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Category: Sexualisation of children

Guiding the way…

This week I want to share extracts from “Teenage Mental health: girls shout out!”, the third research report recently released by GirlGuiding UK:

Teenage mental health: Girls shout out! is an investigation into girls’ experiences of both hard-to manage and challenging feelings and recognised mental health problems. The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualisation, commercialisation and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behaviour at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.”

Some of the statistics are frightening and yet they are consistent with the many other studies that have also examined the impact our toxic culture is having on young women:

• Half the girls questioned know someone who has suffered from depression (51 per cent).
• Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed (42 per cent).
• A third have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder (32 per cent).
• Almost two in five have a friend who has experienced panic attacks (38 per cent).
• A quarter know someone who has taken illegal drugs (27 per cent).
• Two-fifths have experience of someone drinking too much alcohol (40 per cent).

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed wouldn’t it? But girls don’t need our dismay – they need us to get active.    

What types of things can be done to support girls’ emotional well being? The report also offers some practical suggestions:

1. Give girls things to do: from adventure playgrounds to kung fu or street dancing.
2. Create safe places where girls can have freedom without parents worrying.
3. Boost confidence by giving girls opportunities to succeed outside school.
4. Encourage girls to try something new.
5. Make girls feel normal and accepted – whatever problems they might have.
6. Don’t overwhelm them with advice – give them space.
7. Help them understand that they can’t always help the way they feel.
8. Initiate a young mayor scheme – giving girls a say in important decisions.
9. Make information about where to turn for help easily available.
10. Use the Girlguiding UK website to offer advice and support.

I would add to this the following ideas:

1. Empathise – don’t dismiss her fears and anxities, nor think of her as a mere “drama queen.” Being a teen girl is challenging at times, and I believe this generation of girls have it even harder than we did. A great exercise that may help you reconnect with what it feels like to be a teenager was offered in one of my previous posts: Letter To My Teen Self. Do take the time to read the letters other Butterfly Effect readers contributed – they are so insightful. Add a letter of your own!
2. Help girls develop a language to describe how they are feeling; develop their emotional literacy.
3. Encourage girls to seek out a “Fairy Godmother” – a mentor who can help her navigate these tumultueous years. Enlighten’s Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discussed this with great honesty and warmth in her previous guest post True Colours.
4. Get informed. Read books from
My Library, read some of the articles on my Article of Interest page, watch some of the films in my Video Pod, visit some of the other web sites I recommend.
5. Encourage girls to critique the media messages that surround them. This blog has offered a variety of great practical activities that get girls active eg: my post on Talking Back to the Media. 

The entire GirlGuiding report is so well worth reading that I am providing the PDF here for you and a “virtual treat” for you to have whilst taking 5 minutes to really think about how you can respond intelligently and compassionately to the pressing needs of the girls you care for…

Guiding UK Report on Teenage Mental Health

 

Stealing innocence

The following link is to a discussion I had on Sunrise with former Democrats leader Lyn Allison on the art versus child porn debate. This issue reared its ugly head again as Australia’s Art Monthly chose to make a political statement by using higly sexualised naked images of six year old girl Olympia in their July edition. 

Dannielle Miller on Sunrise – child nudity in art

Below is a letter Melinda Tankard Reist had published in the Sydney Morning Herald today:

You say dignity, I say torture porn –

and ne’er the twain shall meet

Art is about “giving people dignity”, the critic Robert Nelson told ABC radio this week. “We’ve got to have faith in art,” he implored.

Nelson is the father of Olympia, whose naked photos appear in Art Monthly Australia’s latest issue. The photos were taken in 2003 by her mother, when the girl was six.

Flicking through Art Monthly, I wondered whether Mr Nelson had looked at the magazine that featured his daughter before he gave us his thoughts on art and human dignity.

Call me particular, but I don’t find images of semi-naked, bound women with protruding sex organs all that dignified. I looked really hard, but I couldn’t see much dignity in the photograph of a Japanese schoolgirl trussed in rope and suspended with her skirt raised to reveal her underwear.

Torture porn just doesn’t stir my soul.

Some of Bill Henson’s images are there (of course – this issue was a “protest” in defence of his work). They are  followed by selections from the work of the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, probably best known for his passion for taking photos of girls and women exposed and bound.

There’s his slumped, bound, schoolgirl picture and an image of a woman with her clothing stripped back, the ropes squeezing her naked breasts and contorting her into a pose that displays her genitals. A third uplifting work depicts a woman on the ground, strained forward, her naked spreading backside to the camera.

Faith in art?

A little further into the magazine you come upon the work of David Laity. What offering of truth and beauty does Laity give us? An image of a woman being bound with the tentacles of an octopus as it performs oral sex on her.  That’s some dignified octopus.

Then there’s an image of a woman bending over so we can see her … well, you get the picture.

The photographs of Olympia need to be viewed in the context of the images positioned around her. On their own, the images that show Olympia reclining naked, her pose and look more that of an adult, can be seen as sexualised. But surrounding her with these other images superimposes a further, more sinister, meaning on them.

The former Democrats senator Lyn Allison told Sunrise the controversy was just about little girls playing dress-ups. But don’t dress-ups usually involve putting clothes on, not taking them off? And does this game usually end with your photo published in a gallery of female genitals? The magazine’s editor said he wanted to “restore dignity to the debate”. Does he really think he’s achieved that?
Artists who recognise there should be ethical constraints to art; artists who don’t think it advances humanity to tie  up naked girls and capture their images  – now that would be dignified.

Melinda Tankard Reist

Canberrra

Love to hear your thoughts.

 

“She’s just a cute Tween…but she grows up to be a curvy, cool Teen!”

Unlike most little girl’s dolls, which are designed to represent older teenagers or women, Mattel’s “My Scene, Growing Up Glam” doll openly set out to depict a tween, a girl aged 8-13 years. She is dressed in lace stockings, short skirt, diamante belt, midriff top and wears a full face of heavy make-up ( complete with false eye lashes). Her cute accessories? A teddy bear and school books:

Twist the screw on her back (oh how symbolic!) and her abdomen stretches. It’s gruesome to watch. She looks like she is being stretched by a medieval torture device.

Hey presto! Now she’s a “curvy, cool teen.” But wait, you say, all that has really changed is that her stomach has stretched to make her appear taller! 

How telling. It seems there is no physical difference between an 8 year old girl and an older teen in Mattel land.  Nor should the clothes they wear differ. The accessories do change though – she trades in her school books and teddy bear for a full make up kit (“Whoa, her make up changes too!”) and some glossy fashion magazines. Flats shoes are out – its all about the stilettos now. Out too with cute hair clips and in with designer sunnies.

 

Where do I begin in explaining why this type of doll is so toxic for our daughters? And why do I feel I must actually explain why this is not acceptable. Isn’t it self-evident?

In the wake of the Senate tabling the findings of its much anticipated inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment in parliament last week, more than ever I feel I need to justify my concerns.

