A die hard Swift fan, here’s my daughter holding her finally finished (almost finished?) essay and her beloved guitar. I am very psyched Taylor inspired her to think about her experiences with bullying and to write about her feelings.
Obsessed with Taylor since 2012 (and always told she looks like her) here she is dressed as her idol on Halloween that year.
I was so happy she picked Taylor instead of a sparkly poofy princess, or witch or vampire with a costume that looks just like a princess. (Her younger sister in the background is Batgirl. Unfortunately, she has since realized Batgirl hardly exists in the world and has now lost interest in that character. Sad!)
I can’t believe we hadn’t seen this Scholastic/ Swift video! It’s so good. You must watch it with your kids. Swift is sitting around with a bunch of students and more students are Skyped in. What I loved is that first and foremost, Swift defines herself as a writer. I really appreciated my kids hearing Taylor say this because they think of her as a pop star. Taylor says that she would never want to get on stage and just sing someone else’s songs. She recommends journaling. After introducing the kids, Taylor opens the video with this statement:
I’m really excited to talk to you about reading and writing because I wouldn’t be a songwriter if it wasn’t for books that I loved as a kid and I think that when you can escape into a book it trains your imagination to think big and to think that more can exist than what you see. I think that’s been the basis of why I wanted to write songs and why writing became my career.
What’s the first question, from a 11 year old boy?
I saw that you liked the Emma Watson video about feminism, and I wanted to know what female characters influenced you in literature?
Can you see why love this video? Watch it now with you kids and find out what Taylor says! Here’s the link.
Today, I’m so thankful that I have 3 kids (ages 5, 8, and 11) with no conflicts around food and drama free mealtimes. My children are healthy, adventurous eaters (with no cavities!) As a parent, I know how rare this is. I’m also incredibly grateful that I fully recovered from my own eating disorder before I had three daughters. I see my health and my children’s health as inextricably linked. What we did in my family isn’t conventional but it’s worked for us. I used to blog a lot about our process when my kids were younger, but I rarely write about it anymore because food is such a non-issue in our household. In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ve consolidated what we did into 4 tips. I’ll also list Reel Girl’s previous blogs about food at the end. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!
1. Let kids eat what they want, when they want. I don’t tell my kids what to eat or how much to eat. I have always taught them to “listen to their tummies.” I tell them that I am not the boss, nor is the person who put the food on their plate. Only they know when they are full. With my 5 year old (and with all the kids when they were still that little) I may still occasionally put my hand on her stomach and ask her to close her eyes and feel if she is hungry or full. I always have what I consider to be healthy food available (vegetables, fruit, protein, beans, grains etc) but if they don’t like what I’ve prepared, they are allowed to get a bowl of cereal or whatever they feel like eating. They are allowed to eat “dessert” with dinner. They are not “rewarded” or bribed with cookies for eating broccoli. Listen to your tummy, tummy is the boss
2. Focus kids on trying new foods, not eating “healthy.” Watching my kids grow up, I think the most important thing is to train kids to try new foods, to be comfortable with risk-taking. Also, our perception of what is healthy changes all the time. When I started dieting, I was counting calories. Then, I learned to count fat grams. Right now, gluten is “bad” while we’re told chocolate and red wine are good. Trying new foods not only keeps a variety in your diet but stretches you out of your comfort zone and makes going to restaurants and to people’s houses to eat much more fun. I don’t tell my kids what to eat, but I encourage them to try new stuff. I give them positive affirmation when they do. They are allowed to spit it out if they don’t like it. Try something new, it’s fun!
3. Don’t shame kids for wasting food. I try to create pleasant and happy eating experiences for my kids. Having recovered from an eating disorder myself, I know how hard it is to separate shame, guilt, and anxiety from eating, once those emotions are confused with hunger and fullness. I think it’s super important to train kids to be comfortable around food, not worried they won’t be able to finish what is on their plate. Related, don’t get your ego involved in what your kids eat. If you slaved away all day and made a meal, don’t guilt them into eating. I always tell my kids don’t worry about other people’s feelings when they eat. Again, getting feelings involved in eating like this is a recipe for an eating disorder. They need to be polite, but they shouldn’t eat unless they are hungry for it. You don’t have to finish what’s on your plate.
