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Month: October 2010

Our teen girls, our teen selves

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The diary I had when I was 14, branded “Sweet Dreams” for the teen-girl book series I loved so much.

I often say that one of the best ways to connect to teen girls is to reconnect with our own teen selves and remember how intense life was at that age.

Wow did I learn that lesson myself recently. I was packing to move house and found the diary I kept when I was 14 and in Year 8 at school. Reconnecting with 14-year-old Danni was by turns funny and shocking. Most of all, it was a reminder of why girls respond so passionately to the work Enlighten Education does — and why they need it so urgently.

My 14-year-old self was a mass of contradictions: studious and ambitious and desperate to grow up, yet childlike. Super-confident but self-critical. Sound familiar?

Here are some highlights . . .(with names changed to protect the anonymity of the friends I mention).

JANUARY

When I was a kid, I collected novelty erasers. I always thought I was about 7 when I did this but now I’ve realised I was 14. Dear God. (I still have them and get very anxious if my children want to touch them. They are kept on a high shelf in my wardrobe and shall be my legacy to the world.)

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My rubber collection. As soon as I took this photo I rushed and put it back onto the high shelf of my cupboard, where it is safe.

6th — Drove up to my Aunty’s. Tops as I got some rubbers on the way!

10th — Mum bought me a $2 Instant Lotto and I won $2! I bought 4 rubbers! Then we visited my Grandpa. God I love him. (Some things never change — my Grandpa will remain the great love of my life.)

18th — Bought some very cheap but very good rubbers.

You get the picture.

I was almost as enthusiastic in my interest in the opposite sex. Always from a distance, though.

22nd — Saw a boy at the pools. He was a spunk but he swore a lot. 🙁

There were special sections at the end of each month:

January’s Daydream: To be a psychiatrist and make everyone happy!

Goal for Next Month: To loose weight!

It saddens me to read that last entry, as I was a tiny teen. I hadn’t recalled ever worrying about my weight but I obviously did, just like most teens do now. When we ask for feedback after our workshops, girls often say things like the feedback I received from a teen girl just last week: “I stress a lot thinking I’m fat. I learnt today that I’m fine how I look, I shouldn’t care what others think and I’m not actually fat, I’m a size 10 – wow. Thanks!!” (Helen, Year 8 student)

FEBRUARY

Friendship drama ahoy!

9th — A day full of fights! Everyone reckons I said Melissa was a poser when we played hide-and-seek. Leanne had the shits with me after debating too.

10th — We made up but Melissa and Marrianne had a punch-up.

I was trying to be friends with the cooler popular girls at school, who had just “discovered” me.

Big Girl (kinda)

21st — Mum bought me my first bra! I love it!

Yet just days after the getting a bra, I say this about hanging out with my friend:

26th — We played dolls all day. Fun!

In the “Secret Valentine” section of the diary I wrote:

Although I never hang around the boys — it is Sean. God I love that guy. (I loved him? I don’t think we had spoken at this point.)

It makes me sad to read this. We did end up having one awkward pash, which was my first ever kiss. But by the time he was only in his late teens, this boy had died by suicide. I recall him as being very shy and quiet. Tragically, adolescence is a time that may mark the onset of serious depression for some young people; this reminded me to be mindful to watch for the early warning signs. Clinical Professor David Bennet’s book ” I Just Want You To Be Happy” is an outstanding resource on preventing and tackling teenage mental illness.

MARCH

Danni as the boss

13th — We decide to have a Club! It will be called The Aussie 4! We spent all day doing up the cubbie ready for it. I will be the Captain.

The rest of March seems to be almost a catalogue of fast food I loved (“We had Kentucky! Topso! I got the breast piece!” “We had McDonalds! Yummo!”), teachers I loved (“Miss Banting is tops! I love drama!”) and my marks (“A great school day ! I came first in every subject! Hoorah!”)

My goal for next month:  To be popular.

APRIL

Talent quest!

My best friend, a neighbour and my sister and I would have periodic talent quests. Although the competition could hardly be described as fierce, I was elated at my win! I danced to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and assembled all my cuddly toy animals as props. I performed this next to the fountain we had in our courtyard, for added jungle-realism. I set a very high standard for performance that day, I can assure you.

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Me (right) pre-perm at 14 with “Bubby”, my sister.

Dramatic much?

3rd — No one seems to care that I am dying of asthma! Had to go to my Aunty’s to eat Easter eggs.

6th — I think my drama teacher hates my acting lately. 🙁 (I was a star in the school play: I was Mole in Wind In the Willows. Yep, a mole. And yep, the boys did tease me but I didn’t care as I LOVED this role. Mr Mole is hilarity.)

