Friday, June 20, 2008

What 3-Months Olds Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them?

Looking at the current marketing landscape – it should come as no surprise that stilettos for babies would be the next step towards the sexualization of girls. Babies are not meant to be fashion accessories which Britta Bacon, 30, seems to imply with her statement "Omigawd, what if you could take a baby to a party wearing high heels?" - I mean, when I'm going to a party the first thing I ask myself is "which baby goes best with my outfit? The one in heels or the one in wedges?"

The fact that these shoes are being sold at The Doll Factory exemplifies this more! Babies are not dolls, they're not toys, they're not the "latest thing" to accessorize your outfit with. Children are not objects - but decorating them with shoes like this signifies that babies are perhaps not people, but rather objects. Think also about how we are socialized into gender roles as soon as the words "It's a girl" are exclaimed. Why wait until she's a "tween" to get her buying into the idea that she's an object meant to be looked at when you can start that off as an infant? How do we react to a baby girl in heels or a baby boy in combat gear? We reinforce simplified gender roles and expectations that are limiting and consequently destructive.

Acheson's Gifts and Decorative Accents, owner Dianne Acheson simply brushed aside comments from critics about selling the shoes in her store with the ridiculou response "But a 3-month old baby has no idea she's wearing high heels." Let's try this same "baby logic" with other things: "But a 3-month old baby has no idea she's wearing a french maid's outfit (or a stripper's outfit - let's not forget the stripper's pole made for kids, pictured below!) It's soooo cute!"

In the end - this product was not made with a child's needs or wants in mind, but a narcissistic parent’s, whose looking for the perfect party plus. Maybe they can pole dance together, too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Transforming Inner Pain to Public Outcry

Speaking of My Beautiful Mommy (see post below), in study after study we see the impact of a culture for girls so toxic that such a book is touted unapologetically on national news shows, ensuring the author millions in new clientele and books sales. A recent media survey of 3000 women found that appearance and weight trumped disease as cause for women's concern -- 84% of the women surveyed felt they were overweight and 56% were concerned about diet/weight, while just 20% express concern about heart health and 18% about diabetes. (Alas, we can be sure that the results of this marketing study won't be used to turn those figures around.)

Campbell Leaper and Christia Spears Brown studied 600 adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 18 and found that 90% experienced sexual harassment in school, most often in the form of unwanted romantic attention, demeaning gender-related comments, teasing based on their appearance, and unwanted physical contact. As if girls don't have enough to deal with, along comes "bodysnarking", the blogosphere posting and dissection of unflattering pictures, usually of and by girls and women. Finally, as if to come full circle in the most terrifying way, a study of 818 adolescents (aged 11-19) conducted for a British health care provider reported that one in three girls surveyed had tried to harm themselves by methods including cutting, burning, punching and poisoning.

The connections among these various studies and reports aren't simple, but they speak to the distinction psychologist and eating disorder specialist Catherine Steiner-Adair made years ago, between the body pathological and the body politic. In a culture in which there is heightened control and discipline around body and appearance, ubiquitous experiences of sexual harassment, and a steady diet of sexualization and objectification, we shouldn't be surprised that girls exercise their own means of protection and control, using their bodies to speak their pain, release their anxiety and stress, and channel their resistance. In a world where girls are sold a fraudulent tale of "prettier" at all costs, they want to feel something, anything, real. Their protest reclaims the power of their own authority, their private refusal to be publicly "handled".

There are some positive signs. In the above-mentioned media survey of women and health, Gen Y women (those "millennials" born between 1980-1994) were more likely than Gen X and Boomer women to say they are at their ideal weight (29% vs. 9%, 7% respectively). Young women bloggers are now calling for a bodysnarking ceasefire. Most hopeful, Leaper and Brown found that the girls in their study who had a better understanding of feminism from the media, their parents, or teachers were more likely to recognize sexism and sexual harassment for what it is. The hope is in the feminist work we do with young women, transforming inner pain to public outcry-not for them, but with them.

