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?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

All Women Cast

The cast of The Women (2008)

In 2008, a remake of the 1939 film The Women was released. I recently watched the film with no preconceptions or any idea about the premise of the story, and it was not until the very end did I realise the film had no male cast members: the only male extra was the baby at the very end of the film. The film’s director, Diane English, fought a 14-year battle to revive the film, her struggle being that it was believed by the film industry that the all-female cast would not appeal to young men.

The original and remake films both run along the story of gossip; Mary Haines learns of her husband’s affair through the manicurist at a salon and the film is centered around her decision of what to do about it and the women who influence that decision. Although the reviews for the 2008 film starring Meg Ryan may not be flattering, the original idea of having a storyline that revolves around men and relationships but without a single man being seen on screen–although they are referred to several times–is interesting and works. The original film, directed by George Cukor, stars Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell, and has such attention to detail that even the props only feature females. Despite the battle the 2008 film took to get made I feel that the idea probably does work better on the stage rather than on the screen, but it is an interesting concept to take on in any format.

-Emma Hatherall
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Princesses in a Positive Light

The official Disney Princess line-up (L-R): Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine, Belle, Rapunzel, Aurora, Cinderella, Tiana, Mulan, and Snow White.

Many little girls want to be princesses and adore the Disney versions, but parents are so often told that these princess-obsessions create shallow or weak girls. But are Cinderella, Ariel, and Jasmine really all that bad? What about real life princesses? Many girls and women have admired Princess Diana or Duchess Kate. I think that little girls can look up to princess role models and still grow up to be empowered and successful women. One of my favorite quotes is "I'm fairly certain that with a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world." Girls should be able to wear girly dresses and have royal tea parties and, when the time comes, they can still save the world.

Hugo Schwyzer wrote about this trend of princess-free daughters. In his article "Is a Disney-Free Daughter Really a More Empowered One?," he explains that princesses can be good role models. Modern princess tales for children include positive messages such as gender equality. No Time for Flashcards, a site about children’s learning, posted a list of over a dozen princess storybooks with positive messages. Even the classic Disney princesses teach valuable lessons. For example, Belle from Beauty and the Beast loves reading, and does not settle for the first man who wishes to marry her. What parent does not want to encourage those things for their daughters?

Many parents, writers, and other "experts" are against princesses as role models. As a former princess-obsessed little girl, I’m not so convinced. It is up to girls and parents to decide what messages to take away from the princess genre–the same as they would do with any other area of influence. So it is up to you. Will you choose to be princess-free, or will you proudly don your cape and tiara and make a difference in the world?

-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Another step toward military equality

A female Marine goes through an obstacle course, one of the tasks of the combat endurance test.
(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)

Less than a week after President Obama's second inauguration where he reaffirmed his commitment to equality for all, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military would be lifting the restriction on women in combat, which had been in place since 1994 (other restrictions on women serving in the military have been challenged over the decades). The ground combat exclusion policy of the US Army states:

Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.
Although many, many details still need to be clarified over the coming months and years (including whether or not women will be required to register for Selective Service, more commonly known as the draft), the removal of this policy more accurately reflects the nature of modern warfare. In both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have been serving in combat conditions, and 152 women have died in the wars. But because they are not considered to be in "combat roles," women have a significantly harder time advancing up the ranks, as combat experience is one of the factors considered in promotions.

Though I am generally opposed to sending anyone, male or female, into combat, I believe this will ultimately send a positive message to girls. I can't think of a better way to tell a girl that she can be or do anything than to show her than women are just as physically and mentally capable as men in an extremely difficult situation. Secretary Panetta has said, "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job--and let me be clear, we’re not talking about reducing the qualifications for a job--if they can meet the qualifications for the job then they should have the right to serve." By holding men and women to the same standards, the military will be judging people solely by their abilities and skills, not by their gender. And while there are roles that many women may be unable to meet physically, it is important to note that many men are unable to meet those standards as well. But now at least women will have the chance to attempt to fill those roles, instead of being restricted based only on their gender.

You can read one service woman's take on the policy changes here.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Backlash against Beard

Mary Beard responds to the backlash.
Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

Women in the public eye seem to have a very bad deal. They are judged on everything, but most often it seems to be the superficial that takes precedent, and be it their supposed level of attractiveness or fashion choices, they are subject to harsh criticism. A recent example of this is the backlash against Mary Beard following an appearance on the BBC’s topical debate show Question Time. As a Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and presenter of the TV series Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, she is clearly an intelligent woman who has quite rightly and publicly spoken out against her treatment.

