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Tag: Mattel

Zombies, Barbies and Bulletproof Vests: Why Science Is for Girls

If I asked you to name five great scientists or inventors, chances are you wouldn’t have much trouble coming up with a list pretty quickly.

But how many on that list would be women?

Girls could be forgiven for thinking that all the important scientific and technological breakthroughs were made by men such as Newton, Einstein or Bill Gates. The truth is, brilliant women have been involved in science and technology ever since someone first rolled a log down a hill and called it a wheel. They have just never got the kudos they deserve.

In fact, the Nobel Prize committee tried to stop perhaps the most famous female scientist of all time, Marie Curie, from attending the ceremony to receive her second Nobel Prize, in 1911. A widow, she had taken a lover and it was thought no one would want to sit at her table because it was a scandal. She went anyway, and dined with the King of Sweden. Rock on, Marie!

Girls cannot be what they cannot see, so it’s time women in science and technology had the spotlight. I stumbled on a cartoon that gives us a great way to engage with girls on this topic: “Zombie Marie Curie”. Zombies are hot right now and perhaps the only thing that could have made this cartoon more relevant is if they had slipped a vampire in there as well. I think it deserves a spot on the wall of every high school lab; it’s available at xkcd.com and is free for noncommercial use.

Comic by xkcd.com.

I am always impressed by how much girls care for others and want to make a difference to the world. So I think another way to connect with girls about science is to show them that it isn’t all just theory in a textbook — it is a way to change the world, to change people’s lives. Take these achievements for starters:

Kevlar: Countless lives have been saved thanks to kevlar, which is in the bulletproof vests worn by soldiers, police and security guards. It finds its way into safety helmets, fireproof clothing, skis, hiking and camping gear and the cables that hold up suspension bridges. Thank you, Stephanie Kwolek, who invented it at Dupont in the 1970s.

Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor

Mobile phone communications: If you like old movies, you’ll know the glamorous 1940s star Hedy Lamarr. But you might not know that with George Anthiel she co-invented a form of coded wireless communication to outwit the Nazis in World War II. The technology she helped invent now makes mobile phones and other wireless devices possible.

Computer programming: The first computer programmer was Ada Lovelace. A mathematician, she wrote a program for the prototype of a digital computer created by Charles Babbage, back in the 1840s. 

Prostheses for breast-cancer survivors: Ruth Handler invented the Barbie doll in 1959. Heaven knows Barbie doesn’t exactly have realistic body proportions, yet as a breast-cancer survivor, Ruth Handler later developed Nearly Me, a range of realistic-looking post-mastectomy breast prostheses. Speaking of Barbie, in an attempt to inspire girls to enter the male-dominated field of architecture, Mattel and the American Institute of Architects recently held a competition to design a Barbie dream house. Female architecture graduates Ting Li and Maja Paklar won, with a design that is as green as it is pink: it has solar panels, locally sourced materials and other eco-friendly details. When I was a kid I loved Barbie and I sneakliy fancy sitting down to play with this, so it’s a pity that Mattel is not putting the female architects’ design into production. Oh, the irony!

Barbie Dream House by architecture graduates Ting Li and Maja Paklar

Blissymbols Printer: To help people who have disabilities that prevent them from speaking, 12-year-old Rachel Zimmerman wrote a software program that translates symbols a person points to on a touch pad into written language.

Girls like Rachel Zimmerman continue to achieve amazing things in science and technology. When Google held its science fair this year, 10,000 young people aged 13 to 18 entered and girls won the top prizes in all three age categories. Shree Bose uncovered problems with a popular ovarian cancer treatment. Lauren Hodge found that chicken can bind to toxic chemicals in marinades when it is char-grilled. And Naomi Shah used her own statistical analysis and a new mathematical model to quantify how air quality affects asthma symptoms.

I would love to get some conversations going in classrooms about the achievements of girls and women in science and technology, so here are some ideas for conversation starters or assignment topics:

  • Do you think women who have made scientific or technological breakthroughs have received as much recognition as their male counterparts? Why?
  • Do you think there are barriers to girls entering careers in science and technology today? If so, what are they?
  • How would you use science or technology to change the world?

 

 

 

Fat Talk and the Fashionista Generation

This is the Fashionista Generation. Chalk it up to Gossip Girl or Next Top Model or all those banks who handed out credit cards like they were candy — whatever the reasons, designer labels have become a part of our culture. We use them to fit in, to stand out, to create a glow of status and power.

