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, August 29, 2013

Be Awesome: "Girls Will Be" is Changing Girls’ Fashion, One Tee at a Time

"Be Awesome:" Now that is a message to send to young girls!

Earlier this year, I wrote about how Black Widow might want to stir things up at Marvel over their new line of Avengers t-shirts. I’m happy to say that at least one company had the same problems with girls clothing that I have.

Yes, girls' clothes are cute, and there's nothing wrong with the pink and frilly nature of most of it. Unless, like me, you were a tomboy and wore a boy's Superman costume because they didn't make a decent superhero costume for little girls. Then, shopping becomes a nightmare: go with the pink and frilly that fits right, or do I just hit the boys section and disappear under my clothes?

Girls Will Be is out to change that by making girl clothes "without the girly."  The founders, a trio of siblings that wanted to address the interests their daughters had that weren't stereotypically "girly," believe that girls should have more options to express their individuality.  

Going beyond pink, embellishments, and imagery, Girls Will Be makes clothes that are made for girls' bodies with slimmer fit and shorter sleeves, but also address interests and hobbies that are more traditionally aligned with boys.  As stated on their website 

Clothes are one way kids express themselves, which is why it is so important for girls to see more options! So no girl ever thinks something is wrong if she doesn't like what girls are "supposed" to wear. Or stops liking something because she only sees it on boy clothes. We want all girls to be able to find clothes that reflect who they are and what they like. Because there is more than one way to be a girl!

I haven't been able to choose my favorite just yet. There’s the "Shark Attack" shirt, with sharks of all different types, or the "Blast Off" shuttle shirt, or a blue tee that says, "bold, daring, fearless adventurous, so many things."  

Unfortunately, they don’t come in my size yet.  But that's tomorrow's battle!

-Tiffany Piotti
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy Women's Equality Day


Take some time to think about what equality means to you— for yourself, your family and your community.

What does equality look like? Do you see it?

How does having the right to vote make our lives better, easier?

What have we done with this supposed equality?

Being able to vote doesn’t make women equal in society, but it is a step. 

Actual equality is something in the future. It has to be fought for every day. 
And it won't be easy to get...or keep. 

But we must keep trying.

-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, August 23, 2013

So you want to be a Journalist

A reporter interviewing a protester outside Calgary's U.S. consulate.
Photo by Robert Thivierge

In the last few weeks a number of female journalists have been attacked on Twitter, apparently for committing the crime of . . . well, being a female journalist. It's a horrible thing to see happening and I hope there are no girls watching what's happening and being put off from entering what I believe is a truly exciting and inspiring industry.

This is a somewhat personal topic for me as I have recently taken a career change into journalism. I quit my job (which was terrifying) and began a fast-track course to gain my journalism qualification. This diploma is given by the National Council of Trained Journalist (NCTJ), which is the leading journalism body in the UK. The course taught us shorthand, media law, public affairs, sub-editing, and design, as well as how to write better. It was intense and at times overwhelming, but definitely one of the best things I've ever done.

You can of course take a degree in journalism, or get some work experience on your local paper: if you're in school or college or university, there may be a school paper you can join–or even start yourself! All of these are great routes into the profession. It's really up to you (and your personal circumstances) how you choose to go about it.

That said, here are five tips on what I think are the best journalist skills to develop–and why being a journalist can be so rewarding!

Be curious–this is so important! A journalist is someone who wants to know what's going on. Nosiness is perhaps a negative way of looking at it, but there can definitely be positives. Good journalism can expose corruption, or highlight a good cause or an amazing story. If you're fascinated by other people and other ways of living, journalism helps you feed that curiosity.

Networking–as an introvert, networking often fills me with dread. But it is so essential in journalism, and really, all it means is getting to know people. If you're curious, this is made so much easier! Just let your natural curiosity loose and try to shrug off any nerves you have and just talk to people. It's that easy. Ask them questions about themselves, and see if there's any way you can help each other.

