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Tag: Sexualisation of children

Judging A Book By It’s Cover

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

1966 cover design
Faber’s 50th Anniversary edition

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

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

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

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

The controversial new cover of Anne of Green Gables.

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

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

Love to hear what you think of both covers…

 

The Government’s New Body Image Policy

bodyimagecodeLate last year in this blog, I gave my assessment of the National Strategy on Body Image proposed by an advisory group that was appointed by the federal government. Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, has just released the government’s body image policy in response to the proposal. So, how has the policy shaped up?

I had praised the advisory group’s recommendations for a Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist, so I am happy to see that the government will be distributing posters based on the checklist to every primary and secondary school in the country.

Regarding the rest of the policy, I think the intentions are good and many of the principles are undeniably sensible. Stores stocking a broad range of clothing for all shapes and sizes? Of course I believe in this recommendation, and many similar recommendations. However, I also believe that girls and young women deserve stronger action than what this policy takes.

The government has introduced an industry code of conduct designed to encourage the media, fashion and advertising industries to promote more positive body image messages. I agree with most of the guidelines in the code, such as calling on companies to: promote positive body image messages; include images of a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities; not undermine positive body image editorial messages with negative advertising; use models who are of a healthy weight and appropriate age; and cater to diverse women. One aspect of the code I am suspect of is that it asks companies to not digitally alter images to an unrealistic or unattainable degree, and to tell consumers when they have altered images. Frankly, this recommendation seems inadequate. Doesn’t any Photoshopping send the message that women are not good enough the way they are? That aside, in large part, I think it will be a healthier world for our girls to grow up in if companies follow the code of conduct. But—and this is a big but—the code is only voluntary.

This seems profoundly naive to me. What media, fashion or advertising company is going to invest time and money in following a voluntary code—unless it’s good for their bottom line?

This brings me to my next reservation about the new policy . . .

A national body image friendly awards scheme is to be launched. Organisations, initiatives and products that receive awards will earn the right to display a body image friendly symbol. It’s like the body image equivalent of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval. But surely companies will only vie to win an award if it helps their bottom line. Are we seeing the start of the commodification of positive body image? That’s a possibility that truly makes me shudder.

Already we have seen companies such as Unilever using the body image issue to sell products, through their Dove “real” beauty campaigns. Given that Uniliver employs incredibly negative body image messages to sell some of its other brands, such as Lynx, Slim Fast and Ponds Skin whitening cream in Asia, I think it’s fair to conclude that at least in that company, profit is more important than positive body image. (There has also been some questioning of just how real the images in those Dove campaigns are. If you want to find out more, there are articles in New York magazine and Jezebel about a hypocritical casting call for “beautiful” and “flawless” women for their next real beauty campaign. Dove has since put out a statement that they didn’t approve the casting call—though I notice that they haven’t denied an association with the casting company that issued it.)

My main concern is that a body image friendly symbol could become just another marketing tool to drive profit—and one that may well be fairly meaningless to the consumer if it doesn’t reflect the whole reality of a company’s body image messages.

Last year, I noted that the proposed national strategy had nothing to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls. The government’s policy also fails to address these crucial issues, even though the pressure to be too sexy too soon is a major part of many girls’ body image dissatisfaction. Experts in child and adolescent development, parents and social commentators have identified the damaging rise in sexualisation and objectification as something we as a society need to act on now.  The Australian Psychological Society has issued guidelines and has lobbied extensively in Canberra. So, why the deafening silence in the government policy?

Melinda Tankard Reist has written a couple of thought-provoking blog posts on this gap in the policy. Among other things, she discussed the absurdity of the media touting the size 14 model Laura Wells as the ultimate in positive body image simply because she is not thin and is happy to pose almost nude, squeezing her breasts together for the camera. I agree wholeheartedly with what Melinda wrote in a follow-up post:

You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.