During Question Time, Beard made some controversial comments on the subject of immigration which has led to ‘truly vile’ online abuse. Postings on the Internet include references to Beard’s pubic hair and the size of her vagina. Additionally, the site ‘Don’t Start Me Off’ named her ‘T**t of the Week.’ There are also images of female genitalia superimposed with Beard’s face and there is still much, much worse. You can read Mary Beard’s own response on her blog for The Times Literary Supplement but please beware of strong, sexual and abusive language and graphic images.

Moreover, Beard has also been criticised for her decision to respond to these comments, for not just ‘laughing them off.’ But then, why should she? These comments are clearly meant to be hurtful, to be offensive and to encourage others to do the same. Beard writes ‘it shows the classic signs of vile playground bullying… it would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate, especially as all of this comes up on Google.’ It is not okay that people see this ‘brutal sexism’ as acceptable, nor is it okay that such behaviour is happening. Beard herself said on Radio 4's Womans Hour, ‘I don't want legal regulation, I want people to treat each other decently online,’ and at the end of the day, shouldn’t we all treat each other with respect and decency, whether online or not? 

You can also listen to Mary Beard talking about the abuse on Woman’s Hour here. Please be aware that the clip contains graphic language.

-Sinny Cheung
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, January 25, 2013

So you want to be an Archaeologist

Dig the Past Sarasota-9
Young girl digging
Photo: Darrell J. Rohl

Do you love history? And camping? Then archaeology could be the career for you!

Archaeology is the study of human history (and prehistory) through the excavation of sites and examination of artifacts. Without archaeology, we would know very little about the past and our museums would be practically empty. Although there are some aspects of history that we can learn from written sources, or standing structures, the beginnings of agriculture or development of towns and cities would be a mystery to us. We would know nothing at all about our prehistory without archaeology.

What does an archaeologist actually do, though? Well, a lot! I find that when I mention archaeology to most people, they tend to think of Indiana Jones, who is awesome but sadly not a very good archaeologist. Archaeology can take you to some amazing places but if you barged in the way Indy does, I’m afraid you would cause a lot of upset!

In reality, archaeology is a painstaking and sometimes tedious job. Archaeologists can spend days, weeks, months, even years working on one site, carefully digging through dirt to uncover layers of history. This kind of methodological approach is essential to preserve the all-important context, which is what allows archaeologists to date each layer they are working on. Simply smashing through the earth destroys context; you may retrieve a beautiful artifact, but you will know nothing else about it!

So, how can you get into archaeology? The first thing to do is to check your local area for archaeology digs. There are many amateur archaeology groups who are always looking for volunteers! This link gives details for some digs going on worldwide. Some will limit their participants to university students but others are happy to take on any willing volunteer.

You can pursue archaeology as a hobby by joining a local group. However, if you want to go for a career in archaeology, you will need to complete a specialist degree. Many universities have archaeology programs, most of which do require that you complete some field work experience during the summer holidays, so if you already have contacts in the archaeological community, that can only help!

I mentioned camping at the start of this post; some archaeologists spend a great deal of time outside on digs, in all weather conditions. If this doesn’t sound like it’s for you, there are still other areas in archaeology that might be. These include:
  • Lab work (such as examining botanical human, animal and material culture artifacts and remains)
  • Teaching in universities
  • Working in museums as conservators to look after archaeological collections
  • Working with local planning authorities to make decisions for building and road development
  • Maritime and marine archaeology – especially if diving is your thing!

As you can see, as a sector, archaeology offers a wide variety of employment so it can be a very rewarding career. Unfortunately, jobs can be hard to come by, especially in the current economic climate of so many countries. If archaeology is something you are truly passionate about however, I believe that it can be a very rewarding and exciting career to have!

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Roe vs Wade: 40 years on

AP Photos

On January 22nd, 1973, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision on the issue of abortion. In the case of Roe vs Wade, the Court ruled that the right to privacy should be extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The case ignited the abortion debate, cementing the two opposing arguments that are still debated today; pro-life vs pro-choice.

