Princesses, Tutus and All Things ‘Girly’

Last week adweek highlighted a new ad campaign from a Catholic school in Kentucky entitled “You’re not a princess”.  Amy referred to the ads in her post on Tuesday.

When you look at the ads in their entirety they encourage girls to overcome obstacles, prepare for the real world and say there is more to life than beauty. Great messages! Unfortunately, for some these ads have become an open door for them to release significant pent-up hostility towards Disney (who knew?) and all things girly.

On Jezebel.com Erin Ryan wrote, “Metastasized princess culture is responsible for all manner of social ills” look up the word metastasized and you will see it is most often used when referring to cancer. Right after this the author implies that princess culture is responsible for land mines. WHAT?

One mom wrote a blog entitled “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up to be Princesses”. She uplifts building blocks and magnatiles while speaking about pink, tutus, and baby dolls as if they are some necessary evil we all have to grit our teeth and bare. At the end she writes:

“And, if your little girl absolutely must have a princess book consider The Paper Bag Princess, in which a pint-sized princess trades in her gown for much simpler attire to outsmart a dragon, save the prince and live happily ever after on her own”.

The overlying message in all this seems to be: A girl who likes pink, dresses and dreams of being a princess will grow up to be weak and a failure. She must cast off these foolish things and become a real woman!

Two things I have in response to this:

First of all, girls liking princesses will not have quite the dramatic effect these moms are suggesting. Moms have long been making pleas to stop dressing girls in princess costumes for Halloween, but what little girl wants to dress up as Jane Goodall? It’s in the same way, that little boys want to be cowboys and not Bill Gates. I once heard a kid say he wanted to grow up to be a fire truck (yes a fire truck not a fireman). Most kids change their minds about future career paths dozens of times, heck, adults change their career paths dozens of times.

Secondly, why is being a princess not an acceptable career choice/role model? Last May, shortly after Disney remade the look for the female character in Brave and caused a huge uproar, one mom decided to ask some girls in her life: What makes a princess? The girls named qualities such as kind, nice, royal, a friend, and brave. These don’t seem like such bad qualities to me!

In our efforts to empower girls let us not move to the opposite extreme. Let us not advocate for feminine equality by vilifying traditional femininity. The above comments uplift women heroes who wear business suits, sit in a board room or office with all men, don’t wear makeup, pink or glitter, and remain single their whole life to prove they don’t need a man. That picture of a woman is awesome and if a woman wants to go that way I support her. I also support the women who like wearing dresses, makeup and glitter. Women who want to get married and be mothers and who consider motherhood their top priority. Those women are no less female role models than the ones on Wall Street. Education should empower girls to be whichever kind of woman they want to be.

Sources:

Herbert, C. (2013, May 29). Glamorized Disney princesses may not be affecting girls the way parents believe. Desert News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865580816/In-defense-of-Disney-Glamorized-princesses-may-not-be-affecting-girls-the-way-parents-believe.html?pg=all

Ryan, E. (2013, Nov. 12). Schools ‘you are not a princess’ campaign give girls much-needed real talk. Jezebel. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/schools-you-are-not-a-princess-ads-give-girls-much-n-1463037459

Smith, J. (2013, Nov. 13). Mamas, don’t let your girls grow up to be princesses. Huffington Post The Blog. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-davis-smith/mamas-dont-let-your-girls-grow-up-to-be-princesses_b_4268738.html

The Importance of Empowerment

A hot topic surrounding girl’s education and one that has been touched on in this blog before is empowering girls. Stories about the Doodle4Google depicting women empowerment in India and the encouraging word of Miss North Carolina touting girls’ empowerment float around the web and social media.

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While these individual acts are noteworthy, an article about empowering girls was released  this week that is even more so.  The article opens with these words that I could not help but copying:

There is a Chinese proverb that says if your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children.

These eloquent words were spoken by a 15 year old university student Maud Chifamba. I could not have said it so nice had I tried.

The article goes on to talk about Zimbabwe’s progress in closing the gender gap by 2015 to reach the Millennium Development Goals, a topic Dave covered a few weeks ago in his article, “’The Economist’ Discovers Gender Inequality in Education.” The Zimbabwe government realizes that it is far from reaching its goal so it created an empowerment policy, which addresses the challenges many girls within Zimbabwe face, such as education, economic empowerment, protection, leadership, and development.

