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Category: Sexualisation of children

No More Blurring The Lines – I’m Talking To You Mr Bruno Mars

Back in 2008 I blogged about my concern music no longer loved women:

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed societies boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now- thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centers, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

Obviously nothing has changed – if anything, the lines seem to have become even more blurred. Robin Thicke sings about wanting to tear a girl’s “arse in two” in his song with the telling title “Blurred Lines,” because he know the “bitch” wants it. Yet it was Miley Cyrus’ twerking (suggestive dancing) to this song at the recent VMA’s ( Video Music Awards) that caused outrage – not the song itself. Blogger Matt Walsh nailed the hypocritical nature of many of the “Shame on You Miley” responses in his post “Dear son, don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you”

A 36 year old married man and father, grinding against an intoxicated 20 year old while singing about how she’s an “animal” and the “hottest bitch in this place.” And what happens the next day? We’re all boycotting the 20 year old. The grown man gets a pass.

And so now welcome yet another grown man to the stage, Bruno Mars, with his latest single, “Gorilla.” The lyrics include:

Ooh I got a body full of liquor
With a cocaine kicker
And I’m feeling like I’m thirty feet tall
So lay it down, lay it down

You got your legs up in the sky
With the devil in your eyes
Let me hear you say you want it all
Say it now, say it now…

Yeah, I got a fistful of your hair
But you don’t look like you’re scared
You just smile and tell me, “Daddy, it’s yours.”
‘Cause you know how I like it,
You’s a dirty little lover

If the neighbors call the cops,
Call the sheriff, call the SWAT ‒ we don’t stop,
We keep rocking while they’re knocking on our door
And you’re screaming, “Give it to me baby,
Give it to me motherf*#cker!”

And you know what? I don’t want to hand out anymore free passes. I am calling “Enough!”

The first time I heard this was when I was dropping my two children to school in the morning while tuned to a mainstream commercial radio station. I expressed my dismay on Facebook and soon had many agree with me – the majority of the comments of support were from teen girls I am Friends with. Some of these girls went on to message me to say that it is no wonder the boys around them don’t always respect them, and that they feel a culture that celebrates this type of man-handling of women is making it hard to know what respect in a relationship really looks and feels like.

The messages these girls sent me are certainly reinforced by the research.Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship. And sadly, the statistics on sexual assault clearly indicate there is absolutely a great deal of confusion around the issue of sexual consent. A recent United Nations report shockingly revealed that one in four men surveyed in Asia-pacific admit to rape. Many respondents did not consider the act as rape, however, for they felt it was acceptable to coerce a woman into sex if she was in fact too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it. Nearly 73%  said they thought  they had an entitlement to sex, these respondents identified with statements like “I wanted her”, “I wanted to have sex”, or “I wanted to show I could do it”.

Colleague and writing partner Nina Funnell, who has worked extensively in the area of sexual assault prevention, offered the following thoughtful response to this study:

Sexual assault is just all too common and in Australia I don’t think the stats wouldn’t be all that different. I know too many women and girls who have had unwanted and non consensual sexual experiences. It is absolutely vital that we start a new conversation in relation to sexual education: we need to move beyond reproduction, puberty and the biology of making babies and start talking about consent and communication. We need to talk about sexual entitlement and its close (read: direct) relationship to sexual assault. We need to help all young people to recognise and respect other people’s boundaries. We need to focus on healthy relationhips, consent, boundaries, fair negotiation and respect. We need to empower young people to know their own bodies, instead of shaming them around their sexualities . We need a new conversation where we are brave enough to talk about the fact that these issues don’t only effect teenagers. And we need to get real about a culture that normalizes and even eroticizes non consensual acts. Most of all, we need to recognise that this is going to take time and hard work.

It is a shame that much of the nuanced discussion around the need for education was missed when the Daily Telegraph ran a story on my concerns over “Gorilla” earlier this week. It is important to note too (as it’s not clear from this article) that I am not saying the song should necessarily be banned per se, but rather there should be some guidelines for commercial radio that determine what song lyrics can be played at what time of the day – similar to what we now have for TV.