Associate Professor Karen Brooks, of Southern Cross University, in her column in The Courier-Mail, like me agreed in principle with the aims of the policy but had reservations. She believes, as do I, that it is unfortunate that the advisory group did not seek opinions from a greater number of outside bodies and individuals with expertise in these issues. Karen also notes that the government’s allocation of funding has opened the way for beauty industry involvement in the teaching of positive body image in schools. I think such involvement is a whole world of wrong, akin to a fast food chain going into schools to promote healthy eating. That’s why Enlighten Education will always remain proudly independent, never accepting sponsorships or partnerships with corporations of any kind, especially beauty and fashion companies.

I also share Karen’s view that it is key for any in-school body image initiatives to be targeted at large groups of girls, over a sustained period. This is something that Enlighten believes in very strongly, because evidence shows that large-group interventions—say, with an entire grade—are far more effective than small-group ones of only a dozen or so girls. It is critical to spread the message to as large a number of girls at once as possible. That way, a girl’s whole peer group is speaking the same language, so the message isn’t undermined.

Over the next few months, the criteria for earning the government’s body image friendly symbol will be fine-tuned. I join with Karen Brooks in urging the advisory group to use this time to consult more widely with experts and with young people. I applaud the government for its good intentions and for acknowledging that negative body image among young people is a real issue that we all need to be concerned about. However, given the policy’s limitations, I again urge parents, teachers and community leaders to keep up the good work of combatting negative body image messages. In the end, it is our responsibility to be body image role models for girls and to send positive body image messages in what we say and what we do.

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.

A National Strategy on Body Image

The issue of negative body image has officially crossed over into the mainstream public debate. We now have a proposed National Strategy on Body Image, put together by an advisory group appointed by the federal government.

Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, put together the group, which was chaired by Mia Freedman, former editor of Cosmopolitan, and  featured big names in the fashion industry and  media such as TV presenter and model Sarah Murdoch, children’s health and psychology experts including Professor David Forbes of the University of Western Australia, and leaders of youth organisations such as the YWCA. They considered submissions from the public–mostly young people, teachers, youth workers, social workers and psychologists–then came up with recommendations for government action to deal with the widespread problem of poor body image.

What excites me, and my colleagues at Enlighten, is that the Strategy gives public recognition to the important role school programs can and should play in helping girls develop positive body image.  The Strategy calls for increased funding for “reputable and expert organisations to deliver seminars and discussions on body image within schools” and for workshops that increase girls’ media literacy so that they can stand up to negative media messages.

Many schools access independent organisations to deliver one-off body image workshops or to facilitate body image discussions among students. A number of these types of interventions have been demonstrated as effectively reducing the body dissatisfaction of students. The Advisory Group encourages government to increase the opportunities schools have to access these activities.

Proposed National Strategy on Body Image

As a first step, I call on the federal government to immediately introduce the Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist in the Strategy (on page 42). It has some great practical ideas that I would love to see implemented in schools across Australia. The best of the recommendations:

  • Bring positive body image messages into the curriculum. It is easy to see how body image can be incorporated into health and physical education lesson plans, but teachers need not stop there. In English, students could be asked to write a critical thinking essay on how the media affects our idea of what a woman should look like. A media studies class might focus on the way that programs such as Photoshop are used by magazines to create an unattainable ideal of beauty.
  • Consult with students to develop a sports uniform everyone feels comfortable wearing. Being involved in sport has been shown to boost girls’ self-esteem and body image–yet it has also been shown that figure-hugging uniforms are one of the greatest barriers to girls participating in sport.
  • Provide Mental Health First Aid training for teachers that can help them identify body image and eating disorders in students and then know what steps to take next.
  • Give training for teachers in how to use body-friendly language with students–that is, no “fat talk”, either about themselves or their students.
  • Include positive body image in the school’s policy, even writing positive body image and the celebration of diversity into the school’s mission statement.
  • Do away with weighing and measuring students. It seems kind of crazy that in this day and age that has to even be spelt out, but it is still done in PE and even some maths classes. And for many students, the humiliation they experience leaves lasting scars.