The committee observed “…that children are certainly more visibly sexualised in terms of the media to which they are exposed. This basic assumption was not challenged by any evidence received, and is based on recognition of the increasing targeting of products to child-related markets and the greater exposure of children to information via the many available media forms, and particularly the Internet. However it would be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm.”

Why would it be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm? Because not enough long term research has been done yet on the impact of the sexualisation of children on their physical and mental health? Does anyone think for one moment that any research that is commissioned will come back showing that stealing childhood has actually been helpful? Healing? Why do we need to wait for more numbers to come in before we act – there has already been a large body of research that has alerted us to numerous potential dangers including an increase in eating disorders, self harm, risky sexual practices.   Why can’t we err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting children?

Clive Hamilton, former Director of the Australia Institute whose report ‘Corporate P-dophilia’ prompted the Senate Inquiry, summed up the recommenations thus: “The recommendations..amount to nothing more than a polite request that advertisers and broadcasters might perhaps, if it’s not too much trouble, consider listening to community concerns a little more.”

I have found the debate surrounding the Inquiry very interesting too. Those who dare question the path society is taking have been labelled prudish, out of touch, alarmist. Catherine Lumby, the Director of Journalism  and Media at UNSW, expressed concern that some commentators were viewing children as “uncovered meat”, she told the world she was “furious” that children were being made to feel ashamed about their bodies.  

I will join Catherine in her fury if anyone dares suggest children’s bodies are provocative and need to be covered up. I too will dismiss as alarmist anyone who wants nappy advertisements banned. But I haven’t met, nor heard, from any of these types. I haven’t seen people up in arms over singlets, or nappy ad’s or innocuous pictures of girls looking pensive. Such people may well exist at one end of the continuum, just as those that design t-shirts for toddlers emblazoned with “All my Daddy wanted was a blow job” do exist at the other end of the scale. 

Do I have a problem  with little girls wearing singlet tops? Absolutely not – unless they are emblazoned with slogans like “Porn  Star”, “Flirt” or “Tease.” A 10 year old girl I worked with in a school recently turned up at her school camp wearing a shirt that read, “Wrap your lips around this.” Can you see why I might be concerned about that Ms Lumby? And this is not by any means another extreme example. Raunchy messages aimed directly at young girls are mainstream.

I am concerned too not just because I think there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but becuase the messages presented are so narrow. It’s all big (fake) breasts, pouts, and male fantasy soft porn. It’s all Hugh Hefner bunnys and pole dancing. Women’s sexuality (and men’s) is in reality so much more diverse and complicated. Just as we are told that only a leggy blonde size 8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told only a busty, wet and wild blonde can be truly sexy.       

And Ms Lumby just for the record, I have never had a problem with teen girl magazines offering age appropriate advice on sexuality. Magazines are a valuable source of information as some parents do feel uncomfortable having these important conversations with their children. But I do think some of the advice and articles offer too much too soon – do tweens and teens really need detailed information on anal sex and to be told it is a “personal choice” ? Isn’t there a risk that a twelve year old will feel left out when she reads in the June issue of Dolly that over 21% of the readers profiled in their sealed section say they lost their virginity between the ages of 10-13?

And it’s not even just the advice and articles that concern me – it is the mixed messages buried within the pages that really trouble me. The mag’s occasionally do offer great articles on self esteem and body image, yet they allow advertisements for mobile downloads that include slogans like “Save a virgin, do me instead” and “Fancy a quickie?” I never wanted magazines to be banned. I just wanted common sense self-censorship, and age appropriate guidelines on the covers to alert parents and readers to the fact that the content might not be as innocuous as the oh-so-wholesome airbrushed covers might lead one to believe. It seems even this was asking too much. 

Do I sound like a sore looser? I feel like one. There was a lot to loose.

I am comforting myself by holding on to the belief that despite the senate’s softly, softly approach, the process itself has at least brought about a heightened awareness of the issues.

Instinctively, we all know that we do not need a government report, or a team of academics, or a myriad of research papers to tell us that enough is enough.

And despite the divisions there is one point on which every one seems to agree – education is key. Girls and boys, now more than ever, need to be savvy media navigators. They need to be given the skills they need to make sense of the adult world that is becoming more and more part of their childhood world too. Teaching and helping girls navigate Girl World is the work that I love passionately, and it is the work that my team and I are gifted in doing well. 

Education works. 

This week my own real life “too cute tween” , an eleven year old girl I worked with at a school recently, was told by her dance teacher that she had to start wearing not just a full mask of make-up for her dance concerts, but false eye lashes too. When her mother, who has completed my course for parents, questioned why this was really necessary she was told by the dance teacher that the eye lashes would “increase her (daughter’s) confidence.” Mum and “Ms Enlightened Tween” are both saying no. Neither are comfortable with this and both feel that long batting eyelashes are just too much. As is so often the case, the dance teacher tried making Mum feel stupid – “But all the other parents think it is fine.” When Mum investigated this claim, she found that four out of the ten dance mothers were also actually really worried about the appropriateness of wearing false eye-lashes but they had been scared to speak out.

And whether you think the eyelashes were actually harmless or harmful is ultimately immaterial. What I love is the fact that this little girl will no longer allow herself to be stretched and pulled into becoming a “curvy, cool teen.”  

She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with.  She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabee dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. 

She’ll grow up on her own terms.   

That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.

P.S In an effort to offer parents something positive they can latch on to a resource, I have asked Women’s Forum Australia to reproduce here an article from their excellent publication “Faking It.” The extract below in PDF format is entitled ” The sum of your body parts – reducing women to sex objects: how it happens and how it hurts us.” It is a great catalyst for conversation – and we must continue having powerful conversations. 

fakingit_sumbodyparts_lowres

Interested in finding out more? “Faking It” is also being launched in Sydney in July:   

Time:        8pm – 9.15pm

Date:        Friday, 18th July

Venue:     Darling Harbour Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Bayside  

This will be one of the World Youth Day events, a chance for the Get Real! message to go global. The event is open to all, even those who are not official WYD participants: go along and be empowered and inspired to GET REAL! I spoke at the launch held in Perth earlier this year and thought the night was just brilliant. So inspiring! For more information, or to let them know that you’re coming, contact

Erica on 0414-690-487, or email WFA at: nsw@womensforumaustralia.org 

Finally, the PDF below is the Facilitator’s guide for the Canadian Documentary on the sexualisation of children entitled “Sexy Inc.” Even if you have not seen the film, the booklet offers excellent discussion questions:

sexy-inc-facilitators-guide

STOP PRESS – there has been a change of venue for the “Get Real” event – it will now be held in the Parkside Ballroom, Sydney Convention Centre. Same start time. I have been asked to be the MC – hope to see you there!  

