In my life, it has been the year of the girl for a long time now, ever since the first of my three daughters was born. “Girls!” we often scream when the decibel levels rise about the red line on an audiometer. When you have three daughters you inevitably are surrounded by multitudes of other girls. And you have the opportunity to be the fly on the wall for many girl conversations when driving distances in minivans. Much of the chatter during those wonderful tween years surrounds boys, music, boys, clothes, boys, movies, actors who happen to be men, TV/videos, sometimes sports and sometimes other personal pursuits or homework.
Because this limited focus seems to be a natural state of affairs, it really is important to find ways to channel this amazing energy into other things.
This is where organizations like Girl Scouts and their famous cookie sales come in. Girl Scouts gives girls an opportunity to move away from the classroom school-based programs to a community-based program of leadership. They have the chance to learn from women (mostly) and men who are not necessarily their parents or teachers to find unique strengths and interests and, in the best of communities, find reasons to commit to service to others. Even selling cookies gives them a chance to hone their skills in business and community building.
Designating The Year of the Girl is a great idea not only to get those of us with whom life has entrusted with girls but to get the rest of the US thinking about how important our girls are, what media is putting in front of them, how they are perceived by others and how that makes them perceive themselves.
Enter Rush Limbaugh’s unfettered assault on women which reinforces for me how we as adults involved in the creation of media need to be proactive when it comes to portraying girls, the women of tomorrow who will need to lead the next generation against assaults like his. There are certainly a few experts on girls in media who through research and common sense give us all the tools we need to do a better job. And if we do a better job we can help both boys and girls see themselves in the best possible light and take that with them into adulthood, perhaps an adulthood where no one would listen to the likes of… (fill in the blank of some woman-bashing radio host or rapper).
Media activist and actress Geena Davis, who played mom to Stuart Little and The President in the TV series Commander in Chief, horrified by the lack of representation and positive key characters played by girls, took action. She launched The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Their research confirmed the disparity in the representation of girls. The facts show, in family films, there is only one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female.
It’s clear that not enough women are making these decisions. Are voices being drowned out? In reality, there are so few women at the top in big media corporations. No woman fills the rank of CEO at any of the major broadcasters. Few women are at the top of movie studios. Did a woman win Best Director this year at the Academy Awards? No, of course not. That has only happened once. In fact, in 2012, The Academy did not nominate any woman.
The Women’s Media Center was formed with a mission to highlight women’s portrayal in media, with their mission statement being: “Amplifying Women’s Voices, Changing the Conversation.” To bring the discussion to girls, the Women’s Media Center challenged girls to create their own video of “The Girls State of the Union” to explain what they see. The winning video was written and taped by a 14-year-old from Washington State. There’s no slick production here just a serious look at the images from a girls point of view from beauty and clothes to how they are portrayed in the media. Worth watching.
Advertising and television shows are full of scantily clad teens or girls playing stereotypes: dumb blondes, bitchy rich girls, Queen Bees, Mean Girls, Snobs, and the Door Mouse (or Doormat) and Wall Flower.
Dopey shows aimed at a teen audience with main girl characters like Gossip Girl, Switched at Birth, Pretty Little Liars, The Lying Game and more… Hmmm. The characters have been given up or lost at birth, thrown into families trying to figure out how to deal with them, or are mean, manipulative, and selfish and the negative list goes on. And the plot always revolves around getting the guy in some age inappropriate ways. (Secret Life of the American Teenager anyone?) I guess viewers would get bored with perfection but please, give us a chance! We rarely see just smart kids being smart. We rarely see kids of all colors and races in realistic situations, especially girls.
2012 could turn the tide if everyone follows the Girl Scouts’ lead and commits to The Year of the Girl and it might give us something positive to remember about how the female half of the country was treated this year.
There is some creative alternative media out there but you have to look for it and be willing to support it. Nancy Gruver is the founder of New Moon Girls, a magazine and website to encourage tween girls to create their own positive media. She also has the parent site call Daughters.com to help parents be involved in helping their kids on the right path. It’s an uphill battle but everything she does helps.
Also, Women and Hollywood blog.