Social media–so many journalism jobs want "digitally savvy" young people. So, if you're already a proficient Facebooker and Tweeter, you’re well on your way! Journalists are expected to engage their audience on these platforms as well–you may well find yourself being paid to be on Twitter! Living the dream . . . .

Shorthand–this has constantly been hammered into my brain as THE essential skill for journalists. It's a faster writing system than longhand and it definitely impresses people if you know it. Of course, you can use Dictaphones and recorders for interviews, but in some circumstance, tape recorders won't be appropriate. For example, under UK law, no recording devices can be used in a court room, or, horror of horrors, your recorder might run out of power. Having shorthand as a backup at least can be very useful.
However, it is hard to learn. It requires constant daily practice, to the point where you can't hear people speaking without imagining the shorthand outline in your head. It's like learning a secret journalist code–nobody else will be able to read what you've written as even if you know shorthand, it can be hard to read other people's versions of it. If you're serious about going into journalism, shorthand is definitely worth starting ASAP.

Write, write, write–even if it's just your diary, writing a little something everyday has helped me hugely. I find that sometimes blank pages are a little overwhelming; it's hard to know where to begin. The best advice I can give when that happens is just to start writing, even if it's nonsense that you’ll want to go back and delete. Writing about anything helps. You could be writing about what you had for breakfast or writing a blog on politics–trust me, anything will help you. 

Journalism is an exciting and important career–you can literally be the voice of the people. I hope more girls will take up this profession and add their voices to public debates.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Liberty Bodice

1925 advertisment for the Liberty Bodice
Image courtesy of Flickr User Louise

As much as I love period dramas, I sometimes think that being a woman in Victorian England would have been, well, mildly perilous. Being a child certainly seems to have been a time that could be fraught with dangers: sickness, being forced to work in inhumane conditions in factories or up chimneys, and, perhaps the least of these concerns, having to wear a corset and huge hooped skirt.

Although I do like the look of Victorian dress, I'm very grateful I don't have to wear clothes like that all the time. I rather like being able to breathe without restrictions and fainting is just no fun. I'm especially glad that I didn't have to wear those clothes as a girl.

Until the late 19th century, however, little girls would have been dressed much like their mothers, wearing corded bands from infancy to "train" their growing bodies into a good posture. From as early as ten, girls would begin wearing shaped bodices as a kind of preparation for a full corset.

So what changed? Well, it seems that the idea of allowing your child to play and be active became more popular and it was nearly impossible for them to do so whilst bound up in their clothes. Manufacturers soon caught on to the changing mood, and thus the Liberty Bodice was created.

By today's standards, the Liberty Bodice was far from liberating. It was a fleecy knitted vest with rubber buttons, re-enforced cotton tapes, and buttons to attach to drawers and stockings. The rubber buttons could become increasingly difficult to do up as they hardened over time, the bands could feel restrictive, and attaching the bodice to stockings could leave the wearer feeling as though they had been mummified.

Still, it was clearly much better than what has come before. Although changes in clothing styles may seem shallow, they can actually represent greater societal change. The move to free children from restrictive clothing represented the move to start regarding childhood as separate and distinct from adulthood.

As adults we may wear uncomfortable clothing for a variety of reasons–fashion, work, etc.–but the clothing we give to children is generally comfortable, easy to put on and clean. We want to give our children space to grow, both literally and figuratively. That is definitely a reason to be glad to be born now, and not a century ago.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inspirational Girls: Evanna Lynch

Evanna Lynch, receiving a signed copy of Harry Potter while battling anorexia in the hospital.

Brave Enough to be Me: Evanna Lynch

As a young girl, some of my greatest role models came from books: Jo March from Little Women, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, and Kristy Thomas from The Babysitters Club. These characters helped me meet the challenges of growing up. 

The same could be said for Evanna Lynch, who is best known as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movie series. Evanna's inspiration, however, wasn't just about personality. It was about strength and self-love.