I did get the opportunity to have another say on channel 9’s Mornings show:

Surely we can offer a better soundtrack to our kid’s youth than this?

Girl Talk

We all want our daughters to become strong, resilient and compassionate women. But how do you help them get there? In a world that seems to force girls to grow up before their time, parents can have their job cut out for them. here, three of Australia’s leading parenting experts explain the essential elemnts a girl needs from her parents to give her the right start.

October’s Good Health magazine asked me to share my Top Tips for raising healthy, happy teen girls. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and to be featured alongside Steve Biddulph and Melinda Hutchings.

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Don’t panic

We are living in times which can be very challenging for girls. In many ways, this generation is attempting to deal with incredibly adult issues with only child-like strategies to fall back on and rather than supporting them in this process we tend to judge them. I think that’s very difficult and alienating for young girls. You can look at statistics around girls and body image, alcohol and online behaviour and panic but many teens are making good choices and are, in fact, speaking out and attempting to reshape their culture through petitions and blogs. Our job is not to patronise them or say alarmist things like ‘one mistake can ruin your life,’ but to help them make better choices.

Be their role model

Girls can’t be what they can’t see. Many women are forever on diets, are unsure of their bodies, are lamenting the ageing process, are binge-drinking or engaging in toxic talk around their friendships and girls see this. They say to me, ‘Mum tells me I’m beautiful all the time, but I know she doesn’t believe she is.’ It’s tempting to blame the media and marketers for all the dysfunction, but we are the ones they spend the most time with and we can be a powerful voice of difference.

Open up about online porn

It’s not a matter of  will she access porn online, it’s a matter of when, as often she may stumble across it quite accidentally. It can be awkward, but you need to talk to your your daughter about what she’s seeing online otherwise how will she make sense of it? And then what she’ll feel is shame. We don’t want our daughters feeling shame about their sexuality, their bodies or the sexual act. We also don’t want them thinking that the images they see in porn are the only way in which sex is conducted.

Don’t be complacent about alcohol

Saying no to alcohol will not drive your daughter to sneak out and get trashed. In fact, research shows that when parents allow their children to drink at home it normalises drinking and lowers their inhibitions to drink more. If she does break your rule and drink and least you’ll both know you didn’t condone it. Don’t make it easy for her.

Connect with her

All my conversations with girls leads me to believe that despite all the rhetoric about them being mean girls and divas and entitled, they are still beautiful, fun, affectionate, amazing young women who long to spend time with us and long to be loved and noticed. Create a positive time and a space for your daughter. Although it’s normal for her to reject you at times, you must let her know that you’re open for love (and cuddles). By doing so, she’ll get the message that she’s loved unconditionally.

 

 

So Much To Tell You

The last few weeks have been something of whirlwind. I have been presenting to hundreds of teen girls in Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney – and am off to Melbourne and Singapore shortly too.

And oh how wonderful it was to have this on-the-ground work externally recognised by Prevention Australia Magazine. This month I was honoured to be included in their annual “40 Most Inspiring Women Over 40” issue; listed as a “Game Changer” alongside such incredible women as Jessica Rowe, Ita Buttrose, Quentin Bryce and Penny Wong!

#40womenover40
Click on image to enlarge:
#40womenover40

 

It was also wonderful to have the opportunity to return to Channel 9’s “Mornings” program to discuss the ridiculous weight jibes that were directed towards fashion model Jessica Gomes:

And finally, the audio from the session I chaired at the Sydney Opera House’s “All About Women” conference, “Bringing Up Daughters,” was uploaded. You may access it here:

Audio – Bringing Up Daughters – Sydney Opera House, 7th April, 2003.