While most article I’ve read focus on the importance of primary or pre-primary education, this one focuses on tertiary education, an area that I find too often ignored.  And though I find myself agreeing with the article, one statement that Childline ambassador Thamsanqa Moyo makes about foreign music and film’s influence.  She says, “It is unfortunate that most youths have access to bad foreign music and films they download from the internet which makes them develop a negative culture.” She goes on to say that the government should promote local music, which is something I can agree with, is it fair to blame the outside culture for the problems within a culture.  Does the hip-hop music make them develop a negative culture? I think not, and while many of the lyrics disgust me, I would not go so far as to say that they are the agents of this negative culture surrounding women.  Society itself is to blame in most cases.

Later in the article, a child writer and poet describes what needs to change within Zimbabwe’s culture, not what they are importing from abroad.  Women need to be viewed as adults who are able to take care of themselves, not as children who need to be subjected by male dominance.  The environment that girls grow up in needs to change.  Girls need to be given the same opportunities as men and be seen as capable human beings who are valued in society for their possible contributions.  It is the climate of society within Zimbabwe, which obviously can relate to the misogynistic lyrics of many hip-hop songs, that needs to change.

I would like to end my last post with some pictures that were published by an all girls school in Kentucky entitled “You are not a Princess” to empower their girls.  Though they take a much different approach, one that many countries is not ready for, they are right on point in a sense that they say that girls need to be the agent of their own change and empowerment.  In a world full of Disney Princesses, the posters read:

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r-YOURE-NOT-A-PRINCESS-large570

The fact that these are being published by a school makes them all the better.  More schools need to embrace a progressive view such as this in our fight to empower women.

Sources used:

Bwanya, M. (2013, November 15). AllAfrica. allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: Empowering Girls At All Costs (Page 1 of 3). Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://allafrica.com/stories/201311150350.

Cullers, R. (2013). Intriguing Ads Tell Young Girls: ‘You’re Not a Princess’ and ‘Life’s Not a Fairytale’ | Adweek. AdWeek. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/intriguing-ads-tell-young-girls-youre-not-princess-and-lifes-not-fairytale-153788

Fisher, H. (2013, November 14). Miss North Carolina offers message of empowerment to girls at North Rowan Middle. Salisbury Post. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.salisburypost.com/article/20131

Kanal, N. (2013, November 14). Pune girl’s women empowerment doodle on Google India today. Tech2. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://tech2.in.com/news/web-services/pune-girls-women-empowerment-doodle-on-google-india-today/920474

 

Education doesn’t cause economic empowerment

Each year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes a Global Gender Gap Index, which ranks 136 participating countries based on gender-based disparities. Such disparities, including those within the educational, political, economic, and health sectors, are compared across nations, income groups, and regions over time, thereby creating a system with which to rank nations on their progress and overall magnitude of gender disparity.

In case you are wondering, the United States has dropped in its ranking over the past three years from having the 17th smallest gender gap to the 22nd smallest and, this year, the 23rd smallest gender gap out of 136 countries.

Since this year’s report was released on October 25, Costa Rica has commented on its position. Interestingly, Costa Rica’s gap has rested at approximately 72% for the past four years, but its position in the report has jumped from 28th to 25th to 29th to, this year, 31st. This inconsistency is due to countries such as Nicaragua, Austria, and Bolivia, which have made significant strides in closing their gender gaps.

Over the past 13 years since WEF began publishing its report, “Costa Rica has closed its gender gap by 15 percent,” according to Lindsay Fendt and the Tico Times. She claims that, while Costa Rican women have significantly improved in terms of educational attainment, political empowerment, and health, women have not expanded into the workforce and their participation in economic affairs has not progressed.

This is an important example of an instance in which the Human Capital Theory does not apply in practice. In fact, Costa Rica has 100% gender parity in educational attainment, placing it as one of the 25 countries ranked 1st in this category. Proving its weakness, Costa Rica only has 60% parity in economic participation and opportunity, causing it to place 98th out of 136 countries in terms of participation in economic affairs, the male-female income ratio, and the male-female ratio of legislators, managers, and professional workers.

This is crazy! To see that Costa Rican women and men have equal educational attainment at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education paints an entirely different picture about women’s economic status than the country has actually achieved.

According to the Minister of Women’s Affairs in Costa Rica, businesses prefer to hire men to fill positions offering the highest salaries. While this plays a large role in the oppression of women’s economic status, there are also traditional cultural expectations within the country that place the “caretaker” role primarily on women.

