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Tag: Enlighten Education

Videos that move

This week I want to share three of the videos I’ve watched recently that have deeply moved me.

The first is a TED Talk by Jackson Katz, Ph.D. The YouTube clip describes Katz as:

…an anti-sexist activist and expert on violence, media and masculinities. An author, filmmaker, educator and social theorist, Katz has worked in gender violence prevention work with diverse groups of men and boys in sports culture and the military, and has pioneered work in critical media literacy. Katz is the creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which advocates the ‘bystander approach’ to sexual and domestic violence prevention. You’ve also seen him in the award winning documentary ‘MissRepresentation.’

I felt compelled to share this with all my male friends and was so pleased that they too found Katz’ talk so very powerful; I trust you will also want to share it and use it as a stimulus for some vital conversations.

In a similar vein, Patrick Stewart (the actor best known for his roles in various sci-fi’s) beautifully articulates why violence against women is a choice a man should never make:

And finally, a video that touched me in a very personal way. This was made by teen girl Tanya Shanmugharaj, a student at United World College in South East Asia. I had the pleasure of meeting Tanya and her incredible classmates and educators on a recent trip to Singapore; I presented to all the Grade 6,7 and 8 girls and keynoted at the College’s Middle School Conference. How could one not feel enormously humbled and thrilled to witness these girls’ passion and gratitude for the lessons I was privileged to share with them about empowerment? Wow.

Raising Girls – My recent work in the Illawarra region

The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre was the the charity recipient for this year’s Illawarra International Women’s Day committee event for their project “Empowering Young Women of the Illawarra.” The Project enabled the Centre to offer our Enlighten Education workshops to over 500 Year 8 students from the area, and to also offer parents and Educators sessions that aim to help ensure sustainability of the work.

I had the opportunity to speak to the local press about why this work matters:

…we want to create – a generation of young women who actually think it’s fantastic and exciting to be a woman, that don’t see themselves as being victims or as being at the mercy of marketers and media.We want them to feel that they can actually talk back and re-shape their world to better suit them, and they can.

The many emails I received afterwards from the young women I worked with on the day highlight just how vital this work is. The following are shared with permission from the girls who sent these to me; both wanted others to also know just how challenging it can be to be a girl in a culture that is not always very kind:

Click on image to enlarge to read

 

Click on image to enlarge to read

WIN 9 News featured our work in their News bulletin that evening. I am very proud of the girls’ honest and heart-felt responses. I love too that the vision captured some of the incredible energy from the day. As event organiser Samantha Karmel commented, “…they had a ball – tears of sadness and of joy.”

With some of the amazing teen girls from the Illawarra region

Yes. If we capture girls’ hearts, their minds will follow.

Let’s empower and inform our girls so that they can then turn their critical gaze away from their own bodies and the bodies of their peers, and instead direct it outwards towards the media and our broader culture. As Naomi Wolf declared in her book The Beauty Myth back in 1991, “We don’t need to change our bodies, we need to change the rules.”

Amen!

Pride

I am thrilled to announce that for the second year in a row, Enlighten Education has been announced as a Finalist for the incredibly prestigious Australian Human Rights Awards in the Business category (winners announced at the ceremony which will be held in Sydney, December 10).

I thought I would take the opportunity to share a few sections from our application with you as I am incredibly proud of the work my team are doing to improve outcomes for girls and to promote and advance human rights and human rights principles in the Australian community.

Enlighten Education is based on the belief that by entering into, and engaging with, the world of teenage girls, adults can encourage meaningful and constructive conversations about gender, identity, education, careers and girls’ futures.

A core component of the company’s work is to increase awareness among girls, their parents, teachers and the wider community of issues of injustice and inequality in Australia, especially relating to girls and women. We also encourage greater harmony between people of different race, sex, sexuality, age and ethnic origin within Australia, because acceptance of diversity is central to our message.

Enlighten Education empowers girls and educates the community about girls’ rights to:

  • freedom from sexual objectification and harassment
  • freedom from the threat of violence, intimidation and bullying
  • fairness and equity in educational opportunities
  • fairness and equity in career opportunities
  • healthy body image and self-esteem
  • the end of social and cultural pressures that place young women at greater risk of anorexia and bulimia nervosa, depression and anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm than other sectors of the community

Enlighten Education works to protect and promote girls’ rights and empower girls to: stand up for freedom of identity and sexuality; have good self-esteem and body image; and make the most of educational and career opportunities—free of discrimination based on their gender or appearance, and free of restrictive, sexualising and objectifying messages from the media, advertising and other cultural influences.