Monday, May 12, 2008

House of Dereon Sells Out Little Girls

One of the things that bothered Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb most when they researched Packaging Girlhood was the erosion of the boundary between childhood and adolescence. It's not only that little girls are introduced to a teen lifestyle earlier and earlier, it's that the definition of teen has become almost completely narrowed to hot, shopping girlie types -- as if this is the only way girls can look and feel grown up. Forget their maturing minds and moral sensibilities, their skill on the playing fields, their passion for theater, art, or science and just give us sexy. Why? Because if you can channel that wide-eyed desire to look cool and mature in your direction, there's money to be made. The health, well-being, and safety of girls be damned. Enter Beyonce and her mom, Tina Knowles, and you have the new "House of Dereon" little girls line of clothing designed to make your 6 year old the coolest girl on the urban street corner.

Friday, May 2, 2008

My Narcissistic Mommy

From our friends, the fabulous Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D and Sharon Lamb, Ed.D, over at the Packaging Girlhood blog:
In 2007 plastic surgeons performed nearly 11.7 million cosmetic procedures in the U.S. alone, 91% of them on women. That’s a lot of women, and since 67% of the procedures were done on 19-50 year olds, that’s a lot of mothers. Enter the new children’s book, My Beautiful Mommy, aimed at answering all sorts of questions that children 4-7 may have about mom’s operation.

It’s understandable that children would be confused by their mom’s plastic surgery. But there’s something both disturbing and bizarre about the messages in this book. It reminds us of the extreme makeover show, The Swan, where “ugly duckling” women cried with joy at being chosen, saying things like, “as a child I was just an easy target for kids to pick on.” The point of such remarks was not to blame those cretins cruel enough to tease others about their appearance, but to justify why those victimized by them would want to spend thousands of dollars to conform to impossible beauty ideals. By the season's end, we all saw the results. A lingerie beauty pageant of Stepford women -- white, Black, Asian, it didn't matter -- they all ended up with the same hair extensions, noses, and boob jobs.

What angered us most about the show was not the “24-7” regimen and personal trainers who shouted “You’ve got to think military!” or the therapists who shamed participants who ate butter, or even those gleeful plastic surgeons circling body parts like they were football plays, saying things like “we’ll give her a killer body”. No, what really got us were the horrifying moments when the rebuilt mothers met their young children for the first time post-surgery. Little children were paraded into the studio to see their mommy after a three-month separation and the shock on their faces was heartbreaking. They were confronted with a stranger who pulled them into her arms, and cried real tears of joy from Bratz-doll eyes. We don't know about you other mothers out there, but our young children protested when we cut our hair. Imagine if mommy came home with a new face?

According to author Dr. Michael Salzhauer, My Beautiful Mommy is not meant to indoctrinate kids or idealize beauty but to “allow parents who are going through this process anyway to have a vehicle to explain it to their kids."

But idealize beauty it does. Mom’s “after” picture looks like the Little Mermaid in a belly shirt, and the smiling surgeon is built like Mr. Incredible. Worse is the dialogue: “Why are you going to look different?" the little girl in the book asks, and mommy responds: "Not just different, my dear — prettier!" Dr. Salzhauer’s explanation of why mommy has bandages, sleeps a lot, and can’t do the laundry or dishes (don’t get us started on that set of messages!) might make sense in Swan World, but as he acknowledges, real kids are “very perceptive” and they can read between the lines.

Which means that no kid will settle for this answer. Most will insist, “But you’re pretty to me.” They may protest, “I don’t want you to change!” The implicit question is: Why isn’t that enough, Mom? It’s a much harder question to answer because, unlike those bullies out there, a child young enough to understand this book is the one person a mother can count on to love her for who she really is, for the things she does, the way she makes her child feel, the time she gives, and yes, the information she imparts about how to treat other people and how to develop and feel good about what’s on the inside. Why isn’t that kind of love enough? We all know the answer why.

Not a child psychologist, Dr. Salzhauer might be surprised to learn that kids are also perceptive about parental narcissism. When the daughter says to Mommy after her bandages come off, "You're the most beautiful butterfly in the whole world," she knows at some level this is what her mom needs to hear. When parents are insecure, children respond by taking care of them, making them feel better, and putting their needs first, sometimes at their own expense.

What makes this book really awful isn’t the mother’s decision to have plastic surgery, for whatever complex or simple reason. Nor is it the way the book could work for plastic surgeons to troll for future clients. It’s the damaging message it gives to children everywhere, and especially to daughters who will grow up to face similar bullies someday. No mother in her right mind, or rather no mother who has given this issue more than a minute’s thought, would tell her daughter it’s her problem to fix.