Girls use brands to look more mature and hip; their mothers, to look more youthful and hip. This makes the marketers very, very happy. And it leads to some really creepy crossovers. Christian Louboutin — the French cobbler who only the fashion elite had heard of until Sex and the City but whose red-soled shoes all suburbia now lusts after — recently designed Barbie shoes for women. And women’s shoes for Barbie. The Barbie fantasy (or nightmare, depending on your point of view) is now reality: you and your teen daughters can walk in Barbie’s hot-pink stilettos, and she can walk in yours. At last, the circle is complete! The plastic woman and the living, breathing one are united. Childhood and adulthood have merged.

It’s rather pitiful, really, that in order for poor Barbie to be perfect enough for Monsieur Louboutin, she had to get cosmetic surgery on her “cankles” (a word in my top ten list of loathsome fat-talk terms it’s time we pledge to never use again). Barbie was already dangerously thin, people! If a real woman had her figure she would be classified anorexic and she would be unable to menstruate or have children. I thought we all knew that by now. Apparently the fashion world didn’t, because her grossly cankulous lower limbs needed to be made even more slender to be deserving of the designer’s shoes. On one level, it’s tempting to shrug this off as utterly ridiculous, just some designer who’s totally out of touch with reality behaving silly, but the fact that Mattel — a manufacturer of toys for children — indulged his whims actually makes me furious. Deep down, this is the message it sends to girls and women:

You’ll never be good enough. In fact, it turns out that the unrealistic ideal woman isn’t even good enough.

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How often has a day of clothes shopping turned toxic for you or your teen daughter? It can be daunting to see the racks filled with sizes that seem suited only, in fact, to a Barbie doll. What do you tell yourself in the changing room mirror? You wouldn’t be alone if you have fallen prey to some pretty self-hating thoughts under the fluorescent department store glare. There are women and girls who buy clothes a size too small for them so they will feel compelled to lose weight. Women and girls who unthinkingly repeat the old chorus “Does my bum look big in this?” as they twist to look at themselves in the mirror. Women and girls who feel ashamed because they aren’t the “right shape” for the latest designer label offering, as though there ever has been, or ever should be, such a thing as the “right” shape.

The tragedy is that too many women and girls diet to fit themselves into “must have” fashions, or they work themselves into an epic neurosis because they can’t achieve the look they see in fashion magazines and on billboards. That ideal look is achievable for only a tiny number of people (models are thinner than 98% of the population), or it is unachievable at all because it isn’t even real. Ralph Lauren recently Photoshopped model Filippa Hamilton to such an extreme degree that they made her look more like an insect than a woman.

Photoshop gone mad

It’s not a good example when you see this picture; every young woman is going to look at it and think that it is normal to look like that. It’s not . . . It’s not healthy, and it’s not right.

— model Filippa Hamilton

This was one of the final jobs she did for the company. She says that after 8 years of modelling for Ralph Lauren, they decided she was too fat for their clothes and cancelled her contract. Reality check: Filippa Hamilton, too fat for Ralph Lauren, is 178 cm and 54.5 kg, or 5′ 10″ and 120 pounds.  I’m sorry, Filippa, but  even before this deranged level of Photoshopping, your weight was not normal and healthy; you were already well into the underweight category of the healthy weight range.

Too many women and girls are berating and belittling themselves for being unable to fit into or look good in clothes modelled by skeletal models. I like nice clothes and shoes. I like to feel good when I walk out the door in the morning. And I don’t have a problem with people wanting to be fashionable. What I do have a problem with is clothing companies that make girls and women feel badly about themselves and talk badly about themselves. I have a problem with the fact that in many cases, women’s fashion is designed by male designers who probably know as much about building a rocket ship and flying to the moon as they do about the real lives of real women and girls.

What if we all make a pact not to buy fashion labels that make us feel less than beautiful? What if we say no to marketers who try to make us feel that we will never be good enough? They will  have no choice but to change their products and the way they market them.

During Fat Talk Free Week let’s transform the negative self-talk in the changing room into something far more constructive. Instead of punishing ourselves for not fitting into fashion designers’ narrow ideal let’s demand that fashion designers cater to our needs. And let’s choose to celebrate our differences and our unique qualities — rather than trying to squeeze them all into those designer jeans.

“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!  

 

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