Enlighten Education encourages girls to:

  • be critical thinkers, form their own conclusions, know their own minds and find their own voice
  • decode media, marketing, advertising and popular culture messages that impose limiting gender stereotypes or have inappropriate sexualising messages
  • develop healthy body image, self-esteem and confidence
  • combat bullying and intimidation, and resolve conflict
  • set personal boundaries, deal with sexual harassment, and use the internet and mobile phones safely
  • understand the history and current status of women’s rights
  • become aware of the environmental, ethical and social impacts of their consumer choices
  • get involved in charities and volunteer work to benefit the community
Me working with some Primary School girls.

The remainder of our Application discusses our media outreach work (which includes my work on Channel 9’s Mornings program as well as the various Opinion pieces I write for both blogs and national newspapers), our online presence ( platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, and the free Iphone App we launched), the social activism work we have been involved in, and the charity work we do (for both CanTeen and The Mirabel Foundation) to help ensure equity in service delivery.

I know from attending the Award Ceremony last year that we shall be amongst giants on the day; the stories shared in 2011 were so incredibly inspiring and moving.

We feel like winners already.

 

Generation Cleanskin: Part 2

In part 2 of Susan Johnson’s excellent investigative piece on teens and body image that I introduced here last week, she looks at the effects of the unprecedented pressure on girls to wax and to see dieting as an essential part of being a woman. I am pleased to have contributed my voice to those of the experts quoted in this part of her must-read feature!

 

If anxiety over body size has long been recognised as part of the territory for teenage girls, now a new pressure has been added: being free of body hair, as if perpetually pre-pubescent. Once common only to Middle Eastern cultures, bodybuilding, gay culture and pornography, body hair removal has permeated mainstream culture, making its greatest impact on young women. Fashionista Victoria Beckham’s wish (“I love Brazilians – they ought to be compulsory at 15, don’t you think?”) looks as if it may be granted.

Since the late 1990s – when television show Sex and the City popularised the “Brazilian”, a hair removal practice that originated with the G-string bikinis of Rio – waxing or shaving the pubic area has become increasingly common. One American study estimated that 20 per cent of American and Australian women now remove their pubic hair, the largest group being women under 25.

Exact statistics do not exist in Australia to quantify the proportion of teenagers denuding themselves of body hair, but the anecdotal evidence is telling: at a Brisbane high school Year 12 formal last year, talk among those who attended revealed there was only one girl in the Year 12 class who went to the dance with body hair. The rest came sans leg hair, underarm hair and pubic hair.

The recent proliferation of waxing clinics throughout Queensland, together with the increase in waxing injuries seen in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, suggests body hair removal is undergoing a popularity boom. An inner-city doctor told Qweekend she had seen a marked increase in her practice of burns and infections as a result of hot wax accidents. In Victoria, the Monash University Accident Research Centre’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit estimated about 90 people a year were admitted to hospital with waxing injuries.

One of Queensland’s biggest chains of waxing salons, Brazilian Beauty, is owned by Francesca Webster, 39, and her partner Andrew Bryant, 41. They opened a store in inner Brisbane’s New Farm in 2004 and now have 14 salons throughout Queensland and interstate, many of them franchised, with an annual turnover of $10 million. Although it is company policy not to treat anyone under 18 for Brazilian waxes, Webster says they sometimes see mothers bringing in daughters for bikini-line waxing before swimming carnivals.

Dannielle Miller, a Sydney author and CEO of Enlighten Education, which specialises in girls and body image, is not surprised that young women are now facing yet another pressure regarding body image. In her work lecturing in schools, she sees some 20,000 young women annually and says she is “staggered” by the overwhelming number of teenage girls unhappy with their own bodies. “Almost 99 per cent of young girls will say they are overweight, or not beautiful enough, or that they need to be changed in some way,” Miller says. “In our desperation to combat obesity, which may or may not be valid, there is now such a fear of fat in our culture that one of the results is girls doubting their bodies and thinking that their value is measured in the numbers on the scales.”

Miller says an overwhelming number of young girls have mothers who are on a perpetual diet. “Girls see dieting as a rite of passage and part of what it means to be a young woman in our culture: to be a female is to be on a diet. Girls learn very early that they need to take up less space … the ultimate glass ceiling for girls seems to be the bathroom mirror.”

According to Miller’s data, seven out of ten 15-year-old girls are on a diet, with 8 per cent “severely dieting”. She says that 94 per cent of teenage girls “wish that they were more beautiful” and 25 per cent say they would like to change “everything physical” about themselves.