Lyn Mikel Brown
Sharon Lamb
Developmental psychologists, and authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Girlfighting in the Media

There's been a lot of hype recently about girls' physical aggression towards each other, especially following the case in Florida when a group cheerleaders recorded themselves beating another cheerleader causing permanent damage. Peggy Moss has a great blog response that we wanted to share with all of you.

Check it out

Friday, March 21, 2008

Girls Rock! A Review by GAB Girl Beth Preston

Beth, the president of HGHW's Girls Advisory Board (GAB) wrote this stunning review of the film Girls Rock! which opens in Waterville on Friday, April 4th as part of our Girls Rock! Weekend. Find out more

Girls Rock! the movie is about a camp called Rock ’n Roll Camp for Girls. But this camp is not just a camp. It’s a place for girls to find themselves.

At the beginning of the week these girls form a band. At the end of the week they are expected to perform. They write their own lyrics and play their own music. Some of them have never even seen the instrument they will be playing. While doing all this, these girls manage to break out of stereotypes, show who they really are, and have a ton of fun.

The movie focuses on four girls. Laura is a teen into death metal. She comes across as being very self-confident and able to talk to anyone. But she admits to the camera that she doesn’t really think people like her, and that maybe she should try to be like everyone else. Misty is also a teen. She is living in a group home and has never seen the instrument she will learn to play while at camp. Amelia likes to write songs about her dog. She loves music, but was shunned by the band she wanted to be in. Palace is a cute girl with a loud yell. She sometimes has trouble getting along with others but she loves music.

As the movie reveals these girls’ experiences at the camp girls, you find yourself getting to know them. You want them to succeed, you cheer them on, and you laugh out loud. You see them breaking free of what society wants them to be, and see them become what they want to be. It is an inspiring and awesome movie. I give it a thumb’s up!

Also, check out Melissa Silverstein's blog about Girls Rock!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

10 Ways to Move Beyond Bully Prevention (And Why We Should)

By Lyn Mikel Brown

These tips appeared in Education Week on March 5th. Lyn also delivered these tips during her keynote at our fall conference Beyond Bully Prevention: Strategies that Work.

Seven years ago, I helped found a nonprofit organization committed to changing the culture for girls. Our work was based on the health-psychology notion of “hardiness”—a way of talking about resilience that not only identifies what girls need to thrive in an increasingly complex and stressful world, but also makes clear that adults are responsible for creating safe spaces for girls to grow, think critically, and work together to make their lives better.

As a result of this work, I’ve grown concerned lately that “bully prevention” has all but taken over the way we think about, talk about, and respond to the relational lives of children and youths in schools. So, from our group’s strength-based approach, I offer 10 ways to move beyond what is too often being sold as a panacea for schools’ social ills, and is becoming, I fear, a problem in and of itself:

Stop labeling kids. Bully-prevention programs typically put kids into three categories: bullies, victims, and bystanders. Labeling children in these ways denies what we know to be true: We are all complex beings with the capacity to do harm and to do good, sometimes within the same hour. It also makes the child the problem, which downplays the important role of parents, teachers, the school system, a provocative and powerful media culture, and societal injustices children experience every day. Labeling kids bullies, for that matter, contributes to the negative climate and name-calling we’re trying to address.

Talk accurately about behavior. If it’s sexual harassment, call it sexual harassment; if it’s homophobia, call it homophobia; and so forth. To lump disparate behaviors under the generic “bullying” is to efface real differences that affect young people’s lives. Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety. Because of this, as the sexual-harassment expert Nan Stein has noted, embracing anti-bullying legislation can actually undermine the legal rights and protections offered by anti-harassment laws. Calling behaviors what they are helps us educate children about their rights, affirms their realities, encourages more-complex and meaningful solutions, opens up a dialogue, invites children to participate in social change, and ultimately protects them.

Move beyond the individual. Children’s behaviors are greatly affected by their life histories and social contexts. To understand why a child uses aggression toward others, it’s important to understand what impact race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, and ability has on his or her daily experiences in school—that is, how do these realities affect the kinds of attention and resources the child receives, where he fits in, whether she feels marginal or privileged in the school. Such differences in social capital, cultural capital, and power relations deeply affect a child’s psychological and relational experiences in school.