The “Roe” in the case was in fact a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, a single mother from Dallas, Texas, who wanted to terminate her third pregnancy. Under Texas law at the time, abortion was banned except in the cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life.  James Hallford, a doctor, filed a complaint alongside Jane Roe, arguing that under the law’s unclear provisions it was difficult to determine whether a patient was eligible for an abortion under the law.

The case went to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled seven to two to overturn the law. The same day, a separate decision was made that allowed states the right to restrict abortion access for later term pregnancies.

40 years after these decisions, the debate still rages on. Despite various initiatives in the US that attempt to restrict women’s reproductive rights, a recent poll has found that for the first time, most Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

Roe vs Wade is about far more than just abortion: it is seen as a landmark in the history of women’s rights.  Abortion is tied up inextricably with reproductive rights as a whole, and these rights are an extremely important part of any woman’s life. The ability to decide when and how many children to have (if any) allows women greater opportunities including better education and the ability to found a strong career and gain financial independence.

The 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade was marked by both pro-choice and pro-life activists, with the National Organization for Women issuing a statement reaffirming their commitment to supporting abortion rights, and  Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback presenting an argument at a Capitol Rally to support the “extinguishment of abortion rights in the United States.” Neither side has any intention of backing down; it may be that in another 40 years time, Roe vs Wade will be just as hotly-debated as it is today.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inaugural platitudes and goals

President Obama's second inaugural address, January 21st, 2013.
PBS NewsHour

As we wrote back in November, history was made with the US election. It was solidified on Sunday, January 20th when President Obama was sworn in for his second term as US President in a private ceremony at the White House (the Constitution requires that a president begins his term by noon on January 20th). Oddly enough, after taking the oath of office publicly again on Monday, President Obama is, along with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president to have been sworn into office four times. Obama was also sworn in twice for his first term, as Chief Justice John Roberts made a mistake in the oath of office, and so they repeated it shortly afterwards "out of an abundance of caution."

Inaugural speeches are often bipartisan and full of hope for the future while recalling elements of the past. In that sense, Obama's speech was no different, but he made history in another way. Seemingly small but very meaningful, President Obama said
We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
In referencing the suffrage movement (the Seneca Falls convention) and the black civil rights movement (the Selma to Montgomery marches), President Obama lent real political weight to the gay rights movement by including the Stonewall riots, which are generally considered the start of the modern gay rights movement. In mentioning Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech, President Obama effectively said that enough is enough, and reminded people of another famous quote from Dr. King:
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
Obama went on to directly mention our need for gay rights, but he did not limit his speech to that. He also mentioned climate change, immigration, and the Newtown shooting. Through a speech filled with platitudes, on Monday the President set out his goals for his final term in office. Simply speaking, those goals are equality and fairness for all, safety and security for all, and the right to health and a healthy environment. Now, he's back to business, trying to make those things happen.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bathroom Confessions...Answered

The encouraging response to our bathroom confessions. (Imgur)

Before Twitter, Facebook, and all those other sites, there was the bathroom wall or stall door. Growing up, it was where I wrote out my hopes, dreams, frustrations, and – more often than not – my deepest, darkest secrets.  

I’d hide in the stall, crying about things I feared telling anyone, so I told the bathroom wall. I never got a response, not in the four years of using the same stall in high school or to the ones left at random supermarkets or gas stations. It was just a way to make myself feel momentarily better. And it gave me hope that maybe, somehow, the Universe would hear me and answer.

I was reminded of my youth when, on January 13, a Reddit user posted a photo of another’s response  to postings like mine. The response, written on notepaper, was taped to a stall door in a university bathroom. The photo quickly went viral, striking a chord with girls throughout the world who, like me, found solace in bathroom graffiti.

The anonymous note addressed girls who had struggled with rape, eating disorders, family problems, and death. Yet most of all, it gave them hope, stating, “To all of you (including those I did not mention, and those who have not yet written)

You are worthy.
You are strong.
You are brave.
You are loved.
Somebody cares.”

Perhaps no greater message can be sent to girls than the one posted on that bathroom wall. It’s the message that most of us are taught from day one, but frequently ignore. It was one I didn’t learn until my mid-twenties, after I had let others make me feel unworthy, weak, cowardly, and unloved. And yet it was the one I should have remembered all along, as those were the traits that got me from the bathroom stall to where I am today.