Boys appear to be catching up with girls in potentially dangerous dieting practices, including starvation, purging or vomiting: 16 per cent of girls have engaged in such practices and 7 per cent of boys. “Pressures on young males are definitely on the increase,” says Miller.

A mother of a 10-year-old son, plus two daughters aged 17 and 13, Miller says that “parents are deeply concerned about this stuff”. She argues that magazines with airbrushed and photographed images, combined with television reality programs such as The Biggest Loser, have created a culture of hysteria about fat. “I’m not by any means pro-fat; of course not, I’m pro-health, and if you’ve got a child who isn’t healthy, then absolutely focus on health as a priority. But I think it’s an urban myth that Australia is a country with an obesity problem. When you speak to health professionals it’s clear that a definition of obesity depends on the criteria used to define obesity. The BMI [Body Mass Index] is actually a very antiquated and one-dimensional measurement … sometimes it’s the definition itself that causes the problem.”

Miller argues that the definition of health should be broader. The narrow focus on body weight and dieting among adult Australians is negatively affecting our young people. “Statistics show that 95 per cent of people on a formal diet will have regained and added some extra weight within the next five years. Formal diets don’t work … it’s a bad example for our children and we are setting them up for a long-term dysfunctional relationship with food.”

 

This is an excerpt from Susan Johnson’s article “Generation Cleanskin”, which appeared in the Courier-Mail’s QWeekend. Check in next week for the final instalment, when teen girls and boys talk candidly about their attitudes to — and angst about — body image.

Alliance Of Girls’ School Conference 2012 – Say No To Diets.

I recently noted that the program for this year’s Alliance of Girls’ Schools Conference, to be held in Melbourne 25th-27th May, was to include Ms Amy Smith, the current CEO of Jenny Craig. As I believe a woman who represents the diet industry has no place at such a prestigious event aimed at educators of young women, I sent an initial email of concern to Jan Butler, the Executive Officer of the Alliance.

On Tuesday I received a reply from Ms Catherine Misson, the Principal of Melbourne Girls Grammar, assuring me that Ms Smith is, amongst other things, “transforming the organisation (Jenny Craig) into a champion of women’s health.”

I am pleased to see the organisers of this conference have considerably extended Ms Smith’s bio in the conference program since receiving my initial email. She sounds like a truly remarkable, accomplished woman. However, I am still deeply uneasy about  her inclusion and felt compelled to explain why. I responded with the letter below. With the aim of eliciting support for my stance, and initiating vital discussion on girls and dieting, I then shared this correspondence via Twitter and Facebook. I was incredibly heartened by the positive response and particularly encouraged to see Kate Ellis, amongst other prominent educators, women’s advocates and health practitioners, circulate it too.

I have not received any response as of yet, other than a call from a Suzy Wilson who told me she was the PR representative for Jenny Craig. Ms Wilson asked me, “What is your problem?” and told me my letter was a “vicious attack” on Amy Smith. I think my letter clearly articulates what my issue is, and it is clearly not a personal attack on anyone.

If I receive any further correspondence, I will of course honour my offer to provide the Alliance with a platform here to argue their case.

*Letter begins*

Dear Catherine,

Thank you for your response to my concerns regarding the selection of Amy Smith as a speaker at the Alliance’s conference this year.

I have the utmost respect for the members of the Alliance Planning Committee and hold them in the highest regard. I am sure that all the members genuinely have girls’ education at heart and selected the conference speakers with care and diligence.

However, with due respect, I do feel that I need to stand by my convictions and state my position. Amy Smith may be a highly talented and accomplished woman, but I feel it sends the wrong message to educators of girls that the Alliance is giving a platform to a speaker whose current success is tied to the dieting industry. This industry contributes to some of the most serious issues affecting the health and wellbeing of girls: poor body image and eating disorders.

Constant dieting can cause “an obsession with weight and an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia”, according to research presented at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy conference in 2011. In the words of respected Australian eating disorder expert Lydia Jade Turner, the Managing Director of BodyMatters Australia, “Dieting is the biggest pathway into an eating disorder.” Research cited by the Butterfly Foundation notes that adolescent girls who diet at a severe level are “18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within 6 months” and “over 12 months they have a 1 in 5 chance of developing an eating disorder.”

The rates of eating disorders and poor body image in girls are alarming. Research published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that “disordered eating is emerging as a norm in Australian society with 90% of 12–17 year old girls and 68% of 12–17 year old boys having been on a diet of some type” (http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au). A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2009 found that between July 2002 and June 2005, 101 children aged from five to 13 years old were newly diagnosed with an eating disorder.