4. Model healthy eating. I’m so grateful I got healthy before I had three daughters. I practice what I preach. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I never denigrate my body as fat or ugly, not casually, not when I try on clothes, not when I look in the mirror, or look at a photograph of myself. I don’t criticize other women’s bodies or what other women are wearing. I like my body.
After male students at Berkeley High started “slut accounts” on Instagram, featuring photos of their female classmates along with misogynistic captions, they were suspended. A group of students felt this punishment was a pretty useless way to deal with the systemic sexism they encounter every day at school. These girls took action, creating T-shirts that read “Stop blaming my body for your harassment” and raising money on a GoFundMe page. So far, they’ve collected over $5,000. They hope to fund education and training for students, teachers, and administrators on sexual harassment and how to stop it.
Students were pushed into action by clueless administrators who held a series of assemblies on harassment that focused on how female students were dressed. Girls were actually warned to think about whether their mothers would allow them to leave the house wearing a certain outfit. But these Berkeley moms were not the type who schooled their daughters on how not to look “cheap” (as opposed to expensive?) or “fast” or “loose.” Refusing to pass sexism on to their kids, the mothers did get pissed at the school. Two of them, Heidi Goldstein and Rebecca Levenson, who is also policy analyst working to stop sexual violence with the nonprofit Futures Without Violence, wrote an op-ed for the Berkeleyside, laying out their daughters rights. Berkeleyside reports:
The student group plans eventually to challenge what they understand to be violations of Title IX. This includes reactive versus preventive measures, insufficient security, unsatisfactory long-term protection for assault survivors, as well as a lack of staff training.
Training is obviously desperately needed. When the slut pages came out, the security guards didn’t seem to get it at all. Sami Kuderna-Reeve, a senior and target of the slut accounts told Berkeleyside:
“It was all male security guards and all male police officers, and to a certain degree they can’t understand or relate,” Kuderna-Reeves said. “They were trying to help but what they kept getting at was, ‘Well is that true? Did you do blank?’”
While administrators are still slow to respond, teachers say they would like training on how to handle situations where students are sexually harassed and to give students guidance on how to handle those issues as well. History teacher Hasmig Minassian tells Berkeleyside she’d like to know “how to help adolescents navigate some pretty tumultuous social dynamics.” Right now, teachers at Berkeley High– and most high schools across the country– get no training in how to help kids in this area. It is shocking to me that students and their moms need to be the ones to get funding to teach administrators what to do about sexual harassment in schools. Part of these kids’s motivation for acting now is that they believe the measures finally being taken to stop sexual assaults on college campuses nationally are happening way too late in students’ lives. I could not agree more.
Maya Siskin-Lavine, a junior, tells Berkeleyside: “One of our main goals is to teach people. I know for a fact that a lot of the guys that I respect as my peers just don’t know that a lot of things are sexual harassment. They think catcalling is flattering and that what I wear should affect how guys treat me.”
I am so impressed with these girls and their mothers. I would love to see more moms speak out loudly and publicly for their daughters rights.
It takes one rapist to commit a rape, but it takes a village to create an environment where it happens over and over and over and over and over with such frequency that ordinary people throw up their hands and treat it as a part of the environment instead of as violations of fundamental human rights.
When Uber executive Emil Michael proposed that his company dedicate a million dollar budget to hire a team of researchers to dig up dirt on the personal life of journalists critical of the company, specifically journalist Sarah Lacy, he thought he was off record. Unfortunately for Michael, a BuzzFeed editor invited to the event reported his comments.
Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.
Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.
“It’s going to be the most beautiful thing on Earth,” the post suggests of the free ride promotion.
