Saturday, March 5, 2011

Think About Images of Women

It's Women's History Month, but I'm sure you already knew that.

You may know it, but you probably aren't thinking much about it. I'm pretty indifferent to these "special" months myself (except for National Poetry Month). I mean, it's nice to take the time and focus on a group of people and their history, but women's history--just like African-American history--is part of history, period. The reason for these "special" months is that these histories tend to get skimmed over in primary school. In fact, most of what I learned about either subject (women's history, African-American history), I learned on my own. By reading--which I do a lot of.

If women were to know their history, they might understand that the fight for equality is not over. Yes, we've come a long way; but, as technology changes, so do the pressures on women. The younger generation--the kids who have grown up with internet--is most susceptible.

What somebody said to me last week has stuck with me. Not necessarily in a bad way, but not really in a good way either. More like in a befuddled way.... A woman--probably in her 40s, but I'm a bad judge of age--picked up a pink sweatshirt and said, "I'm going to get the pink one, of course, 'cause I'm a girl. I love pink!" I really don't care that she likes pink (each to his or her own), but the way that she said it--implying that she was going to get the pink one, of course, because she was a girl, got me seriously stirred up.

I doubt that the woman meant anything by it. But, when you take those same sort of slipshod comments and put them in the media or otherwise surround young people with them, you're influencing people. And, with such a prevalence of media, young women are surrounded more than ever before by this kind of persuasion.

I was fortunate to have grown up when I did and where I did and, luckily, I was raised in a family of people who, in some aspects, went against the grain. My mom's favorite color was always navy blue (I think she's branched out into greens now); I don't recall her ever wearing pink (or ever trying to persuade me to wear it). Additionally, my television exposure was limited and I was encouraged to read--and allowed to pick out my own books from the library. (Interestingly, I loved the chapter books with Sebastian the dog sleuth [this was in the early '80s]--those of you who know me personally know that I love dogs and that I'm a true crime buff. Some things never change. Go ahead, ask me some serial killer trivia....) 

And, being the youngest of four, I had all sorts of toys to play with, and my siblings gave me a diverse education. My oldest brother taught me some basic (literally, BASIC) computer programming when I was eight or nine. My other brother taught me how to shoot a basketball, how to play ping-pong, and how to build with Legos. My sister taught me how to draw. On top of that, life was very different in the '80s. We didn't have internet; and, until the mid/late '80s, my family didn't even have cable or a VCR. We weren't bombarded with marketing images 24/7. We listened to the radio, and my friends and I made mix tapes of the music we liked. