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August 05, 2008

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FeminineMstique

Hello,

I'm the mother of a two year old girl and a twelve year old boy and I've been reading the Packaging Girlhood book. I ordered it from Amazon when it was referenced in a Guardian article about the hegemony of pink, purple, princesses, butterflies and ponies in little girls' stuff.

Although, living in the UK, some of the references are lost on me, it isn't quite as bad as you describe, yet. I'm confident that that is a 'yet' and that things are moving uncomfortably toward the sexualisation of ever-younger children (and by 'children' I mean 'girls').

I'm really impressed that Batgirl and Spiderwoman's school included Packaging Girlhood in any reading list. I'm also impressed that such young readers have the courage to talk back to the authors. I would, however, encourage them to properly justify why they think you've got it wrong.

I'd also hope that they reread the book every few years because I'd happily assert that their responses could change as they get older and certainly if they have daughters of their own.

My partner's family has featured sexual abuse of girl-children over generations (I don't know how to phrase that without sounding apathetic - it's just a fact) and as such the sexualisation of girl children seems second nature to them (the women). Every interaction is perceived as sexual and my daughter's cousin began having her legs shaved by her mother when she was only five years old. For her mother, the only considerations seemed practical - creams, wax or razor? - rather than ethical.

Following the realisation of this, I've realised that it is terribly, terribly important to protect my daughter from this onslaught. I have also come to realise how very pervasive it is.

Young women today take very much for granted, but, we know that anyway. What many younger women don't realise until they experience it is that a colossal range of social pressures remain, particularly surrounding motherhood and caring.

The point you make in your response to Batgirl and Spiderwoman reminds me very much of the descriptions Faludi gives of Beverly LaHaye and Connie Marshner who see themseves as exceptions and outside the 'normal' range of women's roles. It also reminds me of Ariel Levy's 'loophole women' who set themselves apart from other women by opting in to 'male' cultures, which Batgirl and Spiderwoman appear to be aiming for.

Personally, I would recommend Ariel Levy's book, linked in your sidebar, as a next step on the impressive reading list for Batgirl and Spiderwoman.

Thank you for such a fantastic blog. :-)

Karina

Hola,

Though it would be far too coincidental that I'm from the same school as Batgirl and Spiderwoman, it is likely, as I was given Packaging Girlhood as part of my summer reading as well. I'm supposed to be writing an essay in response to your book, but that can come later. I go to an all-girls school that, despite being Catholic, encourages the students to grow and become real women who can handle anything. When I first read the title, I was nervous. It seemed like all that would come of this was a complete and total bashing of all that had shaped my childhood.

I am what you would probably consider a typical case. My childhood was filled with Disney Princesses, who I referred to as my sisters, Barbie video games, and American Girl catalogs. I have now replaced those things with writing, drama, and a downright obsession with making my full figure as beautiful as it can be.

As you can see, I may be exactly what you did not want to happen to girls, but I am not naive. I know who I am and what I am. And I feel no less powerful because of it. While I agree with the Barbie that says "Math is hard." I do not stand defeated in the doorstep of the easiest math class. I appreciate the challenge of the midlevel class, because I know I have the power to do the work. My answer may not be right, but it is there and done. I am a girl, but I am no less a person because of that. I still love watching my Disney girls fighting off the evil witch, and a part of me still wishes I could sing as well as them. But I know that I am not them, that they are not real. I am a real person, and I have all of the rights and responsibilities that go along with it.

I agree with you, that girls need choices, real choices, not the false ones advertised. Girls need to know that running and playing and sweating and pushing your body is great and a healthy way to pass time. They need to know that being a girl is more than sitting around and looking pretty. But I also feel that your book had an inadvertent affect, and celebrated the girl who made different choices so much that girl who chose the pink or the pop-star was left out in the cold. As I read, I felt like my own worth was diminished in your eyes, because I didn't like sports, because I liked the responsibility of shopping, because I could say that I knew who the hottest band in the world was. Am I less of woman because of this?? Am I less of a person because of this??

Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

We feel you on this one. You're right that we want girls to make those different choices, but it's even more important that girls realize that some of their choices have been unduly influenced by the media. That's the beginning of change. We understand why someone might look to a book to confirm their self-worth but we wouldn't really be critics if we celebrated everyone's choices. We do celebrate you in your uniqueness and perhaps you're not giving yourself enough credit for being unique when you describe yourself in this short letter. Most of the time those girls who SAY they're girly girls are a whole lot more than that. So we do hope girls who've followed the mainstream do think twice about their choices in the future and reflect on their past choices too. We certainly have, speaking more personally, and continue to do so. For example, I, Sharon, didn't like sports when I was in high school, and I DO feel my body image and sense of power in the world WAS affected by this. I don't think I'm less of a woman or less of a person, just like we don't think that you are. BUT I do feel sad that my being "into" a very stereotyped view of what a girl did preventing me from discovering parts of myself and talents I might have. And it also makes us sad that this could be happening to girls all over, fitting themselves into stereotypes, and not developing other parts of themselves. It doesn't make them less of a person but it does make them less uniquely who they are and could be...
I hope that explains our position a little better. Good luck and we hope you can raise these important questions in school when everyone gets together to discuss the book.

Katy

This is wonderful to see this interaction between young women and the elders that care about them. This is what a good society does, a responsible society protects their young and vulnerable and stands up to wrongdoing.

I think the key here is to engage these girls in how they can become opponents to the forces that seek to diminish them and make them compliant. This isn't about bashing the children that were and are influenced by this. No matter how old you are, as a girl or a woman you have been and are influenced by this pressure to be a certain way, so we're all victims of this. We're all together in this. The difference between how we grew up and now is how much more there is of it. You can't go anywhere any time without seeing it. It's like a blanket effect, and it's more brutal and nasty and uncaring and unkind. (especially to girls and women)

The younger girls don't have this kind of voice for themselves, so we as mothers are responsible for telling these companies what we think. But older girls that are in their teens have a voice! They can reject these ideas and demand better alternatives, or create their own. If you are a teen and feel misunderstood or condescended, then get on board and take the mature steps to be a part of the solution. You are going to be adults soon, so you too will be responsible for the younger girls as a member of society. Are you gonna be there for the little girls coming up after you? I hope so, cause I think you'll get to a point in your twenties when you realize we've all been had.

That's what this is about. Standing together and fighting for ourselves and those who have less power.

We all compromise ourselves even if in little ways, so none of us can claim complete freedom. No one is looking down on people that fit into the stereotype, we just don't like to see people cut down and degraded in order to fit in that space.

We can choose to do or not do something that is against our ideals, but never stop questioning it, even as you take part in it. Never give up the good fight as hard as it gets.

Don't let people that want to benefit from your insecurities laugh all the way to the bank day after day. Support good media and ideas and show the seedy marketers what they can and can't get away with.

And just to bring up another point concerning the movies and products that are aimed at boys and men. Actually, marketers know that girls and women will be drawn to it, as well as things aimed at us, because in our societies mindset, male is normal, default, the standard; while female is other, special, different. So anything aimed at males is also meant to be for females, but they also make things specific for us as an additional source of revenue. It's the same with young children's advertising: Separate the sexes and you have 2x as many products. So instead of brothers and sisters sharing toys that are gender neutral, they present the products in a polarized gendered way. But when it comes to what the whole family will watch or do together, then it's always going to be the male centered product, as that is what's valued.

Women by nature or by nurture, maybe both, have an easier time relating to both sexes, as men find it hard to understand women. So they know that women will watch their action movies by choice or just because that's what's on, because who's holding the remote? But if you put on a movie with a predominately female characters, you'll have a harder time getting the boys and the men to be feel secure enough to be interested, or have enough respect for women to actually give a crap about their lives and their ideas.

That's the painful truth for many girls and women, that as much as we care about boys and men, they don't seem to utilize their capacity for returning the favor. (especially the men that make movies.)

Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Tell it, sister! (Wish someone chose YOU for VP this political season!)

Someone

Hi! You came to my school today and presented a slideshow. Can you post the slideshow on the website? I thought it was very interesting, and I'd like to see all of it again.
Thanks!

Sharon Lamb

I loved presenting at your school. What a smart, savvy collection of girls you are. And meeting Batgirl and Spiderwoman was a highlight! I'll send a pdf of the presentation to your school and ask that they let you know it's available.

Amanda

I do agree with you for the most part. When I was a kid, I actually didn't like Barbies or fake jewelry and makeup or ponies or the color pink and all that girly-girl stuff. I played with action figures instead of dolls. xD I must admit that as a child I was a bit bothered by the fact that almost all the heroes in mass media are male and I did look hard to find a female hero, but there simply wasn't one. I was also frustrated at Disney for marketing girls toward the Disney princesses and boys toward the Disney heroes. To tell the truth, Tarzan and Hercules and Aladdin and Mowgli appealed to me a great deal more than the Disney princesses (well...except for Mulan). But I had great parenting and my mom never pushed girly girl stuff on me at all...she just let me like what I was interested in.

But I must say that there are a lot of female heroes in classic fantasy franchises. Harry Potter, for one, has tons of them. Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Mrs. Weasley, and Nymphadora Tonks are great examples. And if you look at the Narnia series, you'll find that the author was criticized for his so-called "sexist" views when in reality he put in many female heroes along with the males. Lucy, Susan, Jill, Aravis, Polly...just watch the new Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. =3 And the movie The Golden Compass along with the up-coming fantasy film, Inkheart have female protagonists in them. As does Twilight (well...that may not be the best example since Bella doesn't really do anything...Edward does all the work. lol).

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b

i just discovered your blog (i think it was linked from open salon). i wanted to thank you for trying to have this conversation, and i think the girls challenging you are great. if i could have written c.s. lewis (when i had the chronicles of narnia for summer reading), i would have demanded to know why susan got a bow instead of a sword and why lucy just got a dagger!

Madison (13)

Amanda, Bella Swan wouldn't be a good example for a strong female lead. In fact, she is probably one of the weakest female protagonists that I have ever read about. She cannot do a single thing for herself, and it's Edward who acts and saves the day. Bella also talks about how she isn't worth Edward, and I find that very degrading. Why should a girl have to change to suit a guy? She is probably beautiful inside and out, but the stereotype that a man is a much bigger figure than a woman is incredibly stupid.

I very much enjoy reading this blog, and I find that it has many eye opening things stated in it. Thank you for writing!

Jennifer

Nice book, but why does it talk about childhood commercialization? I thought it was Packaging GIRLhood, not Packaging Childhood.

Lyn Mikel Brown

Hi Jennifer,

Mostly we talk about how media and marketers target girls (and soon in Packaging Boyhood, we write about how they target boys), but there are schemes and approaches that are also developmental, and work on kids more generally, so we like to point those out too. Like marketers know that they win if they can get kids to pester their parents for a brand or a product, and they know that using words like freedom, choice, and power in ads will work for any teen. But by and large, we're talking in this book about how they tailor such general ideas to girls. Thanks for asking!

Lyn

Jennifer

I have another question:

While Dora is a great role model for young girls, she doesn't have a lot of female friends. Both she and other tomboys fall into the "with the boys" category. While you condemn the other side (i.e. for the boys), you say that the girls who are "one of the boys" aren't that bad. Why is that?

Lila

On the Batman/Spiderman franchises, do you know what happens to Batgirl? She is paralyzed from the waist down in an accident, throws herself into computers, and becomes the hacker/information brokeer The Oracle. Waaay cooler than just being Batgirl.

Jennifer

WHY do you say in one chapter that the media needs girls who are smart and pretty, and in others you say that these kind of girls send the message to homely girls that they're useless, so they're bad. Talk about hypocrisy! WHY???

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