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“Girl power?” Whatever.

I hate the way the term “girl power” is used to package messages for girls that are anything but empowering! Here are some of my personal “grrrrrs.” All belong straight on the Wall of Shame.

1. www.girl.com.au A web site that claims to be “Empowering Girls Worldwide.” This site is just a huge sell out. Could they push any more product if they tried? The products they do push range from the new made-for-kids film Kung Fu Panda to Bratz body spray -so surely they are pitching this site at very young girls? But wait – there’s also Brazilian waxing, a post on “man-sharing” and a feature on “being a witch in the bedroom.” Basically, ANY product or service remotely connected to girls from ages 6-60 seems ok here. Hint for the web hosters – throwing one or two articles in on bullying does not make your site “empowering.” 

2.  “Girlpower” magazine – aimed at 7-12 year old girls. What is so empowering about the poster of Ashlee Simpson they have included for little girls to put on their bedroom walls? She is wearing no top – not even a bra, and is pulling her pants down to show more of her crotch.

Why include a “Hotness Scale” that encourages small girls to have a crush on Nick Lacey ( who is 35 years old – older than many of their fathers!) and the new star of Gossip Girl, 23 year old Chace Crawford – this show is M rated and therefore not one any of them should be watching yet! The character Chace plays is portrayed as having a drug problem and needs to be sent to rehab. Mmm…I am thinking that Jessica Simpson’s ex and a “bad boy” pot head are not ideal for my 9 year old!  

Why too did the Editor choose to include this particular image of cute little Smurfette in their feature article on her?

                               

I find the image really predatory and sent the email below off to the Editor of Girlpower magazine last week:  

Dear Amy,

I am a teacher and parent. I also run workshops for young girls in schools on self esteem and body image. Amongst other things, we encourage girls to critique the media and deconstruct images that are presented to them.

I am confused by your choice of images for the feature story on Smurfette in this month’s issue of Girlpower (page 60). 

Smurfette has been captured. She is being leered at by the older male character and his cat – both clearly look as though they want to hurt her. Yet Smurfette looks at the older man lovingly – she looks like she is enjoying being preyed upon. Out of the all the images of Smurfette you could have used I find this choice really puzzling and am hoping you can explain what it is meant to be / represent? It may be a part of a storyline but the story (and the outcome of this bizarre encounter) are not explained at all in the article and all readers have is this one picture to try to make sense of. I have asked my two children (6 and 9) to explain what they think it means – both have said it is REALLY scary “because the old man is evil and he is going to kill her” and that Smurfette “must love to be hurt.”

Not a very empowering message for children is it? Certainly this is not an image that could in any way be said to contribute to “girl power”.

I will appreciate your feedback.

Dannielle Miller

I haven’t heard back yet.

3. “Girl power” rock chicks. 

Why has raunch culture become confused with empowerment? A recent music review I read described girl power bands as being those that “are all about hitting women with a dose of female empowerment, but without any danger of alienating the boyfriend — potential or otherwise.” The reviewer, Bob Dobson, then went on to offer this very telling observation, When watching the average girl band video she will see strong, assertive women comfortable in their sexuality, kicking a no-good boyfriend’s ass to the curb. He sees hot chicks dancing.” So not so empowering after all.

There have been amazing female singers and girl bands that have been all about power and strength –  but the groups most often listed as being about “Girl Power” today are really all about getting their gear off and pouting. Pussycat Dolls? Empowered? I don’t see it. Dobson explains it thus: 

On an intellectual level, their gimmick has been reinventing burlesque dance and transposing this concept to modern pop by employing a post-modernist remix culture ethic to the reinterpretation of the musical art form. Essentially they’re a really pretty KLF, or the Vengaboys with production values.”

What the? Not sure I follow. Don’t follow his argument on why the Pussycat Dolls are a group that showcase “Alpha Divas” either- 

If anything, the alpha diva of the Pussycat Dolls is any one of their many celebrity guests. Paris Hilton, Scarlett Johansen, Cameron Diaz, Britney Spears … the list goes on. Pretty much anyone vaguely female, famous, attractive and living in Hollywood has made an appearance with the group.”

So all we need to be “empowered and alpha” is to be female, attractive and star struck? Brilliant. NOW I can see why “Total Girl” magazine would have included the Pussycat Dolls on their made-for-tweens CD compilation:

Comes with free lip glosses too – for added empowerment.   
 

Published inBody ImageMagazinesMediaSexualisation of children

14 Comments

  1. Melinda Liszewski

    I was recently listening to nova radio with presenter Michel Laurie (sp?) and she was describing a pussycat dolls show or music clip that she had seen. She said they did their “stripper routine” that they do and she then told of how creepy it was when they brought some of their audience members up on stage – who looked 8 or 9 years old!!!

    I have a problem with the term “Girl Power.”
    Firstly, it is often used to describe women who have won favour with those who have the real power. Women who meet the “hot” “sexy” and “available” requirements and the men who find them sexually appealing and/or marketable. I’m thinking Spice Girls and now Pussycat dolls. (you know, cos they’re dolls and apparently men should wish their girlfriends are “hot” like them.)