Beyond the school system, there are some other good (and long overdue) suggestions in the Strategy that I hope the government implements. A standard system of clothing sizes to avoid the distress many feel when they find they can’t fit into a certain size. Stores stocked with a broad range of sizes, reflecting the diversity of our body types. Mannequins that look more like the many different women we see every day in the street.

But as with most such working papers put together by committee, within parameters set by a federal government, the Strategy of course has its limitations. For instance, it can simply suggest that funding should be increased in schools to ensure all girls receive the media literacy and self-esteem workshops they need; it can’t provide an assurance that this will actually happen.

The limitations of the Strategy become clearer when it deals with other avenues for promoting positive body image. The right principle is there: to encourage clothing designers, magazines and TV, the diet industry, advertisers and marketers to finally shoulder responsibility for the shame, disgust and body anxiety they routinely encourage young women to experience. But the Strategy recommends first trying the softly, softly approach: asking companies to follow a voluntary code of conduct and rewarding them for good behaviour by listing them in a roll of honour and awarding them the right to display a logo. Think of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval, but in this case for creating positive body image rather than lowering cholesterol. Only once this approach had failed to produce results would penalties be considered.

I would be overjoyed if companies voluntarily started treating girls and women with more respect. And I think some would, so long as it was good for their bottom line. Think, for instance, of Dove, which uses the body image issue to sell a truckload of soap–while their parent company’s other key brands include Lynx (Boom Chicka Waa Waa, anyone?), Slim Fast and Ponds Skin Whitening cream marketed in Asian countries. A lot of fashion designers would  simply pull one of those frosty catwalk model faces in response to a suggestion they promote positive body image. I mean, can you really see Gucci saying “Hey, they’re right, we should stop promoting this unhealthy stick-thin image and adopt that voluntary code of conduct”?

I do wish that the proposed national strategy had more to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and especially of girls. While body size and shape and the lack of diversity in the media are prime sources of despair, the pressure to be sexy–and only within a narrow ideal of sexiness–is increasingly causing serious problems.

Research shows that over time women can come to see themselves as objects and subject their bodies to constant surveillance, feeling disgusted and ashamed about themselves. So even if the code helps industry to get serious about presenting more realistically sized women, the expectation to be ‘‘hot’’ and ‘‘sexy’’ will remain. And industry will have the right product and the latest look we need to achieve this false ideal.

Misty de Vries, COO, Women’s Forum Australia, in The Age

The way I look at it, the National Strategy on Body Image is a great place to start. But its recommendations are only worth something if the politicians, the fashion and beauty product industries, and the media and advertisers follow through on them. It is thanks to all of us voicing our opinions that the government commissioned a Strategy in the first place. Now we have to keep up the pressure!

Let us strive to create “Raging Angels”.

In the lead up end of year dance concerts, and the annual shopping frenzy that surrounds Christmas, this guest post by Sonia Lyne, Program Director for Victoria, and her newest team member, Amanda Hull, is timely.

Amanda begins:


I recently attended my 5-year old cousin’s dance recital. It was the most unsettling experience. I witnessed a group of 40 or more pre-kinders dressed in hot pants and mid-riff halters wearing fake eyelashes, layers of foundation, bright blue eyeshadow, and candy apple lipstick doing club dances and “dropping it like it’s hot”. I have to tell you, it was anything but hot. The only thing that was hot were my blushing cheeks and swelling sense of injustice. These precious little innocents were being exposed to (and exposing the viewer to) some of the raunchiest dance moves I’ve seen this side of a “gentlemen’s club”. Strangely enough, I appeared to be the only embarrassed person in the crowd. All the other parental faces were beaming with pride.

I spend many of my days dancing with pre-kinders to Wiggles songs and various other nursery rhymes. I am quite familiar with a way a child naturally dances. They are full of giggly excitement, with bouncing feet and clapping hands. Children who dance, when not performing choreographed moves and wearing costumes designed by adults, look nothing like the “Sportz Bratz Dance” wannabees I saw in action. 

