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Tag: The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A Girl’s Guide to C

What’s So Bad About Being A Girl?

The following post was written by Emily Maguire for this month’s Girlfriend Magazine. Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Emily’s work, and particularly of her fabulous guide for young women, “Your Skirt’s Too Short : sex, power choice.”  I was deeply honoured when Emily agreed to launch my own guide for teen girls, “The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo – A girl’s guide to claiming her power.” You may read the passionate, articulate and thought-provoking speech Emily gave at this launch here: Celebrating The Awesomeness Of Teen Girls

I was delighted to have been interviewed for the following article as I think many parents will find helpful in supporting their daughters to move beyond limiting stereotypes – including those that would have us betray our girlhood.

Previous posts which explore similar themes may also interest: Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves ( co-written with Nina Funnell and originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald), and It’s time to reclaim the power of pink, a guest post by Clementine Ford which was originally published in Daily Life.

Emily Maguire and I at the launch of "The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo."
Emily Maguire and I at the launch of “The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo.”

Earlier this year, after winning her Best Actress Oscar, Jennifer Lawrence gave a press conference in which she answered some seriously dumb questions with kick-arse humour. Her performance was widely praised, but it was the response from Aussie pop culture site Pedestrian TV that was really striking. The entire press conference, they wrote, was ‘an exercise in being a dude’.

Now, they weren’t insulting JLaw or implying she looked anything less than feminine; they were paying her a compliment by declaring that she had moved beyond being a mere girl and into the realm of dude-ishness.

It’s the kind of compliment that the teenaged me would have killed for. All I wanted was to be ‘one of the boys’, because I thought that meant being cooler, smarter and all around better than other girls.

Katie, 19, can relate. A few years ago it was a point of pride that she hung out with dudes, wore sneakers and hated pink. She remembers noticing that boys used ‘girl’ as an insult and hassled each other by saying ‘oh, look that’s your favourite colour’ whenever they saw something pink. ‘Of course at fifteen you want to be liked by boys and don’t want to be seen as lesser than them,’ Katie says. So for her, rejecting girliness was a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’.

For me, the habit of equating maleness with awesomeness started very young. In the books I loved, the female characters were duller than dull. They stood in towers watching their own hair grow or spent their days cleaning up after dwarves or step-sisters. When I daydreamed about living the stories I read, I was always a boy, because a boy was always the hero.

Many little girls today are getting the same message. According to the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media only 29.2 percent of characters in kids films and TV shows are female. And to make it worse, many of those characters play no role in the story except, as Davis puts it, ‘as eye candy’.

It’s not only kids’ shows, though. Joanne Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, was told by her publisher to follow the path of many other female writers and publish her books under her initials so that readers wouldn’t be put off by the apparently awful fact that a woman had written them. Meanwhile, in our national capital, government minister Kate Ellis (who is young, pretty and always nicely dressed) has faced catcalls of ‘here comes the weather girl’ when speaking in parliament.

Even female pop icons get in on the girl-trashing game. When Katy Perry wants to insult an unreliable, moody guy she accuses him of acting ‘like a girl’, and Taylor Swift differentiates herself from her rival by comparing her own tomboy style (T-shirts and sneakers) to the other girl’s penchant for short skirts and high heels.

Of course some girls do feel more comfortable in jeans than dresses, and plenty of us enjoy hanging out with our dude pals, and that’s fine. This isn’t about girly vs tom-boy style, but about the fact that many people seem to think being overtly feminine means being dull or dumb. You can’t help being female, this line of thought goes, but if you want to be taken seriously you should try very hard to not be too girly about it.

It’ a problem 15 year-old Hannah is used to confronting. ‘I love pink. I love sparkles. I love fluffy pens and hair-clips and sticking butterflies on everything.’

What Hannah doesn’t love, is the assumption that she’s stupid because of her ultra-girlish appearance. ‘One of my teachers calls me ‘Princess’, which might sound nice, but he says it in a really sarcastic way. It’s frustrating because I’m actually good at that subject, but he treats me like an idiot anyway.’

