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Month: February 2009

The Fear

Lily Allen’s song “The Fear” slams the vacuous world of celebrity as well as offering a poignant insight into the fears I believe many young women are harbouring.

Warning: the clip below contains strong language.

During the research process for my upcoming book, The Butterfly Effect, I had the opportunity to speak at length with many teenage girls who said that they were adept at pretending they were “all over it”, “onto it”, “okay with it”. Many girls wear a Perfect Girl facade.

Underneath, they tell me they actually feel scared, confused, exhausted. And lonely.

“I sometimes think I am the only one who feels like I am not really good enough . . . My friends seem so confident that I am scared to tell them what I really feel . . . I don’t want to look weak.” Julie, 14

“I feel so alone a lot of the time. Like, am I the only one who worries about my weight? Who feels self-conscious wearing clothes that show so much of my body? I feel like maybe everyone else is normal and I am a freak.” Dione, 16

“I am afraid. I can’t show it, as that’s a weakness and I might be targeted by other girls at my school if they see it. But I am afraid a lot of the time. I am scared of not being loved. Of not being noticed, of not getting it right (clothes, music, etc.) and then looking stupid.” Claire, 15

“I am really scared of making a mistake or failing. What would people think of me if I got it wrong?” Paris, 16

“I am scared I will never be beautiful.” Siobhan, 13

When I hear girls talk like this, I feel compelled to work harder to offer them voices of difference. I also suspect that by refusing to talk about the fears we all have, and more importantly how we have also overcome these, we run the risk of pathologising adolescent angst. How I love rock group REM’s lineEverybody hurts, you’re not alone . . . hold on.”

There is much to be gained from being more open about our fears and sharing our own journeys.

What are you scared of, and how might you manage these feelings and triumph over fear?

Embracing cyber world

Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph ran a disturbing story on the rise of cyber related sexual harassment in our schools recently. 

This story serves as a reminder that we need to equip girls to use technology safely and wisely, and educate all young people on just what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour on line and indeed within our society as a whole. There are a number of sites that offer advice on on-line safety: www.cybersmart.org, www.wiredkids.org, www.wiredsafety.org, www.cyberbully.org, www.besafeonline.org.

Whilst we should exercise caution, what we must not do is get so panicked by stories of cyber-evil that we ban our girls from on-line participation. A recent study by the Australian Clearinghouse for Youthstudies showed that one of the main reasons young people who have been harassed on-line do not report their negative experiences is due to a fear of having their access to technology removed. They want to stay connected and worry that adults who do not fully understand the technology will think banning it is the solution.    

Make no mistake, in our rapidly changing world, connection is vital. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be ‘multi-literate’, to be competent in the manipulation of a range of media. There is considerable evidence that whilst girls are more successful at reading and writing than boys, more girls than boys are in trouble in relation to ICT literacy. NSW Department of Education and Training research tells us that:

..girls (In Australia) were more inclined than boys to see IT as boring (36% compared to 16%) or difficult (23% to 11%). These factors result in more boys than girls studying technology related subjects. Analysis of NSW High School Certificate (HSC) 2002 computer programming student population revealed that only 17% of the total entrants were female. The trend is also demonstrated in the TAFE sector with women comprising approximately 40% of all Information Technology enrolments for 2001. This indicates a decrease in enrolment share from 1996 when women accounted for 50% of IT enrolments.” 

This trend is evident right across Australia and in New Zealand. If it continues, young women are at risk of becoming part of the information-poor and of being excluded from the new and emerging jobs of the future. Let’s not let our own fears drive us to further isolating and limiting our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use IT as a tool to meet their own needs.    

Educator Bronwyn T Williams offered a refreshing approach towards connecting girls who may be reluctant users of IT in her 2006 article for the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy:

Rather than trying to find ways to help girls use computers in the same ways boys do, how do we help them build on their strengths to find new, creative, and feminist ways of designing and using computers? For example, if girls have been less interested in learning computer programming and software design, including literacy-connected software, perhaps this can be traced to a perception that such work is not relevant to their interests. But when interests such as the desire to build relationships or engage in more character-driven narratives are foregrounded as the goal, girls may be more intrigued…”

If your girls seem uninterested in learning IT skills, use some of the mediums they do enjoy, such as social networking sites, blogging etc as the hook to connect them to the wider possibilities the on-line world allows.

Finally, let’s not lose perspective. Although there are perils in cyber world, there are also some excellent sites (see my “Links”, column right, for some of my favourites) and invaluable opportunities for on-line collaboration. The good far outweighs the bad.

I hope the sites below will inspire you to encourage your girls to be multi-literate. Thanks to Judy O’Connell from blog Hey Jude for the great resources:

I particularly love the Nerd Girls “About” statement: 

Nerd Girls are everywhere, from Tina Fey to Ugly Betty. The celebrity culture of vapid, shallow girls with little to offer is rapidly losing its allure – and the media, from Newsweek to Vanity Fair, has picked up on the emergence of a new type of female role model. Nearly all the tech companies are now offering gadgets designed specifically for girls. Our mantras “Smart is Sexy” and “Brains are Beautiful” have begun to resonate with women across the world. And, as more women seek higher education in technology and engineering fields, Nerd Girls hopes to encourage and empower them make a difference in our world.”

Go nerd girls!

 

“If you are thin and beautiful you can rule the world…”

The quote above is taken from the YouTube clip below. This documentary provides an incredibly powerful insight into adolescent, and pre-adolescent, girls and their relationship with their bodies:  


 

Now consider the messages Australian teen girls will be receiving this week if they tune into channel 10’s The Biggest Loser. I wrote an Opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald on this show last year: The Burden of treating girls bodies as the enemy.  

What do I find so concerning about this program? I am not questioning the importance of maintaining a sensible diet or a fitness regime. And it is obvious that the contestants do need help in getting their health back on track. But is public humiliation, excessive dieting and exercise, and the constant obsession with numbers (calories, kilos, carbs…) helping either the participants or the viewers long term?

One of my Facebook buddies is so incensed by this show that she has set up her own Facebook page to stimulate discussion on the real issues:  Shame on you channel 10 – ‘The Biggest Loser’ should not be shown. What messages are we sending, one member of this group questions, when contestants gasp in dismay at the thought of having to consume lollies worth 80 calories as a possible ‘punishment’ for failing to get immunity?

Surely we don’t need more thinspiration. We are already bombarded with images of ultra-thin models and celebrities and surrounded by advertisements for the multi-million dollar diet industry.

What we need is more balance.

More connection to our bodies. 

More celebration of diversity.  

  

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