According to the 2011 Mission Australia Youth Survey, body image is one of the top three issues of personal concern for young people in Australia. Poor body image has been identified as such an important problem that it was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Looking beyond the research, Enlighten Education works with 20,000 girls each year around Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. I speak to girls, and most importantly listen to them, about body image. On a daily basis, I meet girls who physically, psychologically and emotionally are paying a high price for dieting and for their body anxiety, which is all too often spurred on by advertisers and marketers from, amongst other industries, the dieting industry.

The sad fact is that diet companies continue to play on girls’ and women’s body anxiety to sell a product that doesn’t even work. Ninety percent of people who go on a diet will lose less than 10 per cent of their body weight and be back where they started, or heavier, in five years, according to research presented first at the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society in 2009 and again in 2010 at the International Obesity Summit. “In fact, weight tells us very little about a person’s health except at statistical extremes,” says Lydia Jade Turner. “Although it is commonly assumed that being ‘overweight’ is automatically unhealthy, in North America research shows that the overweight category (BMI = 25 to 29) is now outliving every other weight category.”

I am generally an enthusiastic supporter of the Alliance conference, and I feel that all of the other speakers the committee has selected are brilliant choices. I will attend the conference, as always, and Enlighten Education will have a stand, but it is with regret that I must tell you that Enlighten Education will not be sponsoring the conference this year, as we have in the past.

Enlighten Education was recognised in 2011 as Finalists for a Human Rights Award by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission for our work at furthering the wellbeing of girls. In light of that, and for all the schools and the girls that we work with, I feel that it is important that Enlighten Education acts according to our principles—and that means that we cannot sponsor an event where there is an association with the dieting industry.

On an individual level, as a parent whose daughter attends an Alliance school, I also wish to register my dismay at the choice of Amy Smith as a speaker.

Please know that I write this from genuine concern about the message that having a speaker associated with the dieting industry sends to the educators of girls. It is not a reflection on Amy Smith herself, and certainly not on the committee, whom I hold in great esteem.

As I initially expressed concern about the committee’s selection of Amy Smith in the public forums of Facebook and Twitter, I wholeheartedly extend to you the opportunity to respond in the same forums. If you would like me to publish your response on Facebook or Twitter, please do let me know.

Yours sincerely

Dannielle Miller
CEO, Enlighten Education
21/3/12

*Response received 22/3/12*

The Alliance responded and have made it clear that they are comfortable with their selection of Ms Smith. They have also made it clear they are not happy with my decision to raise these concerns publicly. As an educator, mother to two girls, author of two books aimed at improving body image anxiety, and as a  media commentator on girls’ issues I believe it would have been unprofessional of me not to have done this. I also stand by my response.

Real-World Tech Influencers

Last week an infographic went viral that posed the question “Which Female Tech Influencer Are You?” By answering inane questions such as “Jimmy Choos or running shoes?” and “White wine spritzer or tequila with worm?” you are supposed to find out which successful female tech influencer you most resemble.

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Please. I know this is just meant to be fun but really — isn’t it incredibly patronising to suggest the biggest decision made by dynamos such as Google vice president Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is which handbag they might like to take to work? Writer and real-world tech influencer Alexia Tsotsis nailed it on the site Tech Crunch:

The women who have been highlighted here are smart, driven, and have worked hard for their success. They deserve so much more than being reduced to an infographic bobble-head on a cartoon body.

When you think of all the legends in the development of information and communications technologies (ICTs), you rarely hear the names of women. The usual names that spring to mind are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Stallman and, recently, Mark Zuckerberg , for being the genius behind the popular social networking website Facebook. Can you imagine anyone asking these men how they prefer to style their hair?

How can we move beyond limiting stereotypes and sexist sniggering?

By telling HERstory!

HERstory is an initiative of Take Back The Tech, a grassroots campaign that encourages everyone, particularly girls and women, to take control of technology and use it as a tool to do something incredibly vital: put an end to violence against women. The campaign lends itself to some excellent and much-needed school-based work on cyber safety and activism. Their website includes sensible online safety tips, campaign banners and posters, videos, blog posts and an “Idea Kitchen” filled with inspiration.  One of those ideas is to tell HERstory by spotlighting “the innovative girls and women around you who are doing creative, inventive and groundbreaking things with technology”.  I had never heard of the following women who shaped the cyber frontier until I visited the website for Take Back The Tech:

  • Ada Lovelace — the first computer programmer in history, who wrote the first algorithm specifically for the computer
  • Grace Hopper — the inventor of the first computer language composed of words
  • Betty Holberton, Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jean Jennings and Fran Bilas — the six women who were the original programmers of the first general-purpose computer, ENIAC.