Reflect reality. Many schools across the country have adopted an approach developed by the Norwegian educator Dan Olweus, the “Olweus Bullying Prevention Program,” even though it has not been effectively evaluated with U.S. samples. Described as a “universal intervention for the reduction and prevention of bully/victim problems,” the Olweus program downplays those differences that make a difference. But even when bully-prevention programs have been adequately evaluated, the University of Illinois’ Dorothy Espelage argues, they often show less-than-positive results in urban schools or with minority populations. “We do not have a one-size-fits-all school system,” she reminds us. Because the United States has a diversity of race, ethnicity, and language, and inequalities between schools, bully-prevention efforts here need to reflect that reality.

Adjust expectations. We hold kids to ideals and expectations that we as adults could never meet. We expect girls to ingest a steady diet of media “mean girls” and always be nice and kind, and for boys to engage a culture of violence and never lash out. We expect kids never to express anger to adults, never to act in mean or hurtful ways to one another, even though they may spend much of the day in schools they don’t feel safe in, and with teachers and other students who treat them with disrespect. Moreover, we expect kids to behave in ways most of us don’t even value very much: to obey all the rules (regardless of their perceived or real unfairness), to never resist or refuse or fight back.

It’s important to promote consistent consequences—the hallmarks of most bully-prevention programs—but it’s also critically important to create space for honest conversations about who benefits from certain norms and rules and who doesn’t. If we allow kids to speak out, to think critically and question unfairness, we provide the groundwork for civic engagement.

Listen to kids. In her book Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit talks about the importance of “listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but also hearts and minds.” Again, consistent consequences are important; used well, they undermine privilege and protect those who are less powerful. But to make such a system work, schools have to listen to all students. It’s the only way to ensure that staff members are not using discipline and consistent consequences simply to promote the status quo.

Instead of labeling kids, let’s talk about them as potential leaders, affirm their strengths, and believe that they can do good, brave, remarkable things.

Embrace grassroots movements. There’s nothing better than student-initiated change. Too many bully-prevention programs are top-heavy with adult-generated rules, meetings, and trainings. We need to empower young people. This includes being on the lookout for positive grassroots resistance, ready to listen to and support and sometimes channel youth movements when they arise. We need to listen to students, take up their just causes, understand the world they experience, include them in the dialogue about school norms and rules, and use their creative energy to illuminate and challenge unfairness.

Be proactive, not reactive. In Maine, we have a nationally recognized Civil Rights Team Project. Youth-led, school-based preventive teams work to increase safety, educate their peers, and combat hate violence, prejudice, and harassment in more than 250 schools across the state. This kind of proactive youth-empowerment work is sorely needed, but is too often lost in the midst of zero-tolerance policies and top-down bully-prevention efforts. And yet such efforts work. According to a study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, youth-led gay-straight alliances make schools safer for all students.

Build coalitions. Rather than bully prevention, let’s emphasize ally- and coalition-building. We need to affirm and support the definition of coalition that activist Bernice Johnson Reagon suggests: work that’s difficult, exhausting, but necessary “for all of us to feel that this is our world.”

Accentuate the positive. Instead of labeling kids, let’s talk about them as potential leaders, affirm their strengths, and believe that they can do good, brave, remarkable things. The path to safer, less violent schools lies less in our control over children than in appreciating their need to have more control in their lives, to feel important, to be visible, to have an effect on people and situations.

Bully prevention has become a huge for-profit industry. Let’s not let the steady stream of training sessions, rules, policies, consequence charts, and no-bullying posters keep us from listening well, thinking critically, and creating approaches that meet the singular needs of our schools and communities.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Barbie Parties It Up

Courtesy of Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown, co-authors of Packaging Girlhood; Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers' Schemes:

This just in from the Drug Free Alliance.

"Some parents may not be aware that Mattel is marketing a Barbie 2-in-1 Party Plane & Ship Playset that 'comes with all the amenities.' Along with the reclining seats, fold down table and laptop computer, this toy, marketed for 3- to 8-year olds, comes complete with martini glasses, bar stools and a disco scene portraying scantily clad dancers holding drinks!"

Those of you who've seen our power point presentation know we've been complaining about the Bratz party plane for a couple of years now. It has a "juice bar" and Bratz CEO Isaac Larian has expressed outrage that critics have said that his dolls come with alcoholic drinks. We asked, "Who is he kidding?" But now Barbie doesn't even call their drinks "juice"?

