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?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lisbeth Salander: A new breed of heroine?

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
Baldur Bragason/Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson is, without doubt, a publishing phenomenon.  Initially a word-of-mouth success, sales had reached an incredible 65 million by December 2011. With successful Swedish films made of all three novels, and a Hollywood update of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander’s story is firmly embedded in our global public consciousness. She is one of a new breed of anti-heroines taking the entertainment industry by storm. Others of this genre include Kristen Stewart as a sword-wielding Snow White, former MMA fighter Gina Carano as a formidable solider of fortune in Haywire, and Pixar’s forthcoming Boadicea-alike Princess Merida in Brave

It has been suggested that Salander is not a feminist, perhaps most notably by the latest adaptation’s star Rooney Mara. However, I would disagree. Salander is undoubtedly fearful of men, but who can blame her, considering her past experiences. The character’s backstory is particularly brutal. Forced into state care after retaliating against an abusive father, the young Salander was repeatedly failed by institutions and individuals intended to protect her, resulting in her losing legal autonomy and being placed under guardianship. As an adult, she is brutally raped by her guardian Nils Bjurman and determines to exact justice. 

Lisbeth is tough, but then she needs to be. Far from indiscriminately hating men, she opens up to and comes to trust several important male figures, including journalist Mikael Blomkvist, her boss Dragan Armansky, and her previous guardian Holgar Palmgren. She is resourceful, loyal and incredibly clever, yet is judged harshly by society, based largely on her appearance and sexual preferences. Without wishing to spoil the plot for anyone yet to experience these incredible stories, I wept with triumph when some recognition finally comes her way. What’s maybe most exciting about Salander is her polar opposition to tradition female protagonists. She doesn’t need to be rescued by the male lead (in fact, she’s often doing the rescuing), and unlike Lara Croft, or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, she’s not running around wearing tiny shorts or skintight PVC. She’s fighting for her own rights, and the rights of girls like her, and doing it with skill and bravery; she’s real, and you can’t help but root for her to the very end. 

Yes, Salander is flawed. But isn’t everyone? Lisbeth’s popularity, and Mara’s recent Oscar nomination, may be a sign that pop-culture heroines are starting to get serious. I suggest that this could only be a good thing. What do you think?

You can read more interesting discussions regarding Salander and feminism here and here

-Chloe Grant
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why not publicise women’s sports?

Rebecca Adlington celebrates her gold medal win in the 800m freestyle.
Photograph: Barbara Walton/EPA

Last month, I and many others were shocked to find that the BBC 2011 British Sports Personality of the Year award did not include any women on its shortlist.  It hadn’t been a bad year for British women in sports—Gymnast Beth Tweddle won her third successive European title and Rebecca Adlington claimed gold in the swimming world championships then was rewarded with various awards for sportswoman of the year—yet this was not enough to shortlist for the main sporting accolade.  Perhaps the reason for this (or excuse) was that 2011 was not an Olympic year.  Women’s sports were not publicised and so less people would have been aware of their achievements.  It is not only swimmers or gymnasts that suffer; ask people to name women cricketers, golfers, or football (soccer) players and many would struggle.

Why is it though that women’s sports are not publicised? Men’s sports get a vast amount of TV coverage. We have the football and rugby world cups, cricket, golf, even cycling gets good air time, but when we look for the same sports with women competing, they are nowhere to be seen.  It is not that women don’t compete at a world class level.  England alone has one of the world’s best women’s cricket teams, some fantastic football (soccer) players and a formidable women’s rugby team, but TV companies and sponsors believe the audiences for these sports are not there. This is starting to have a knock on effect for women’s sport at lower levels. The Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) tell us that “young women leave school half as active as young men.”

Men are frequently reminded that they can make a living from sport whereas for many women it doesn’t even cross their mind. Not only has the pay for women sports people been considerably less (only recently did Wimbledon decide to offer the same prize money for their male and female tennis stars) but they have far less investment due to lack of publicity. The audiences aren’t there at the moment because neither is the marketing. 


-Emma Hatherall
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Legos for girls: Equality or not?