After generations of posting on stall doors, praying that the silent plea would be answered by the Universe, two words summed up all that ever needed to be said to any girl walking into the bathroom with a downtrodden look: “Somebody cares.”

-Tiffany Rhoades
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Inspirational Girls: Hermione Granger

Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
Illustration by Mary GrandPre.

Since the Harry Potter phenomenon began in 1997 the series has sold over 450 million copies.  Many readers from my generation grew up with the series, and for girls, Hermione Granger has been a role model.  I began reading the series at age 8.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione were just a bit older than me, but I still felt that I could relate to these three characters.  Especially Hermione.

In the beginning of the series, Hermione comes off as a know-it-all.  But soon, she learns how to use her brains for good as she repeatedly helps to save her friends, her school, and the whole wizarding world.  Hermione’s character shows girls that it is good to be smart and ambitious in school.  I have always looked up to her for this.  But there is so much more to Hermione’s character than her incredible brain power.

In addition to her intelligence, Hermione is a loyal friend and daughter.  This is another great message for young girls.  Friends should stick by one another, even in the darkest times.  Hermione had no obligation to leave school (her passion) to help her friends fight evil, but her dedication to their friendship was very important.  She cared so much about her parents that she even erased their memories and moved them out of harm’s way, even though it might mean that they would never remember their daughter.  She is also passionate about helping those outside her friends and family—she worked hard to free enslaved house elves when she felt they were treated unfairly.

Throughout the seven books in the Harry Potter series Hermione’s actions teach countless lessons in bravery, loyalty, and intelligence.  Though she is a fictional character, Hermione is a great role model for young girls.  I think that author JK Rowling developed Hermione’s character the way she did for the purpose of inspiring girls to rise to their full potential.  I know that the books positively impacted my life as a little girl as I strove to be clever and passionate like Miss Granger.  Hermione says it best herself (in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone): "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and  oh Harry  be careful!"

-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No More Page 3

Page 3 protestors outside The Sun Headquarters, London
Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

The Sun is the most widely circulated newspaper in the United Kingdom, and has the tenth largest circulation globally. In March 2012 its average daily circulation was over two and a half million copies. It is the paper that is found at breakfast tables, on trains and buses, and in waiting rooms. Yet, although it markets itself as a family newspaper, what is most commonly associated with The Sun is Page 3: a daily image of a young woman posing topless. When I say young, I mean young. Samantha Fox, voted best ever Page 3 girl, was just 16 when she appeared in the paper alongside the headline “Sam, 16, Quits A-Levels for Ooh-Levels.” What message does this send out to people, particularly the young girls and boys who may be picking up their parents’ newspapers? That it is okay to ogle girls and women? That this is how your body should look? Or maybe that you should give up your education and aspire to do the same as Sam?

Join the campaign to end Page 3

Lucy Anne Holmes feels so passionately about this issue that she has started the campaign No More Page 3, appealing to The Sun editor Dominic Mohan to remove the topless images from the newspaper. During the Olympics, Holmes bought a copy of The Sun and was pleasantly surprised not to see the usual bare breasts on Page 3. That was until she reached page 13 and saw “a beautiful young woman in just her pants.” It made her sad. Not just that it was still included in the newspaper, but also because this was the largest image of any woman in the issue–bigger than that of Jessica Ennis who had just won a gold medal for Team GB. Again, what is this saying to people? And not only that, but what is it doing to people and their attitude to women? A submission on the Everyday Sexism website is from a woman who recalls “sitting on a bus, aged 14, in her school uniform, alongside a middle-aged man who was looking at Page 3. He turned to her chest, and remarked: ‘I wouldn't worry – with tits like yours, they're not going to ask you to pose.’” This is one of many, many stories. Following #NoMorePage3 on Twitter makes for shocking reading and it is clear that this is something which many people, not just woman, feel strongly about.

Page 3 is inherently sexist. Holmes believes that it trivialises woman and promotes them as nothing more than sex objects for the “sexual gratification of men.” Anna Van Heeswijk, CEO of Object, states “Page 3 was launched in 1970, when there was no equality legislation, sexual harassment wasn't recognised in law, and rape in marriage was legal. It’s now 2012. Isn't it time we got rid of this form of sexism from our press?” Incredibly, although the campaign was started in September 2012, The Sun has continued with this year’s Page 3 Idol contest, it’s annual feature to discover the next addition to its “beauties.” Action needs to be taken now. Join the fight, help to stop media sexism and end Page 3 by signing the petition.