Is Barbie different though from Bratz? When we were girls, our Barbies had black sequined slinky gowns that we think were called her "nightclub" outfit. What we understood at the time, was that when we grew up we would go to nightclubs in beautiful sexy gowns. The point is, we understood Barbie to be older than we were. And although Barbie presented a pretty one-dimensional view of what grown-up women did and what they are valued for, she still seemed to us to be grown up.

The Bratz dolls are teens and even look slightly pre-teen. So when they party and drink and go clubbing, they clearly suggests these activities to younger and younger girls. Barbie has been following suit, creating a My Scene Barbie who is more teen than grown-up. She's no longer the Barbie we knew -- in more ways than one. Instead of being a trend-setter, she's trying to one-up Bratz. In true wannabe fashion, she's pushing not just a party plane but also a ship! Not a juice bar but real drinks! And explicitly to 3 year olds. Who ever would have thought we'd be longing for Barbie to be, well, Barbie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Shaping Youth - Target Ad

Amy Jussell at Shaping Youth called this ad to Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb's attention and asked them what they thought. They said:

"The ad didn't strike us as forcefully as some, but that could be the point here. The innocence and playfulness of making snow angels (with the hat and scarf, the girl smiling, perky--as much as one can be lying on one's back--in that usual over-the-top Target way) is as primary as the sexual availability/suggestion of sexual violence of the spread eagle position on the target (and the camera angle). Could it be that it's this combination that's so disturbing, the blend of innocence and sexualization? We're seeing more of this all the time, whether it's the VS Angel Collection or the Bratz Dolls (with the little halo over the a) or sexy/innocent Halloween costumes for little girls. These are the kinds of images designed to be so subtly suggestive that people are called crazy or dirty minded for questioning them. But of course in reality they normalize these relationships--i.e., between sexy and innocent. The sad reality is that a girl lying on her back spread eagle is more provocative and attention getting (and thus sellable) then a girl snowboarding or standing on the center of the target in another sort of pose. What do you think? Are we reading too much into this?"

Click here to view ad

If you agree with Lyn and Sharon, let Target know!
By phone: 1.800.440.0680
By email:

New York Times - Politics and Misogyny

According to New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert, the issue of misogyny and the "toll that [it] takes...on women and girls" has been woefully overlooked in the media. Although "sexism in its myriad destructive forms permeates nearly every aspect of American life"--pornography, paparazzi photos, sports games, and the military--it is often ignored. Herbert says that "it’s a big and important issue that deserves much more than lip service": do you agree? Please share your thoughts!

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Guest Blogger - Lyn Mikel Brown on Where the Girls Aren't

Counting is so simple, so basic, so important. In our book Packaging Girlhood, Sharon Lamb and I counted the numbers of boys and girls on sugary cereal boxes, on the covers of board games, in the action section of toy aisles, in Newbury Award winning books, and we reported studies that counted the number of boys and girls in G-rated films, and other forms of media. This was our way of showing where the girls aren't, sure, but more importantly we did this because numbers give a clear and present message to girls (and boys) about who should be doing, wearing, listening to, reading, and playing with what. The results can have long-term impact. Consider a recent article in the journal Psychological Science (Vol. 18, Issue 10) called "Signaling Threat: How Situational Cues Affect Women in Math, Science, and Engineering Settings," by Mary C. Murphy, Claude M. Steele, & James J. Gross. Turns out the kind of low numbers we reported seeing in movies, TV shows, books, and so forth give "situational cues". The researchers found that simply watching a conference video in which women were outnumbered by men made the women-all math and science majors--feel like they didn't belong and feel like not participating. It also made them vigilant of possible threats to their identity. The situation they observed gave the young women that intangible "in the air" feeling that they were unwelcome and might be ostracized if they participate.

If girls see only one girl in a cartoon about geniuses or just one woman in the race for presidency - this gives them a very real and tangible message: you aren't welcome here. It also discouraged them from wanting to do the things they see primarily boys do and to be anxious, isolated, and feel out of place when they break boundaries. This is the reason to care about how media depicts girls and boys. We can no longer accept the lame excuse -- Girls will watch boys, but boys will not watch girls - used to justify the 75% male character rate in G-rated films. Yeah, maybe they will watch. But at what cost to them?

Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D is co-author with Sharon Lamb of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes. Check out their blog at