The "Butterfly Beauty Shop" is part of the Lego Friends range.

Lego has brought out a new range, aimed specifically at girls. It centres around five girl dolls, and has sets such as a beauty salon and a bakery. Lego argue that it is a response to losing sales to girls because of their Batman and Star Wars oriented products. That is all very well, but the products do not seem quite equal.  Professor Becky Francis, who has expertise in childrens' development and is director of education at the Royal Society of Arts, has argued that they are much simpler, and do not take as much skill as the toys for boys. Professor Francis goes on to say that Lego have missed an opportunity to promote engineering and practical skills in girls. The sets seem to assume that all girls are only keen on fashion and beauty, and are not capable of (or do not wish to) building from scratch.

I feel this is somewhat negative. As a girl I had Lego sets which required imagination and a basic understanding of building things, and I really enjoyed them. What’s more, I think these sets challenge children (boys and girls) and help them develop their creative and practical skills, and gain a sense of real achievement from seeing their idea materialise in front of them. I am not at all sure that these sets will have the same affect.

One father goes further in his criticisms. He believes that products such as these that are clearly oriented at girls give girls a “limited notion of their gender,” suggesting that they ‘should’ be interested in beauty and fashion, and ‘should not’ care much about the building aspects. I am inclined to agree with this father. Young girls need to be taught that they can be anything and achieve anything, and that beauty and fashion are all very well, but they do not make you a better (or happier) person. Girls’ toymakers have a responsibility to produce products that do not stereotype, or girls will grow up believing in the stereotypes about them, a process which can be damaging to happiness and health. There are enough girl’s toys that promote this view (Barbie, for example?), and Lego could have done something really different.

I would suggest that Lego think again. I have nothing against toys that are ‘for girls’ in general, but why focus on beauty and fashion, especially in a toy aimed at such a young age group? And why make them so much simpler than the boy’s versions? Why not make a whole range of models that are equally difficult and focus on a variety of topics? Models based on a zoo, or other animal related things, would be likely to sell to girls (and probably some boys) without giving them the potentially damaging idea that they must be concerned with their looks from a very young age.

-Ceri Phillipps
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Transgender Girl in the running for Miss England

New life: Jackie Green was the youngest person in Britain to undergo a sex change two years ago

An inspirational teenager from Leeds, Jackie Green, is hoping to become the first transsexual woman to win the Miss England crown. Jackie, who’s 18, was born as Jack, but always knew she should have been a girl: she therefore took the brave decision to have gender reassignment surgery two years ago, becoming the youngest person in the UK to receive a full sex change. Although her parents supported her choices, Jackie suffered severe bullying when she was younger, which makes her decision to compete in such a public arena all the more admirable. 

Of course, a beauty contest such as ‘Miss England’ may not be to everyone’s tastes, and issues of female objectification remain as prevalent in society as ever. However, the contest is clearly an empowering platform for Jackie, publicly highlighting and strengthening her identity as a girl. Hopefully her experiences may inspire confidence in other young women who don’t feel they meet traditional ‘beauty queen’ criteria. It’s also great to see a prominent organisation showing acceptance and understanding of the transgender community, especially when compared to the controversy surrounding Bobby Montoya and her desire to join the Girl Scouts.  

According to the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, Jackie’s currently leading her competition heat; let’s hope she gets to the final! 

You can read more about Jackie here, and learn about the Miss England contest here

-Chloe Grant
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beautiful and Bald

Beautiful and Bald Barbie Facebook Campaign

In December, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Girl Museum highlighted the work of groups helping to boost the confidence of girls coping with cancer and the trauma of chemotherapy treatments. Now 2012 sees the launch of a campaign for the creation of a “Beautiful and Bald Barbie” to help girls come to terms with their hair loss. Launched on Facebook, the campaign was inspired by the one-off bald Barbie dolls created by manufacturer Mattel for two young girls suffering from cancer. 