Evanna Lynch recently admitted to having been diagnosed with anorexia, a severe eating disorder, by the age of 11. In an interview with BANG Showbiz, Evanna stated:

I was very tormented and, eventually I was just like, 'I hate this, I don't want to be this person any more.' My 'Harry Potter' character Luna really inspired me, I thought, 'I really wanna be someone like that.'
 It shaped me. I had to learn how to channel it. Those eating disorders are so much about you wanting to be perfect and be the perfect size, but I also had to learn it was a very cowardly thing to strive to be a certain shape.

Because of her love for the Harry Potter books, Evanna wrote to J. K. Rowling asking for advice on her disorder. Rowling wrote back, telling Evanna that anorexia was a destructive, not creative, thing. Rowling also told Evanna that if she got healthy, she could audition to play Luna in the movies.

Taking that advice to heart, Evanna set out to be as much of a role model as Luna. She beat anorexia. She auditioned for and was given the part of Luna Lovegood. She learned that anorexia is about fear and certainties, knowing that you can always lose weight, always remain in control. But that isn't bravery. Bravery is about having the guts to do something that isn't certain.  

In my book, Evanna's journey is just as inspirational as the ones undertaken by Luna, Jo, Elizabeth, and Kristy–only Evanna's a real person. She continues acting, is involved in several non-profits, and is training to be a yoga teacher. Today, Evanna's a lot like Luna: brave enough to be herself, no matter what others think of her.  

-Tiffany Piotti
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Film Review: Wadjda

Official Trailer for Wadjda

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to snag tickets to a Saudi Arabian film featuring on the international film festival circuit this year, Wadjda. I tend to find that film festival movies can be hit or miss, but Wadjda turned out to be entertaining and enlightening, as it is essentially a feminist story filmed in one of the world's most repressive nations.  

Wadjda, the titular character, is a young girl who yearns for a bicycle so she can race her neighbourhood pal, Abdullah. Denied the money she needs by her mother, she adopts various enterprising tactics to earn the funds to secure the shiny, green bike with tasselled handlebars that she glimpses on route to a local toy store one day.        

The simple story can be viewed as a lens to wider, more complex social issues operating in Saudi Arabia currently. For example, Wadjda's desire to own and ride her own bicycle mirrors the larger struggle of Saudi women to be allowed to drive, alluded to through Wadjda's mother's struggles with and reliance on her male driver in the film. 

At a glance this seems like a fairly sweet but simple coming of age film. The real wonder of Wadjda though is that it is the first movie filmed in Saudi Arabia by a female director. In a country where women are denied many rights and cinema is illegal, this is no mean feat! Director, Haifaa al Mansour approached her project with the advantages of a foreign education and the backing of a progressive member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. However, she was still constrained by the gender politics of her homeland which forced her to direct scenes via walkie-talkie from the back of a van to avoid being seen in public with male cast and crew members in more conservative areas. Tellingly, despite the rave reviews the film has garnered in Western nations, it is yet to secure a release date in a Muslim country. 

Wadjda is nothing like the oppressed, pious, and shrouded girl many westerners would expect from a young female Saudi Arabian character. She is smart, sassy, and sarcastic–a new girl heroine!  

-Briar Barry
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Girl in the Asia Minor Catastrophe

Common meal for Asia Minor refugees in Mytilene, Greece.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the newly established Greece and the Turkish National Movement found themselves in conflict over territory in Asia Minor. The dispute led to the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and ended with the Great Fire of Smyrna. The resolution was given by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which provided the political and diplomatic context for an exchange of polulations among the two warring parties. Of course, both sides are to blame for many atrocities on behalf of their troops at the expense of refugees and innocent civilians. In the case of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, although historians have used much ink, few of the central individuals found the strength and courage to recall the actual facts. Ninety years later and the reckoning of those days remains as vigorous as scary. Museum exhibitions are still devoted to this scope in an attempt to interpret the tragic events in a wider and more humanistic approach. Many books, essays, songs, and films also narrated the uprooting and the crimes of violence.