 

Enlighten Education on 60 Minutes

Thank you to everyone who has responded so favourably to the feature story 60 Minutes ran on our work and the important issue of the sexualisation of our children. For those who missed it here is their story brief:
 

 

Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

You have to wonder what on earth’s happening to our kids. Especially little girls.

They’re bombarded with sexy images. Raunchy video clips, billboards and store catalogues.

Then there are the trashy fashions, explicit undies, even Barbie dolls in skimpy costumes.

The message is you’ve got to be “hot” to be cool.

No one can deny that sex sells, but why sell it to young children?

That’s a question currently confronting the politicians in Canberra.

They’ve launched a Senate inquiry into the whole issue of the sexualisation of children.

Fair enough, but many experts simply say – let kids be kids.

The full story can be viewed on the 60 Minutes site:  www.sixtyminutes.com.au

I was also asked to participate in a live on-line interview after the program aired. This was challenging as I had to dictate my responses to the questions to a host who then typed them for me – hence I may sound inarticulate at points! The transcipt is below.

Chat: Dannielle Miller

Monday, June 23, 2008
60 Minutes presents a live interview with Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education about teen body image..

Interviewer: Dannielle thank you for talking to us tonight in our live online chat room.

Dannielle Miller: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Effie asks: Hi Dannielle. Have you been getting a lot of support with schools on your program?

I think you are doing wonderful work and want to wish you all the best in your success.

Dannielle Miller: Thank you for your kind words. Our programme has been very well received. We founded the business 3 years ago in NSW and started with just 3 schools and now have more than 60 we work with nationally. Last year we also won Australian Small Business of the year for Children. We are of course very proud of this but it would also be lovely not to be so needed. The reality is that our girls are in crisis. We are very pleased that so many educators now acknowledge they are responsible for the whole person. We believe that girls cannot achieve their personal and academic potential if they are pre-occupied with body image and self-esteem issues.

Anthea asks: Do you have any funding for your program, where are you taking it to at the moment?

Dannielle Miller: We deliberately set the business up to be non-commercial so do not receive funding support from any entity. Nor do we receive Govt support at this point in time, however disadvantaged schools in Western Sydney have had our programmes subsidised and we have been achieving outstanding results with girls in these schools. Our programmes range from $30 to $45 per girl and in the majority of cases schools would ask parents to pay this. It was important to us to maintain the integrity of the work rather than accept corporate sponsorship.

Outraged asks: Danielle, how much does the ‘male gaze’ impact on media, given that many photographers, cameramen and advertising execs are men?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. I have not looked closely in this area however it would seem quite likely that the male gaze would impact on the way women are presented. It is important to note that many editors of teen girl magazines that do not always present positive images and role models are women. Quite often women are subject to the very same pressures and also want to conform to societies expectations. There is pressure on us all to be hot, hot, hot.

awol78 asks: I think the real issue – beyond the paedophilic angle – is the long term affects that this is having on our young people themselves. Low self esteem, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery… And… let’s target the real culprits here – beyond your Jessica Simpson’s, your Paris Hilton’s… Where is this sexualized culture coming from? The whole size zero phenomenon..? It’s the advertisers at the top. Sex sells – and nothing will ever change that. So well done on these programs – we need more in schools… Is there anything for BOYS and YOUNG MEN..?

It has become a big issue for males now too!

Dannielle Miller: Your are absolutely right in suggesting that we need to be concerned about so much more than just the way in which paedophiles may or may not view these images. In fact that is not a focus of our work at all, rather we focus very much on how girls view themselves as a result of being exposed to our toxic culture.

Yes, girls are suffering from eating disorders. Yes, self harm is on the increase. Yes, girls are binge drinking. Any concerned parent or educator would have to start questioning the messages they are bombarded with. Our programme is strength based which means that we affirm the knowledge the girls already have and more than that we provide them with the tools they need to unpack our adult society.

There are many excellent resources out there because we are by no means a voice in the wilderness. I would highly recommend accessing my blog where I post weekly reports and resources. Kids free to be kids, who were also profiled in the 60 Minutes story, do some wonderful work in this area as well. Women’s Forum Australia also have a publication entitled “Faking It” which does a tremendous job of combining the research on the sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies with a highly readable approach.

We need to actively seek a variety of tools and programmes that can be powerful voices of difference. As for your query as to what is out there for young men, I would have to say that I’m not aware of a similar programme that operates in schools targeting these issues. However, I would agree that boys also do need to presented with programs that enhance media literacy and emotional literacy.

IceKat asks: I’m curious as to what age you run your courses for? How young is too young?

Dannielle Miller: Our programmes are designed to be delivered in high school with girls aged 12 to 18. However this year I have had a number of primary schools ask me to work with their 11 to 12 yr old girls in Year 6. These schools are saying to me, self-esteem and body image issues are creeping into their playgrounds too. I applaud principals who want to be proactive.

The school executive at the primary school I was filmed working with on 60 Minutes, said to me quite clearly that they did not want to wait until their little girls were in trouble. They did not want me coming in to fix a problem, rather they wanted me to come in and help prevent a problem.

I think it is important to instil in all children from a young age a strong sense of self and give them age appropriate information on their emerging sexuality. The key word there, is age appropriate. My little girl who is 10, knows all about air brushing, photo shopping, and is encouraged to question images of girls and women that are not positive. I do not however even expose her to many of the highly sexualised songs, film clips etc because I am in no hurry to steal her childhood.

9girl asks: Are you breeding little feminists though?

Dannielle Miller: I hope so !!!! Perhaps this question implies there is something wrong with that?

To me feminism has always been very much about respecting and honouring women, and recognising that they deserve equality. It is easy for us to become complacent about women’s issues as in many ways we have made so much progress, yet surely when we look at the Pussycat Dolls and the magazine filled with wrinkle creams, images of Paris Hilton and Co. and diets, we can all see there is still work to do.

ShellyK13 asks: What can we as parents and myself as a teacher do to combat the barrage of sexual images and innuendo that our kids deal with every day?

Dannielle Miller: Again, I would encourage you to hook into some of the excellent resources that are out there. On my blog http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org I have gathered some amazing resources and also have a professional library. In a practical sense the following ideas may also prove helpful:

1. Talk to your daughter honestly and non judgementally about sex and her own sexuality.

2. Be a positive role-model.

I am actually writing a book for mothers at the moment.

3. Tell your daughter you love her for who she is not how she looks.

4. Offer positive alternatives by that I mean magazines, books and websites that offer positive images of women and sexuality.

5. Speak up! I love that Julie Gale song from Kids Free to be Kids, write to companies that sexualise children and tell them to back off !

Companies will only make hype-sexualised toys and merchandise if we continue to buy these things.

kenny78 asks: Shouldn’t the parents of any child have the right to view these pictures prior to them hitting the print. Surely a parent would have enough sense to be able to tell whether something is going to look too provocative?