Disturbingly, Hannah’s experience of being belittled by an adult is not unusual. Indeed, Dannielle Miller, author of The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: a girl’s guide to claiming her power reckons that putting down girliness is more of a problem with adults than amongst girls themselves. After all, it’s adults – not girls –  making movies where girls are only there to be pretty, writing girl-insulting songs, denigrating female MPs and treating pink-loving students as if they’re stupid.

Miller thinks most girls understand that ‘the glitter and frills are a thin veneer; underneath that they can still be feisty and fierce.’ But even if you understand that, it can be hard to express yourself in a way that you know may cause others to look down on you. Miller’s advice is for girls to ignore the haters and stay strong. ‘Playing around with identity is fine. Don’t let anyone judge you on it.’

It’s advice Katie has taken to heart. Nowadays, she happily gets ‘dolled up’ in a way she never would have when she was younger. ‘I do get concerned that people might label me as “vain” or “dumb”, but I know that’s not the truth, so I just do what I want.’

So go ahead: wear a sparkly unicorn onesie and eat pink cupcakes while giving your girlfriends makeovers. Or don’t, because that’s fine, too. But the next time someone compliments you by saying you’re just like a guy, compliment him right back by telling him he’s so awesome, you’re going to make him an honorary girl.

All About Women – Bringing Up Daughters

I am thrilled to announce I will again grace the stage at the Sydney Opera House; you may recall last year I joined Germaine Greer, Eva Cox and Tara Moss there as part of the Festival Of Dangerous Ideas.

This April I shall Chair a panel on “Bringing Up Daughters.” Other panellists will include Nigel Marsh, Maya Newell and Barbara Toner.

I thought this week I would begin my preparation by drawing on your collective wisdom. Ms Toner’s most recent book, Because I Love You, is a guide written for her three daughters. In it she offers them advice on everything from “The meaning of life and how it should be lived”, to “How to buy property and live in it happily.”

In many ways I consider my book for teen girls, The Girl With The Butterfly Tatoo, to be a heart-felt conversation with young women on all things I think they need to know to be empowered.

What advice would you offer your daughter to ensure she does not end up ending her days in the manner in which the blurb on the reverse of Ms Toner’s book cautions she might should she not heed her mother’s wisdom:   “on the streets, in the gutter, with spoilt children, gum disease and bosom droop.”

Book Give Away! I have a copy of “Because I Love You” to offer to one of my readers. Simply comment below, and leave your email address for us to contact you should you win, and we will pick a reader at random on 10th March. 

 

Don’t hold back this Mother’s Day

As we come up to Mother’s Day, I have decided it’s time to celebrate that often dreaded period of motherhood: a daughter’s teen years. If this is the life phase you happen to be in, I’m sure you’ve found yourself in this situation: you’re standing around with other parents at a backyard barbecue and the topic of parenting teen girls comes up. There is some eye-rolling, quite a bit of sighing and a fair dose of judgment. The best you can hope for is to just get through the teen years, just survive them, is what people usually say. You may have even found yourself nodding along in agreement. But this Mother’s Day I want to hit the pause button and inject a new word into that conversation: love.

When I ask girls for feedback after an Enlighten Education workshop, they say they loved the way we made them feel; they loved us; they were inspired by the power of the love we showed them. At first I was surprised by the prevalence of the word love in their feedback. Such a bold world, so large, so intimate.

I have come to believe that it is the fundamental secret to Enlighten’s success. Without big, bold in-your-face love, there can be no connection between us and the girls we work with. No sense that we care enough to want to fight to make things different for them. Our love gives them a safe place from which they can explore their world.

The song I play when we start work is always the Potbelleez’ ‘Don’t hold Back’, with its cry ‘Is there anybody out there, feeling something?’

How ironic that in a society saturated in sex, shopping and self-centredness, the one thing that can still truly shock and delight and make girls feel anything is simple, old-fashioned love. I have had people baulk at my frequent use of the word love and look bewildered when girls use it so freely when they are with us. When did love become something to shy away from, and what price will we pay for not being brave enough to openly, unapologetically love our children?