    Secondly, “Girl Power” is used to refer to adult women. Do we ever look at our male politicians and say “wow, that’s some great boy power they’ve got going there!” Of course not, because they are men, not boys. Actually, maybe I will start talking about “boy power” in relation to our politicians. Maybe that can be Kevin Rudd’s slogan for his next election campaign. Kevin Rudd – Boy Power! he he he

  2. Sonia Lyne

    Girl Power Schmirl Power … I empathise with your rage. The term “Girl Power” is quickly losing any credibility it MAY have had when it came into the mainstream in the mid 1990’s, care of The Spice Girls. Initially I personally felt it was quite a loose term, but one that still had the possibility of becoming something that young girl’s could see as empowering. As you have illustrated Danni alas it has not. It now only adds to the confusing messages that tween and teen girls are continually receiving from their pop culture.

    For further insight into the ideology of girl power some may find the following book of interest:
    Amy McClure. “Girl Power Ideology: A Sociological Analysis of Post-Feminist and Individualist Visions for Girls”

    P.S. Political Boy Power made me giggle.

  3. Storm Greenhill-Brown

    You know, sometimes i am just left speechless and open-mouthed at the hypocrisy of it all. Often i try to cocoon myself away from as much popular culture as possible because it leaves me feeling half-drowned and unable to breathe. Imagine then how a young girl of ten feels when she’s looking at Ashlee Simpson. What a complicated and contradictory world that 10 year old lives in. Doesn’t it all come back to “You can’t be what you can’t see” Thought provoking topic yet again Dan.

  4. Danni Miller

    I received an email response from Girlpower magazine today (10th June) :

    Dear Dannielle,

    Thank you for your email regarding Issue 49 of Girl Power. We appreciate all feedback (positive and negative) on our magazine as this helps us make Girl Power even better for our readers.

    Firstly, I want to assure you that the team at Girl Power are passionate and dedicated to making a magazine for our readers that will inspire, entertain, teach them new things, answer their questions/concerns and create a sense of friendship and belonging. We strive really hard to ensure Girl Power offers a positive message to our readers – that girls can do anything and that being yourself is really important. These are our core aims in producing Girl Power.

    With regards to the image of Smurfette in Issue 49 – this image is a still from an episode of The Smurfs. This image was provided by the company releasing The Smurfs DVD box set, to be used in our story.

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with The Smurfs, but in each episode of the cartoon, the smurfs are pit against mean sorcerer Gargamel and his cat, Azriel. The kind-hearted smurfs always win out however, in spite of Gargamel’s evil plots and plans to destroy them. As stated in our “Smurfalicious” story on page 60, Smurfette was originally created by Gargamel to cause trouble in the Smurf village. It was the leader of the Smurfs – Papa Smurf – who transformed Smurfette into the good Smurf we know and love today.

    I hope this goes some way into explaining the image for you.

    Our intent in including this image was to entertain and inform our readers as The Smurfs is a very popular television show that is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year! It was/is not our intent to scare our readers or display violent images in our magazine.

    I hope this email will ease some of your concerns.

    All The Best,
    Amyx

    ______________________
    Amy Olson
    Editor

    Girl Power

  5. Danni Miller

    My reponse to Amy:

    Thanks for your response Amy but it does not at all address my concerns. Surely when the Smurf company sent you that particular image you would have realised it was inappropriate and not a “girlpower” shot? As the editor I am sure you do not just accept every shot that is presented to you – I would hope you would be discriminating and consider the possible impact of images on your particular readers. This image does not contribute in any way to your claimed desire to show girls they “can do anything”; Smurfette can do absolutely nothing other than wait to be devoured!

    Secondly, despite any broader story line (which is not there for girls to refer to as context anyway) Smurfette here is in love with her “evil” captor who – in your own words – “plans to destroy” her. This is just not appropriate! Surely you can see that presenting adults who wish to harm young girls as objects of love is highly dangerous?

    I find your inability to see the problem simply staggering.

    I write an award winning blog for parents and educators and shall post your response to me on this as I have already shared my original letter with my readers. I believe my readers will share my disappointment with your response and join me in urging you to be far more discriminating and responsible in future.

  6. It was good of Amy to inform us that:

    “With regards to the image of Smurfette in Issue 49 – this image is a still from an episode of The Smurfs. This image was provided by the company releasing The Smurfs DVD box set, to be used in our story” because now we can let the parents of girls know that the Smurfs DVD set contains violent and inappropriate imagery which conveys the message that little smurfs (and little girls) can love those who prey on them and want to hurt them. If “It was/is not our intent to scare our readers or display violent images in our magazine” then why do it?

    Maybe the Ashlee Simpson poster was provided by Ashlee’s company as well, which makes that alright too?