Why does telling HERstory matter? Because when only men get attention for their roles in ICT:

This contributes to the idea that ICTs is the domain of men and boys as creators and innovators, and that women and girls are mainly just users and consumers. This in turn affects the choices that parents make in encouraging their children to study science and technology based on their gender, and the masculine culture that permeates the industry, making it hard for women and girls to enter as equal participants and decision-makers. What happens is a perpetuation of this cycle of gender stereotypes and myths that cast women as passive background actors in the development of ICTs and men as active groundbreakers – the stuff of legends.

— Take Back The Tech

I am always inspired by the women I know who are using technology to make changes. The team over at Collective Shout have initiated a number of successful campaigns lobbying corporations to end their objectification and sexualisation of women. Their recent petition to ban the release of Kanye West’s Monster video now has almost 7,000 signatories.

And I am really excited about the new site launched by the Equality Rights Alliance, Sharing Young Women’s Stories. This site has been set up to celebrate 100 Years of International Women’s Day. It features a number of guest bloggers (including yours truly) and encourages people to upload and share stories of women who inspire. There is also a postcard that can be downloaded and sent to  Minister Garrett, asking him to do more to promote healthy body image. Enlighten Education is going to pay to have 10,000 of these cards printed to distribute to our client schools during our upcoming in-school events. We find girls willingly embrace activism!

So, perhaps a revised infographic suggesting the decisions women really make when using technology to shape their careers, and indeed their culture, might actually pose questions like: “You see an injustice. Do you blog on it or set up an on-line petition?” and ” You like to share the love and encourage the women around you who are making changes. Do you Tweet about their work or set up a Facebook Fan Page?”

No . . . even that would be far too limiting. The smart cyber-amazons I know don’t just chose one path. They do it all.

Postscript:

Other Butterfly Effect posts on girls and technology that may inform and inspire you (particularly when planning International Women’s Day events at your home or school) include:

And my 3-part series on cyber world:

Part 1 — What is working?

Part 2  — Cyber bully busting

Part 3 — Dealing with more difficult truths

Why we do what we do, and how we shall make it even better.

It has long been my goal to help girl move beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers.

Girls are excelling in all kinds of ways – academically, socially and on the sporting field to name a few – but underneath that facade of success, our girls are in trouble. While they may appear to be coping with all that life throws at them, behind closed doors many are silently imploding. Teenage girls exist in a world of peer pressure and unrealistic self-expectations, a world subtly skewed by the insidious marketing hype of popular girl brands such as Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers. And it is poisoning them at a most vulnerable age.

The statistics show there is much to be alarmed by. A quarter of teenage girls surveyed in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could. Among 15-year-old girls, almost seven in ten are on a diet, and of these, 8 per cent are severely dieting. Peer pressure is a cause of pain for many, with six in ten girls saying they have been teased about their appearance.

Seven out of ten young women engage in binge drinking – consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion – and almost one in five do so on a weekly basis. An alarming 12 per cent of girls report drinking harmful levels of alcohol – more than five standard drinks on any one day – and twice the number of teenage girls use drugs, compared with boys.

Pressure at school is also an issue, with nearly two out of three girls questioned in an Australian survey saying they feel stressed about their studies.

As many as one in ten teenage girls self-harm. Male suicide rates remain considerably higher than female suicide rates, but there is evidence to suggest that women, particularly those under twenty-five, attempt suicide and commit self-harm at a higher rate than men. It is estimated that for each female suicide, there are 150 to 300 acts of self-harm performed by females.

It seems that unprotected sex is resulting in unwanted outcomes for some. Sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase among young people. It has been estimated that as many as 28 per cent of teenagers have chlamydia. In Australia, pregnancy termination, or abortion, is the second most common hospital procedure for females aged 12 to 24 years.

All of this troubles me, and my Enlighten team. Deeply. It is our life’s work to help girls navigate the more toxic elements of girl world. To critique. To question. To demand more for themselves and their sisters.

To date Enlighten Education has had much success in this area. We currently work with approximately 20,000 young women right across Australia and New Zealand every year. Our Testimonials indicate the work we are doing significantly changes culture and provides girls with the skills they need to make sense of their increasingly complex world.

Danni…what can I say! I have just read the comments on facebook…

What you achieved with our girls yesterday was remarkable. It is a message that we could not achieve in two years!! I really want to thank you.