Using the promotion, a user can enter his (presumably) code “UBERAVIONS” in his Uber app and “become the luckiest co-pilot of Lyon,” which basically means that a model will pick you up and drive you around…
Avions de chasse” is the French term for “fighter jets”, but also the colloquial term to designate an incredibly hot chick. Lucky you! the world’s most beautiful “Avions” are waiting for you on this app. Seat back, relax and let them take you on cloud 9!
While the Uber blog post is somewhat tame, Avions de Chasse’s website offers far less to the reader/user’s imagination.
There’s also a video, in which a business casual bro/man/dude uses the service. It’s only 1:50 long but it’s full of shots like this:
Michael’s threat has frightened Lacy, not only for herself, but for Uber’s female clients and the other women journalists who cover Uber. Lacy tells Recode reporter Nellie Bowles:
“I’ve never heard a very high-ranking executive at a $20 billion company talking about a million-dollar budget to destroy my life,” she said. “I’ve never heard of a case where someone was bragging about it at a dinner, where it was considered totally socially acceptable…It’s really scary that there’s a company culture where objectification and violence against women is condoned,” she said. “And you run a service where women get into strangers’ cars alone at night….
Many of the reporters who cover Uber critically — Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku, Forbes’ Ellen Huet and San Francisco Magazine’s Ellen Cushing — are women. Lacy said she was worried about all of them.
“It’s going to keep escalating, and I don’t know what the line is, but there will be a line. Sadly, I don’t think it’s this, I think it’s something scarier,” she said. “It starts to get into the realm of physical harm and physical threats.”
She said she thinks Uber’s campaign to silence reporters will only grow because — despite the current outcry — reporters will now think twice before crossing the company, which knows their credit card information, home addresses, phone numbers and travel patterns.
What is Uber’s reaction? Michael issued a statement saying his remarks don’t reflect how he really feels. He called Lacy to apologize. Uber Co-Founder Travis Kalanick has not made any comment all. Why isn’t Michael fired? Why are investors divesting? Why aren’t more people talking about this story?
It’s not new that Kalanick and his company are being called out for aggressive bro-ness. But much of it seems to roll off his shoulders, even as he continues at the helm of Silicon Valley’s largest private company and garners ever-higher valuations from investors.
This is not acceptable, said Lacy.
“Paula Deen made racially insensitive comments and lost a show, lost very real money. Donald Sterling was forced to sell an NBA team,” she said. “And yet we believe that frighteningly misogynist comments like this, anti-First Amendments comments like this, are ‘boys being boys’ and that ‘they’re geniuses and this is what it takes to build a company.’”
“The only investors who’ve answered it so far have said, ‘Well, this is bad, but we totally back Travis,’” she said. “How bad is the intimidation around this company? How bad is Silicon Valley when there are very real threats made to a woman and her family?”…
I won’t ride Uber nor will I let my kids use this company. I hope you make the same choice.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick called Michael’s comments “terrible,” noting they do not represent the company. “His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals,” he wrote as part of a series of tweets addressing the remarks. However, Kalanick does not mention in any of his 13 tweets whether Michael will continue to work at Uber.
However, in Smith’s story, there was something that was more than just theoretical, and it’s a good reminder of the scary power Uber has over its users.
Here’s what Smith reported: “The general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.”
Susan Prasher wanted to dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween. Her 7 year old son told her that the costume was not appropriate for “a girl.” Here’s her story.
Guest blog for Reel Girl by Susan Prasher
Growing up, I never had a doll, a Barbie or a princess dress. As a mother and a former teacher, I have seen children verbalizing, practicing and sharing experiences of social interactions with the use of dolls, which is really wonderful and joyful. One can definitely learn a lot by observing and listening to children at play with these types of toys. One thing that throws me off guard are the sheer number of princesses. With each princess, there is a new dress, a story line, and possibly a tiara. I get confused with which princess represents which movie. I’ve had the good fortune of having a best friend’s daughter explain why she felt sad that I didn’t know about the princesses and proceeded to break it all down for me. Perhaps all the role playing actually encouraged her to be an empathic person that understood and heard me.