When I asked my cousin’s parents what they thought of the girls’ dance costumes they replied that they looked “adorable” and that the girls were simply wearing what the dance teacher mandated for the performance.

I want to start a one woman revolution! I want to start my own dance company in my backyard with bumblebee, butterfly, ladybug, etc, costumes and age-appropriate dance moves!

There are other (less extreme) ways around this conformism too, and it must start at home. Upon reflection, I can now see that many of the mothers at this dance recital were like 5-year old girls themselves, dressing up their daughters and playing with them just as a child would a Bratz doll. I felt the pain of mothers who were influenced themselves by the myths of the media, doing their best to stay ever-youthful, thin, painted, and “sexy” for their mates.

How sad.  

I treasure the real beauty of women: their ability to reproduce, to run a household, to kiss an injury and magically make it better, to demand justice for their children, and insist on preserving their innocence. Unfortunately, these are not the traits that our society upholds as “beautiful”. I felt for these mothers and wanted to present a few Enlighten Education workshops to them, in the hopes that the positive, self-affirming messages would also trickle down to the daughters.

Sonia continues:

Yes, we can all be change-makers. And yes, it does start at home and with the decisions we make about what is, and is not, ok for our daughters.

Amanda and I had the honour of attending a forum recently hosted by St Michael’s Grammar School. “The Early Sexualisation of Children and Young Teens” forum was presented by popular actress Noni Hazelhurst and Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids and comedy writer/performer. Both speakers were informative and captivating.

There were numerous occasions where I found myself nodding pleasantly in agreement and other times where I found myself consumed with either anger or optimism, stirred by their statements. One of those poignant moments was when Noni Hazelhurst announced she wanted to create a room of “Raging Angels”. YES YES YES… 

Don’t we all have a strong desire to be active guides in our girls’ lives – and active against the toxic messages they are presented with? 

As a parent, I do my best to be a “Raging Angel”. I do filter and ”switch off” but I am also aware that at times I am no match for the endless avenues of sexualised imagery that appears on billboards, mobiles, at cinemas, shopping malls and supermarkets. I recently visited a toy store and upon entering the girls section I felt overwhelmed by the raunchy nature of the branded dolls section. Obviously the Bratz dolls were leagues ahead of the rest but it was sad to see that many of the other branded dolls now look very similar. Even Barbie has succumbed and taken a turn for the worst. I thought to myself, “This is not good enough for our little girls, how far will these companies go?”… alas, further than I anticipated. The following clip clearly illustrates the irresponsible nature of the minds behind these dolls. Somehow I don’t think the Bratz team were sitting around their meeting table discussing the value they can add to little girl’s lives when they came up with this “ingenious” idea.

 

So wrong on so many levels!!!

As Christmas is fast approaching I wanted to find alternatives to these ridiculous dolls. It is easy to criticise, but I do not just want to just deconstruct – I also want to offer alternatives!

I was able to find the following dolls for younger girls that clearly allow for creativity, exploration and yet still maintain childhood innocence.

The Only Hearts Club™, is a content-based brand of dolls for real girls that is drawing raves for combining beautiful, real-looking dolls, with content that delivers a much-needed, positive message to girls. Only Hearts Club™ dolls look and dress like real girls, and they deal with the same experiences and issues as well. You can click on the following link to find out more: http://www.onlyheartsclub.com. How interesting it is to compare the Only Hearts Sports doll (above) with the Bratz Sportz doll Amanda included in her opening! 

The all-new Australian Girl Doll is another fabulous alternative. I love the story behind this launch. Australian Grandmother Helen Schofield was so angered by the hyper sexualised dolls that were being pitched to her granddaughters that she decied to invest her retirement fund into creating dolls that are a more enlightened alternative!

 

www.australiangirldoll.com.au

You may recall last year Danni also wrote a post that suggested some wonderful gift ideas for girls – this is worth revisiting too: Christmas Gifts For Girls

My Christmas wish? We allow our daughters to dance to their own beat.