The minister, María Chamorro, proves her expertise in educational and cultural arenas by suggesting that the only way for this statistic to change is via a cultural and familial change in perspective about the role of caretaking. Only when the culture recognizes that caretaking is a familial responsibility, and not only a female responsibility, can women be granted the physical and mental freedom to apply for jobs and participate in a competitive market. I think it is fascinating that she mentioned this. It is a very modern perspective, and it is encouraging to see that she understands the implications of such a tradition. As a country, however, Costa Rica seems to be at an impasse. Until more people recognize the potential gains and step out of their traditional gender and familial roles, progress in the category of economic participation will never be achieved.

Fendt, L. (2013, November 4). Costa Rican women among the best educated, but least economically empowered, new index says. The Tico Times. Retrieved from http://www.ticotimes.net/More-news/News-Briefs/Costa-Rican-women-among-the-best-educated-but-least-economically-empowered-new-index-says_Monday-November-04-2013.

The Truth About Girls & Science

As I was perusing the Internet looking for an article about girls’ education abroad, I stumbled upon an article about 9th grade girls creating electric desks.  The desks are powered by the foot shaking of the students.  As a perpetual foot shaker, I thought to myself, “What a great idea!” Not only will the desks be useful, as they’re sending them to Tanzania and South Africa with funds from Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Program, but they’re getting the girls to be interested in working in science, and for a good cause; the schools they will be sent to currently run without electricity.

With all of the attention on girls’ education, it is important that we do not forget that the girls in the United States need help too; they are lagging behind in science professions.  The  story about the girls who made the electric desks made me research girls’ education in STEM subjects here.  According to the National Girl’s Collaborative Project (NGCP), which strives to get girls connected to STEM projects, girls receive the majority of Bachelor’s degrees (57.3%) in 2009, but they are not  proportionally represented in the STEM professions.

Why is this? Why do women earn more degrees than men but much less in science, math, technology and engineering? From my experience, it’s in our culture.  The article mentioned above about the electrical desks would not have been such a big feat had it been done by boys. This is evident in the title “Girl power!…” Girls are not expected to do as well in sciences and math, and so when they do something, it is considered exceptional and news worthy. Had the same project been undertaken by boys, it would still be lauded but it would not be linked to sex; the article would not read “Boy power!” To most this would sound ludicrous; boys already have the power, there would be no reason to point it out. Only in a culture like ours, where girls are expected to be good at subjects like reading and writing, would it matter what sex completed the project.  Despite expectations though, girls, according to NGCP, are more likely to take precalculus, and though their is evidence to lower test scores in the science, this is linked more to socioeconomic status/race than it is to just sex.

Growing up as an average American girl, in the suburbs of New Jersey, science was never a priority.  My struggles began in the 3rd grade when I could not for the life of me understand inertia, even after a hand on demonstration in which my mom went over the handle bars of her bike.  But that did not mean I was not curious; I had dreams of becoming an ocean biologist after a trip to the Jersey shore  introduced me to the diversity of sea creatures.  As I went on in school, though, I was not encouraged to study science or math. I was often told my strong subjects were in the humanities and thats what I ended up studying, a “subject for girls” I was often told.

In order for our own nation to move forward, girl’s scientific capabilities need to be developed.  The only way to do so is to fight the stereotype that women are not good at math or science.  While I was on the hunt for information about girls’ science education, I came across this article in Live Science debunking the myths about girls and science.  6 myths are explained and the truth is exposed regarding girls and science but I would like to point out a few based on my own experience. Myth #1 is that girls are not interested in science.  While this is obviously very wrong, I found it interesting that as early as second grade both boys and girls draw WHITE MEN when asked to depict a scientist.  The women that were drawn are angry. Though I knew this to be true from my experience, I was a little shocked at just how young it appeared.  Similarly, Myth #6 says that its innate; women are born disadvantaged and therefore choose other careers. People who uphold this view cite men’s superior spatial abilities. Studies show that in cultures where women dominate this phenomena is reversed.  Both are cultural; both can and need to be reversed.

In a world that is saturated with news regarding girls’ education abroad, it is important not to forget those at home. Cultural biases leave girls lagging in the STEM professions. The girls who created the electric desks are a great example of what girls are capable of if they are in an encouraging environment.  The myths about girls and science need to be more than debunked, the truth needs to become the standard.

Sources:

Roach, J. (2013, October 23). Girl power! 9th grade girls developing electricity-generating desks. NBC News. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.nbcnews.com/science/girl-power-9th-grade-girls-developing-electricity-generating-desks-8C11443267

About NGCP. (n.d.). National Girls Collaborative Project |. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.ngcproject.org/about-ngcp

6 Myths About Girls and Science. (2013, October 21). LiveScience.com. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.livescience.com/40572-myths-girls-math-science.html