One of my boys is obsessed with Star Wars. When searching for a new sitter, I lucked out by meeting a computer science engineering student who loves Star Wars just as much as my son does. Together, they have the most engaging conversations. The sitter is a young woman. While she did have some dolls growing up, her room is filled with Lego and items from Star Wars.
Back in August my son asked for me to please consider being one of three characters for Halloween: Princess Leia, Queen Amidala and Ashoka. I had trouble being a princess or a queen. To encourage me to consider one of these three roles, he began calling me Queen Momidala. I would banter back various lines including “Shaan, I am your mother” using a Darth Vader voice. He’d have this funny expression on his face, laugh and at some point tell me all the parts I was doing wrong. Since this was rather fun, I ordered a female version of the Darth Vader costume. And when it arrived, my son was thrilled and proud. Of course, the costume is a skin tight costume, but it’s a power suit nonetheless. The red light saber was placed on me like the finishing touch of a tiara. And that’s when it all clicked.
In the United States and in Canada, light saber sales are up. They sell like hot cakes. With the new movie coming out, you know it’s going to remain a hot toy. They are fun to play with, my kids mimic the exact movement patterns in battles and beg to attend Light Saber School. From what I’ve seen, light sabers are a source of tremendous power. There are even adult versions of these things that can do some serious damage. But is it really a toy? The science behind making one is pretty interesting. And Star Wars has inspired all kinds of advances in science as well as inspire people all around the world. In the case of our incredibly bright female sitter, she grew up loving Star Wars and is now creating a program designed to teach the art of coding.
As a teacher, I used to swap the names of characters as we read from a picture book for names of children in the class. Their eyes would light up with joy and excitement because suddenly, they were IN the story. There are females in Star Wars but what if we encouraged children to take on a role that appealed to them personally, regardless of gender? What if we reversed the gender roles in Star Wars by having all the males fill the females roles and visa versa? What if Leia became the great Jedi master and not Luke? When I suggested this reversal to my son all kinds of drama unfolded. He was upset with the mere thought of such a thing and thought that it was being disrespectful to the story. When I told him that George Lucas is an incredible writer and that it would be great to have a different version of the story, my son laughed and blew me off. He pointed out that there are some females in key roles and insists this is the story, like it or not. What I was really aiming for is a demonstration in a growth mindset and that as a female, my version of the story would be different.
We all have power, whether we hold a light saber or not. There are different kinds of power and each medium channels its own type. If I walked around with a tiara on my head, I’d be channeling a certain mindset. But the outcome is vastly different. With the use of Star Wars, little girls can be exposed to Science, which is huge, but they need to know the storyline. And yes, it involves a queen and a princess but they are welcome to take on any role of their choosing and rewrite the story.
Our friends’ daughters are like my own. It’s time to swap a bit of princess dresses, tiaras and dolls for at least one or two light sabers, even if they choose pink or purple ones, because it helps them channel a different type of power.
Last week, four black feminists participated in a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled: “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The talk– an in depth discussion about the influence of imagery and narrative on our culture and its role in creating our actual reality– went on for almost two hours. Yet, out of all this, the media reduced trenchant analysis into a sound byte, pitting one black woman against another: “Feminist scholar bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist.”
I encourage you to watch the whole talk. I know you probably won’t, because, as I wrote, it’s two hours long. I didn’t intend to sit through it all myself, but I was so excited and fascinated by what these women were saying, I couldn’t stop listening to them.
These 4 women are creating new narratives and images, beyond woman as victim, sex object, slave. The discussion about Beyonce, specifically her Time cover where she’s shown in her underwear (which totally bummed me out as well when I saw it– why, why, why, the issue is about the most influential people and she’s practically naked, do you know how few women make it to the cover of Time?) is a few minutes of a larger, important talk about women, power, and the nature of reality.
Here’s how bell hooks began the discussion:
Part of why I’m so excited and proud to be here today is that I’m up here with black women who are all about redefining and creating a different kind of image, liberating the black female body
Not a fan of “12 Years a Slave,” hooks says:
If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on the screen as long as I live, I’ll be happy.