Not everyone is 100% behind the campaign, however. Andrew Becker, a director of media relations for the American Cancer Society, caused a stir when on his blog he suggested that a mass produced Bald Barbie could “do more harm than good for kids and parents.” He further explained his fears that children whose lives were untouched by cancer could “end up being terrorized by the prospect of it in a far outsized proportion to their realistic chances”. Following a flood of criticism, Becker has since apologised and withdrawn his blog posting.

Barbie herself is no stranger to controversy. Since her creation in the 1950’s, she has attracted criticism from feminist groups for her ditzy persona and unnatural figure. More modern incarnations have angered parents with risqué costumes and punky tattoos, and a recent “Barbie makeover” campaign aimed to highlight the lack diversity displayed by those dolls representing different ethnic groups. Nevertheless, Barbie is well established as a cultural icon and is greatly loved by little girls the world over. 

With this popularity, Barbie has a great influence over children and their perception of beauty. Yes, there are negatives, and I’d be the first to welcome a campaign for “plus-size Barbie” or even just “natural and achievable proportions Barbie.” Her image does little to help girls’ body confidence, but what if that can change? If girls can see such an icon of beauty without hair, won’t that help them to have confidence when coming through their own treatment? Wouldn’t allowing a little girl to pick out Barbie’s wigs and headscarves to match her own make her feel normal and fashionable? And as for Becker’s fears that children would be afraid when faced with Bald Barbie, I argue the contrary: surely this would make them more aware and accepting of those who have suffered hair-loss due to illness?

If you agree, sign the petition and urge Mattel to make Barbie bald and beautiful.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Exhibition Review: Holding Up Half the Sky at the Skirball

Exhibition Space
Exhibition photograph by Ilaria Benzoni-Clark

I recently visited the Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibition, on view at the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum until May 20th, 2012. This is an original exhibition based on the bestseller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Both the book and the exhibition aim to raise awareness about the challenges that women and girls in the world, and especially in third world countries, face in our contemporary society. 

The exhibition is organized in three circles that address the main issues plaguing women today: maternal health, violence, and human trafficking. These issues are explored through a variety of media: art, videos, photography, artifacts, and sound. While we learn about statistics, we also encounter stories of women who have overcome oppression, like Goretti Nyabenda of Burundi. Goretti started her own business thanks to a $2 microloan. In a video she shares just how deeply that has changed her life, improving her relationship with her husband and creating a new future for her children. She is now a leader in their community and an inspiration to both women and men. 

"The Wish Canopy" Installation
Exhibition photograph by Ilaria Benzoni-Clark

The stunning interactive art installation "The Wish Canopy," a ceiling sculpture, covers the whole exhibition space and holds the handwritten wishes left by visitors for women and girls. These messages of hope color the whole experience of this exhibition, not just aesthetically, but by making us feel that we are helping these women hold up the sky.

This is just one example of how participatory this show is. When viewing exhibitions that deal with sensitive subjects, visitors can sometimes feel discourage and overwhelmed. Not here! Visitors are empowered to take action steps and the possibilities seem endless. Each visitor receives $1 that will go to support a microloan for a woman entrepreneur. There are also opportunities to advocate, share actions we have taken or wish to take to make a difference, and connect to organizations to get involved. As we are reminded in the exhibition: change is possible and it can happen quickly with our help.

"Write-a-Wish" Stations
Exhibition photograph by Ilaria Benzoni-Clark

I sometimes felt that the exhibition design was somewhat sterile. I would have liked to see more of the colors and hear more of the sounds and voices of the people and countries featured in the exhibition. It would have allowed me to see them not just as victims of injustices and abuse, but also as human beings with a richness of expression and beauty. I did find some of this in the videos, the paintings, and in the sound installation "Amplify" by Ben Rubin. This installation is a mosaic of voices, sounds, songs, and lullabies of girls and women of Rwanda, recorded in July 2011, 17 years after the genocide. While listening to the voices I was able to connect with these women and their experience. 

Some of the artwork on display
Exhibition photograph by Ilaria Benzoni-Clark

All in all, the exhibition is very powerful. I left with a renewed understanding and a reminder of the condition of women in the world. I left compelled to educate myself more and get involved in projects that empower women in my city and in other countries. I left uplifted by the courage and radiance of the women whose stories touched me so deeply. I left conscious of the profound impact that my actions have on those around me, far and near, and of the importance of responsible choices. I left feeling proud and grateful of being a woman, a girl, of what makes us so vulnerable but yet again so special, strong, and powerful. I left inspired by my sisters' voices. 