Dannielle Miller: Parents do have the right to view images of their children before they go to print. You would hope therefore that they would make the right choices. I must also stress, that some children are very vulnerable and do not have adults around them that make good choices. As a society we need to protect children by setting our own standards as well.

savethegirls asks: When do we stop blaming society and media and start taking responsibility for how we, as parents raise our kids? Sure, it’s hard when they are constantly being bombarded with these messages, but as caregivers we are the ones the buy into it all as well, by buying the clothes, magazines and not controlling their access to harmful media.

Dannielle Miller: I would agree with you, that as parents we need to set boundaries absolutely. However, as I mentioned above, not all parents are necessarily good at doing this for a number of reasons, which means that as a society we also need to set our own community boundaries and standards. I think also that as parents, even if we are incredibly well intentioned there is so much that is simply beyond our control.

We know that with teen girls, the peer group is incredibly powerful, this is why we work in schools with a full year group of girls so that all the girls hear the same messages, and decide themselves which boundaries they set and support each other and develop a sense of sisterhood. Yes it is important that parents don’t fall into the trap of trying to be “too cool” or their child’s best friend. Our children need us to step up but they also need to have some reprise from the more toxic elements of popular culture that really are engulfing us all.

ramsay asks: There is validity in educating children in awareness of paedophiles and dangers, but do you think your education techniques go too far and encourage children to single out others who are not ashamed of their bodies and ware bikinis etc (Children in mid to late teens) I do.

Dannielle Miller: You are mistaken. Perhaps the way the story was edited has let you to think we talk to children about paedophiles or the dangers of wearing swimming costumes or posing proactively. We do none of this. I want to be very clear here, we would never make children feel ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. Rather our programmes are very celebratory.

jessica.ann asks: Have you re-visited any of the girls that you have spoken too later in their teens to see the effects of the ‘programme’?

Dannielle Miller: Yes we have. Evaluation is very important to us, we ask the girls for their feedback at the end of each event and it’s always outstanding. We also ask the schools 6 to 8 weeks later to provide us with more detailed feedback. Many schools have us work with the girls each year so we definitely get the chance to speak to them and hear how they are progressing. If you are interested in reading some of this feedback and looking at some of the statistics do visit our website http://enlighteneducation.com . Girls also write me lovely letters and send me emails. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we are making a difference.

AustAccom asks: The only way the media will change is by having the laws changed re censorship and sexualisation of children and normalising these images in society do you agree ?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. Self-regulation obviously hasn’t worked. I am hoping that the Senate Enquiry will encourage some changes. Society has reached tipping point, I think the moral majority will send a very clear message to Canberra that we have all had enough.

Corrinne asks: You spoke a lot about the media as a major influence on teens, I was just interested in what other factors you believe have a significant impact on young girls/’tweens’?

e.g. peers, family interaction levels

Dannielle Miller: There are a number of things that impact on teen girls and our programme is very diverse. 60 Minutes focused on our discussion of the media and dolls as these elements were the most appropriate given the excellent story they put together. We also help girls deal with their friendships, we talk to girls about setting boundaries in relationships, about managing stress, handling academic workload … really, we recognise that young women are multi-facetted.

Pixel asks: Hi Danielle, what is your advice for a 12 yr old who wants to be 15 tomorrow ?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. It’s sad isn’t it that young girls are in such a hurry to grow up. Although I would tell her to enjoy her childhood she probably wouldn’t listen. I know however that by creating a unique experience like what we do in our programmes we can encourage our young people to slow down.

We have a generation of young women dealing with adult problems whilst they only have childlike strategy to fall back on. I guess if it was my little girl I would do all I could to encourage her to revel in her childhood. Sorry I probably haven’t been overly helpful because really that’s the 6 Million Dollar question isn’t it.

sbelly18 asks: There are too many worries for kids, they are not allowed to just be “kids” anymore. No playing with dolls or climbing trees. It’s not acceptable for young ones, and they will be teased and tormented for it now. Do you agree?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. There are a number of reasons why childhood is disappearing. I also think that as much as I love technology it too, can be a grinch that steals innocence. Our children are often spending more time online than they are exploring face to face real relationships. I’m not being a luddite here, just realistic.

Teen girls tell me that they are “wired” pretty much 24/7, many even sleep with their mobile phone by their bed. Where is the downtime? The dreaming time? I also think that many parents over-schedule their children. Do our kids really need so many activities? So many formally organised play dates? Do they all have to be genius’s?

There is great value in the simple act of play. I know that as a little girl I spent a lot of time organising all the children in my neighbourhood, running clubs, and generally being a bossy little miss! In hindsight it was all great practise for running my own company.

Angela asks: Hi Danielle I have a 10 year old daughter that says she is sick and can’t eat dinner, Dr’s won’t do anything, I don’t know where to get help?

Dannielle Miller: I have to say up front that I’m an educator not a doctor. I would suggest if you are concerned (and you should be), you seek out a doctor who is more understanding. Sadly girls as young as 8 are being hospitalised for eating disorders. I’m not suggesting necessarily your daughter has an eating disorder but it is wise for us all to be vigilant. There are other organisations that specialise in this area like the Butterfly Foundation who may be worth tapping into. Links to them and to other expert mental health practitioners are available on my blog.

Shellreyn asks: Danielle, do you have any advice on how I should educate my young son with regard to appropriate behaviour towards these young girls, when he’s being bombarded by media images of sexualised pre teens?

Dannielle Miller: I hear you ! I have a 6 yr old little boy who loves to chant “boom chicka wawa” which is the jingle from the lynx aftershave commercial. This series of commercials is just vile ! I get so furious that our boys are being encouraged to view girls as eye candy. I have found that I need to be quite clear with my son about what my expectations are.

I also take the time out to talk to him about why saying things that may seem harmless really can be quite hurtful. I think as mums we also need to role-model for our boys what strong confident look like. Again, we should not buy into hyper-sexualised goods and services. I try and find alternative women that he can really admire for example, he now looks up to Princess Leia from Starwars, Wonder Woman and loves to be my little scout seeking out songs, dolls and adds that he thinks “aren’t nice to girls”.

AngelEyes asks: Can I ask by keeping our daughters away from all of the songs, mags etc do you think they may be in danger of rebelling and becoming more like the Paris’s of the world?

Dannielle Miller: We simply can’t keep our girls away from all this. I would never suggest locking girls in the tower. What we can do is give them the critical thinking skills that can help them unpack and make sense of all the messages that are presented to them. Research clearly shows that education and information will not encourage rebellion. I am not a prudish person and our programme certainly does not aim to shelter girls, rather it equips them to be savvy media navigators.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time, there were so many questions that could not be answered. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Dannielle Miller: I would like to thank all those who asked questions, debate and questioning is essential. I hope that the community interest and concern for this important issue is maintained. Love, light and laughter to you all … Danni

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Many thanks to the beautiful “enlightened” girls from St John Vianney’s Primary who were filmed with me. I love you all! 🙂 You are my little Amazons…

 

 

“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.   
 