YES! I could not agree more. I am so sick of watching women get raped. After the talk, someone in the audience challenged hooks, saying she felt conflicted about hooks’ reaction to “12 Years:’
we still need to have those conversations about rape and violence on stage…how can we have those conversations, the role of slavery and colonization on women’s bodies? Can we make space for both?
Here’s how hooks responded:
Because we have been so saturated, I mean, I think one of the big lies that’s going around is, “Oh, we never talked about slavery, oh, we don’t have images of slavery.” We had “Roots” and more “Roots,” and there’ve been all these different books and productions, so that I think of that as a kind of myth building thing when people say, “Oh, we don’t have images.” Notice I didn’t say I don’t want to see anything about slavery. I don’t want to see those same tropes over and over again.
hooks speaks about some narratives that involve slavery she’d like to see, for example, when John Wollman and the Quakers met and decided they could not support slavery and believe in the god they believed in, that in fact, they owed back wages to slaves.
that would be an interesting film for me… more interesting to me as an image, as an idea than the repetitive image of victimhood, and I think that they’re all kinds of images and stories out there that could bring us into a different level of understanding.
hooks was making exactly the same point about Beyonce. She was referring to the repetition of sexualized images of women and how the inundation is an assault on our brains, especially for kids:
I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist, in especially terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major assault of feminism in our society is has come from visual media… The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business…What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why is it we don’t have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but our own sense of: what am I looking like when I am free?
The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business
hooks wants new images. She says:
I would never want my child to see “12 Years a Slave” because it’s the imprint of the black, female body as victimized.
Again, totally agree. Obviously, “12 Years” isn’t a movie for kids, but I see endless books and movies, supposedly feminist ones where girls are mocked for being girls, then they rise above it and prove everyone wrong. Fuck that. I hope in children’s media I never have to read about or watch another girl dressing up as a boy, fighting or cooking “as good as a boy can,” from Mulan to Tamora Pierce to Elena’s Serenade to endless Minority Feisty. The reason this trope is awful for girls– and boys– is because before your child can understand the narrative, she needs to understand sexism. Instead of having Colette in “Ratatouille” give a whole speech about male dominated kitchens, why not make a movie with a female top chef and her best friend is a female talking-cooking rat? Audiences will buy that a rodent can run a three star restaurant but not a female? Like hooks says, we are saturated with this same old, same old. If we weren’t, it would be a different story (ha.) The slavery narrative in all its forms has its place, but we need a break. It’s too dominant. There are many other stories to tell.
By the way, hooks walks her talk. She wrote Happy to be Nappy for kids in 2001, and in this discussion, she says she includes it in her most important, favorite works.
Another speaker on the panel, Shola Lynch, is a filmmaker whose most recent production is a documentary about Angela Davis.
In referring to her film as “a political crime drama with a love story at the center,” she reframes Davis’ narrative. Next, Lynch is making a movie about Harriet Tubman, who she calls an “action heroine.” Can you believe there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman? Lynch says that even though Tubman’s story is true, people don’t “believe” it. The same phenomenon happened with the Davis movie. About selling that film, Lynch says:
So then I have conversations where somebody’s like, “Oh, it’s a great film as a documentary, but the only reason I would support it is I have to know who the main male characters are because it’ll be flipped to be a narrative, women’s stories don’t sell”… Her story is true, but not possible. People don’t believe it. But it’s all true.”