The "Share Board"
Exhibition photograph by Ilaria Benzoni-Clark

If you can't see the exhibition is person, visit www.skirball.org. You can view images and read some of the stories. Get inspired by the wishes left by visitors and take action!

-Ilaria Benzoni-Clark
Education Director 
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Monday, January 16, 2012

Backlash over transgender inclusion in Girl Scouts

14 year-old Taylor in her YouTube video calling to boycott Girl Scout cookies

As we previously wrote, Bobby Montoya's fight to join the Girl Scouts of America caused a national (and international) media storm.  A transgender girl, Bobby was born male, but identifies in all aspects of life as female.  Shortly after Bobby was initially told she would be unable to join a local troop, The Girl Scouts of Colorado released a statement through GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) apologizing for the mistake and clarifying their policies.

Sadly, if not unsurprisingly, this has not been the end of the story.  In Louisiana, three troop leaders dissolved their troops and resigned in December because Bobby was welcomed to the Girl Scouts, one of them stating that allowing transgender girls join created an "almost dangerous situation" for other troop members.  Shortly thereafter, a 14 year-old California Girl Scout (initially identified only as Taylor) made a YouTube video urging a boycott of the popular Girl Scout cookies because she believes the Girl Scouts are using the proceeds to "[promote] the desires of a small handful of people."

I am saddened that Bobby's struggle to be accepted as the girl she is, regardless of her physical sexual attributes, is not close to over.  Bobby will face struggles throughout her life, but I am truly saddened by the fact that a 14 year-old girl is further perpetuating the notion that Bobby is somehow perverted and "wrong" for the way she feels and acts.  Alexandra Billings, a transwoman actress and singer, wrote "Fourteen-year-old Taylor is frightened for the Girl Scouts because she thinks a boy in a dress is coming to infiltrate what she considers to be very sacred female territory."  I understand what Alexandra is saying: we fear what is different, what we don't understand.  Alexandra goes on to write
Taylor is being taught very specific rules by very specific people, and the problem is that those are the only voices she's hearing right now. This isn't about why. I have no idea why I was born transgender. I could quote a bunch of facts and statistics, but so can anyone. All I know is what's true for me. I realize my life can seem like a choice to some people. But if you stop and think, if I really had a choice, if someone actually gave me a choice for my life's journey, I would have chosen one with much fewer obstacles.
And this is what terrifies me most of all.  We are learn by what we hear, and if there are no questions, if we don't ask why, we don't move past the notion that Bobby Montoya is more than just a boy who likes to wear dresses.

You can read all of Alexandra Billings' essay, The Man of the House, here.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Digital Dummies

Spot the difference: the mannequin models in H&M's campaign. Photograph: ABC


I wish I looked this good in a bikini. 

Three gorgeous girls with flawless figures: skinny limbs, flat stomachs and perfectly poised. When they look this good, how can I possibly compete with my curvy hips and wobbly tummy?

This reaction is one most girls can relate to when looking at the latest fashion magazines. But look a little bit closer at this H&M advert and the perfection seems too, well, perfect: the women’s skin is too smooth and their poses too similar. Far from being examples of the fit and healthy bodies which we could aspire to, the women aren’t real at all. Instead they are computer generated mannequins with real life faces cleverly photo-shopped over the top create an “individual” feel.

When news of the true identity of the Swedish company’s latest internet models broke, H&M’s use of these CGI bodies was quickly condemned by body focus action groups such as the Campaign for Body Confidence. Co-founder Jo Swinson (MP) argued that “the fact that H&M has resorted to modelling their clothes using computer–generated bodies tells you everything you need to know about the fashion industry’s current obsession with idealised and biologically impossible bodies.”  However, H&M hit back, claiming that the use of virtual models was common practice and that their use “is not to be seen as conveying a specific ideal or body type, but merely a technique to show our garments.” 