13th — I crammed in the library for a test. I had to. I must do well or I will die.

15th — Worst day of my entire life. Leanne etc all wrote me a letter said they hate me plus they are now playing with my other friends so I have NO ONE! I don’t even know why this is happening to me!

18th — I am really disappointed with my English mark . . . 92/100.  (Disappointed??!!)

MAY

Shopping weirdness

6th — Went shopping and nearly got busted for shop-lifting. We stole breath freshener. I feel really bad now. (Breath Freshener??)

7th — Bought really large knitting needles! Will knit things! Topso!

8th — Bought Mum a spoon for Mother’s Day. Chantielle (my sister) bought her honey. (Lucky. Her!)

Favourite Daydream: To have a spunky boyfriend.

JUNE

Danni as mean girl

14th — I was so slack to Jane as I said Simon Townsend’s Wonder World is going to film my rubber collection and interview me and I will be on TV. This is a lie. She was really hurt but she forgave me luckily.

Impending doom

26th — Went to visit Grandpa. He is very vague and sick.

JULY

Yes, this was the ’80s

1st — The rich kids all went off to the ski-weekend. I talked to the boys out the front of the school with my friends today. But I don’t really talk. I just stand there like a dag.

8th — I am getting a perm. I am very worried. I HOPE it is good. Darryl Somers also wrote to me. Exciting!

9th — My perm is tops! I’m in love with it it is so nice. Everyone at school loves it.

10th — I got my mole costume today! Love it! I’m helping Jane sell Avon. I hope we make a lot of money. A girl called Christine in our grade had sex with her boyfriend Adam. I got the top mark for maths.

19th — We had a mufti-day at school and I wore really nice pink leg warmers.

23rd — We went to a disco and I met a boy named Foxy. I kissed him. I think I am in love!

24th — I think I hate that boy now. (Fickle much?)

My goal for next month: To meet some boys and to be more popular. I love, love, love boys! But none like me! And I am scared of them! Problem!

Autographed pic I received from Daryl Somers. Was I excited much?
Autographed pic I received from Daryl Somers. Quite. The. Moment.

AUGUST

A date with Foxy!

There are many entries in the lead up to this date about Foxy and what I will wear, do, say, etc. Then:

14th — Well it was BORING! We saw Porky’s 2 which was just rude. We went to Mcdonalds which was the best bit. I would have had more fun if I just went with my girls! I spent $8 on boringness! I am never dating again.

18th — I dropped Foxy (yahoo!).

And then, amongst all the expected teen girl stuff comes a disturbing entry about an incident with my father, a sometimes-violent alcoholic.

28th — Mum took me to the markets and bought me cute koala earrings. Dad got drunk and punched me for nothing! It hurt. I hate him.

SEPTEMBER

A trip to Surfers Paradise with the family. Much discussion about rides and food.

Then much despair at the fact that my teachers all think I am not focusing and am “trying to be someone I am not” with my new friends (they were right!). Friends are having sex, smoking . . .

OCTOBER

Trouble looms

No mention of rubbers or school marks this month. I would soon be in Year 9, which used to be considered a notoriously problematic time when many teens went off the rails. Unfortunately, many schools tell me these problems now start in Year 8, because girls are attempting to cope with greater pressures at a younger and younger age.

15th — Pashed Jason twice but I don’t love him or really care if we don’t get together again. Louise F nearly died as she got so drunk the cops called an ambulance. (This all happened at the “alcohol-free” Blue Light Disco the police ran for youth.)

17th — The teachers reckon Marrianne is pushing drugs which is just bull!

NOVEMBER

5th — Tops party! We all got so drunk. We all went for a bush walk and I fell and hit my head which was so funny! I cried as Jazmine went to the toilet 16 times which scared me.

12th — Jane got a hickey!

18th — I wagged school with my friends and they got drunk. I didn’t. It was actually boring. I feel really bad about this (wagging)(This was the first and last time I ever truanted school.)

21st — Saw a plastic surgeon to see if now that I’ve fully grown they can fix my arm. They can’t. ;(

I was very self-conscious about scarring on my arm and neck from severe burns I received as a child. It wasn’t until I was much older, teaching in high school, that I was okay about it.

30th — School disco is dress up. I might go as a Playboy bunny. (OH. MY. LORD!!)

What can I say except that if even I was considering dressing up as a Playboy bunny, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too carried away with despair about the culture our girls are exposed to: there is hope for everyone!

DECEMBER

A lucky escape?

