would never be able to do my slap on the train – yours looks great!” As I left the train, I blushed. It convinced me that what I did was not unseemly, but that it was a great time to be a woman putting on make-up on public transport!

-Natalie Moyanah
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Game of Thrones – Can the Girls play too?

Arya Stark played by Maisie Williams
image from

Last month Girl Museum celebrated the women who have inspired us in the Heroines Quilt project. In the world of fantasy, however, there are very few strong role models for young women: they can be a scantily-clad “Xena” warrior; a demure elvin princess; or, at worst, the damsel in distress.

One fantasy epic bucking this trend is HBO’s big budget Game of Thrones, which had its season two premiere last week. Based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, the story centres on the noble families living in the mythical land of Westeros as they battle for power and ultimate control of the kingdom. Among the traditional cast of noble knights, thugs, and boy-kings, Martin has created several strong female leads. The point-of-view style of storytelling in the books means that the first thing we usually learn about these women is their physical attributes and attractiveness as rated by the current male protagonist. However, this is countered when the female characters lead the narrative; sharing their thoughts and motivations to produce individuals which audiences can identify with.

The youngest of these leading ladies is Arya Stark, a girl of only nine, who refuses to conform to the role of well behaved “lady” embodied by her elder sister, Sansa. Arya prefers sword play to dancing and shows extraordinary strength, surviving alone when she is separated from her family during a time of war. Martin has used a medieval time frame for the age of his players, meaning that many of the characters at the heart of the power struggle are children or teenagers by modern standards. The best example of this is the fourteen year old girl Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of the former King. She is introduced as the submissive pawn in the plans of her bullying brother who sells her into marriage in an effort to regain “his” lost throne. Throughout the series, however, she develops into a strong leader; a woman in control of her sexuality; and a figure of hope to those who have been oppressed through slavery.

The older generation of women are just as strong, with the scheming Queen Cersei proving a formidable opponent in the fight for power. She is cast as ruthless and power-hungry, but her determination stems from a resentment of playing a “man's game” and her desire to do anything for her children.  Although not the most likeable of characters, Cersie’s strength is undeniable. 

Season two will see audiences introduced to the character of Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, who also fights, this time literally, in the man’s world. This female warrior bests men in battle and actively refused her intended betrothals. Taking on a male role, she is shunned by fellow soldiers and is threatened with rape by those who see her as a challenge to their superiority. It is only her noble name, and the promise of ransom, which saves her. Brienne’s experience demonstrates the violence that pervades Westeros. Only the noble women have a small degree of protection from the fighting, misogynistic treatment and casual rape which is witnessed by all, including the young Arya, in war. The brutal backdrop in which Martin sets his story does not weaken, however, but strengthens his female leads and their achievements.

In a genre of fiction where the word “fantasy” can usually be ascribed to a male-centric dreamland of warrior knights and seductive maidens, it is reassuring to see an epic with such a strong well-rounded female presence. From the young child, Arya, to the villainous Cersei, women are represented at each stage of life as real people with developed personalities who fight for their own family and goals. Although often treated as second class citizens in the land of Westeros, George R.R. Martin’s heroines are on an equal footing with the male protagonists in terms of narrative and power-play; making Game of Thrones one of the most gender-balanced fantasy epics to grace our screens.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chicago: The Musical – ‘Razzle Dazzle’ or ‘Sex Appeal’?

I recently went to see Chicago at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End. It tells the story of two women on trial for murder and it is a show that I have seen many times before – it is indeed one of my favourites. 

However, on this occasion I got to thinking – why do people actually go to see the show? Is it the razzle dazzle, fantastic songs, and Bob Fosse’s amazing choreography that attracts audiences or is there another reason that millions of people flock to resident productions and tours around the world?

Chicago is marketed mainly on its sex appeal. The costumes are designed to be as revealing as humanly possible in the majority of cases. Indeed the only characters who could be considered ‘clothed’ are Billy Flynn the lawyer who, by virtue of his role, obviously has to be dressed decently, Mary Sunshine – a newspaper reporter revealed at the end of the show to be a transvestite – and the two ‘unsexy’ characters of Mama Morton, the prison matron and Amos Hart, husband of the accused murderess. 

I understand that sex is an important part of the show, in that the women in custody for murder have invariably committed their crimes because of extra-marital affairs that have happened. I also feel that the costumes, or lack of them, and the erotic style of dancing fit perfectly with the themes of the show. However, I am concerned that many people in the audiences only go to see the show because of the amount of flesh that they can see compared to many other West End productions. How many women go to see Chicago: The Musical because of the number of half naked men they can see, or how many men go because of the half naked women?

So, what do you think – is the work of Bob Fosse a waste on today’s audiences, or do the millions of people who see the show each year truly appreciate the addition that sex appeal makes to the art form that is musical theatre?

-Jessica Galley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Girls Rock!

Zoe Thomson

Zoe Thomson has quickly become one of the coolest girls I have ever read about!  Along with four boys, age range 8–10, Zoe aged 8 is a guitarist in The Mini Band out of Berkshire, UK.  The young band has already become quite the sensation with multiple gigs around the country, television appearances, and even a personalized message from the band Metallica prompted by an impressive cover of Metallica’s song ‘Enter Sandman.’  Each band member has been taught at Lets Play Rock!, which includes Newbury Rock School, fostering these talents into the worldwide sensation that they have become.  