This conversation is really thought provoking and features insights from my panellists Nigel Marsh, Maya Newell and Barbara Toner. Unfortunately, the audio gets stuck about 25 seconds in, but if you scroll past this point you will be able to listen to the entire hour. It may be worth listening as a staff / parent body and then discussing some of the key questions I posed yourselves? Questions may include:

  • In her book Leaning In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg cites research showing that parents treat sons and daughters differently. They talk to girl babies more than boys, and spend more time comforting and hugging girls than watching them play by themselves. Mothers also overestimate the crawling abilities of their sons and underestimate it in their daughters. And Sandberg says, ‘When a girl tries to lead, she is often labelled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend.’ She argues that the fact we treat girls and boys differently from a young age is one of the reasons there are so few women in leadership positions. Do you think that parents can subconsciously restrict the opportunities of their daughters?
  • Does new technology mean we need to change the way we parent, or are the fundamentals still the same?
  • One of the big social changes of the past decade or so that worries a lot of parents is how easy it has become to access porn. Pornography was always there—but now it’s everywhere, and it’s increasingly hard core. University of NSW research noted that 28 percent of 9–16-year-olds had seen sexual material online, which means that by the time parents settle down to have ‘the talk’ with their kids about sex education, chances are their kids have already formed their own ideas about what sex is, based on a porn ideal. So how should we talk to our daughters about sex and about the big difference between porn sex and real-life sex?
  • Most parents are juggling an extraordinary workload these days as well as running a household. The first thing many of us do each day is grab our phone and start checking emails and texts, and it doesn’t stop till we got to bed that night. A lot of us end up feeling exhausted and overwhelmed—but it’s not just parents. At my company Enlighten Education we run relaxation workshops for girls because they are increasingly stressed by an overscheduled life, an online world that never turns off and the pressure they feel to achieve. How important is it for our children that we set the tone by making healthy choices and finding a work/life balance ourselves?
  • What is the most valuable thing that you learned from your own parents that you wish all daughters could learn?

The Power Of Image – The Truth About Modelling As Revealed By An “Angel”

Successful model Cameron Russell recently gave an incredibly powerful TED Talk on why looks aren’t everything, and on how in reality, she is merely the lucky recipient of a genetic lottery. This is a must-watch, if only to see the contrast between the images of Cameron taking during professional photo shoots, and what she actually looked like at this same period when performing more everyday tasks.

In a very similar vein, you may also wish to encourage your girls to read the three part series previously posted here on the realities of the modelling industry. Parts one and two were written by Enlighten’s own Nikki Davis, our incredibly talented Senior Presenter and our Program Director for Western Australia. Anyone who has had Nikki work with the girls at their school will know young women simply adore her, and find her stories incredibly powerful.

Modelling – Part 1: Body Image 

Modelling – Part 2: Career Reality Check 

Could I Be A Model? – Part 3

Nikki (right) with Australia’s Human Rights and Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, at the 2012 Australian Human Rights Awards (Enlighten was a Finalist).

Judging A Book By It’s Cover

This week there has been animated discussion about book covers. Concern over the truly awful feminised version of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” went beyond merely that of taste.

1966 cover design
Faber’s 50th Anniversary edition

Writer Nicole Elphick highlighted the concerns of many in her excellent analysis over at Daily Life:

The cover also illustrates a larger problem in how women’s literature is treated. By making the cover so explicitly, narrowly feminine in imagery, it assumes that if a woman writes something it will only be of interest to women and should only be marketed to women, as if somehow women are completely incapable of speaking to the breadth of human experience.

Elphick goes on to site author Jennifer Weiner on literary sexism in a 2010 interview she did for The Huffington Post: “I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book.” Amen.

However, some of the commentary on the new-look Anne of Green Gables cover (pictured below) is frankly ridiculous. Sure, the new look may feature a traditionally attractive blonde posing in an unnatural way, but to say she has a “come-hither” look, is a “bosomy vixen” and packaged to be like a “porn star” is crazy. She is wearing a high collared button up shirt for goodness sake! Crazy over-reactions like this do nothing to further the very real issue of the premature sexualisation of children and only undermine the valuable work being done in this area.

The controversial new cover of Anne of Green Gables.

I assume the publishers were hoping to update the look and appeal to the young Saddle Club audience with this version. Boring? Yep. Inappropriate to use a blonde rather than a red -head considering Anne is quite famous for the colour of her locks? Agreed. But let’s not start implying that girl’s bodies are innately dangerous and sexually provocative; that even in buttoned up shirts they could be leading people on ( “She’s asking for it by leaning back like that…”).