Too sexy, too soon

Beyonce’s (Sesame) Street Walkers: Sexualized Girls in Dereon Ads

Welcome to “Girls Gone Wild,” Little Tykes Addition. These ads featuring Dereon Girls clothes ( a clothing range designed by Beyonce’s mother)  might provide a momentary laugh if they came out of an old “dress-up box” or if the girls were doing a mock “Pussy Cat Dolls presents Girlicious” audition. But the idea that they’re aimed for public view is alarming.

Still raw from the Miley Cyrus Mess, people are weighing in and they’re not happy with what they’re seeing.

According to New York Post’s Michelle Malkin,

If you thought the soft-porn image of Disney teen queen Miley Cyrus – wearing nothing but ruby-stained lips and a bedsheet – in Vanity Fair magazine was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing yet. [The young models] are seductively posed and tarted up, JonBenet Ramsey-style, with lipstick, blush and face powder…The creepiness factor is heightened by the fact that women were responsible for marketing this child exploitation. So, what’s next? Nine-year-olds performing stripper routines?

So why are these sexualized images such a problem?

Media, such as magazine ads, TV, video games, and music videos can have a detrimental effect on children.

Not only has the sexualization of girls and women in the media lead to mounting public concern, researchers continue to find that the images can have a profound affect on the confidence, body image, dieting behaviors and sexual development of girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the chair of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls is scrutinizing these issues;

“The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real,” said “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

What do they mean by sexualization?

When researchers speak of sexualization, they’re referring to when a person’s value come from their sexual appeal (looks) or their sexual behavior and when the person is looked upon as a sexual object, to the exclusion of other characteristics such as character, intelligence, and ability.

Examples:

  • Dolls with pouty lips, mini-skirts, and fish-net stockings aimed at the 4-8 year old market place
  • Thongs (g-strings) marked for young girls ages 7 to 10 years old (some printed with slogans like “eye candy” and “wink wink” on them).
  • Young pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or inappropriately
  • Video games with sexualized images
  • Cartoon-clad thongs (g-strings) for teens

But are children and teens really that impressionable?

While there hasn’t been a body of work that directly links sexualized images in ads and electronic media to problems in girls, individual studies strongly suggest that a link may be evident when it comes to media and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls. For example;

  • Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles.
  • Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.
  • The average person sees between 400-600 ads per day
  • About 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV
  • After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.
  • About 41% of teen girls report that magazines are their most important source of information with regard to dieting and health and 61% of teen girls read at least one fashion magazine often.

But here’s the real deal:

Be vigilant about the media that’s delivered through your mail slot. Be conscious about the messages that are conveyed in your living room. If you don’t like what you see:

Don’t buy it: Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decisions. Only you can determine what comes through your doors from the mall and what goes out your door to school.

Shut it off: No; you can’t be with your child at all times but it’s important to supervise the media flow into your household. There are plenty of parental locks and internet blocks that can put your in control.

Talk about it: Let your child know your values and why you don’t think what the ads are portraying is a smart choice for her or your family.

Ask questions: You may be surprised by your child’s view of the media. They may be more savvy than you think. Ask what she thinks about what she’s seeing—be present—and listen.

Expose her to positive images: There are several positive role models in the media. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (we saw what happened with Miley and Jamie Lynn Spears). Open up your children’s world to actual living, breathing, 3-Dimentional role models in your community so that they can be inspired by something well beyond what they see on TV or in clothing ads.

Some decision-makers might be making fools of themselves by “pimping out” little girls in ads or draping a 15 year old tween queen in a sheet and sending it out to print, but you’re still the parent. Continue to instill values in your young children and they’ll be more likely to focus their attention away from these tween tarts and dolls gone wild and towards more appropriate activities; like playing dress up and watching Sesame Street.

Dr Robyn Silverman.

If you want to read more on the opinions of Australian researchers and commentators, I recommend you read the many excellent and thought provoking submissions received by the recent Senate Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media Environment –

http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/eca_ctte/sexualisation_of_children/hearings/index.htm

 

 

Worshiping the Writing Muse

65105.jpg“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle
with human emotion.”
 

Laini Taylor

I love to read. I have always been devoted to reading. In the bath, before bed, with my children – I surround myself with words that help me make sense of the world. Words that amuse me. Words that challenge me. Words that leave me breathless with their brilliance.  

This week I struggled to make sense of some particularly disturbing events and searched almost manically for the considered insights of others. I thought I’d share some of my angst with you, and the words that helped soothe me. The pieces of writing I chose to absorb have not provided me with simple answers, but they have at least validated my own inner turmoil and ultimately made me feel less alone…

I have included links to the complete articles I quote from here in my articles of interest page.

 1. Heartache – The horrific abuse of children, both in Texas (where 463 children were removed from a polygamist camp after reports of widespread sexual abuse) and in Austria (the nightmarish story of a father’s ongoing imprisonment and sexual abuse of his daughter) left me feeling deeply sad.

I love children. More than I ever thought I could – and not just my own children, but everyone’s. This love and the empathy I have for young girls in particular seems at times so very large and hard to contain. It has arrived suddenly and unexpectedly into my life and whilst it is key to my success in working with young people (they can see, smell and taste its authenticity) it does also leave me psyche wounded by reports of children being harmed.

I ached to move beyond despair and sought to discover what, if anything, these events could teach:  

There is a link between the horrific violence committed against the women of the captive Austrian family and the apparent abuse of teenage girls in Texas, and it is the same unbroken chord that connects them tangentially—but significantly—to Hannah Montana’s fall from grace. When women and girls are routinely viewed as objects, they are dehumanized. They can be seen as chattel or animals, until someone uncovers a horror so complete that we recoil from it. Yet every day around the world, women are still sold into marriage, shunned for their husbands’ adultery, and raped as sexual assault is used as an instrument of war.

No, the degradation we have seen so much of these past few weeks does not signal the end of the world. But it provides a chilling reminder that history itself, with our own culture of sexism and misogyny feeding it, still consigns women to fates no man would wish upon himself.” 

Thank you Melinda for finding these words for me. Thank you writer Marie Coco – the pieces fit. I can now move beyond despair and get angry, and once again be active.   

2. Dilemma – 

I love reading blogs and am refreshed by the immediate, unfettered way bloggers write. The on-line world buzzed with news that Dove’s “real beauties” may not be so real after all. Crikeyreported that: “In a May 12 2008 profile in The New Yorker posted online, Pascal Dangin of New York’s Box Studios is quoted as saying he extensively retouched photos used in the Campaign for Real Beauty, which, if true, could seriously undermine an effort that already has subjected Unilever to considerable consumer and activist backlash in recent months. –AdAge

Even if this latest report is not true, I still feel instinctively uneasy about Unilever’s involvement in any self esteem program designed for girls. Unilever’s other key brand is the not-so-respectful Lynx. Lynx is a brand targeting young men, it promotes hyper sexualised images of women stripping and gyrating to a guitar rift lifted from a 1970’s porn film: “Boom Chicka Waa waa…”  

I have, of course, blogged on this in previous posts. The quandary? To speak out more publicly via the mainstream media, or to remain composed. On the one hand, I have plenty to say about the wisdom of allowing Dove into schools. On the other, as the CEO of a private company that also works in schools on self esteem and body image programs,  I do not want my arguments to be dismissed as merely “sour grapes”, nor do I want to be seen as criticising The Butterfly Foundation as they manage Dove’s in school programs in Australia. I believe the Foundation is highly reputable, hard working and genuinely committed to the welfare of young women. Other women I also admire enormously have been affiliated with Dove’s campaign too – including Naomi Wolf, a woman I consider one of my feminist role models.

