Friday, July 6, 2012

Girl Power?

How do we teach our daughters to find a voice?

A new documentary has been released titled, Miss Representation:

Plot Summary
"Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation (TV-14 DL) uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media's limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself. In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman's value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors. Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken and armed with a new perspective.

I am so pleased this is being shown in college sociology classes. I would love to spread the word to families with especially teenage daughters. Whether we like it or not, culture is strong. That is why anthropologists are so interested in the economy, the customs, stories, myths. religious thought and artifacts of daily life during times past and present. The stories we tell inform and derive from our collective experience. Today, media has exploded. In fact some social scientists and even those studying brain development are suggesting that our high media consumption from constant connectivity and texting, gaming, and surfing is actually changing the way young brains are developing.

I am not a scientist, but it doesn't take an expert to know that our culture provides stimulation at a high degree, and influences the beliefs and thought patterns of adults, but importantly of our youth. Children are sponges for information. That is how in a mere 12 years most children know the norms and expectation of their culture. By age 3 my son was saying that pink is for girls. He DID NOT learn this at home and wasn't even in childcare setting,  but he absorbed this from his limited environmental stimuli just fine. When I said it was Ok to like pink, he got confused and asked if people would laugh at him for it.  He is 5 now and says that GOD is a man.Hm.  I am a feminist Mom. I talk with my son in an age appropriate way about gender equality and encourage him to follow his interests regardless of gender assignment. But he knows. He has a consciousness of how boys "should" act. To my dismay.

For little girls, how often do we ask the big questions?  What are they being taught about themselves from their environment, peers, adults and cultural influences like TV, video games, stories etc?  We need to ask. And we need to take an active role in the conversation and teach them to ask questions. Teach them to question norms and have a critical eye on behavior and ideas.  If our girls are to thrive they need to be taught critical thinking skills by US. If we want our girls to grow to be confident women who know they can pursue any interest, then we need to model strength, assertiveness,  good judgement, and gender equality.

We can do this without preaching. When a commercial comes on that shows a woman in a subordinate position, we can just comment lightly with interest. "Hmm, isn't it interesting that this commercial shows that woman cleaning the house while her husband sits watching TV? I wonder if there are any commercials that show it the other way around?"  When your daughter says she can't play the doctor in the game because she is a girl, you can tell her about all the women you know who are doctors. When she says she wants to be president, go to that media source (the internet) and use it to your advantage. Find women who run countries and big companies and read about them together. Tell her how few there are in relation to men and ask her what she thinks.

You get the picture. If she is a teen, watch this documentary. And find other one's like it, like "Temple Grandin" that illustrates the struggle through a true story of a woman following her passions though she was barred by the male establishment.

We cant keep the sexist and exclusionary messages out, but we can question their validity, expose the faulty thinking, and counter with media that reveals strength and equality instead.

I welcome comments.

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