I’ve previously cautioned against over-reactions, and explained why they are so dangerous, over at The Hoopla. 

Love to hear what you think of both covers…

 

My next book

The Next Big Thing encourages writers to share their work. Participants answer questions on their next big project (usually a book, but not always – one of the nominees listed with me was a playwright) each Wednesday, and pass the baton on to five other writers to continue the project the following week.

Last week, I was tagged by Rachel Hills.

This provides me with the perfect excuse to discuss my next book which I have just completed. I had the pleasure of co-writing this with my dear friend Nina Funnell.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

“Love – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships”. It must be said though that we are still playing around with a number of titles. Like all expectant parents, we are keen to ensure we get the name for our baby just right. 

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Recently Nina and I met for coffee and found ourselves browsing through the self-help / relationship section at a local bookshop. We noted there was a whole genre of books out there aimed at young women, that would have them believe that landing a man means being less of who they really are. And there didn’t seem to be any books at all that were offering the kind of advice we actually wanted when we were teen girls – how to survive crushes, how to tell if someone likes you, how to cope with heartbreak, how to set relationship boundaries, how to know when it’s time to break up with your partner, and even (shock horror) how to actually enjoy being single (because it can be awesome)!

And while there are hundreds of studies conducted on teenagers and sex every year, there are almost no comprehensive studies (or very few) about teen relationships, in part because teen relationships are often viewed as trivial or unworthy of serious academic study. But the reality is, teen relationships are far from trivial. In fact these early experiences help shape us and lay the foundation for future relationships.  

So we decided that if we didn’t think any of what was out there already was particularly helpful, that we should offer something different.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Relationships – non-fiction. 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

My initial thoughts were that it is not the type of book that would be made into a film; but I then realised that of course one of the classic guides to relationships, “He’s Just Not That Into You”, was made into a very successful movie. So, should Hollywood call, I would  suggest a cast of young, diverse, interesting actors and actresses. With the soundtrack by Paul Dempsey / Something For Kate. 

Hey, if we are dreaming here…

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This book is an up –front guide to ethical dating and relationships which will empower young women. 

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Harper Collins, February 2014. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Nina and I had discussed the book concept for some time, but really only began writing 6 months ago. 

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The chapters I wrote are similar in their tone to my other book for teen girls, The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo. However, the book itself  deliberately parts ways with other guides to relationships that are already on the market for young people.  

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All the girls Nina and I work with in schools inspired this book. 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Think of this book as being a little like a “Lonely Planet” guide to Love written specifically for teen girls. We tell them about our travels, what we liked, what we hated, the places we would definitely go again and those they need to avoid… and we invited many other “travelers” to share their experiences too. It is warm and wise – and the teen girls we have shared it with to date absolutely love it! 

Next Wednesday, you’ll see a response from this writer I hereby tag*:

Sharon Witt  

* Technically, I am supposed to tag 5 writers but as as it is the Christmas season, I could only access one willing to participate at this time. Hey – it’s quality,  not quantity that counts.

 

On “targeting” little girls who wear shorts as “trampy”

Do short shorts = trampy? Does a short skirt = slutty?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines “sexualisation” as  occurring when a person’s value is believed to come only from their sexual appeal; their sexiness is judged according to a narrow ideal of physical attractiveness; or they are sexually objectified (that is, seen simply as an object for others’ sexual use). This may have a serious impact on a child’s cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and on their sexuality.

As a parent and educator, this has concerned me enough to compel me to act.

Back in 2002, I founded a company, Enlighten Education, which now works with over 20,000 girls a year in schools. We encourage girls to be discerning consumers and critical thinkers and to find their own voice and power in a complex world. I’ve taken to the streets to protest against child beauty pageants. I’ve backed boycotts of stores that market Playboy-branded merchandise to kids. Back in 2007, when 60 Minutes did a feature story in response to the Senate’s inquiry into this issue, I was presented as the “poster girl” for parents who were concerned that our culture imposes pressures on girls to be too sexy, too soon. Hell, I have even written two books aimed at supporting parents, and girls, to claim their own power.