Being a new (relatively young) Principal in a girls school, yesterday really gave me a good opportunity to reflect on my own wishes for our students. I love being a Teacher and a Principal and I really love Clonard and each of the students that I have been blessed with in caring for. Watching our students respond to you was an amazing experience.

Clonard is a truly special place. I am very proud of our girls. It was an absolute privilege to sit through all of your sessions finding myself captivated by every moment. What I really couldn’t get over at the end was the line of girls that just wanted to hug you and say thanks. Talk about special!!!

A number of the teachers there yesterday came up to me and said how much they had learnt. It’s true…you can teach a teacher!!!

I feel that your powerful message will stay with these students for their journey through Clonard. I know it will be something that I will refer back to when the going gets tough.

I feel privileged to have met you, listened to you and learnt from you. I do know now what Jemma and Mel (our two Yr 11 girls who attended the Insight Conference) were talking about!!!

Thank you and I hope that we can have you back in 2011.

Damian McKew, Principal, Clonard College, Geelong West, Victoria

Enlighten provided the most successful presentation relating to Pastoral Care in our school in 2010. Dannielle’s understanding of the issues that influence self esteem and behaviour in teenage girls is evident. Even more importantly, many of our girls have commented on the way that Dannielle’s message has begun to influence their everyday attitude towards body image and the objectification of women in the media. St Clare’s will certainly integrate ‘The Butterfly Effect’ into our Pastoral Care program in the future.

Patrick McGing, Assistant Principal, St Clare’s College, Waverley

Just wanted to pass on to your company what a wonderful afternoon our Year 7-9 girls have just experienced. Your presenter Nikki was just terrific and she had the girls eating out of her hands! The content was spot on and the girls certainly left on a real high. It was a pleasure reading the feedback sheets and we look forward to working with your company again.

Kristen Waldron, Hamilton College, Hamilton, Victoria

The girls thoroughly enjoyed the day, and I believe they took a lot away with them. The topics covered on the day were very relevant to the girls and where they are in their lives. Dannielle knew her material and knew how to reach out to the girls in a way that made them want to listen and change and take on board the messages she presented to them. The information night presented to parents was informative and the parents came away enlightened and with positive strategies on how to deal with their teenage girls. Parents were very grateful for the opportunity to listen to Dannielle.

We will definitely invite Enlighten Education to work with our students again and hope we will have the opportunity for Dannielle to present to our parents again in the future.

Kathy Harris, Year 8 Coordinator, Mt Lilydale Mercy College, Lilydale, Victoria

Poster 6 - "You are loved."
Poster 6 - "You are loved."

In 2011 we will be expanding our services to ensure we ensure we offer more support to parents and educators who wish to raise amazing girls. To this end, we have developed a range of affordable resources we hope every girl will be able to access. You may view these, and order, at  the new Shop page of this blog.

I shall be taking a few weeks off over Christmas to enjoy my new home and celebrate Christmas. I’d like, therefore, to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all our blog subscribers, client schools, and the many thousands of young women we have been privileged enough to meet over the course of 2010. We now have over 4,750 young women as “Fans” on Facebook and we love hearing from them all. They truly grace us with the most heart-warming support for our work. Who said the revolution was over? We’re just warming up!

I wish all my readers much Love, Light and Laughter.

And new beginnings in 2011…

Sustaining our work

I am often asked by schools for suggested follow-up activities they can do to sustain the girls’ interest and enthusiasm for the work Enlighten Education ignites when we run our programs. I thought it timely to share some best-practice approaches.

Positive representations of women
Positive representations of women

Mater Dei Catholic College in Wagga Wagga recently ran a full-day Butterfly Effect program for their Year 9 students. The program also served as a “train the trainer” session for selected Year 11 students who would be acting as mentors for their younger sisters in the months to come. One of the first activities the girls all engaged in after our session was the completion of art projects that deconstructed media images of women; they were asked to find representations of women that they found helpful and positive, and to identify those that they felt perpetuated negative self-image in women.

Questions the girls were asked to consider as part of this process included:

1. What part of the body does the image centre on and why?

2. Is this an accurate representation of how real women look? Why or why not?

3. In what ways do these images impact on young women and girls?

4. What is the possible effect of these images on young men?

Kellyville High School adopted a similar peer-support concept for their Year 8 students with their “Sellerbrating Sisterhood” initiative. A full day was set aside three weeks after our program; this timing coincides with the completion of the 21-day positive self-talk challenge Enlighten leaves girls with. The girls were then introduced to their Year 11 “Big Sisters”, who all completed our course in 2009. Together, the students debriefed and participated in a series of extension activities, which included the formulation of a group action plan to avoid “toxic talk”, the identification of support networks girls can access both within the school and wider community, the creation of a “girls only” space within the school, and the setting up of an internal mail system where the Year 8 “enlightened” students could correspond with their Big Sisters.