Talking about why she would rather make movies about heroes than victims, Lynch refers to “symbolic annihilation:”
Symbolic annihilation is two things: not seeing yourself, but it’s also seeing yourself only denigrated, victimized etc, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and the places that feed me. I really do think, you talk about children, the more we create our culture, our cultural images– the books you write, the films I make, the alternatives, that these are artifacts that live, and they speak to people whether we’re there or not, bodies of work, and that is critical. I want to give one example. My daughter, she’s 4. She’s never known me not working on the Angela Davis film which took 8 years. She was so excited when I could show her the trailer. ..The trailer is like 2 minutes long and she watched that trailer over and over and over again…She would point out all the characters, she loved going ‘That’s Angela’s mom.” So she created Angela’s family and a sense of community just by watching this thing over and over again. But that’s not what I wanted to share. So she’s a little girl, she wants to be a princess, I’m trying to convince her she wants to be a warrior princess, that’s blonde and poofy and glam. She woke up one morning and her hair was all out, just like, you know, big, out, out, out. Usually it’s like, “Oh mom, my hair is too puffy.” This morning, after watching the trailer over and over again, she said, “I have Angela Davis hair.” So I thought I was making this political crime drama with a love story at the center etcetera, etcetera, etcetra, but I was also making another image for young people to see and to perhaps relate to. And I was blown away, because I can tell her she’s beautiful all day long. I’m her mom, doesn’t count. The more we create the alternative universe which then becomes the universe.
Another panelist, writer Marci Blackman, echoes Lynch’s point:
My characters are the people who I grew up seeing every day who I don’t see, not just in literature, I don’t see them on TV…They weren’t there in the worlds that I was inhabiting when I would sit and go to the library and read, so I decided I wanted to write them, and I wanted to write people like me who I wasn’t seeing in the books either. I wanted to create these characters and put them out there, and I think what you say about self-representation and putting it out there to count as a counteract against these other images.
The journey to freedom has also been so much about the journey of imagination, the capacity to imagine yourself differently, counter-hegemonically, and that’s why the imagination is so important because Shola imagined Angela Davis in a different way from the images we had of her. That imagination of oneself, I would like us to end on that note and people can speak about creativity, because it is striking to me and I didn’t think about this when we were putting the panel together that for each of us, creativity and the uses of imagination have been what led us into the freedom we have. It has been what enhances my life every day. To be able to think and create and leap and jump beyond where I feel like we have been told, theoretically, intellectually that we should go.
Imagination inspires reality inspires imagination in an endless loop. It’s magic. That’s the point bell hooks was making about Beyonce. If you still don’t get it, here’s one last quote from hooks and then watch the video for yourself.
We can gather strength from the diversity of people’s stories, the diversity of people’s imagination.
The Internet spreads all kinds of social ills, from cyberbullying to mainstreaming hardcore pornography, but for me, the good far outweighs the bad, because I’ve “met” people like the excellent and amazing author of Redefining Girly, Melissa Wardy. Melissa’s blog and online community are a truly invaluable resource that support protecting childhood and raising healthy kids. Now, lucky you– she’s written a book.
From author Melissa Wardy: Hi Margot and hello to all of your Reel Girl readers. I’m so thrilled to be making a stop on the Redefining Girly Blog Tour at one of the blogs that I personally really love. I hope all of you enjoy reading Margot’s thoughts on my new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween and at the end of the post find out how you can win one of two Redefine Girly t-shirt gift packs.
Melissa started her children’s clothing company, Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, not long after her daughter was born, because she couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with an airplane. Really not cool, especially when she named her child after Amelia Earhart. On her site, Melissa writes:
Pigtail Pals was born in May 2009 with the mission to Redefine Girly! I believe girls need to see messages in early childhood that show females being smart, daring, and adventurous. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
What I love about Melissa is that she walks her talk. A mom can tell her daughters all day long that pretty isn’t the most important thing about them, but if she’s obsessed with her appearance and dieting, what is she showing her kids about her values? The sad truth of parenting is that actions matter more than words, and kids learn from what they experience, not from what they hear you talk at them. That, in my opinion, is the hardest thing about being a mom: trying not to be a hypocrite. Notice I write trying, which brings me to why I value Melissa’s book and believe it’s essential reading for every parent. She helps me to not be a hypocrite and– this is super important– to be kind as well. I know how to be reactive, to tell the truth and be angry about it (as Gloria Steinem famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.)” I’m not always sure how to effectively handle a sweet teacher who tells my daughter every morning how pretty she is, a “princess party” birthday invitation sent by a best friend, or a proposed “playdate” to the mall.
