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Category: Cyber world / Bullying

Club 21, “girl world” exposed: binge drinking, bullying, low self esteem and distorted body image.

AND the importance of moving beyond finger pointing.

Queensland school girls have formed an exclusive club, known as Club 21, which encourages members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. This number is then drawn on their hand for all to see.

The club not only operates at St Patrick’s Mackay, but has gone global via the internet and chat rooms.

This story has caused significant shock in the media. However it is unlikely this type of bullying – of each other and those who didn’t make it into the club – came as a shock to many teen girls. It was likely no surprise to their teachers either, who witness the various manifestations of the “Compare and Despair” game that teen girls are so good at playing, in playgrounds right across Australia. Recent studies show three out of five teen girls report being teased about their appearance at school. Girls in particular judge themselves and each other on how they look and on how popular they are bohabbo143v2.jpgth with other girls, and with boys.

When I was a teen girl at high school much of lunch time was spent rating our peers. It was our own little real life version of the magazines we grew up with that asked us, in virtually every issue, to decide whether particular clothes were in, or whether a celebrity was hot or not. We felt powerful playing these games – we may not have been able to control many elements of our lives, but we tried to control how we looked through diets, and we could definitely control each other through ridicule.

We may not have had a number reflecting these scores branded on our hands, but the scores were branded on our psyches.

The rules in girl rating games, both then and now, are not difficult to follow. Be considered hot by your peers and in particular by boys – and score points. Getting a highly desired boyfriend means an instant advance to the top of the club. I was lucky enough to have landed the school “spunk” at one stage and was elevated from classroom “brainiac” to the girl everyone wanted to know almost over night. He dumped me a year later for a girl considered even hotter – at just 14 she was already a model appearing in women’s magazines and parading in labels sold only to rich thirty-somethings. My dream run at the top of the charts was destroyed.

What makes this latest story of highly organised girl competiveness newsworthy is the use of technology to spread the ranks.

In my early years as a teacher in High Schools, I found it relatively easy to intercept notes critiquing other girls. Technology means these same messages can now can reach thousands of recipients in moments. Harmful messages found on toilet walls could be scrubbed off – it is much more difficult to delete messages once they have gone global.

The potential for misuse of the cyber world is alarming. But we cannot blame the internet alone. It is after all merely a tool, it is all too easy to blame the evils of technology rather than examining why our society has become more and more toxic for our young people.

Just why has girl self hatred gone mainstream and global?

Years of watching reality TV and being invited to rank contestants and evict / put below the yellow line / vote off those not entertaining enough or thin enough or sexy enough to keep us interested have no doubt played a role. And if Paris can get famous for being rich, thin and for sleeping around why can’t they? Elements of the media have been most hypocritical in their reporting of this incident. They have judged these girls harshly when these young women have really only responded to the fodder they have been fed by these same image obsessed magazines; magazines that perpetuate the misconception that success is dependent largely on appearances and sexual desirability.

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This incident is also a sad reflection of a society that makes our girls feel lonely. When they cannot find real connection at school, or at home, they look for it in cyber world and find all their deepest and darkest fears and fantasies fed on sites that promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, sites celebrating images of “girls gone wild” trashed and flashing their breasts at parties.

The reality is many women play this same compare and despair game too. Studies have shown that while up to 65per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A survey released by the Australian Women’s Weekly just this week found that only one in six women were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and 45 per cent would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife too, with a third of the women surveyed drinking too much and one in five women admitting she had been told she had a drinking problem.

As grown up women we no longer rank ourselves from 1-21 but many of us do get up in the morning and let the number that flashes up on our scales dictate our mood for the day.

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful while we rush for botox. We tell them inner beauty counts whilst we invest in plastic surgery and devour magazines that tell us that it is really only about air brushed perfection after all.

We may saddened by Club 21, but why are we shocked? Girls cannot be what they cannot see. If even the grown up girls are comparing and despairing, is it any wonder that our daughters do not know what “I am me, I am ok” looks like?