In previous blog posts I have shared ideas that would also make excellent follow-ups:

Do you have any activities you’d like to share?

Girls in Trouble in a Post-Feminist World

Parents, teachers and all of us at Enlighten Education know in our hearts that girls and young women are in trouble and need our support. And the evidence is mounting to prove that we are right to be concerned.

A 19-year-long Scottish study published recently in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology showed that teenage girls are now the most depressed section of the population. The study, by Helen Sweeting, showed that girls were reporting mental disorders at a rate of 44%. More than a third felt “constantly under strain”. More than a quarter “felt they could not overcome their difficulties”. Between 1987 and 2006, the number of girls who “thought of themselves as worthless” trebled to 16%. Those who were so distressed they might need to be hospitalised rose threefold, to 18%.

And recent UK government research into 42,073 children between the ages of 10 and 15 concluded that:

The choices being made by teenage girls regarding diet, lifestyle and other health-related issues were so consistently damaging that they had become ‘a standalone group of the population’ requiring immediate intervention.

Amelia Hill, of London newspaper The Observer, reported on the research in her superb article After feminism: what are girls supposed to do? which I urge everyone to read.

Helen Sweeting, the author of the Scottish research, found it significant that her disturbing results came at a time of major upheavals in society — in Hill’s words, “the period in which girls began to outperform boys academically, and the obsession with celebrity culture and the pressure on younger and younger girls to become sexualised”.

Girls’ problems are caused by a combination of very modern problems, including the breakdown of the family, and the pressures of rampant consumerism and of educational expectations – the need, in short, to have things, look good and succeed all at the same time. Add to that the spread across society of increasingly cynical, individualistic values and beliefs, and you have a pretty toxic mix. — Helen Sweeting

For explanations, Hill turned to a number of experts, including Natasha Walter, author of the new book Living Dolls, The Return of Sexism:

Feminism’s own language of empowerment has been turned against it. The language of empowerment has been harnessed to confuse sexual liberation with sexual objectification. — Natasha Walter

I agree with Hill that girls are “growing up in an atmosphere of unapologetic crudity”. Stripping, she noted, “is widely cited as a method of empowerment”.

Girls feel pressured now in a way they never have been before to be thin, hyper-sexy, smart, glamorous, rich. And these expectations have created a “narcissism epidemic”. Respected American psychologist Jean Twenge studied almost 60 years’ worth of data on 37,000 American teenagers and found a staggering rise in the number of teens who score high on the narcissism personality index. And it is females who suffer the most from the depression and anxiety linked to narcissism, Hill noted.

The narcissist has huge expectations of themselves and their lives. Typically, they make predictions about what they can achieve that are unrealistic, for example in terms of academic grades and employment. They seek fame and status, and the achievement of the latter leads to materialism – money enables the brand labels and lavish lifestyle that are status symbols. — Jean Twenge

Other UK findings uncovered by Hill that make it impossible to deny that girls are in trouble include:

  • Hospital admissions for anorexia nervosa among teen girls have risen 80% in the last decade.
  • In the past year alone there has been a 50% rise in violent crime committed by young women.
  • One in three girls, and one in two boys, believe there are times when it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

It is clear that the pressure girls feel to be more and to have more has grown to the point that they are struggling to cope. They need our support and understanding right now. 

Thank you to Sarah Casey for bringing Amelia Hill’s article to my attention.

Seeking positive alternatives for girls  

Enlighten Education is proud to be working with schools and communities who are seeking answers for girls. I have recently returned from working with a number of schools in Christchurch, NZ, and spoke about this positive initiative on New Zealand’s Breakfast program:

To watch this interview, click on this image. You will be directed to the URL.
To watch this interview, click on the link above. You will be directed to the URL.

Wilderness College Adelaide is to be applauded for launching their “Raising Amazing Girls” program:

As part of the growing momentum around Australia to address the problems caused by unrealistic media and marketing images of women and the pressure for girls to grow up early, an extensive program will be launched today by Wilderness School to equip girls, and their parents, with the tools to help them navigate the ‘tweenie’ years.