-Sinny Cheung
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The disappearance of the female presenter from CBBC

Jean Morton with the koala puppets. The Tingha and Tucker fanclub attracted 750,000 members.
Photograph: ITV/Rex

A couple of days of catching the remaining minutes of children’s television and I began to notice that I had seen no female presenters, so I looked into it further. I found they have no regular female presenters heading up the CBBC Office and have not had any since 2008! It seems I am not the only person to have noticed a decline in female children’s television presenters either; the issue was looked into in 2008 and it was found that across the main children’s television programmes on the BBC, men were the primary anchors.

Rewind 20 years to the 90s and CBBC was awash with women – Philippa Forrester, Zoe Ball, Anthea Turner, Kirsten O’Brien, Angellica Bell to name but a few. There have been some fantastic female children’s TV presenters in the past, including Floella Benjamin who presented Play School in 1976 and Valarie Singleton of Blue Peter; Why then would CBBC let the possibility of finding this kind of talent disappear?

The current format of CBBC harks back to the days of the Broom Cupboard where there is one main presenter and a puppet. Perhaps this is the reason why there are no female presenters to be seen–do they think women cannot work with puppets? I have done some research and found only one female presenter that has worked with puppets–Jean Morton–who presented children’s television in the 60s alongside koala puppets Tingha and Tucker and was extremely successful at it. Let us hope that CBBC looks to some of its programmes of the past and present (Blue Peter for example) and remind themselves that women have been and still should be a vital part of children’s television.

-Emma Hatherall
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Girl in Lesbos (Ancient Greece)

Reverie a.k.a. In the Days of Sappho (1904), by John William Godward
Wikimedia Commons

If you had a time machine, where would you go? Where–and when–was the best time in history to be a girl? As a lover of Ancient Greek history, I have often found myself intrigued by Sappho and her school on Lesbos.

For most girls in Ancient Greece, life was a preparation for their future as wives and housekeepers. A girl's existence was constructed entirely around their male relatives, particularly her father, and later her husband. Her education was largely informal and dedicated to learning how to maintain a household. If she were to learn how to read and write, it was so she could teach her future sons their letters, and not for her own benefit. 

Life for many girls in ancient Greece was constricted, designed entirely around their future roles as wives and mothers. Education for boys however, focused on training the mind, body and soul – that sounds much more fun! Was there anywhere in Greece where girls could find a more nuanced education?

One place may have been the island of Lesbos, the home of Sappho, the most famous female poet in ancient Greece. Despite her fame, we know very little about her and her poems, as only fragments remain. From these fragments, we can tell that most of her poems appear to focus on the relationships between the women who congregated in the town of Mylitene on the island. This concentration on female relations has led to speculation that Sappho’s interest in women was not strictly platonic – in fact the word “lesbian” comes from the name of Sappho’s home island.

So, what was this community of women living on Lesbos? Unfortunately, the historical record doesn’t tell us much. It has often been described as a kind of girls' school, perhaps akin to a finishing school, where young girls learnt how to sing, write poems, and dance before being married. However, this may be an attempt by Victorian scholars to place Sappho’s community of women in a context that made sense to their world view.

There has been some suggestion that the community had religious connotations, as some of Sappho’s poems describe religious rites. Groups of people bound together by religious bonds existed in Greece at the time, such as the Sacred Band of Thebes, the elite force in the Theban army consisting entirely of male lovers. Some religious festivals such as the Thesmophoria placed women at their centre, with rites and rituals that were a mystery to non-members. Perhaps Sappho’s school was a similar institution.

We may never know exactly what exactly the community of women of Lesbos was or what happened to the girls who lived there, but it does seem that here was a place where girls were encouraged to be creative and learn from the older women living there. Even if the point of this education was still marriage, girls were taught more than just the basic household chores of weaving and supervising servants. As well as learning songs and dances, there was the opportunity to meet and form bonds with women from all over Greece; I hope that life on Lesbos offered a much more interesting and fulfilling education for those girls!