Zoe herself has become an internet hit with global recognition for her exceptional guitar skills.  Having first picked up a guitar at 5 years old and taking her first guitar lesson at 6, Zoe has rapidly developed her musical talent and now showcases that talent as lead guitarist in a rock band.  She became an internet sensation after posting a few YouTube videos, most notably the video of her playing ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses, which has reached over 2.5 million views.  It is really quite amazing to see her small hands own that guitar and travel up and down the neck so quickly yet with such ease.  Not only a truly amazing feat but empowering for other young girl musicians to view her as a role model in such a male-dominated field.  And the music industry is taking notice.  Zoe is currently endorsed by Daisy Rock Guitars who make instruments specifically for girls.  Zoe is a real inspiration and I for one am excited to see this young girl's career take off!

-Marisa Lindholm
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mad Men: a reminder of how far we’ve come?

Image Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

After a wait of more than a year, AMC’s smash hit  Mad Men finally returns to our screens next month. Set in 1960s New York, and detailing the lives and loves of those who work for advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the show has won countless awards, and made stars of actors Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, and January Jones. 

Mad Men is a stylish, expensive piece of escapism, but perhaps its success is down to its unflinching portrayal of the era’s sexual inequalities. The male characters cheat on their wives and girlfriends, seemingly as a matter of course. The agency employs many women, but in a distinctly second-class capacity: SCDP secretaries pour drinks, take their bosses’ coats, and are frequently subject to behaviour that would almost certainly qualify as sexual harassment today. 

Office manager Joan Harris (née Holloway) is intelligent and efficient, but uses her sexuality to her advantage because she can’t get ahead any other way. Although she enjoys her job, she is forced to give it up after getting married, because her husband doesn’t want her to work. Peggy Olson wins Don’s respect, and is promoted from secretary to copy writer; however, her male colleagues underestimate her, and her female coworkers speculate that she must have slept with the boss in order to get ahead. She is forced to prove herself by working on ‘women’s products’ such as lipstick and sanitary towels, whilst the prime accounts go to the men. Secretaries are summarily dismissed if they displease the men of the office, without notice or apology: Joan is often told to ‘get another girl’ as if they are completely interchangeable. Betty Draper is lonely and unhappy at the lack of purpose in her life: when she seeks therapy for these issues, her psychiatrist reports back to her husband. 

What’s incredible, and uncomfortable, is that this was all happening only 50 years ago: although complete equality in business is (arguably) yet to be achieved, it’s undeniable that modern women are in a far better position than those featured in the show. The show is compulsive viewing, and I for one am hooked. However, whilst we’re getting lost in the melodrama of television’s most famous advertising agency, it’s important not to forget these serious issues, and to remember how lucky we are.

You can read an interesting critical analysis of Mad Men here

-Chloe Grant
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, April 2, 2012

After Girl Power – What Next?

The last weekend of February, Katie and I were thrilled to be representing Girl Museum at the “After Girl Power – What Next?” conference held by the University of York, UK. The two-day event aimed to examine what has changed for the experience of girls in the past two decades since the Spice Girls first proclaimed their “Girl Power” message.

On the first evening, we were greeted by our host, Melinda Luisa de Jesus, and were then treated to a wonderful reception from the Women’s Studies Department. There were readings by two authors, Rozena Maart and Paula Morris, who discussed their work writing about and for girls. This was preceded by an entertaining play by University of York student Ailish McAlpine-Green which explored modern girls love/hate relationship with their menstrual cycle.

The conference brought together a truly international crowd, with speakers from the UK, North America, Hong Kong, India, South Africa and, of course, Katie and myself representing the virtual museum world. We were presenting bright and early, which may account for the slight hiccup when our presentation failed to work. We won through in the end, however, thanks largely to seeing the friendly faces of our fellow Junior Girls, Jess and Marisa, in the audience. After our talk, we had some excellent feedback, with people showing a great deal of interest in Girl Museum and our message of celebrating Girlhood.

With so many interesting speakers, we split into two groups and took in both of the afternoon panels. Katie and Jess attended the panel exploring Girls and Pop Culture where topics ranged from the influence of Hannah Montana to how the American Girls doll phenomenon is turning even the youngest girls into serial consumers of the born-to-shop mentality. Marisa and myself were present at the Globalizing Girl Studies panel. Discussions covered the young female activists in Hong Kong; women in the UK’s Traveller community; and a creative writing workshop for girls in South Africa.

There were so many fantastic speakers and we also got a great insight into some of the current research being carried out by Gender Studies students into the Girl experience.  The conference was a great deal of fun, we met some wonderful people and hopefully we’ll be able to work with them in the future. The greatest positive was that we really got the Girl Museum message out there and got people excited about what we are doing.

A big thank you to Melinda and the University of York Women’s Studies department for a fabulous conference and for helping us to celebrate Girlhood. 

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.