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Let’s not blame the victims here. After all, these are young girls – pushing boundaries, exploring and making mistakes. We shouldn’t fall into the easy trap of simply making these girls out to be uber bitches. Rather, they are a sad reflection of the times. We need to dig a little deeper and address the toxic messages our girls are fed and ensure these are countered with positive body image programs and messages of strength and resilience.

News flash! With the upgrades to Edublog, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did with Prue McSween on this topic. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

When talk is cheap – and nasty

Guest Post by Enlighten Education’s Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown

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Is it just me or does the proliferation of mobile phones among even our youngest school children worry others too? When waiting to pick up my son from school I often see girls as young as six or seven walking along avidly engaged with their mobile phones and comparing them enthusiastically with one another. From speaking with various Mothers who have issued their girls with these diamante encrusted pink accessories I have gleaned a few reasons for their “must have it” attitude. Safety is paramount for these baby tweens. I totally appreciate this but have to wonder how dangerous a supervised pick up school zone is and when you would need to phone Mum if she drives you to school and then walks you in. These phones are dangled on lanyards around necks with a “mine is newer, got more features” attitude. Why are they not stored away in the bag? Branding is powerful and at work in the playground of the baby tween.

But the fashion thing is not really my biggest concern about the mobile phone phenomenon. Like those other Mums, it’s safety. A forthcoming issue of Teacher Magazine (produced by the Australian Council for Education Research), reports on a study by a group of Australian academics ( including my husband Dr Mark Brown) which found that as many as 93% of school students had experienced some form of bullying via mobile phones– what they refer to as m-bullying. A similar study in the US last year claimed that 85% of children aged 10-14 years had experienced cyberbullying (via the Internet). The upward trend of people using technology to harass others is really very disturbing.

Last year, the world drew breath in collective horror when it was revealed that the high profile suicide of 13 year old Megan Meiers in the US was partly due to her being tormented on MySpace by an adult posing as a 16 year old boy – in actuality, the mother of one of her former friends. And I shuddered when I read about a teenage girl in the UK who killed herself after receiving hundreds of hate messages on her phone in a matter of hours. Similar stories are found in countries throughout the world.

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The worrying thing about mobile phones is that children carry them all the time. The ability to bombard others with text messaging or to pass on humiliating photos or video is heightened. Since it is immediate in nature, the time for reflection is reduced and the speed of action and potential for anonymity are very appealing. Who hasn’t sent off an email in a huff and regretted it the next day?

What’s more, it seems that children generally don’t like to tell adults it’s happening. Research suggests that the peak bullying years are from 11-14 years, when kids are quite keen to give it a try. The anonymity of the mobile phone means that children who may not be capable of being physical bullies can now actively participate. We need to be very vigilant about what goes on not only in the schoolyard but increasingly behind our children’s bedroom door. Depriving them of mobile phones or internet connections is probably not practical and may even harm relationships with our kids. We need to be more proactive in communicating with them about the dangers of the “always switched on” world and give them strategies to deal with it.

Enlighten’s workshops emphasise the importance of recognising self-worth, true friendships, and personal safety.  In our workshop “Stop, I Don’t Like It” we explore the importance of setting boundaries in the real, and in the cyber, world. The following links are also very helpful and well worth downloading as a reference point:

“Mobile phones and bullying – what you need to know to get the bullies off your back,” produced by the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association.

The Child Safety Check List  produced by the Australian Communication and Media Authority- covers everything from costs and charges, to handling nuisance calls.

Christmas gifts for girls…the good and the very, very UGLY!

Why is it that every toy catalogue that lists gifts for girls then offers up Bratz, Barbies, kitchen sets, and pages of pink? I know some of it is definitely fun. Teyah (my 8 year old daughter) has the oh so cute “Littlest Pet Shop” high on her list – but be warned Santa – no Bratz here thank you very much! I found the image below for Sportz Bratz in the latest Target catalogue – can someone please tell me how the last doll plays sport in fishnets, killer high heels and a midrif top?  

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I have been wanting to buy a few alternative gifts that offer all the little girls I LOVE something more and thought I’d share my findings with you.