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Help Stop Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has been discussed as one of Girl Museum's primary issues that face girls today since we were founded in 2009. With the opening of our exhibition, Girl for Sale, in 2011, we have been engaged in trying to stem this seemingly unstoppable tide. Today, January 11, is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Do something meaningful to educate yourself, your family and your friends about this modern day slavery – a billion dollar business. Visit our Girl for Sale exhibition to learn more. Read President Obama’s proclamation of January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Talk about it with your children.

Check our these nonprofits to see how you can help:

 Here is a recent Public Radio International program on the girl trafficking in India.

Together we can change the world and save these girls.

-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Resolutions and Self-Esteem

Jo Swinson started campaigning on the issue of body image anxiety long before she entered government.
Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Well, it’s January and that means one thing: detox time! That is if you believe the magazines which are currently full of detoxing and dieting tips. The sight of magazine covers promising health, vitality andmost of allthinness, feels as familiar in January as Christmas trees do in December.

I can only hold up my hands in despair. It is all so dull. The same narrative, every single year. December is a time of festivities for most people, so maybe it’s not surprising that people use January as a time to get back, or start, on the treadmill, improve their diet, or otherwise make improvements to their life. There isn’t anything wrong with that, of course, provided these are genuine lifestyle changes and not a quick fix or fad to squeeze yourself into a particular model. The issue I have with women’s magazines is that the image they perpetuate is of a particular type. Jo Swinson, the UK’s Equalities Minister has recently criticised the media for focusing on this “so-called ideal which is very, very slim, generally very, very young as well.”

In the same interview however, Swinson called on women to do more to help each other ignore media pressure to be thin, saying that “when your sister or your friend is standing there and moaning about whether she looks really fat, and actually she looks gorgeous, tell her so and support each other. Very often this kind of criticism, and self-criticism, is something which goes unchallenged and I think there's a resolution there for everyone to challenge that default setting.”

Very often? Really? I can’t recall a single time being in a group of women and myself or someone else making a comment about how fat or unattractive they are without it being challenged. Sometimes these conversations turn into a positive affirmation of how we all rock; other times it can develop into a bit of a shame spiral. “You think your thighs are chunky? Check these out!” and so on.  Obviously, this kind of talk is extremely unhelpful, but I’m not sure that that is quite what Swinson is talking about.

Women definitely need to support each other and remind themselves that being a little bit chubby after Christmas really isn’t the end of the world, but I’m not sure that Swinson is right in her belief that women just accept self-criticism from other women. In any case, if you are embarking on any kind of detox program this January, I hope that you are doing so with a genuine wish to improve your health and not as a quick-fix.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hail to the young activists

Martha Payne with children of Lirangwe Primary School in Malawi.

As a follow-up to my previous post and a farewell to last year, I would like to highlight another brave girl's activity with charity. Martha Payne was introduced via this space earlier in 2012; this time around her name is mentioned on account of her solid work towards a school feeding project in Malawi. The nine year old schoolgirl from Scotland manages a popular blog with an estimated readership of more than eight million people, where she presents and criticizes the quality in school meals. Having decided to use this publicity wisely, she teamed up with a local charity called Mary’s Meals and launched a fundraising campaign aiming at feeding impoverished children. The numbers look very favorable, as the donations from her followers are over £125,000 so far.
In October Martha paid a visit to Africa to attend the opening of her school kitchen in Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre, Malawi. The kitchen was set up by Mary’s Meals and was funded by her fans. It will feed almost 2,000 children every day for a year serving nourishing high-protein porridge.

The chain of events that followed is nothing but encouraging. Watching Martha’s effort is what inspired a woman in the UK to send a donation catering for the yearly meals at a school in Malawi. It’s difficult not to get attached to Martha’s passion and vision. A pure thought led to better nutrition for so many students. With a full stomach, children are free to learn and education becomes viable.

-Magda Repouskou
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Memories of Girlhood: Mathematical Aptitudes and Attitudes

Does the gender gap in math still exist?

I’m a straight-up humanities gal. I discreetly pull out my phone to calculate taxi tips. I’m not proud of this fact, and it’s one I’d like to someday change. 

My most recent calculator episode inspired a walk down Memory Lane to when I was a math all-star. Middle school through high school, I excelled in math at all levels. True, it took an immense amount of energy—thinking, studying, practicing, going in early/staying late to see teachers. But once I got it, I really got it.  