Too often we assume that our daughters know that we love them; that our love for them is instinctive and so needs no explanation. Rather than receiving messages of love from adults, teenage girls often get the message that the rest of the world sees them as hard to handle, troubled, unlovable. The sugar and spice of girlhood turned bad. In books, in movies and on TV, teen girls are Queen Bees, Wannabees, Bitchfaces, Princesses, Divas, Mean Girls, Drama Queens.

It is time to look at teenage girls through new lenses.

They may be some of these things at times. Yet they are also so much more. They can be hilarious, brave, captivating, creative, intelligent.

When I look at teenage girls, I see:

  • The 14-year-old who works at the ice-cream shop near me who always wears pigtails and different novelty hair clips – horses, skulls, ballerinas. Her hair is a source of never-ending surprise and childlike playfulness.
  • The 16-year-old who is my friend on facebook, whose profile page declares her to be a fan of Blu-Tack, Minties, Dory the fish from Finding Nemo and Bubble O’Bill ice-creams – and also features her reflections on gender differences and learning Italian.
  • The 15-year-old who had a baby, as a result of being raped, and turned up at the school carnival the next week to join in sporting events and cheer on her classmates.
  • The 13-year-old who asked me if there was make-up back in my day, too.
  • The 14-year-old who sends me copies of her drawings of a fantasy world she has created,  and badgers me for contacts in the publishing world as she wants to create her own line of products, ‘beginning with a book series and then obviously working my way up to films and merchandising’.
  • The 14-year-old who sends me poems she has written on what being beautiful really means and on how she will survive being bullied and emerge a shinier girl.

Try not to let the slammed doors, angry silences or sarcastic asides of adolescence blind you to your daughter’s essential lovableness. Don’t be distracted by the toxic culture our girls are immersed in, for there is a risk that it can blind us to an even more important reality: the lovableness of all girls.

Don’t be afraid to show your daughter you love her.

You can show your love in such simple ways, in everyday moments, like these:

When it’s really cold and rainy, I come home from school and my mother’s got a cup of hot chocolate and pancakes made for me and my PJs ready to get into. Then we sit under a nice blanket and watch movies all night. — Gemma, 16

My mum writes me little surprise notes and sticks them in my lunch box sometimes. I love them so much, I stick them in my school diary. I’ve never told her that I look forward to seeing them so much, as she’d probably do it all the time then and somehow that would spoil it. When I feel sad during the day, I look at the letters and smile. — Michelle, 14

I love when me and my mum go shopping together, and after buying many things we will sit in a cafe and just talk. I feel comfortable to talk to her about my life, friends, etc. and it just makes me feel better that I can trust my mum and have that time with her. — Steph, 16

I love it when my mum touches me. That might sound stupid but we’re both so busy, we don’t touch very often. When we do, it feels like home. — Gemma, 15

You may feel that a good relationship with your daughter is a long way off. If it is not working for you both yet, love her anyway, and love yourself. And if she seems unlovable at times, remember that it is often those who are the hardest to love who need our love the most. Sixteen-year-old Stephanie shared this wisdom with me: ‘I don’t believe in loving someone because they are perfect . . . I fall in love with people’s flaws, because that’s what makes them different to everyone else.’

Don’t airbrush the issues that may need to be addressed with your daughter; part of loving is setting limits. And don’t dwell on the mistakes you both may have made in the past, either.

Just move forwards and fall in love.

Flaws and all.

 

Special Mother’s Day Book Offer!

This post was adapted from the final chapter of my book primarily for mothers, The Butterfly Effect. To celebrate the bond between mums and their teen daughters, I’m offering a special price on orders of The Butterfly Effect and the companion book for young women, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo. Order before 30 May 2012, and you will receive signed copies of both books for $50, including postage. (The price is normally $34.95 for The Butterfly Effect and $19.95 for The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, plus postage.) This offer applies only to orders for delivery within Australia. To order now, email: christine@enlighteneducation.com.

 

(Heart image by Louise Docker from Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons)

Celebrating the Awesomeness of Teenage Girls

This is a very exciting week for me, with my book written especially for teen girls, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, now on sale! At the launch party I was honoured and touched to be surrounded by inspiring men and women, including the writers Nina Funnell and Emily Maguire, who gave passionate, articulate and thought-provoking speeches. I wish that all of you Enlightened Amazons could have been there to hear what these incredible women had to say. For now, I’m sharing Emily’s speech here, as today’s guest post.