We set boundaries and seek out creative alternatives.  

We heal our girls – and their mothers.

And we bring the Rage in 2009!

Sisterhood – performance poem by Kate Wilson

The poem featured in this YouTube clip is written and performed by Kate Wilson.

Have your girls produced poems, songs or art that explores women’s issues? If so, I’d love to see these.

P.S As promised – big shout out to the hundreds of shiny teen girls I have worked with this past fortnight. I have been to Canberra, New Zealand, Wagga Wagga, Strathfield and Perth! A few of my fave snaps below.

LOVE, LIGHT AND LAUGHTER to all my Sisters!

Raunch=Empowerment? Think again…

Guest post by Enlighten Education’s Victorian Program Director Sonia Lyne:

 

Why is it that popular culture has now connected the sexual excitement of men with the “empowerment” of women? Why is attaining sexual power through stripping, fishnets and mimicking porn stars seen as the only way to be desired and desirable? Why is sexual power an attribute that we value so highly?

Many women today are preoccupied with their bodies and looks and have forgotten about the power of their minds. We live in a world today that is saturated with products, services and advertisements selling us the idea that we need to always look “perfect” and appear sexually available. 

We are inundated with images of women that are not reflective of how women really are. We continually see a cookie-cutter stripper/porn star version of “sexy”. Real female sexuality can be far more contradictory, complex and interesting. Real female sexuality is not solely focused on being “eye candy” for men.

80 Year old Hugh and Paris. Is enticing “Granddad” really liberation? For whom?

Many young women feel defeated and engage in self loathing because they cannot live up to this “Hugh Heffner-esque” ideal. Ariel Levy’s insightful book Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, looks at the new breed of so-called “empowered women” who are really only being sold a type of male centered pseudo empowerment and buying into their own sexualisation and objectification:

Only thirty years (my lifetime) ago, our mothers were “burning their bras” and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time?

What was almost more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and — often — women who edit magazines like Maxim and make programs like The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild. This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.”

Just one look at the “Girls Gone Wild” brand reminds us that this raunch obsession has indeed become mainstream. In our hyper-sexualized culture, to gain attention even very young women will adopt stripper-like dance moves and bare all. How telling are the song lyrics to the hit song ‘I Kissed a Girl”:

“This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion…

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it…”
( I Kissed a Girl, by Kate Perry).

It seems for this girl the act of kissing another girl had more to do with the drink in hand and the coquettish desire to provoke her boyfriend than any real pressing sexual urge of her own. Teen girls tell me it is now almost passé to engage in a girl-on-girl kissing session in front of the boys at parties. One girl I spoke to explained it thus: “Getting smashed and then getting it on with a girl friend used to be a guarantee of getting attention at parties, but now the boys expect more. They’ve seen it all before. Now it’s like, ‘yeah, yeah, whatever’.”

A recent essay titled “The Pornification of Girlhood” by Melinda Tankard Reist, published in Quadrant Journal (JULY 2008 – VOLUME LII NUMBER 7-8) delves into this concept and highlights the disturbing home truths about the effect this is having on even our young women and girls. Tankard Reist writes:

…the movement for women’s equality was overtaken by the movement for sexual license-the sexual revolution. To be free has come to mean the freedom to wrap your legs around a pole, flash your breasts in public, girls-gone-wild style, or perform acts of the oral variety on school- boys at weekend parties in lieu of the (as traditionally understood) goodnight kiss.  In an age of “Girl Power”, many girls are feeling powerless. They are facing unprecedented social pressure, their emotional and psychological well-being at risk in ways never before imagined…

To quote[Joan Jacobs] Brumberg: ‘We have backed off from traditional supervision or guidance of adolescent girls; yet we sustain a popular culture that is permeated by sexual imagery, so much so that many young women regard their bodies and sexual allure as [their] primary currency.’ ” 

Sexual allure as our primary currency? It is disturbing that it has come to this.

“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.   
 

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