The words below pre-date the latest outbreak of Dove alarm, this piece was written in 2006. I find I continue to return to it, however, as it confirms my suspicions and hearing them articulated so passionately, provides a release…   

HOW comfortable would you be with a fast-food chain providing the nutrition information in your son’s biology class? How about a beauty company lecturing your teenage daughter on her self-image…

What’s going on is a sales pitch. Everywhere we look, we see the beauty industry attacking women’s body images in the name of selling products that don’t actually work. Dove ingeniously aligns itself with the critics of its industry, while doing what exactly? Selling the same you-too-can-be-beautiful creams as its competitors…

Yes, these women are big and fleshy when compared with the anorectic adolescents usually trotted out to convince us to part with mega dollars for small pots of potion. But these confident, grinning women, with their perfect teeth and flawless skin, don’t resemble those I see in my local shopping centre pushing trolleys. There isn’t a wrinkle or a saggy behind on any of them.

What’s more, and despite Dove’s assertions to the contrary, these women are models. They were carefully culled from the crowd and paid to represent a product. Same as any other casting call. They’re now celebrities, touring shopping centres and appearing on television in the United States – a marketing dream…

In the end, even though Dove may ask some useful questions and may even do some good, its measure of beauty is still calibrated by thighs not thoughts, visage not values and appearances not actions.

Dove’s definition is just as disempowering and confining as any other definition of idealised beauty.

Would Dove really be so concerned about my self-image if it weren’t trying to get me to buy its products? Would the company still bankroll its social and educational programs, if sales declined?

If Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, was really committed to the body image issue, wouldn’t it change the advertising (its worldwide media budget is $8.6 billion) for all its other beauty products: Pond’s, Lux, Pears, Sunsilk and Rexona among them? Wouldn’t it be concerned that it’s the maker of Slim-Fast?

If this was anything more than the savvy implementation of a marketing angle, would the same company have given us LynxJet, the most sexist advertising of recent times?

Call me cynical, but I guess there must be real beauty in those dollars.”

Thank you Helen Greenwood.

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Finally, thank you to Margaret Gee, my literary agent, and to Katie Stackhouse at Random House. I have just been offered a book deal with Random and am thrilled by their obvious commitment and excitement about the project.  

I too shall swirl and swing words.

Wonderful.

  

Miley Cyrus – next teen victim of the “blame and shame” game.

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This week I have been asked numerous times to comment on Disney’s 15 year old poster girl Miley Cyrus  ( a.k.a Hannah Montana) . There has been much controversy surrounding her provocative Vanity Fair photo shoot and revealing My Space photos.

Mmm…well here are a few thoughts.

First up, the magazine shoot. Most commentators seem to be debating whether she knew she was posing in a provocative way or whether she was in fact duped by Vanity Fair ( she claims they mislead her and she had been told the images would look arty not sensual). Isn’t this missing the point? For me, the real question is: what makes it ok for an adult magazine to publish images of a 15 year old girl looking so sensual and post-coital? Even if she had knowingly posed for these – this does not excuse the adults involved (both at the magazine and within Miley’s team of advisors and minders) for encouraging her to represent herself  in such an age inappropriate way. Why is Miley the one coping the flack?

Interestingly, her risque My Space pages have been leaked at exactly the same time. As evidence that she is wayward? I have viewed these, most are average pictures of a young teen in love mucking about with a boy and with her girlfriends. She seems to be exploring her budding sexuality, I can understand that. She is 15. By 15 – I had a boyfriend, I played at pouting, posing. She may well have been sick of the “perfect girl” pressure that can overwhelm all our young women. Working for Disney must amp up the pressure to be perfect by a million. 

In her own “space” she is breaking free. Thank goodness that in my day we did not have inexpensive digital cameras that make it far too easy to take and post images that are best not recorded for posterity!

On the one hand our young people seem so very grown up and IT savvy, yet they can also be incredibly naive – particularly about the possible ramifications of what they post and share on line. They think they can play around, explore, and take images that will be forever “just for their friends” to see. Nothing in cyber world is truly private forever. 

The truth? Miley is not “God’s Police” as Disney would have us believe. Nor is she a “Damned Whore”. And oh how her fans have turned on her – we hate the perfect girl when she messes up.  

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She was merely mislead and foolish. Sadly, she may have done irreparable damage to her career and reputation as society will not quickly forgive the “girl slut”. Take the recent Big 21 story in Queensland – would a group of 17 year old boys forming a “boys club” and bragging about their drinking and sexual exploits have made national news?

The other important lesson from all this – some of her My Space pictures are alarming as it is sad that she thinks playing at grown ups means flashing her bra and knickers. But let’s be realistic – at the moment – it does! She is wearing more than many of the Bratz dolls we give our pre-schoolers.

If we are going to be shocked and offended by Miley, then we are hypocrites. We reap what we sow.

And I think we need to be VERY careful in any debate featuring young people at playing sexy that we DO NOT shame them. They are victims too.

However, we can shame the Bratz developers, advertisers and all other adults who push the “women as sex object” line onto our children.

Which leads me to sharing the following article with you. It discusses the truly shameful cyber sites we should all be really worried about.

I will save my rage for Miss Bimbo – and just hope Miley gets new advisors and a big hug.  

Thank you to Melinda Tankard Reist for this guest post…

A half-starved bimbo is not a cool role model for girls

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“What do you want to be when you grow up darling?” a mother asks her little girl.

“A Bimbo!” she replies enthusiastically.

Forget dreams of your precious daughter growing up to be Prime Minister or solving world poverty. Young girls are being given the message that their ultimate aim in life is to be a bimbo.

If it’s not enough that Paris Hilton has been lauded as the ultimate role model for girls, now there’s a new virtual fashion game to help them become “the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the whole world.”

It’s the sluts-r-us approach to childhood play.

Miss Bimbo requires the purchase of plastic surgery and “essentials” like motivational weight loss products for the girl’s virtual persona to win.

Each player is given $1000 bimbo dollars. Your bimbo is hungry? Buy her some diet pills – the first item on the food menu and “the easier way to eat.” They’ll help her stay “waif thin”. Since when did diet pills become food?