In 2014, the world our children live in is horribly sexist, a place where teachers, doctors, and family, often the people your children love and respect, indoctrinate them to expect and accept all kinds of gender stereotypes. But thanks to Melissa, you don’t have to cave in or isolate. You actually have choices in how you respond and act. Knowing this is liberating and calming. Melissa helps families transition from victims of gender stereotyping to creative heroes who are redefining a nd restoring childhood for our kids. For example, Melissa teaches you how to redefine girly in your own home, again by showing kids a new way with, for example, a hands on dad in the family who does laundry, by encouraging her son to play with dolls, by being a mom who uses tools and fixes things (along with cooking and cleaning), by eating desert with her kids and enjoying it. She gives advice on what to do if a friend or family member gives you hand me down clothes or toys that don’t fit with your ideal:
We’ll say “Thank you so much for thinking of us” and then politely decline or donate away items that carry messages that don’t fit with our family morals.
Simple, right? Yet, so many of us get tongue tied. Melissa’s book is full of useable, practical advice. With her signature combination of compassion and unflinching directness, Melissa gives tips for how to get friends and family on board. First, she reminds you: what you are doing is important. You are not insane. If you care about redefining girly, have no doubt that people will tell you the sexism that you see hurting children is trivial or doesn’t exist at all. Melissa writes:
Remember that you are not alone or crazy for seeing problems with the emotionally toxic ways our culture treats girls. The Resources section at the end of this book is full of alternatives, information, and the names of experts who can help. Our daughters deserve a girlhood free of harm and limitations.
Melissa lists specific tips on how to deal with criticism of your views:
Have a prepared team response you and your parenting partner will use that lets family know this is an issue you take seriously and that you want to have your wishes respected. My husband and I use “We want Amelia to be healthy and happy and we feel this is the best path to achieve that.” (We use the same message for our son.)
Have fun alternatives ready to suggest to family and friends who bring media into your home that you feel are unhealthy. This way you are not just saying no to their media, you are saying yes to healthier choices.
Have a secret signal for your kids to use so they can communicate to you that they need to ask you a question or talk to you about something later (like a baseball coach signal– helpful when a gift is given or a comment is made that your kids know goes against what you teach in your home.)
Melissa also has great one-liners that come in handy including: colors are for everyone, pretty’s got nothing to do with it, toys are made for kids not genders, there are many ways to be a boy/ girl.
Excellent sections in the book include: Encouraging kids at play– the Diverse Toy Box, Around the Kitchen Table– Fat Talk and Body Image, Using Your Voice and Consumer Power To Fight the Companies Making Major Missteps, and my favorite– Becoming the Media You Want to See.
I can’t recommend this book more. Not only will it help you redefine girly, but it shows you how to have fun and be happy while you’re changing the world. I’ve been trying to blog about this book since it came out in January and I tore through it, but it was too damn hard because I wanted to quote the entire thing. Today, I set myself a time limit and my time is up. (I only got through my notes on the first couple chapters.) So I’ll end with THANK YOU MELISSA. I think you’re about 10 years younger than me, but you’re my role model. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
From author Melissa Wardy: Thank you Margot for those wonderful words about my book. It is an honor to receive accolades from such a well-versed writer in this area but also from a woman and mom whom I highly respect. I would love to hear from your audience now and have them share either something they have learned from Redefining Girly if they have already read it, or have them describe an issue/concern they have currently with their daughter that they are hoping to learn more about when they do read the book. I’ll pick two winners to receive a Redefining Girly t-shirt gift pack (two tees + shipping). Winners will be chosen Friday May 30 at 8pm PST so make sure to get a comment in before then! Okay Reel Girl readers, what are your thoughts on Redefining Girly?”
As the mother of three young daughters, I have some issues with your letter I want to address.
My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim. And yet, I am still seen as just a pretty face. It’s simpler to keep me in a box—and since I am a doll—chances are that’s where I’ll stay.