Emily Maguire is the author of three novels and two non-fiction books. Her articles and essays have been published widely including in The Monthly, The Australian and The Age and in 2007 she received an Edna Ryan Award (Media Category) for her writing on women’s issues. Emily was named as a 2010 Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year and is the recipient of the 2011 NSW Writers’ Fellowship. Her latest book is “Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice.”

Nina Funnell, Emily Maguire and Dannielle Miller celebrate the launch of "The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo"

About five years ago, I found myself increasingly annoyed by the overwhelmingly negative, often completely, stupidly wrong media coverage of young people, particularly young women. As I’m sure many of you have noticed, almost everything written or screened on TV about teenage girls presents them as either sex-mad airheads or sweet, delicate flowers. Either out-of-control tarts ruining society or innocent angels being ruined by society.

As a writer, I felt I was in a good position to address some of this crap. I wrote about my own experience as a teenager and about the lives of teenage girls and young women I knew. I undertook research in order to understand and write about the teenage girls and women I didn’t know, and along with some analysis of the representation of young women in pop culture and the mass media, this became my first non-fiction book, Princesses & Pornstars.

I – and my publisher – decided that a revised edition, especially for teens, was worth doing. So I did a second round of researching and writing, and the result was Your Skirt’s Too Short.

Thanks to these two books, I’ve spent the past four years speaking to and about young women across Australia. And among the many things I have learnt, two related facts stand out: 1) the majority of teenage girls are thoughtful, hard-working, creative, perceptive and resilient; and 2) many adults have absolutely no idea that this is true.

Consider these headlines from mainstream newspapers in the past year:

‘Lies, scams and deceit – just your average teenage girl’ (The Age, April 2011)

‘Our Teens Undress to Impress’ (Daily Telegraph, June 2011)

‘Do you know what your daughter’s doing tonight?’  (the (sydney) magazine, June 2011)

No wonder so many girls feel misunderstood. The version of their lives presented as news is a salacious cartoon; the characters meant to represent them are sexually loose magnets for trouble, not necessarily because they’re bad, but because they’re morally retarded and culturally illiterate.

The sad thing is that, often, parents buy into it, thinking that they’re learning essential information that will help them raise their daughters safely, when all it will really help them do is either infect their daughters with their own fear and panic or utterly alienate them.

To illustrate, here’s a short excerpt from an email I received from a 16-year-old Adelaide girl:

Seriously, I am so sick of my mum acting all suspicious every time I check my phone, just because she read another stupid story about teenagers sending crotch shots to each other. I’m too embarrassed to wear a bikini to the beach and she thinks I’m going to send people pictures of myself naked?

I was reminded of something a 17-year-old email buddy wrote:

It’s like ‘teen girl’ is this newly discovered species. Nothing we do has ever been done by humans. Nothing we feel has ever been felt. We are ‘teen girls’ doing things for our mysterious ‘teen girl’ reasons.

She’s right: so much of the media coverage takes this weird anthropological distance. The reporter stands back and pokes at the edges of this bizarre tribe, notes one aspect of their interactions, writes down the two most adult-shocking sentences and then declares some terrifying truth about the entire species.

We need a reality check: despite the often hostile world we adults have created for them, the majority of girls are not dopey, fragile creatures lurching from life-threatening crisis to life-ruining mistake. They work part-time, play sport, have supportive friendships and thrilling romances. They’re passionate about books, music and sport. They have exciting plans for when they finish school, and most have a good chance of fulfilling them.

Of course, the general awesomeness of teenage girls shouldn’t be taken as evidence that all is rosy in their world. There is, for example, the barrage of media messages about their apparent physical unacceptability. According to the 2010 Mission Australia Youth survey, body image is the number one personal concern of young people in Australia. Sexual assault also remains a major problem, with 38% of female secondary students reporting an experience of unwanted sex.

And of course dangerous abuse of alcohol and other drugs happens, though nowhere near as universally as media reports would lead you to believe. Nevertheless, it’s an issue and one that disproportionately affects those girls who are already vulnerable and at-risk for various other reasons.