(Because of the international outrage over the diet pills, Miss Bimbo’s creators have since removed them from the food list. That’s very noble and all, but they should never have been there in the first place).

Miss Bimbo has to get bigger breasts or she’s got no chance of winning. “Bigger is better!” the pre-pubescent youngster is told. Does she lose points if her implants start leaking? We’re not told.

A study late last year found one in four Australian 12-year-old girls wanted to get cosmetic surgery. A Queensland surgeon says more young girls are expressing a desire to achieve the same look at the implant stuffed ex-Big Brother housemate Krystal Forscutt.

Can’t we offer girls more than an aspiration to be Miss Silicone 2008?

The site’s fashion shop offers lingerie for little girls to buy for their bimbo.
Girls can earn extra “attitude” points by buying a makeover and putting their character on a tanning bed. I wonder if points are deducted if Miss Bimbo gets cancer?

The “French kiss game” involves kissing boys in Club Bimbo where they can “dance, flirt and maybe meet a handsome Boyfriend”. Just click the “go flirting” button and our primary schoolers are on their way. “Your boyfriend will (hopefully) give you some money every day because he loves you”. Sounds more like a pimp than a boyfriend. At higher levels, girls must seduce a billionaire on vacation.

Last I checked, the player in the lead was 10-years-old.

The “Miss Bimbo” game helps entrench the belief that a girl’s sexual prowess is her main appeal – even if she’s only six, the age one player registered last month.

The game promotes being sexy and hot as the ultimate ideal for girls, diminishing their value and worth. It makes them think they have to be a bimbo to deserve attention and admiration. This puts under-age girls especially, in danger.

The game also turns girls against each other by competing to be the bimbo who “skyrockets to the top of fame and popularity.” Victims of school-yard bullying and the bitchiness of other girls are vulnerable to feeling even more self-hatred because of this game.

Should we be surprised when we learn that school girls are ranking each other for hotness and popularity and wearing their ranking on their writs, as emerged recently at a private girl’s school in Mackay? Girls who flunk out and receive low rankings end up victims of exclusion and cyber bullying when results are posted around the world.

The site’s all-male founders say the bimbo’s goals are “morally sound”. Which part of “morally sound” don’t they understand?

The game is irresponsible. Research shows that the objectification and sexualisation of girls and young women is contributing to eating disorders, self-harm, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor academic performance.
This game feeds on the body angst of girls. “You want to turn heads on the beach don’t you?” players are asked. And if you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.

Eating disorder experts say the game is as lethal as websites promoting anorexia. In Australia, eight-year-olds are being hospitalised with the disease. Games like this fuel a climate which makes girls feel they have to look like stick insects to be acceptable.

Why can’t game makers come up with games that make girls feel good about themselves rather than selling a message damaging to their health and wellbeing?

Melinda Tankard Reist is an author and director of Women’s Forum Australia (www.womensforumaustralia.org)

Claim back the music!

What is the soundtrack to your life? What music surrounded you in your most formative teen years? What song was playing when you first kissed, when you danced at your school formal, or when you broke loose and did a hairbrush solo in your bedroom?

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As a child of the eighties Madonna rocked my world and shocked my parents by revealing she felt like a virgin being touched for the very first time. Chrissy Amphlett sung of desperation and lust. These were wild women who fully embraced their sexuality, but they were nobodies “bitch” or “‘ho.” Madonna may have been a “material girl” but she didn’t need a pimp. These girls all ran their own show. The men around them looked on with respect or desire – perhaps even with fear, but rarely with contempt.

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.

A 2008 report entitled “Ambivalent Sexism and Misogynistic Rap Music: Does Exposure to Eminem Increase Sexism?”, published recently in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that it is unlikely that hearing lyrics in a song creates sexist attitudes that do not previously exist. Based on their findings, the head researcher Assistant Professor Cobb went on to state,” There is not much evidence in our study to support an argument in favour of censorship.” But haven’t these researchers missed the point? Sexist attitudes may not have increased amongst their male and female subjects, but how did the female subjects feel about themselves and their bodies after being exposed to one of the songs they actually used in the study, Eminem’s song “Kill You”. The lyrics include:

“(AH!) Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore
’til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!
(AH!) These mother #!!! are thinking I’m playing
Thinking I’m saying the shit cause I’m thinking it just to be saying it
(AH!) Put your hands down bitch, I ain’t gonna shoot you
I’m gonna pull YOU to this bullet, and put it through you
(AH!) Shut up slut, you’re causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK Ma?”

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A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. 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.

Even the strongest of us admit to feeling less than they were after a dose of the Pussycat Dolls and Eminem – there is undeniably a nasty after taste. Yet look around, these sounds and their associated film clips are the very fodder we now give our children as the soundtrack to their youth. The Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha?” includes the lyrics “I know you want it…I know you should be on with me…don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me, don’t cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?”. This anthem to the sisterhood featured on Hits for kids Volume 3 this Christmas, alongside songs by Hi 5 and Guy Sebastian. Alvin the Chipmunk sings “Don’t cha” in his made for the pre-school set holiday film release. Markets are filled with junior Eminem tracksuits and gangster accessories for the budding pimp. Am I the only one who cringes when I see small girls shaking it to “My Humps”?

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Rhinna is currently at number 1 on our music charts with her song “Don’t Stop The Music” – I agree. I love music. I’m not after censorship, just commonsense. And awareness. Would it be asking too much if there could be a day set aside to celebrate positive portrayal of women on music and film clips? A day where we didn’t have to keep our hand on the radio dial as we drive the kids to school for fear that they were going to have to listen to lyrics about yet another “Nasty Gal”?

Five years ago if you had suggested we needed Earth Hour, an hour where we all turned off the lights to remind ourselves to be mindful of power consumption and our impact on the planet, you would have been thought a radical environmental extremist. Yet as things literally heated up, the lights all went out. How much hotter do things need to get on our airwaves and on our TV sets? I suspect society will also agree we have now indeed reached tipping point and will embrace a day that seeks to claim back the music.

Smart radio stations will jump on board. Overseas, special days devoted to the positive portrayal of women in music have pushed radio stations ratings through the roof. In Boston “Radio Log”, a station set up to promote positive portrayals of black women and inspire open phone conversations around relationships, has received nothing but good press. Radio stations should show leadership and live up to their responsibilities of meeting societies ethical and moral standards.

And as companies madly chase the female dollar, surely keeping women happy and showing them, and their daughters, respect can only be a smart and strategic marketing move?

Money doesn’t just talk – it sings too.

P.S I have asked my colleagues at Women’s Forum Australia and Kids Free 2B Kids to join me in calling for a national day that reclaims the music for women. I am hoping we might hear from a few more like minded people who want to celebrate women through song, not denegrate them – would also love the media to get behind us. Any takers?