15th — I am practically dying and they might even put me in hospital.

I was truly very ill all month with glandular fever. This seems to me now a stroke of luck, as it meant I stayed out of trouble.

My New Year’s Resolution?

To try VERY hard at school again and not get used by boys.

Reading back over the diary of my 14th year has truly affirmed for me the work I do now. I would have loved Enlighten. I needed Enlighten!

Think back to what life was like for you as a teen too. If you have old diaries, revisit them. What does this reflection teach you about the inner-world of teen girls? What messages do you think girls need to hear – now.

Friends

The real Halloween horror: it’s just another excuse to sex girls up too soon

Just when you thought you’d seen every possible way for marketers to pressure girls to be too sexy too soon, along comes another opportunity for stores to sell product and sexualise girls . . . Halloween! Though we may not have grown up with Halloween as a tradition, trick-or-treating is entering our culture in a big way.

For my daughter, Teyah, and son, Kye, 11 and 8, any celebration that involves dressing up and lollies is bound to be popular, so I took them to a Halloween store at The Supa Centre (Home Hub), in Castle Hill, to pick out a couple of costumes. I’ve always known the centre as a whole to be a fine place to take the kids.

So just how did this casual little school holiday outing to a suburban shopping centre end up with me appalled beyond belief, racking my brain for a response to a perplexed 8-year-old’s question about bestiality and hightailing it out of the store just before security came to escort me out? I went on Mornings with Kerri-anne to tell the story. (Note, when I say “homemaker centre” in this video, I’m using the term generically. The place I’m talking about is called The Supa Centre but is listed on-line as Home Hub Hills.)

The little girls’ Halloween costumes were stomach-churning examples of sexualising kids at too young an age. This one is available in sizes to fit girls aged from 3 to 10:
major flirt

When Halloween becomes an opportunity to sexualise little girls, we’ve crossed a line. Girls aged 3 to 10 should never be dressed up as major flirts. Full stop.

And what do little girls have to look forward to when they grow up? Those ubiquitous bunny ears, of course:
playboy

If I sound like some kind of prude, let me just say that I don’t have an issue with women dressing up in a sexy way if they want to. And I totally get it that Halloween is one night of the year when people might want to express their wilder side.

What I object to is that, yet again, women are boxed into a narrow view of what “sexy” is. We shouldn’t be allowing Playboy (or any other brand) to define what “sexy” means. Not all of us feel at our sexiest or most feminine stuffed into a tight corset and fishnets. Real female sexuality is more interesting and diverse than the big-breasted, long-legged Playboy stereotype!

What I object to is that yet again women and girls are being made to believe that their true currency is their body and the best they can aspire to is to be sexy. Standing in that store was exactly like this cartoon by Andy Marlette, which sums it up perfectly. Boys can be superheroes, literary characters and martial arts experts. Girls can be . . . sexy.

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Reproduced with thanks to Andy Marlette

What I object to is that there is simply too much blurring of the line between adulthood and childhood. Girls aged 3 to 10  have sexualised soldier and sailor outfits. Women and teen girls have sexualized Sesame Street costumes, like these I saw on Feministing:

The website sluttyhalloweencostumes.org (yes, seriously, it exists) asks: “Who doesn’t want to see a slutty version of our favorite Disney character?” Well, me for one.

The line between childhood and adulthood is often further blurred by retailers who place adult products at children’s eye level — think FHM near the chocolate bars at the checkout. The Halloween store I visited at Castle Hill seemed to be mainly aimed at kids, and I counted 11 children under the age of 10. Yet the adult costumes were mixed in with the children’s ones. Playboy was in amongst Star Wars. But even worse than that, there were some deeply offensive costumes for men openly on display for kids to see. They were too graphic to show on Kerri-anne or to show here. One costume had a fake sheep attached to the groin area. Another had a blow-up doll dressed in a G-string attached to the crotch so that it would appear that she was giving the man oral sex.

I was angry that my children were exposed to this. My son actually asked me “What’s that man doing to the sheep, Mummy?”

But I was polite when I went and asked the manager why this merchandise was on display for kids to see. I think my question was a very reasonable one, but I was asked to leave the store.

When Home Hub Hills’ management rented space to this retailer, I’m sure they assumed they would be selling the usual witch’s brooms and scary masks and lollies. I want to stress that in the past I’d always had good experiences at this shopping centre with my family. This weekend, the centre held a Cat in the Hat Family Fun Day and I can’t imagine that the management would be okay with kids visiting the centre possibly being exposed to depictions of bestiality and oral sex.