So what to do? How do we protect girls without turning them into frightened rabbits or making them feel attacked and ashamed? How do we empower young people to tackle the tough parts of life without over-directing or under-preparing them?

The short answer is: Dannielle Miller.

With her first book, The Butterfly Effect, Danni helped parents understand what was going on in teen-girl world in general and – more importantly – how to reach out to their daughters and find out what was going on with them in particular. That is key: anyone can collate research reports and make observations about what girls are buying and wearing and doing. Very few bother to actually speak to the girls themselves, to ask them why they do what they do, how they feel about it, what they wish was different. Even fewer manage to establish the kind of trust and respect that allow girls to open up about their lives and their inner selves.

Danni writes so accurately, so insightfully about girls because she speaks to them, and they sense that she is on their side and so they speak to her. It sounds simple, but it isn’t – and, as I’m sure anyone who has read The Butterfly Effect alongside other parenting manuals or guides to teen girls will attest, it makes all the difference.

And now, with this, her second book, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, Danni brings her hard-earned insight directly to the girls themselves. The book’s approach to the big issues – body image, drugs and alcohol, sex and love, friendship, school and work – is personal but grounded in evidence. The practical advice is sensible but never prescriptive, and certainly never delivered from the high horse of moral authority. And the affirmations that close each chapter are to-the-point and have the potential to be genuinely empowering. Danni’s voice throughout is that of a trusted, trusting, wise-but-never-superior older sister. You know she won’t put up with your crap, but you also know she’s got your back. She expects a lot from you, but only because she thinks so very, very much of you.

In a world where girls hear countless conflicting messages about how they should live and who they should be, Danni Miller is a guiding light. Educator, activist, writer, mother, friend, mentor, feminist – every aspect of Danni’s life and being is directed towards helping girls navigate their teen years not only safely but with actual joy. Rather than encourage girls to attempt to avoid pain through making themselves meek and ultra-cautious, Danni encourages them to confront the hard stuff and stomp all over it. She doesn’t just want girls to be okay – she wants them to be magnificent and to know it.

Thank you, Danni, for this marvellous book. May its wisdom enter every teenage heart.

Danni with her family at the launch.

You may also wish to listen to a radio interview I did with Adelaide’s Amanda Blair on my new book at this link: http://www.fiveaa.com.au/audio_the-girl-with-the-butterfly-tattoo_104563 It was a very lively discussion and is well worth a listen.

The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power

The countdown has begun!

Ever since my book on raising teen girls — The Butterfly Effect — came out, mothers and daughters have been telling me they wish there was a version for teens. So I am thrilled to say that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power is to be released on 1 March!

I loved every minute of writing this book. Teen girls were my inspiration from the very start, and I am bursting with excitement to share this book with them. My aim is to encourage girls to question the limiting messages advertisers, the media and our culture keep pushing: that a girl’s greatest worth is her looks, and beauty comes in only one size and shape. My hope is that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers girls to find their strength and be true to their own hearts and minds.

Before the book went off to the printer, I sent it out to several girls for review, and I’m happy to say it received an overwhelmingly positive response. And I am honoured that two feminist thinkers I deeply respect have also put their support behind the book’s messages . . .

Finally a book for teenage girls that does not patronise or attempt to police them! The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers teen girls to make their own choices. — Nina Funnell, writer, women’s rights advocate and recipient of Australian Human Rights Commission Community (Individual) Award, 2010

Danni Miller is the big sister every teenage girl needs, offering the perfect mix of resolve-stiffening encouragement, soul-touching inspiration and real-world practical advice. — Emily Maguire, author of Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, power, choice

To be certain that your girls are among the first to get their hands on this book, you can pre-order (for $19.95 plus $5 postage and handling to anywhere in Australia). Each pre-ordered copy will be signed by me and will come with a beautiful bookmark and Enlighten Education wristband as free gifts. Click here to order now.

For a sneak peak at what The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo has to offer, check out Chapter 1, “The Battle Within”, for free, by clicking here. I hope that you enjoy it, and share it today with all the wonderful teen girls in your life!

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