Real Role Models

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Last year I read a piece by Polly Toynbee about 'girlification' and its part in the backlash against feminism. By 'girlification' she means the relentless way young girls are targeted from the minute they're born with pink toys, pink clothes, pink accessories, princesses, Barbies, Bratz, makeup and heels. The way they're encouraged to judge each other on the way their look and how much they weigh and pick at 'flaws' in their own appearances from a progressively younger age. As I don't have children of my own I don't get year-round exposure to this sort of thing but you can't fail to miss it at Christmas, when the television is filled with adverts for the year's 'must-have' toys and gadgets. Boys get to be superheroes, pirates and soldiers, work with their hands and go on adventures. Girls get to be princesses and learn to be 'just like mum' by playing with toy kitchens and home appliances.

When my sister and I were young, my mum had no problem with us playing with dolls or the toy kitchen we received one Christmas from our grandparents. But she also made sure we owned toy cars, miniature gardening tools and a farmyard complete with animals, barn and working chute for bales of hay (this was *the best*). I distinctly remember acting out scenes from favourite Disney films in the playground at school where we'd all fight over who got to be Ariel or Cinderella, but we loved playing Robin Hood, pirates and adventure-based games. Thinking back I remember there being much less of a divide between 'boys' stuff' and girls' stuff' than I see today when I look in children's clothes or toy shops. All girls' clothes and toys were not pink or purple when I was a child. If being a girl is about worrying about your appearance and weight, wanting to be a princess or 'famous' and playing games which involve housework, how do girls who don't fit this 'norm' feel?

I don't think that liking the colour pink or pretending to be a princess is going to damage young girls. I do believe that promoting this 'girlification' as the only way for a girl to be is going to cause damage. Over the next few years I hope to have children of my own. It occurred to me yesterday that it really worries me that any daughter or daughters I might have could end up being negatively influenced by the 'cult of pink'. Of course it's pretty easy to keep these influences out of your own house but what happens when your daughter starts school? Will that mark the beginning of preoccupation with appearance, weight and narrowing down her choices in life, all because of the marked division between 'things for boys' and 'things for girls'? I don't think it's a case of wanting to stop girls enjoying wearing pink and playing 'princesses', but really making them aware that there are a whole range of choices for them in life and that being female doesn't have the narrow definition toy companies and television shows would have them believe.

Recently it has come to my attention that Amazon sells magnetic words for children, aimed at helping kids aged four and up with their vocabulary. There are separate versions for girls and boys. A few of the 'girl' words: clothes, lipstick, want, pink, makeup, princess, diamond, tiara, party. Compare these to a selection of the 'boy' words: monster, racing, moon, helicopter, grass, dogs, forest, swimming, blue. I can't believe they've used 'want', for one thing. One reviewer has summed up my feelings exactly with this comment:

Thank goodness the set excludes any complicated words like Doctor, or Car, or Career, or heaven forfend: Reading. We don't want our little ones to get silly ideas in to their heads. The right social conditioning from as early as possible will present the world with compliant, self absorbed, distressed, depressed and anorexic teenagers who are all the more willing to spend, spend, spend on hopeless diet cures, makeup, hidden, guilt ridden chocolate (one of the special words placed here!) and anti-depressants which will really make life worth living.

This is why i'd like to promote a website i came across a few weeks ago: PinkStinks. PinkStinks hopes to 'inspire, educate, excite and liberate girls from the negative stereotypes which increasingly saturate the world around them'. One section of the campaign website lists women who are great role models for young girls - women who excel in sport, music, science, film and technology (among others) - and the women behind it are currently developing a website for girls themselves, entitled 'Cool To Be Me'. To read more click here or visit the PinkStinks blog. I can't wait to see how the campaign progesses.

Million Women Rise

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Not long to go now until Million Women Rise 2009!

I was lucky enough to take part in the first ever Million Women Rise march for International Women's Day last year and it was one of the most exciting and positive experiences I've ever had. Around 5,000 women and girls took part in the march and rally in Central London. Knowing that I would be attending alone I volunteered to be a steward and was one of a group of women in change of the front section of the march, setting up at Trafalgar Square and organising the queue for the loos during the rally. This year I'll be marching with a friend and hopefully meeting up with several more through the day so decided against stewarding and am looking forward to being able to experience even more of the march.

Why is Million Women Rise needed? We're marching in protest at the fact that women are still not able to live without the fear of violence - whether it's from partners, relatives, men they don't even know, women continue to be attacked and abused in many different ways. Despite this, their stories are ignored, they're accused of 'asking for it', they're denied access to facilities which could help them - such as Rape Crisis Centres, which currently offer support to only 1 in 4 areas of Britain.

Each year 3 million women in the UK experience rape, domestic violence and abuse. This needs to change. A statement from the Million Women Rise Coalition says:

'We believe that every woman and child has a right to live free from violence and that ongoing violence devastates not only the lives of the individuals directly affected but also the communities of which they are part.'

Million Women Rise is supported by a number of women's groups, networks and charities. Maybe you've already decided to take part in this year's march but if you haven't I urge you to consider it. I really do think it's going to be an even more amazing experience than last year and am hoping for even greater numbers.

12PM MEET AT PORTMAN SQUARE (Nearest Tubes: Bond St, Marble Arch and Baker St)
RALLY AND CELEBRATION: 2.30- 5PM: WATERLOO PLACE (Nearest Tube: Piccadilly
Circus, Leicester Square, Charing Cross)

Useful links
Million Women Rise blog and Facebook group
Facts about violence against women from Amnesty International
Fawcett Society Justice For Rape Victims campaign
Why Women?
End Violence Against Women
The Map of Gaps

Cheering us all up during this miserable weather

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Viggo Mortensen for Flaunt magazine. Apart from the obvious attractions, the fact he's so interesting and eloquent really intrigues me.

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