If a shopping centre’s management receives enough complaints about a retailer, it may affect their decisions about whom to lease shop space to in the future.  So if you’re as concerned as I am about protecting children from adult content, please join me in contacting Home Hub Hills’ management. Ask them to do whatever they can to prevent retailers from displaying inappropriate adult merchandise where children can see it. Here are the contact details from their website:

Home Hub Hills

Telephone: 02 9634 1116 
Fax: 02 9634 4288 
Email: hillsreception@fenixrealestate.com
Mailing address: PO Box 7067, Baulkham Hills NSW 2153

With Friends Like These . . .

The Huffington Post recently published a hilarious and oh-so-accurate send-up of women’s mags, “17 Things Every Women’s Magazine Will Tell You (That You Should Ignore)” by Alida Nugent of blog The Frenemy. Here is a taste:

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1. Jennifer Aniston is really hot but she is also very pathetic. We want to have her hairstyle and her arms, but only to carry on her legacy when she dies alone.

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8. This is a somber photograph of a girl followed by her story about how a terrible, awful thing happened to her. Here is another story about a congresswoman who made it in a man’s world! Here is a 28-year-old with a fashion business! Women don’t get paid as much, and third-world women have it harder, because these are our serious pages! (Followed by raunchy sex tales!)

Coincidentally, the following critique of women’s magazines appeared on the Post Secret website this week. (Post Secret an ongoing art project that invites people to submit postcards decorated with their inner thoughts.) I think it is spot on, too:

cosmo

Although it is almost like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought it would be a cathartic exercise to come up with my own examples of the things every women’s magazine will tell you (that you should ignore). Here are a few I came up with:

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1. “Don’t theorise, accessorise!” (or variants thereof). Want to get noticed in the workplace? Dress for success. Why not try fishnets for that sassy / sexy edge that says: “I am the gal for the job!” The image above was SERIOUSLY included in a piece aimed at “women lawyers, bankers, MBAs, consultants, and otherwise overachieving chicks who work in conservative offices and need to look professional, but want to be fashionable.” Somehow, I don’t think I’d hire the barrister in the short shorts.

self-esteem

2. Here’s a great article on positive body image and self-esteem written by someone we know you will trust! This gives us huge credibility and we can now emblazon our cover with a slogan like: “Perfection is boring — join the body revolution!” We will also now go on all the daytime talk shows and nod earnestly about our commitment to improving body satisfaction for women! Hell, we are now so OBVIOUSLY onto solving this huge issue that we will join a government advisory group on body image! The rest of our mag? Oh — DUH! It will be business as usual — loads of airbrushed images, a bombardment of hard-sell advertising for moisturisers and waxing and diet products, and an invitation to engage in the compare and despair game, in which we all rank celebs based on their looks. Vive the revolution!

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3. Lindsay Lohan is either “Bad-news Lindsay” and we all pity her and worry (read get thrilled by) her “out of control” antics, or she is “Good-news Lindsay”, who is making a comeback despite all the obstacles she faces (which, judging by this cover, may include being airbrushed to the extent that she is virtually unrecognisable, even to herself — no wonder she is confused; we sure are). Sometimes Ms Lohan seems to be reported as both evil and saintly on the same day . . . perhaps she really does have a twin, as depicted in The Parent Trap? Will the real Lindsay Lohan please stand up? Hint for those wanting an indication as to whether the mag intends to depict her as tragic or triumphant: Airbrushing = Lindsay is a fresh-faced success! (Yay, Team Lohan! We knew you could do it — and help us sell lip gloss at the same time! It’s a win-win!) No airbrushing + unflattering lighting = We shake our heads in shock and become very self-righteous (now turn the page and we will advise you on how to party like a pole dancer and assert your girlpower by flashing whilst not spilling your cocktail).

Our New Zealand Program Manager, Rachel Hanson (who has contributed some excellent blog posts lately, here and here if you’ve missed them), offered this:

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4. Forget world hunger, terrorism and climate change — it’s body hair you should really be worried about! Unless your genitals look prepubescent, you are so not going to get THE MAN. Waxing, shaving, lasering, threading — no pain, no gain!

It is vital to encourage young people to deconstruct media messages and talk back to the media, rather than to merely be passive consumers. Why not use this exercise to inspire the girls in your life and get them thinking about the messages women’s magazines in particular might be sending them that are really not helpful? We’d love to see their entries. Email them to us at: enquiries@enlighteneducation.com.

Be alert about sexualising kids but don’t make boobs of ourselves.

Brooks, KarenThis week I’d like to share a guest blog post written by Dr Karen Brooks. Karen is an author, social commentator, columnist, academic and public speaker. Karen’s book Consuming Innocence is one I would highly recommend to all teachers and parents who want to know more about the impact popular culture is having on our children and on the family unit. This post was originally published in the Courier Mail and is reprinted here with her permission. I am hoping this will stimulate discussion – what do you consider to be harmless fun, and what should warrant caution, or indeed alarm us?


Pop princess Katy Perry made global headlines last week for singing a duet with Sesame Street Muppet, Elmo, as part of the show’s 41st season. After numerous complaints, the skit was pulled from the proposed line-up (but remains on YouTube).

What were the complaints about? Perry’s attire, cleavage and breasts.

Others have now leapt to both the creator’s and Perry’s defence.

In the midst of the fuss, the makers of Sesame Street uploaded another clip, also featuring Muppets; this one a parody of the popular and very adult fantasy HBO-TV series, True Blood.

Based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, True Blood is full of sex, blood and fangs. The Muppet parody, True Mud, while using puppets designed to resemble characters from the TV program, focuses on rhyming to create a lesson for its very young viewers.

Vampires are now “Grouches” and their desire for a drink of synthetic or “true” blood is transformed into a need for a mud bath.

Preschoolers learn about words such as “spud”, “dud” and “thud”, before a mud bath is wheeled out.

The end result may be dirty, but is the execution? Depending which side of the road you’re on, the air might be sweet, but Sesame Street is no longer “A OK”.

Is it just conservative wowsers, or are the complaints about Perry’s low-cut dress and the references to a vampire series valid?

Do the Sesame Street skits really deserve to have so much attention focused on them?

The answer is yes. Especially when they succeed in being pleasing, perplexing and push boundaries.

The Sesame Street producers have always intended to cater primarily to young children. In her book Buy Buy Baby, Susan Gregory Thomas says when the show was conceived in 1968, the producers not only used developmental psychologists, who drew on the principles of complementary but very different approaches to cognitive growth in kids, but also they saw the show as a guiding social agent, for at-risk children.

To judge from current commentary around the Katy Perry and True Mud skits, it seems that all kids are at risk from the offerings of this stalwart of children’s television.

Is this fair?

Like any successful product designed to capture children’s hearts and imaginations, the creators of Sesame Street also have to ensure that there is enough content to please the gatekeepers – parents and guardians – as well. This means that like other products developed for young (and older) children, they will embed many meanings and levels in the one tale so it can appeal simultaneously to children and adults.

Arguably, any child with responsible parents would never make the connection to True Blood or Katy Perry’s, ahem, body of work either.

Nonetheless, catering to children while appeasing adults will always be a task fraught with difficulties that often attracts a critical eye.

As the chief executive officer of Enlighten Education, Dannielle Miller, points out, “there are plenty of other artists who might like to hang with Elmo … choosing Katy Perry continues to blur the line between childhood and the adult world of raunch”.

But the complaints about Katy Perry’s attire and her breasts can also be read as a type of “slut-shaming”; something Miller also recognises.

This is when, by drawing attention to certain female displays and performances, a society shames young women into controlling their sexual self-expression and covering their bodies. It is a public way of taming and thus policing (and limiting) burgeoning female sexuality.

There’s no doubt we have to be so careful when it comes to being alert to the sexualisation of children in culture.

What the Perry incident draws attention to is how easy it is for something to be read in multiple ways – sweet and appropriate, tasteless and inappropriate, adult and childish – by a very wide and hyper-critical audience. When children are the target demographic, the scrutiny only intensifies.

But we also have to be careful when engaging in these kinds of debates not to make boobs, literally and metaphorically, of ourselves.

If you are interested in finding out more about the issue of the sexualisation of children, apart from Karen’s book I would  recommend you read some of my previous posts as it is a topic I also  feel very passionate about: Lady Gaga’s Toxic Mess, Girls in Trouble in a Post-Feminist World, and “She’s just a cute tween…” to name just a few.

I urge you too to find out more about the wonderful work being done by Julie Gale at Kids Free 2B Kids, and Enlighten’s own Catherine Manning at Say No 4 Kids. After reading Karen’s book you may also like to purchase a copy of  Melinda Tankard Reist’s excellent collection of thoughts on the topic by some of Australia’s most prominent child experts:Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls. My book, The Butterfly Effect, also explores how parents can help their girls move beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers. I am thrilled at the support my book has received and was thrilled that channel 10 did a news story on it just this week. I am hoping we can all help keep girls issues on the agenda.

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