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Tag: Lindsay Lohan

Shaming and Taming Teenage Girls

“America’s favorite shame machine, Lindsay Lohan, has embarrassed herself yet again! …Look away now if you don’t like to watch people throw their dignity in the trash..”

Look away now if you don’t like to watch the media revel in shaming young female celebrities. The above quote wasn’t lifted from of the plethora of “trash” mags, but rather from online site Jezebel, a site that claims to be offering “celebrity, sex and fashion…without airbrushing.” No airbrushing but, it would seem, with an extra dose of female venom – or, as we like to call it, fem-ven. Sadly, Jezebel is not alone in reveling in dishing up the dirt on young women.

Much of popular culture perpetuates the idea that young women can simply not be trusted, particularly if they have money, fame or any kind of power. Think everyone’s favorite targets; Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian… Going by all the recent reports which document young women stripping off and partying on, you would be forgiven for thinking that young women are simply out of control.

Think too of the more troubling way in which teen girls are presented by those who are supposed to have their best interests at heart. How many books on teen parenting have featured either surly looking misses with arms folded on their covers, or titles which claim to help parents “survive” adolescent girls (please note – girls aren’t carcinogenic).

The general consensus seems to be that girls are running wild and must be tamed, or shamed- stat!

Never mind that teenage girls are considered more mature than their male counterparts. Never mind that girls continue to outperform boys academically. Never mind that girls aged 16 to 24 are safer drivers and have higher tertiary enrollment rates than boys in the same age group. And don’t even consider the drastically lower incarceration rates of young women compared with young men.

The problem is not that young women are irresponsible but that the media is interested only in the few who are.

The moral panic over young female celebrities is so intense that many people forget that in some ways young men are more at risk than young women, yet curiously there is no moral panic surrounding the boys.

As women who work with teen girls on a weekly basis, let us reassure you – it’s not that amazing young women are not out there. Young women are doing great things. The problem is one of visibility. The media rarely reports on young women in an affirmative way. Apart from the odd report of a young female sportsperson or aspiring fashion model, there is surprisingly little on offer.

As a young woman, unless you fit the category of innocent virgin, or vulnerable victim the chances are the media will vilify you. But why is there such a witch-hunt for young female celebrities? Just as many young male celebrities take drugs and misbehave. Hello almost every rap star / gangsta wannabe on the planet! Hello Charlie Sheen!

So why the double standard? And how does the double standard fuel the moral panic over girls as vulnerable and highly susceptible to negative influences? More to the point, are paternalistic offers of protection really just veiled offers to control girls?

The sexuality of teenage girls produces a cultural anxiety that results in the social scrutiny of young women’s bodies and behaviours. When teenage girls develop curvy bodies and active libidos they can no longer be neatly categorised by those who would prefer to view them as asexual beings. This unsettles many in the community.

Some then deal with their anxiety by projecting it back on to the bodies and actions of young women through extreme regulation and control. Some men police young women as a way of policing their desire for them. Similarly, some older women who are threatened by younger women’s sexuality deal with this anxiety by trying to police them.

But the vast majority of teen girls have not committed any crime and are guilty of nothing more than testing boundaries and trying to make choices in an increasingly complex, adult world. When we work with young women they tell us they are sick of being “lectured”, told off for “doing everything wrong” and policed.

Setting boundaries is vital but let’s stop the vitriol and panic and aim for a more empathetic, strengths based approach to raising girls. Let’s respect the competencies they bring to discussions and let’s build on their capacity for ethical decision making.

The real crisis? The fact that we are further alienating and isolating our young women by perpetuating a self fulfilling prophecy that all girls will be difficult and deviant.

 

This post was co-written with Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti-sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on “sexting,” teen girls and moral panics. The post was first published by US site Feministing. 


 

With Friends Like These . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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