So why am I not thrilled at the latest online furor over the mother’s Facebook message to clothing store Target that slammed them for encouraging girls to look “trampy”? After all, over 57,000 people agreed with her. Why too aren’t I elated by the subsequent media storm this has initiated, which has seen two different pairs of denim shorts held up as shocking examples of sexualized clothing we should all be morally outraged by?

A pair of shorts presented by the media as evidence of the sexualisation of girls.

Because short shorts are not evidence of the sexualisation of our children, nor should children ever be labeled as “trampy”. And the really important and valid discussions around the sexualisation of children we need to be having at the moment seem to be being hijacked by those that would have this issue used as an excuse to shame girls and women based on their clothing choices.

This diversion may have serious consequences. History shows us that the natural progression in making moral judgements about an individual based solely on their clothing is to then begin blaming victims for sexual assaults based on what they were wearing at the time. I have already seen a number of comments and posts on Facebook that suggest if little girls are attacked by predators, it would be reasonable for us to then question what they were wearing at the time of the assault. Not only is such thinking deeply offensive, it is misinformed and dangerous. All the research shows that those who would harm girls and women pick targets they perceive as vulnerable; as easy targets. They don’t go around measuring short lengths or skirt hems.

Keep in mind too that sexual assault is a very real issue in our society and when we make statements that are in effect rape-apologist in nature, or that shame women based on clothing choice, the victims of these assaults hear that we think somehow it was their fault. That they asked for it. Their shorts were an invitation to judge them / insult them / harm them.

Truly, where do we think this policing of the length of a pair of shorts might end? Should girls and women be ashamed of their flesh? Do we want to keep them covered up from head to toe?

I absolutely agree that there are many marketers who are selling out on our children by pushing a product that does enforce an artificial, adult version of sexuality upon them. Should the shorts have been brandished with “Flirt”, “Playboy”, “Porn Star” or pouting lips (and make no mistake, I have seen products aimed at children bearing all these slogans) then yes, this would clearly be evidence of sexualisation.

And whilst I support any individual who wishes to speak back to corporates and demand more for children, I know that a path which invites the shaming of girls and women based on clothing choice, and that views garments that seem only to be guilty of perhaps “showing too much leg,” is not a path we should be going down.

* This post was first published by The Hoopla, 15/8/12.

The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power

The countdown has begun!

Ever since my book on raising teen girls — The Butterfly Effect — came out, mothers and daughters have been telling me they wish there was a version for teens. So I am thrilled to say that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power is to be released on 1 March!

I loved every minute of writing this book. Teen girls were my inspiration from the very start, and I am bursting with excitement to share this book with them. My aim is to encourage girls to question the limiting messages advertisers, the media and our culture keep pushing: that a girl’s greatest worth is her looks, and beauty comes in only one size and shape. My hope is that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers girls to find their strength and be true to their own hearts and minds.

Before the book went off to the printer, I sent it out to several girls for review, and I’m happy to say it received an overwhelmingly positive response. And I am honoured that two feminist thinkers I deeply respect have also put their support behind the book’s messages . . .

Finally a book for teenage girls that does not patronise or attempt to police them! The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers teen girls to make their own choices. — Nina Funnell, writer, women’s rights advocate and recipient of Australian Human Rights Commission Community (Individual) Award, 2010

Danni Miller is the big sister every teenage girl needs, offering the perfect mix of resolve-stiffening encouragement, soul-touching inspiration and real-world practical advice. — Emily Maguire, author of Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, power, choice

To be certain that your girls are among the first to get their hands on this book, you can pre-order (for $19.95 plus $5 postage and handling to anywhere in Australia). Each pre-ordered copy will be signed by me and will come with a beautiful bookmark and Enlighten Education wristband as free gifts. Click here to order now.

For a sneak peak at what The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo has to offer, check out Chapter 1, “The Battle Within”, for free, by clicking here. I hope that you enjoy it, and share it today with all the wonderful teen girls in your life!

Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves

Just like the all-knowing, ominous voices in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, every festive season concerned commentators apparate to warn us about the imminent dangers of Christmas shopping for children- especially for little girls. Lego releases a new range of pink blocks for girls? Beware of buying into limiting gender stereotypes. Disney has launched a new pint-sized princess? Girls are doomed to a future of passivity and reliance on male rescuing. Your daughter wants a Bratz doll? Well you might as well give up right now.

Of course there are numerous toy ranges that are unarguably sexualised and adultified- everything from Baby Bratz in lingerie to scantily clad Vampire – wannabees courtesy of Monster High. Then there is the “tyranny” of pink; to peruse the girls’ aisles in the toy shop you would be forgiven for thinking little girls were cognitively unable able to respond to any colour that is not associated with sugar, spice and all things nice.

But while there are legitimate concerns, is the extent of the worrying all that proportionate? And is it actually productive?

Reinventing "Pink Princess" play.

As educators who work with young women, we know it is vital to give girls the skills to deconstruct the gender messages they receive along with their much-loved dolls. Cultural goods are not “values free” and there are certainly some questionable toys being marketed to our girls.

And yet, to listen to the rhetoric of how “toys are corrupting our children and destroying their innocence”, you would be forgiven for thinking that the toys had come to life- Toy Story style- and were now fiendishly plotting to hurt vulnerable, passive children. It is as though we have begun to think of the children as lifeless objects, being acted upon by toys, rather than the other way around.

As adult women, we have both admitted to each other (almost tentatively for fear of losing some feminist credibility) that as little girls we were bower-bird like in our pursuit for all that was shiny, pretty and pink. We adored our Barbies, were besotted by anything princess-like and suspect that were they around back then- we would have sold our little glittered-up souls for a Bratz. And yet like most women who ever played with Barbie, we somehow managed to turn out just fine.

So, instead of merely asking “what are toys doing to our children?”, we look at what children actually do with their toys.

The reality is that many children play in delightfully creative and often highly subversive ways. If you watch how girls actually play with Barbie they may well quite literally deconstruct her by pulling her arms off, chopping at her hair, or as we did, ignore the pretty pink Barbie Kitchen and instead drive her around in a makeshift car pretending she was building an empire.

Nor do little girls play at princesses by waiting poised for their prince to come and rescue them. Rather, girls use princess and fairy themed props to play at power. They order around servants. Right wrongs within their kingdom. Grant wishes. Four year old Snow White devotee Teyah was known as the “Gum-boot Princess” by her pre-school mates for under her princess gown she always wore sensible boots – all the better for stomping about to create order.

This is not to say, however, the toy aisles couldn’t do with an overhaul. But little girls we speak to say rather than give girls fewer options, we should be giving them more options by opening up the entire toy shop to all – regardless of gender.

“When you look in the girl’s aisle it’s all just pink, princess stuff…but the boys get fun building stuff, and puzzles and cars. I still don’t know why marbles, puzzles and mighty beans are in the boys aisles [and not the girls]” says nine year old Lucinda. “And you might think that black, blue and all dark colours are for boys but to me they are girl’s colours too. There are just things in this world called ‘colours’ and they don’t belong to anybody.”

It seems that raising healthy, well adjusted kids has less to do with the toys they play with and more to do with the values we instill them with. By teaching our children to think critically about cultural goods and by equipping them with skills to navigate complex cultural messages we will be empowering them for life.

Education-not panic- enables girls to see clearly, think critically, and reinvent their worlds.

What a fabulous gift to give to them.

 

This post was co-written with Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti–sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on “sexting”, teen girls and moral panics. The post was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald 23/12/11

A happy, peaceful, girl-power Christmas!

At Enlighten we believe it’s vital to not only help girls develop the tools to deconstruct toxic media and marketing messages, but also to offer them positive alternatives, so this year we’ve made an extra-special effort to provide girls with products that are inspiring and empowering. As we head into Christmas, I thought I’d profile these, and some other great gift alternatives created by amazing women. If you’re like me and you think girls deserve better than what many retailers are offering — Playboy-branded bling, T-shirts with sexy slogans — then here are some other gift ideas for the girls in your life.