P.S.S How infuriating is this song from the “Bom Chicka Wah Wah’s”?  Unilever promote HIGHLY degrading portrayals of women with their brand Lynx (a brand that targets teen boys) whilst attempting to take their other key brand Dove in to our schools to sponsor self esteem programs for teenagers! “Body Think” may be a fabulous program and serves a real need – bravo the Butterfly Foundation for managing this – BUT when Unilver ( Dove and Lynx) also pushes these “girls gone wild” destructive messages at our young people I say NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  Until Unilver cleans up its act and starts to show it genuinely cares about young women – and does not just choose to act responsibly when it suits them for the sake of promoting a particular brand – I’m boycotting all their products.   

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And if that wasn’t bad enough – how about the lack of respect shown towards female teachers in this ad? Her student’s scent reduces her to singing porn music. 

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Want to get really angry? Check out the “web site they tried to ban” – The Lynx Effect. Compare it to the web site promoting Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty – SAME PARENT COMPANY. Grrrrrr…. 

LOVE this Youtube clip by Rye Clifton that exposes the inherent contradiction in Unilver’s marketing onslaught (in the USA Lynx is called Axe):

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LOVE that it caused a stir too…we need to be critical of all the dangerous and mixed messages that our young people are being exposed to.

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The comments here are MUST READS…

Kids Free 2B Kids

The letter below was forwarded to me by Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids and a very passionate, active defender of childhood.  I was so impressed I asked her permission to share it with you. Keep in mind, Girlfriend is a magazine thats core readership is girls aged between 13 and 14 years.   

To: The Editor of Girlfriend Magazine

21/2/08

Hello Sarah,

I am the Director of an organisation called Kids Free 2B Kids which is concerned about the sexualisation of kids, via the media, advertising, marketing and fashion industries. http://www.kf2bk.com. One of our concerns is the images children are exposed to, and the influence of corporations and the media, in shaping the way children think about themselves and others as they are developing. Girlfriend magazine is to be commended for its ‘Self-Respect Campaign’ and others, such as the recently introduced ‘I delete bullies’ campaign. There are, however, a number of conflicts with the Girlfriend Self-Respect campaign, which Kf2Bk would like to comment on. The Wallpaper & text messaging advertisements for mobile phones, which feature in Girlfriend magazine, appear to be in complete contradiction to the Self-Respect campaign, and the staff pledge to the readers.

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These advertisements perpetuate the idea that young girls need to be ‘hot’ ‘sexy’ and ‘sexually available’ to be cool and popular. It is extraordinary that the appropriateness of these advertisements, for a girl’s magazine, has not been considered. Examples include:

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Girlfriend recently advertised a T-shirt with the slogan “MAKE ME HOT MR SEX POT.” Another article featured the words: “Be the girl boys adore, with make-up for your boudoir”.

Last year, on behalf of Kids Free 2B Kids, I rang the Girlfriend publisher to formally complain about the Playboy free giveaway T-Shirt .

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The Playboy text includes: “Playboy is a collection of clothing and swimwear for the trend savvy fashionable girl. Cute and innocent, cool and tough, all at the same time. Playboy is one brand you should include in your wardrobe”. Playboy is a leading brand of the pornography industry, and has more recently been insidiously creeping into mainstream. Kids Free 2B Kids believes that young girls should never be encouraged to support the pornography industry. Girlfriend recently had an article titled the ‘LAD MAG LOWDOWN – Welcome to a world where fast cars, sports and bikini babes rule!’ This article featured the soft porn magazines FHM and ZOO.

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The sexualised images of women adorning the covers of soft porn magazines helps to cement the current notion that women (and young girls) need to flaunt themselves and be sexy, to be acceptable to males – and to be empowered as females. Girlfriend informs the reader that this is ‘what makes them (guys) tick’… and ‘that a pole dancing pole is, like, a really good present to give a girl. In fact, it’s “The #1 item on every girl’s wish list. She gets fit…you get to watch. Dream on! We’re not all Carmen Electra, boys.”

Even the premise of a joke (in terms of quoting from the men’s magazines) in this situation fails to consider the impacts and harm to girls regarding early sexualisation. The Girlfriend Self-Respect Campaign pledges the following:

“To show you we’re serious about self-respect, and committed to helping you get it, the Staff will –
Help you make smart, informed choices about your mental and physical health…
Encourage you to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle…
Help you feel good about your changing bodies…
Make you media-aware by dishing on the devices we use to make the mag so glossy and perfect looking…”

If perfection is indeed boring, then Kf2bK wonders why Girlfriend magazine continues to print perfectly photoshopped images of models, celebrities…and staff. Girlfriend staff pledge to: “remind you with our reality checks, that we’ve used Photoshop to retouch pictures of models and celebs (um, and us).”

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Girls do not reportedly feel any better about themselves, nor more confident, if they are merely told that an image has been photoshopped. The recent Media Code of Conduct Working Group on Body Image report states: “Anecdotal evidence shows that the majority of stakeholders, or parties identified by them, do not feel socially responsible for the negative impact body images are having upon young people.” Kids free 2B kids is concerned that young girls magazines are not regulated. Self regulation in the industry does not appear to be positively contributing to the health and well being of our youth.

Current research shows that our young people are experiencing increased body image problems, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self harm, sexually transmitted infections, and are becoming sexually active at younger ages.* .
*The Australia Institutes – Corporate Paedophilia. 2006
The Australia Institutes – Letting Children Be Children. 2006
The American Psychological Association’s task-force on the sexualisation of young girls. 2007
The Australian Psychological Society’s guidelines for parents on the sexualisation of children.2007
ACMA enquiry into the sexualisation of children. Current.

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This page in Girlfriend, which features chupa chup lollipops and Minnie Mouse, seems in direct contrast with the previous images.

Over the past year, child development experts have been speaking out publicly about the problems and impacts of the early sexualistion of children. Inappropriate action by industry and the corporate world contributes to these issues, and helps to maintain the status quo. We would appreciate your feedback

Regards,Julie Gale
0412 922 253
julie@kf2bk.com
http://www.kf2bk.com/

As of the 1st March, Julie is yet to receive a reply. I shall post Girlfriend’s reply if one is sent. 

I would love to see your thoughts here. Agree or disagree – doesn’t matter as long as we are talking and exploring the boundaries we wish to set. Conversations will enrich all our understandings; silence and apathy are the only real dangers. My thoughts – shame Girlfriend, Dolly and all the magazines that confuse our girls with their mixed messages, and their inappropriate soft porn product push. 

An older article published in the Age, “What is your daughter reading?” remains one of my favourites on this theme. Writer Christopher Bantick shares the outrage:

“The problem with teenage girl magazines is that they give highly suspect information, they create misconceptions about sexuality, they reinforce stereotypes about male and female behaviour and they show craven irresponsibility in their disregard for the emotional maturity of their readers. Do you know what your daughters are reading?”

Thank goodness for women like Julie who are out there trying to make a difference. I have met a number of amazing, passionate women working to improve outcomes for women and girls in the last few years and am always humbled by their energy and fire. Warriors all.

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