This will include a series of practical seminars, open to all parents, as well as an intensive program working directly with the students at the school on issues such as the sexualisation of girls, digital citizenship and cyber-bullying. I am thrilled to be leading this for Wilderness and will be presenting to all the girls in the school, and to their parent community, later this month.

In Sydney, I will be offering parents practical strategies on raising happy, confident teen girls at a workshop on 16 March at Castle Hill Library. Tickets can be purchased online.  

I’d love to hear how you are providing the girls you care for with the urgent help they need. Let’s share our ideas and turn things around for girls in Australia and New Zealand . . . and set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

15968_178888282169_38293082169_2803328_5725903_nI love my job and the girls that I work with. I feel blessed to be able to do something I am so passionate about.

So I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that 2009 became a bit of a turning point, the year when the mainstream media – despite all its raunch culture and limiting messages for girls – began to pick up some of the messages I’ve been shouting out for years. Earlier in the year The Australian newspaper named me Australia’s Number 1 Emerging Leader in Learning; and my book The Butterfly Effect, encouraging parents to combat the pressures teen girls face by forging loving, open relationships with them, was widely reviewed.butterfly effect-COV-ART.indd

Now the(sydney)magazine – the Sydney Morning Herald‘s monthly glossy – has included me in its annual issue on Sydney’s 100 most influential people. I am so honoured to receive the recognition – but more than that, I am happy that the crises our girls are facing are finally getting a little airtime.

cover_Jan10Thank you to the wonderful women in the Enlighten team and to all the schools we worked with this year and the fabulous girls we had the good fortune to meet. In 2009 we worked with well over 100 schools right across Australia and New Zealand!  (The journo at the(sydney)magazine wrote that it was 15 schools. I don’t know where he got that from, but I am proud to report that my colleagues and I have been a lot busier than that! But in the spirit of the festive season, I say: “To err is human, to forgive, divine”!)

I am already excited about what 2010 will bring – the inspiring girls, dedicated teachers and innovative schools we will work with. There is a lot of creative energy going into girls’ education right now. Here’s just a small taste of what I’m looking forward to in the first half of 2010 that you might like to pencil in to your diaries, too.

CONFERENCES AND PUBLIC TALKS

16 March Wake Up Sleeping Beauty” I will be giving one of my parent information seminars at Castle Hill Library, in Sydney. These are great for any parent who wants to help their teenage daughter navigate the flood of messages from the media, advertisers, marketers and peer pressure. Tickets will go on sale early in the New Year.

19 March “Growing up fast and furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children” I am keen to attend Young Media Australia’s conference, at the NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre in Sydney, at which a range of key international experts on children and the media will review the latest research.

2830 May 2010 –  “Skating on the Glass Ceiling” – I am excited that Enlighten Education is sponsoring the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia’s conference at Ascham School, in Sydney. There is a stellar list of keynote speakers, including Germaine Greer, Dale Spender and Cheryl Kernot. Come check out the Enlighten stand; we’d love to meet you!

1618 June 2010 –  “Insights: A Fresh Look at Girls’ Education” I am thrilled to be one of the keynote speakers on Risk Behaviour in Young Women at this national conference at the Grand Hyatt, Melbourne, which covers topics as broad (and vitally important) as technology; leadership, power and politics; relationships and work; and global and ethical responsibility. And I will be running a special session with teenage girls my true passion! I’m also looking forward to hearing other keynote speakers such as Elizabeth Broderick, Kaz Cooke, Maggie Hamilton and Melinda Tankard Reist.sunshine

ENLIGHTEN EDUCATION’S WORK IN SCHOOLS

Enlighten Education is excited to have been invited into some new schools in 2010. Here are some highlights for the first term alone:

We are proud to be part of the Orientation Program for new Year 7 students at Roseville College, Kambala, Brigidine College and Pymble Ladies College, in Sydney, and Canberra Girls Grammar.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, I will be working with more than 400 girls and their parents at St Margaret’s College and at Rangi Ruru.

For the Wilderness School in Adelaide, Enlighten will be working closely with all girls in years 7, 8, 9 and 10, and the parent community, as part of their Raising Amazing Girls initiative.

At Santa Sabina College, in Sydney, will be extending our work with girls in years 8, 9, 10 and 11 by including their parents.

And we are thrilled to be continuing to work with long-term clients St Brigid’s Lesmurdie in Perth, St Vianney’s Primary School and Domremy College, in Sydney, and Firbank Grammar, in Victoria, along with many other schools we have come to know and love right across Australia. Here’s to a wonderful and enriching 2010 for all our girls, their parents and their dedicated teachers!

too cute

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