The problem is that while my daughters, in their short lives, have already seen thousands of women celebrated in magazines for how “beautiful” they look in a bathing suit, they have yet to see a woman grace the cover– or “promotional overlap”– of a magazine for being president of the USA. Of course, that’s because there has never been a female president in this country.
Mars Explorer Barbie® doll launches the first “one-doll” mission to Mars. Ready to add her signature pink splash to the “red planet,” Barbie® doll is outfitted in a stylish space suit with pink reflective accents, helmet, space pack and signature pink space boots.
Do you think “adding a signature pink splash” is the best way to inspire our daughters to become astronauts? Barbie’s professions aren’t defined by much more than what she wears. The emphasis is still on her outfit. The message to girls is that how they look is the most important thing about them.
Next in your letter, you write:
Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit drums up conversation and controversy. Upon the launch of this year’s 50th anniversary issue, there will again be buzz and debate over the validity of the women in the magazine, questioning if posing in it is a blow to female equality and self-image. In 2014, does any woman in the issue seriously need permission to appear there?
A woman doesn’t need permission to be in SI, but you, as the opening sentence of your letter states, are a doll, a doll made “for girls.” So when you’re in a magazine created for adults, and girls see your picture, they’ll think that this magazine is for them. They’ll want to flip through the pages, and if they do, they’ll see picture after picture of mostly naked adult women in sexual poses. When I blogged about Barbie in SI earlier, someone made this comment:
To me this just proves Barbies are NOT really children’s toys at all! Maybe that’s what they are “unapologetic” about? As in “Haha, suckers! You’ve been buying your daughters miniature sex dolls for 50+ years!”
If you’re coming out a sex doll, that’s Mattel’s choice, but the rest of the company’s advertising should reflect a consistent message. Stop trying to appeal to children, because that’s confusing, and confusing kids and sex is dangerous: one out five girls is sexually abused. When a culture is accustomed to seeing girls sexualized, we stay apathetic towards identifying it and taking action towards stopping this epidemic. In case you’re not familiar with sexualization, it’s different that healthy sexuality. Sexualization is when girls understand sexuality as performance, when its not connected to real feelings or desire. Sexualization happens when girls are exposed to adult sexuality too early. Here’s the definition of sexualization from the the American Psychological Association:
There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when
a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.
In your letter, you go on to defend models as more than pretty faces, claiming you want them to be recognized for their other achievements as authors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. But if you want more recognition for these professions, why showcase Barbie in her bathing suit?
Models choosing to pose in a bikini aren’t the problem.
How much “choice” is really involved when modeling is one of the only professions where women outearn men? How much choice is involved when ever since women were girls, they’ve seen women repeatedly celebrated on the cover of magazines– not so much for being authors, entrepreneurs or philanthropists– but for how they look in bathing suits? When female writers are relegated to chicklit, when the female CEO of General Motors earns half of her male predecessor’s salary, and when women hold 1% of the world’s wealth, making the “choice” to be a model may seem like the best way to success among such limited, sexist options.
There’s nothing innovative about Barbie in Sports Illustrated. This magazine has let a woman on the cover of a non-swimsuit issue only 66 times. That’s about once a year. These pictures are the same old, same old except for one thing: Barbie is taking the sexualizing of girlhood to an offensive and dangerous new low.
Children come to life innocent, unaware of the harsh aspects of pain and suffering and how cruel people can be. Part of the job of parenting is to protect them from that harsh truth long enough for them to develop a sense of goodness and core values of optimism, trust, internal curiosity, and a hunger for learning. If they see too much too soon–before they’re neurologically and emotionally ready to process it–it can short-circuit that natural curiosity. Boys and girls alike are easily traumatized by premature exposure to the media-based adult culture that cultivates cynicism and cynical values, treats sex and violence as entertainment, routinely sexualizes perceptions of girls and women, and encourages aggression in boys.
This reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books, Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time by Stephen Mitchell:
One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.
It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.
I wish media and toys created “for children” didn’t make it so hard for parents to protect their imaginations.