The fashion industry is no stranger to controversy. A recent poll of UK Members of Parliament found that 53% of them viewed the fashion industry as being directly responsible for contributing to negative body image among the British public.  The air-brushing of models has long been the norm in advertising campaigns and has attracted much criticism for setting an unattainable goal for young girls. With the advance of technology, however, the women modelling the latest designer wear can be created from a computer programmer’s imagination. When the female figure is controlled down to the last pixel, what chance do girls have of accepting their bodies for what they really are: flesh, blood, and beautiful?

The UK government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image, set up in April 2011 as a cross-party Parliamentary forum for debate, is currently conducting an inquiry into the causes and consequences of body image anxiety. If you have concerns about the images being presented to girls through media advertising, you can register your views here.

-Vhari Finch
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tortured, Burned Alive, Beaten--Verbs about Girls in 2012

Badly beaten and traumatized Sahar Gul, who refused to be sold into prostitution, gets medical care in an Afghanistan hospital.
2012 has begun with nothing pleasant whatsoever in the news about girls, well, beyond the new Girl Scout cookie, which is questionably ‘good.’

It is disheartening and really delusional to think that the turning of a year on the calendar would mark anything more than another day when girls are neglected, mistreated, abused, sold, raped, or killed.

However, it is the continued denial/silence of the mainstream media and the public in general that is the most frustrating.

Doesn't it make you mad?  Just reading about all these horrible things is paralyzing. What does it take to act?

Equally where are the positive stories about girls? Surely they are out there.

What can you do?
  • Find a photo of yourself as a girl that makes you smile and put in on the fridge or on your desk--somewhere you will see it often--Remember what it was like when you felt invincible. 
  • Take a baby step and do something positive for girls today, then let us know about it. 
  • Participate in our HEROINES Quilt 2012 project.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi

-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shaming or helping obese children?


While in some parts of the world children do not have enough to eat, other places face an epidemic of childhood obesity.  In the state of Georgia, nearly 40% of children are considered to be obese or overweight--that's nearly 1 million kids!

In an effort to increase awareness and attempt to stem the tide of childhood obesity, the non-profit Strong4Life has partnered with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta in a blunt and direct new advertising campaign that directly addresses the issue.

The ad campaign has come under fire, however, for being too blunt.  Amongst other complaints, opponents are concerned that the ads "shame" the very people they are trying to help and do not offer any helpful or concrete information.

I have mixed feelings about the campaign.  Childhood obesity is a serious health problem and can lead to a lifetime of other health issues.  Additionally, many parents don't recognize--or choose to ignore--that their child is dangerously overweight.  But on the other hand, children are picked on or bullied for so many things already--including weight--and this ad campaign may just serve to stoke those fires.  I also have to consider the fact that the children featured in the ad campaign are all paid actors.  That does not make them any less overweight or prone to being tormented, but it does imply that they willingly joined this campaign with their eyes open.

What do you think?  Are billboards like the one above shameful and hurtful to the kids in them or others who are overweight, or is it a necessary wake-up call to the residents of Georgia, a state that is behind only Mississippi when it comes to childhood obesity?

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Girls are gamers, too

Many people still think of boys (and men) when they think about computer and video games like the Half-Life and Halo series of games, World of Warcraft, and games in the Mario and Zelda universes.  But more and more girls (and women) are interested in and very good at playing computer and video games.  Sadly however, in the online gaming universe, people are often harassed, threatened, and bullied because of their user names, avatars, or occasionally voices, and girls face a disproportionate amount of harassment.  Though it's unlikely female gamers would face the same volume of harassment from their persecutors face-to-face (as opposed to online), girls are generally not as prevalent in Role-Playing Games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons as boys, and are often actively excluded (I write from personal experience here).

In an effort to change attitudes, a group of girls, all gamers, created a video about who and what they are and are not, as well as how they'd like to be seen.  Not only a message to stop asking female gamers if they'd like to know how big someones' sword is, but to stop bullying anyone who isn't a stereotypical "gamer."


-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.