Thursday, July 26, 2007

Girls Gone Milder? Here we go again...

Please take a moment to consider the influx of messages girls and women receive about how they should look, talk, act, what they can be, do and say.

Its exhausting for me, at 24 years old, to move through all that mess and just be myself, so I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be for adolescent and teen girls to see past all those ridiculous social expectations.

Imagine the wheels turning in my head, then, when I discovered an article in Newsweek last Thursday titled Girls Gone Milder. What exactly could that mean? Sounds fishy to me, especially after working at Hardy Girls Healthy Women for almost a year now.

(you can read the article here.)

The article, written by Jennie Yabroff for Newsweek, examines a new movement towards a more demure existence for teen girls, as outlined by the woman who wrote the book (literally!) on modesty. Yabroff cites several new websites for clothing and socializing with a modest spin and speaks to Wendy Shalit of

In Shalit’s new book, Girls Gone Milder, she claims girls are sick and tired of having overt sexuality pushed on them. “She blames the usual suspects: media, misguided feminist professors, overly permissive parents... They’ve lost the sense of encouraging their daughters to be ladylike.”

So who are these teen girls tired of the sex-saturated state of the nation, rejecting “the bad girl archetype for a more demure existence?” And please remind me again, what is "ladylike" and why is it so important? She says that these girls "cover up... insist on curfews on college campuses ...bring their moms on dates...”

Yabroff then cites our good friends in girl empowerment The Girls As Grantmakers program, claiming (without actually naming the organization) that this new movement of girls also spreads the word about modesty. (Based in Pennsylvania, this group is best known for girlcotting Abercrombie & Fitch last year for their obnoxious attitude tee shirts with phrases like “Who Needs Brains When You Have These?”)

Let me just tell you what I think is going on here. I was surprised by work like this- an article printed in Newsweek with absolutely NO cultural analysis, no discussion with the pros, and furthermore an obvious conservative (modest) spin.

Should we let her know that next time it will be better to contact Lyn Mikel Brown for an opinion before asserting a new movement among girls? I think so.

We do a lot of work (and Lyn especially) considering the ways that mass media misuses the concept of girl power for money-driven schemes- another way to create anxiety so girls will spend- and now it seems that Shalit uses the concept in the opposite light, taking power from girls so that they remain modest, demure. Proper.

While the meaning and use of Girl Power seems to change so frequently and conveniently for whosoever chooses to use the term, does the term really mean anything anymore? Originally that concept was used for that happy state in between overt sexuality and social rules of modesty-- oh right I believe that's the place where you can find REAL girls. Wasn't it once about celebrating the unique and dynamic nature of every girl?

The only evidence of a new modesty movement among the female youth of this country is that Wendy Shalit says there is. Is this article supposed to make us feel culturally better?

Whew- what a relief- those girls are going back to longer skirts and chaperones- now I think we are safe.

Now, don't get me wrong, we don't like the sexualization of girls one bit. But we also don't want girls having to consider what is "proper" and "improper," we want girls to live in a culture where they can BE THEMSELVES and those ridiculous definitions don't exist.

Is a movement towards modesty going to save us from a sexual revolution that's gone "too far"? Isn't there much more to consider in this case? This article annoys me --- well, my HGHW comrades and I --- because once again pressure is present for girls to fit themselves into simplistic and limiting labels- that classic dichotomy of the good girl (modest) or bad (immodest).

How exhausting.

Even more specifically, this writing makes me angry because without cultural analysis/evidence to work with, Yabroff uses an example of a super social action (a girlcott) against a major corporation

(something we are totally proud of and did ourselves earlier this year with a bad tee shirt and Kmart- see past blogs below...)

completely out of context. Had she properly named the organization, and I will do it again for them - The Girls as Grantmakers Program- then a modesty movement would matter very little in the face of the dynamic and empowered girls that brought about that fabulous change.

Company execs of Abercrombie not only met with those girls, they removed the most offensive shirts from all their shelves and made apologies.

Wish we could say as much for the elusive CEO of Kmart, but still girls are doing great things to defend their right to be girls all over the place.

In fact, the reference would make little sense if readers were aware that much like us (Hardy Girls Healthy Women), the organization allows girls space to empower themselves through social action while also celebrating the unique and dynamic nature of every girl.

Meaning: girls are much, much more that these ridiculous and lazy labels - they are smart, strong, bold, loud, creative, complex and dynamic. And much, much more..

This article is frustrating because we work to create a more equitable culture for girls and women, so that they may thrive and be all those wonderful things listed above (and much much more.) This hypothetical "modesty movement” only creates more unecessary pressure for girls, another hoop to jump through on the way to finding comfort in one's own skin.

Please check out the AWESOME LIST on the Hardy Girls Healthy Women website -a comprehensive listing of pro-girl organizations and sites- to counteract the pro- "modesty" sites listed in Yabroff’s article.

As always, if you have any questions or would like more information about Hardy Girls Healthy Women, please send an email to

Thank you!

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