At first, the main core of refugees, a figure of more than 1,250,000 people, settled in Attica and Macedonia. The adaptation was not an easy process, even though the Asia Minor Greeks came bearing a strong cultural and vocational background. The main traits that contributed in attaining a coherent self-identity among the newcomers was the power of religious faith and the common place of origin. The period of adjustment was a long-term procedure, one that presupposed social inclusion and interaction with local communities. Everyday living in the refugee settlements was harsh, whereas access to care and employment became a difficult task. But the hard-working spirit and  the business creativity of the refugees turned out into valuable assets that contributed to the expansion of the Greek economy.

What would it be for a girl to experience all this horror? The terror of getting expelled, abandoning homeland and becoming a refugee? 
Years later my grandmother told us that she went to wash her face in a fountain in the courtyard of their house and then she made up her mind to leave. They started loading the family belongings in an ox-drawn wagon (araba) but the neighbors started putting their belongings there as well so they could take very little. Eugenia wrapped their gold coins around the bodies of her two daughters as a place less likely to be found by bandits. It was a very hot August day and the whole Greek population of the town started walking West.
From Theo Pavlidis' History of a Family from Asia Minor

Because the word 'refugee' was loaded with negative meaning in the early days, many families chose to send their children to private schools so that they wouldn't be stigmatized in such a sensitive age. The Asia Minor Greeks' tradition included several customs, like the dowry for newborn girls or the equal sharing of the property between boys and girls after the death of the parents (which was not the norm at that time in mainland Greece). Girls were usually married by the age of fifteen years-old and the matchmaking was only a measure of reinforcement in women that passed the age of twenty five years-old. Women played a significant part in the working force of the Asia Minor Greeks and chiefly occupied places in the ready-made clothing industry. Female clothing of the urban class was predominantly influenced by the western and royal standards, while the absence of corset is a significant detail that reflects the liberation of women.

When it comes to the Asia Minor Greeks, there are so many cultural paradigms one can admire. And it looks like the children that survived then managed to pass them on to the future generations. Nothing is wasted after all.

For more information, read Renee Hirschorn's Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus.

-Magda Repouskou
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Guest Blog: 'Fat Talk' Compels but Carries a Cost

Dr. Alexandra F. Corning is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame, where she researches eating disorders and body image problems. Specifically, her research focuses on adolescent girls and preventing the development of eating disorders and their related symptoms before they get out of control. Her research lab has been conducting interventions and working with the mothers of middle school aged girls, as well as looking into the social processes that contribute to eating disorders.

Jan Hoffman, a staff writer for the New York Times who regularly reports on adolescents, picked up on Dr. Corning's research into the negative consequences of women and girls engaging in "fat talk," and wrote about it for the New York Times here. With Dr. Corning's permission, we're republishing it here.

'Fat Talk' Compels but Carries a Cost
By Jan Hoffman

Ken Orvidas
Over winter break, Carolyn Bates, a college senior, and a friend each picked out five pairs of jeans at a Gap store in Indianapolis and eagerly tried them on. But the growing silence in their separate fitting rooms was telling. At last, one friend called out, “Dang it, these fit everywhere but my thighs! I wish my legs weren’t so huge.” The response: “My pair is way too long. I need to be taller or skinnier!”

The young women slumped out of the store, feeling lousy.

This exchange is what psychological researchers call “fat talk,” the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women. It’s a bonding ritual they describe as “contagious,” aggravating poor body image and even setting the stage for eating disorders. Some researchers have found that fat talk is so embedded among women that it often reflects not how the speaker actually feels about her body but how she is expected to feel about it.

And while research shows that most women neither enjoy nor admire fat talk, it compels them. In one study, 93 percent of college women admitted to engaging in it.