Indigo Girls. Australian magazine written by young girls with a little help from a few passionate women. No airbrushing – beauty in all shapes and sizes! What about subscribing? indigo-subscription-form.pdf

Faking It. Special one off magazine that reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media and the sexual objectification of women. For 16+? Ideal too for a parent with a teenage daughter who wants to know the truth behind the glossy mag’s. Order through Women’s Australia Forum.    

2007-12-06-1003-55_edited.jpgIndigo Dreaming positive affirmation cards for children (as seen left and published with permission in My Photos). These are just beautiful and each boxed set contains an instruction booklet outlining ways in which these can be used to empower children to think positively. I bought mine at Dymocks but the Indigo Kidz web site allows you to order on line.   

You Go Girl. Gorgeous little bright book that celebrates each girls beauty and strength. I have seen mini-versions at most newsagents; publication details are in my Library. Speaking of which… there are loads of other brilliant reads in there that would also make amazing gifts.   

Wonder Woman action figures and merchandise. Actually, these are really on my Wish List! I am in lust with a poster I have just seen on the Ms. Magazine’s site – they have a whole section for WW merchandise 🙂 

Piggy Bank– I love encouraging girls (and boys!) to save and become financially independent.  I bought Teyah’s best friend Christen a butterfly Piggy Bank for her Birthday recently and she loved it – she is filling it so she can then pay to go on horse camp. SOOOO cute.  

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CD’s – So many little girls I have had stay over have just loved the Butterfly Dreaming meditation CD put out by occupational therapist Denise Allen. Can be contacted on 02 43651666. 

2f79_2.jpgAND let’s not forget many girls are not into pink… or even butterflies at all! My sister would have cringed at some of the gifts I have suggested here. When we were growing up, she was far more excited by Star Wars ( Han Solo, Yoda – just not Princess Leia!), and Lego building sets. Go girl!   

There are so many other great options – stationery (little girls cannot seem to get enough of papers and stickers!), active toys (trampolines, skates, bikes, balls etc), torches, sleeping bags ( yep, Teyah is planning a sleep out – under our pool table!) … love to hear your ideas! 

Also thought I’d add some of my BAH HUMBUG discoveries. Ebay want to convince teen girls that they need ultra expensive designer items in order to be “Cool for school” – $220 Sass and Bide jeans? PLEASE! This is not the OC! Marissa Cooper is dead!

As most students in Australia wear a school uniform I can only assume Ebay was pitching this for the odd mufti / plain clothes day schools do hold. OH that is so cruel. I still clearly recall the HELL the night before such events – lying awake obsessing over what I would wear in order to be seen as “cool” by my peers. AND I was only trying to choose between pretty standard gear – imagine if I had felt the added pressure of thinking it had to be Burberry!  GRRRRR…

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Even worse – and I DO NOT UNDERSTAND this – when googling “Girl Power Gifts” I came across a site aimed at young girls – www. girl.com.au . It claims to be “Empowering Girls Worldwide.” It must be aimed at pre-teens and young teens as its home page promotes films including Disney’s Enchanted, High School Musical, and the “Smart Cycle” -a toy for preschoolers. HOWEVER – it has a special page devoted just to….BRAZILLIAN WAXING! I kid you not! This is the advice offered to young girls…

The Brazilian bikini wax is an acquired taste and is not for everyone. Some women can endure the pain while others it’s just too much to bare. For those of you interested in modeling it’s a must, but I’d recommend a lead up before you take the plunge.

Brazilian waxing involves spreading hot wax your buttocks and vagina area. A cloth is patted over the wax, then pulled off. Don’t be alarmed if the waxer throws your legs over your shoulder, or asks you to moon them, this is normal and ensures there are no stray hairs. A tweezer is used for the more delicate areas (red bits).

So why does it appeal. Nobody really likes hair in their private regions and it has a childlike appeal. Men love it, and are eternally curious about it.”

All I want for Xmas is for companies that exploit and poison girls to stop pretending they are a “girl’s best friend” and back off 🙁

I have emailed girl@girl.com.au to tell them how I feel and to demand they remove this page. Why don’t you speak up too?

P.S. I have decided to make my outrage public – listen to the audio from my interview on 2UE 11/12 below ( also appears in my VidPod) :

Audio: Interview on 2UE 11/12

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