I distinctly remember my middle school algebra class. I had an amazing female teacher who seemed like the greatest math whiz. I was ready to rock to her funky math beat. But then, as the semester wore on, something broke my stride. A boy in my class started making fun of me. He rolled his eyes every time I’d raise my hand. He’d make fun of me on the bus ride home for my ‘stupid’ questions. So I started to clam up. Not sure why, since the teacher hadn’t suggested she was annoyed with me and my grades certainly didn’t suggest any problem. Indeed, I believe my scores were on-par with, if not better than, those of this male comrade. Funny how that goes.

I am forever grateful that my teacher called me out on my silence. She wanted to know why a precocious student scoring 98% was audibly absent. I reluctantly explained the situation. She fumed. Without going into much detail, my male companion’s negative stream dried up and I resumed my active class participation.

I just looked up some articles about the math gender gap, and what I found doesn’t surprise me. It seems as though any great difference in performance is more a symptom of culture rather than brain capacity. A Barbie that says, “Math class is TOUGH!” quickly followed by, “Do you have a crush on anyone?” explains a lot. Granted, girls and boys do think differently. This can certainly impact performance on test scores. But does that mean one is better suited for math than the other? No. It means one may be better suited for certain applications of math. But putting any boundaries on either gender is dangerous.

I can’t imagine what type of person I would have become if my teacher hadn’t stood up for me and made a point that such gender-based bullying in academics would not be tolerated. When I visited my high school a few years ago, another impassioned, female math teacher told me it doesn’t matter that I didn’t stick with math in the long run. I worked hard and found joy in learning, irrespective of others. Maybe part of my preference for reading and writing is embedded in my DNA, but I’m guessing most of it is character and choice. I just hope more girls will define their character and make this sort of choice based on their own desires, unbounded by the stunting boundaries of preconceptions.

-K. Sarah Ostrach
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Charity is never a bad idea

Eight year-old charity campaigner Katie Davies.

As a new year begins, it’s time to regroup and reflect on the little things that can be ameliorated by tiny adjustments. Owing to the economic woes worldwide, the act of giving may not be the first priority in people’s lives, but it’s such a relief to see that it’s still a viable practice for so man, regardless age or status. There is a whole new perspective to the meaning of charity itself, seeing that in former years there was an often negative--even degrading--perception of the taker. Our times call for immediate action, so charity missions are sought after deeds with diverse causes.

It’s impressive, let alone inspirational, to watch children organizing such campaigns. In the case of Katie Davies there are more reasons for admiration. The eight year old girl from Essex, UK went on to create a video so as to encourage her fellow pupils to donate for Canine Partners. What provoked her fundraising initiative was seeing the assistance and comforts that Sailor the Golden Retriever gave to her aunt's severe neurological condition. Because of the assistance Sailor and Canine Partners provided for her aunt, Katie chose to raise money for Canine Partners and launched an appeal to her peers. Her example is remarkable and proves that a big statement can come out even from experiences that are standing on doorstep. Her mum describes her as 'normally shy,' but I would go with incredibly bold. My resolution for the forthcoming year is to follow Katie's lead and put my energy and heart to an intimate vision.

Girl Museum is still raising money to 'house our new quarters,' so if you're interested in helping out, please do!

-Magda Repouskou
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Exploring Family History

Hillary’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Frantiska Kadrmas. Not much is known of her life because history so often focuses on men.

During the holiday season many families spend extra time together. As multiple generations gather, it is the perfect time to exchange stories. As a young girl I was always interested in hearing stories from my grandparents and great grandparents. Now that I am older I am especially glad that I took the time to listen and learn. One of my favorite things to learn about from my older relatives is our family tree.

Looking into your ancestry can be an exciting journey that can be shared with the whole family. I found many interesting stories in my family tree, which I was able to trace back as far at 54 AD! During my research I found that it was difficult to find information on women and girls. Now I know that patrilineal descent patterns are much more common, and also easier to trace because the surname is usually passed on, but I was still shocked to find so little information about the females in my family.  So, I went on a search for the HERstory in my family history.  Hopefully I will be able to find out more about the lives of my female ancestors.

I hope that girls spend time with their older relatives this holiday season and learn more about their past. When those older generations are gone, a rich history often dies with them. I especially encourage girls to find out more about their female relatives and ancestors, so that their stories can be passed on to future generations. Stories from girls are just as important as those from boys, so let’s make sure not to lose them.

-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.