Alexandra F. Corning, a research associate professor in psychology at the University of Notre Dame, wondered whether a woman’s size would affect her likability when she engaged in fat talk. As an online experiment, Dr. Corning showed 139 undergraduates photos of two thin and two overweight women, each making either a positive or negative remark about her body.

Because of the stigma against heavier people, Dr. Corning expected that the most popular option would be a thin woman who made positive comments about her body. But she found that wasn’t the case.

The most likable woman chosen by the students was overweight and quoted as saying: “I know I’m not perfect, but I love the way I look. I know how to work with what I’ve got, and that’s all that matters.”

The results were heartening, Dr. Corning said, a glimmer that nearly two decades of positive body-image campaigns may be taking hold.

But, she acknowledged, her experiment had limitations. “Are the students really liking these women the most? Or are they saying it because they think they should?” said Dr. Corning. “They might like them more, but would they really want to hang out with them?”

Renee Engeln, who directs the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University, cautioned that “we have complicated reactions to confident women in general, and particularly to women who are confident about their bodies. Women sometimes see them as arrogant.”

Fat talk has insinuated itself among men, too, Dr. Engeln added, though it is far less frequent than with women. In addition, men are more likely to place emphasis on different issues, like muscular bulk or being too thin, something women rarely fret about, she said.

But putting a stop to fat talk is difficult. Dr. Corning said, in part because it feels airless and scripted and seems to offer the responder no avenue to change the dynamic without threatening the relationship. She gave an example:

First friend: “I can’t believe I ate that brownie. I am so fat!”

Second friend: “You must be joking — you are so not fat. Just look at my thighs.”

The second friend’s reply, an “empathetic” self-deprecating retort to maintain the friendship on equal standing, includes reflexive praise of the first friend’s body, supposedly feeding the first friend’s hungry cry for affirmation, Dr. Corning said. But to do so, the second friend has eviscerated herself, a toxic tear-down by comparison.

Dr. Corning said that to break the cycle, a person shouldn’t engage. But particularly for younger women, it’s hard to say something like, “Hey, no negative self-talk!” or “Why do we put ourselves down?”

Instead, for adolescents, she suggested, “Keep it light; it’s not a moment for major social activism. Teenagers can change the topic. They do it all the time.”

Ms. Bates, who recently graduated from Notre Dame, pointed out that “when you focus on clothes and make it about your body, you’ve put your friend in a position where she can’t say anything right. She can’t be honest, because it could come off as hurtful.”

That winter day, as she and her friend drove away from the Gap feeling so deflated, her friend said, “We always get good clothes from that store, but their new pants just don’t ‘get’ us!”

It wasn’t that their bodies didn’t fit the clothes; the clothes didn’t fit their bodies.

Ever since, said Ms. Bates, when the friends try on clothes that don’t fit, their go-to remark has become, “This doesn’t get me!” And, taking a cue from the positive-image primer, they leave it at that.

A version of this article appeared in print on 05/28/2013, on page D4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: ‘Fat Talk’ Carries a Cost.

For more information on Dr. Corning's research, check out the University of Notre Dame's Body Image and Eating Disorder Research.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Is there such a thing as an innocent short skirt?

Photo by Flickr user UGArdener

A school in Worcestershire, England, has told its female pupils that from September they will no longer be able to wear skirts, due to concerns from teachers about rising hemlines. According to campaign group School Skirt Ban, 63 secondary schools (teaching children from the age of 11-16) currently have such a ban in place. 

The head teacher at Walkwood Church of England Middle School said that the ban was necessary because some of the older girls were wearing extremely short skirts and refusing to comply with teachers' instructions to roll them down. He added: "It was becoming difficult, especially when it came to them sitting down in the school hall. It was very unladylike."

There are of course practical reasons for enforcing a uniform policy, not least the fact that some studies have shown that wearing a uniform can improve attendance in secondary schools, but bans on certain items of clothing tend to be on clothes worn by girls: specifically, skirts.