Girls of all ages (and their mums, too) are just loving the Enlighten posters we had custom designed, featuring gorgeous imagery and uplifting messages. Some girls like to cover their bedroom walls with all eight of the posters, which are only $5 each — you can check them out at Enlighten’s website. I know a lot of people have had it with the commercialism of Christmas, and I agree that it shouldn’t really be all about spending. So another way to treat girls is to download the posters for free as wallpaper for their mobiles; for that matter, treat yourself, too.

On our site you’ll also find our free iPhone app, which each day features different inspiring quotes, self-affirming messages and web links to info that all girls should know — plus, it looks stunning! (We hope that one day in the future we will be able to roll it out for Android phones too.) For parents and people who work with teen girls, my book The Butterfly Effect: A positive new approach to raising happy, confident teen girls can make a great gift. (P.S. the girls’ edition, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, will be out in March next year, just in time for International Women’s Day!)

 For Real GiRLS!, a fantastic new Australian magazine for ages 7 to 12, has just hit newsagents and Coles stores. It is the brainchild of designers Sonia Pereira
and Liz Purdue. Liz came to one of my parent seminars after her eldest daughter, Rachel, did an Enlighten workshop at Pymble Ladies College. The themes of my presentation struck home with Liz, who at the time was working on several girls’ magazines, including Bratz and Barbie. Now the mother of three is working with a team of designers who are all mothers, producing a magazine that is a true alternative to the other magazines on offer for girls. There is no beauty, fashion, celebrity gossip or ads — oh, sweet relief. Her experience working on girls’ magazines and reading the fan mail that came in convinced her that “girls don’t really want to read a mag about celebrities and popstars (if they do they can access far more recent info for free on the net) and they are certainly not interested in makeup . . . they are far more focused on friendship than fashion!” This magazine will make girls and their parents equally happy. 

Another magazine concept, for girls aged 8 and up, is New Moon Girls, which combines a magazine and social networking site where all of the content is created by girls themselves — artwork, fiction, poetry, videos and more. There are no ads, and a year’s subscription gives girls 6 issues of the printed magazine and access to the social networking site, which is fully moderated and designed to be educational and build self-esteem and positive body image. Nancy Gruver founded New Moon almost 20 years ago, inspired by her twin 11-year-old daughters. It is based in the US, but the magazine can be shipped to Australia, so an annual subscription can make a great present. If you want to check out the social networking site, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial.

If you’ve been trawling through the shops in the lead-up to Christmas, you might have been infuriated by some of the hyper-sexy clothes targeted at young girls. So check out Pigtail Pals, which is run by Melissa Atkins Wardy, a mum and entrepreneur who was fed up with the stereotypes found in children’s clothing and wanted role models for her daughter that exemplified courage, intelligence and imagination. “Our motto is to ‘Redefine Girly’ and raise girls with the message they are smart, daring, and adventurous,” according to Melissa. “Our designs show girls as doctors, astronauts, pilots, pirates, exploring the ocean, and playing with dinosaurs.” They also have stationery, hats, tote bags and backpacks with positive messages for girls.

If you’ve been in the toy aisles lately, chances are it was just as infuriating. Perth woman Helen Schofield was looking for dolls for her granddaughters to play with and found herself asking, “Why do so many young girls seem to be enslaved by the need to be sexy at such an early age?” Rather than wring her hands in anguish at the poor choices on offer for girls, she decided to create a range of dolls herself. She and her husband risked their retirement funds and created Australian Girl, a range of five dolls that represent the lives of real Australian girls; the brand encourages self-acceptance and care for, and awareness of, others. Being a big reader ever since I was a child, I love the fact that the Australian Girl website encourages girls to make up stories about their dolls. The company even launched an adventure fiction book in which the dolls’ characters travel back in time and discover things they never knew about Australian history and significant Australian women.

Do you know of any other positive, empowering gifts for girls? I’d love to hear about them.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful — and girl-power! — Christmas.

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