    Melinda Tankard Reist

  7. Jane Higgins

    It appears to me that the Smurfs and the editor of Girl Power are still caught back 50 years ago! I think they should stay there!!
    Isn’t there enough to contend with without little blue people having to fight big bad ugly men!!! Or on second thought … much hasn’t changed at all has it !!
    Don’t get me started on the ASHLEE poster!!! It is revolting, inappropiate, and degrading to her and to all women – why on earth would a magazine that says it is all for Girl Power ever think this was ok … I just don’t know!!!

  8. Storm Greenhill-Brown

    It’s interesting isn’t it that Amy of “Girlpower” magazine is happy to explain the Smurfette image to us. Does every image come with such a context and an opportunity to critique its messages? What aspect of this image or of bare- breasted Ashlee S posing as a young Madonna should serve to “inspire” a girl of 7 and up? What “lessons” are these young girls being “taught”? Beware of shiny apples? Does “Girlpower” come equipped with a toolkit of language and strategies for girls to decode the contradictory messages they are being fed? Don’t we as responsible adults have a duty of care to ensure young girls are reading and viewing images that are not only age appropriate but also images that are healthy and reflective of their “real” lives? Their imaginative, playful, spiritual, ethical developing selves. Now there is true power!

  9. francesca

    I suspect the young girls who happen to glance at the “Smurfalicious” page in question would not have the whole Smurf plot in the forefront of their minds. Rather, I can just imagine their impressionable minds contemplating the image of an old and mean looking man clutching at a lovesick and helpless female smurf (Smurfette)?! How scary and confusing.

    I appreciate Amy informing us of the Smurf story: “As stated in our “Smurfalicious” story on page 60, Smurfette was originally created by Gargamel to cause trouble in the Smurf village. It was the leader of the Smurfs – Papa Smurf – who transformed Smurfette into the good Smurf we know and love today.”

    I must make this point though, even if a young female reader did have a keen understanding of Smurfette’s history, the female image used could not be perceived by anyone as an image of an empowered female surely!? If Girl Power’s aim is to provide their readers (young females) with images that are positive and empowering, then I am of the opinion and must agree with many of you who have already responded; somehow something went quite wrong with this page.

  10. Sonia Lyne

    I understand Amy must justify what has already gone to print, as she is responsible BUT that is the most patronising and poor excuse of a response.

    Amy I would like to propose an innovative idea … why not lead the way in your field and include articles and images in your magazine that actually reflect empowering messages for your young and impressionable readers. You do understand you have chosen to educate many young people across the nation with your content, so why not take a deep breath and think how will each piece impact the reader … NOT THE SALES!!! A novel idea huh!

  11. Hi Danni-

    Wonderful post, as usual.

    Unfortunately, we are dealing with a representative from the media who is admittedly looking to put an image in her magazine that sells– or as she says, “entertain and inform” without thinking of any negative effects.

    I believe we’re dealing with a similar problem when we display impossibly thin waisted princesses with long eyelashes and a propensity to fall weak at the sight of any prince and call it lighthearted entertainment for girls, a topic I wrote about on my blog this past week.

    http://drrobyn.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/disney-princesses-sexualizing-your-daughters-dr-robyn-responds/

    I wish the girlpower magazine had chosen to show a great picture of Smurfette conquering Gargamel rather than one that shows her in a pitiful situation with a ridiculous “so happy to be captured” look on her face.

    As far as the Ashlee “please focus on my groin area” poster, they’re certainly not highlighting her voice– her source of power– in this photo. Sad.

    Did you know that they’re giving some of these popular cartoons a makeover? Looks like lipo, new hair, more muscles (for the boy characters) and of course, cell phones. The excuse? Trying to keep up with modern children. The media just don’t get that the reason the children are so body conscious and techno-crazy is because in part, they are inspiring the children to be that way!

    http://drrobyn.wordpress.com/2008/06/11/makeover-madness-for-childrens-cartoons-less-belly-fat-more-muscles-and-a-cell-phone/

    Would love to reprint your article, Danni–

    Talk to you soon-

    Dr. Robyn

  12. Claire Clements

    You mentioned Gossip Girl in your article, Danni, and said that the age group should not be watching the show yet. I always cringe when I see the ads for the show because I have no doubt that some of them probably are watching it. I’d actually be interested in seeing a survey on who watches it and how old they are. Mind you, I still can’t get over the fact that I turned on the TV one day to find Hannah Montana going gah-gah over her friend’s new credit card, they practically worshipped it! It seems this general “modern day girl” is cropping up everywhere and I wonder what happened to good old fashioned shows like Captain Planet – which would be so apt now with climate change (though perhaps a bit young) – and other shows where the storylines did not revolve around clothes, fame, mobile phones, and boys. *sigh*

  13. Mariana O'Driscoll

    I have grave concerns for all young people, boys and girls, when ‘girl power’, obviously a term thought up to inspire young women to be strong and confident because of their gender, is packaged as a term that takes those rights away from them. The images of women predominately portrayed in popular culture, particularly music video clips, are offensive It becomes even more offensive and irresponsible when these images are passed off to young girls as images highlighting what they, as females, should aspire to be. Powerful messages … yes, girl power, I think not!

  14. Here, here! Lovely to have you commenting Mariana – your thoughts are really valuable.

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