School Skirt Bans claims that such rules could actually be illegal under the European Human Rights Act as a form of discrimination. Although no case has been tried in court, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has strongly advised schools against making such a ban for this reason.

Is this discrimination? Or does the head teacher have his pupil's best interests at heart? The fact is that school children will always rebel against their school uniform, and shortening hemlines is an easy way to do this.

A group of twenty parents have complained to the school about the ban, with one saying that "to call a nine-year-old girl unladylike is absurd."

The implication of this is that there is an age limit on sexualisation: that girls under a certain age cannot be considered over-sexualised because they are under an unspecified age. Put like that, it seems contrary to many people's concerns about the over-sexualisation of children, which is precisely that they are too young.

What do you think? Are short skirts a sign of over-sexualisation at any age or is there an age when girls can wear short skirts innocently?

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Memories of Girlhood: Point Horror Books

Photo: Sarah Jackson

Freeze Tag. The Babysitter. Teacher's Pet.

For a lot of people of my generation, those words may well sound familiar: they are titles from Scholastic's Point Horror range of horror stories for young adults. When I was a teenager, my friends and I were fairly obsessed with them: we consumed these books ravenously. We swapped them around and read them over and over again, and although we branched out to some other Scholastic series like the Point Romance range, they never had quite the same allure.

R. L. Stine is probably the most well-known of the Point Horror authors but my favourite was Caroline B. Cooney. Even after I’d grown out of Point Horror, I still remembered The Cheerleader and The Perfume. I couldn’t have said why those stories stayed with me–there was just something about her writing that stuck with me.

Years passed and then one day, whilst browsing in a secondhand bookshop I saw it: The Caroline B. Cooney Collection. All three of her vampire trilogy! Needless to say, I had no choice but to buy it. On a slight nostalgia high I went searching on Amazon and found a 1p copy of The Perfume, which I hastily snapped up and then sent a happy time revisiting my teenage favourites.

(WARNING: Spoilers below!)

In The Cheerleader, lonely Althea accidentally unleashes a vampire who offers Althea what she's always longed for–popularity. In exchange, however, she must provide him with victims. The vampire is, thankfully, not sparkly or tragically misunderstood, and his victims simply become shadows of their former selves rather than being outright killed or turned into vampires. Eventually, Althea chooses to give up her popularity and fight off the vampire, returning to her previously lonely life.

Our heroine in The Perfume, Dove, is a quiet but odd girl who buys a mysterious perfume which apparently unleashes her unborn twin, Wing, who proceeds to take over Dove's body. Of course, Wing is evil–has there ever been a fictional unborn twin who wasn't? Even as a teen I was never quite certain whether Wing was real or a product of Dove’s mental breakdown. In either case, the book ends with Dove fighting Wing off once and for all.

I appreciate that these plots sound incredibly dumb summarised like this, and they will never be literary masterpieces, but in reading them I was suddenly transported back to my teenage years and the connections I had made with their characters. Although I would say I was pretty happy as a teen and had an amazing set of friends, I still understood Althea's craving to be liked and Dove's irrational fears of the outside world.

What I had never considered before was that although both Althea and Dove are initially quite weak-willed, even complicit in the evil that surrounds them, they also realise that they are the only ones who can fight it. With nothing but their own willpower they defeat it. And yet neither of them gets a happy ending. Later books in the Vampire Trilogy reveal that Althea was always thought of as a "weird girl" throughout high school and by the end of The Perfume, Dove has lost her potential boyfriend and all but one of her friends.

The Point Horror series may not have created books of the highest calibre but they were a great introduction for young people into reading, especially reading as a social activity. My friends and I swapped the books and discussed them at great length. Maybe they acted as a stepping stone for us as we progressed into reading Stephen King and Richard Layman and watching horror movies at sleepovers. They were a large part of the pop culture that influenced me growing up–if you loved them as a teen, I'd definitely suggest re-reading them, with nostalgia goggles firmly in place.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.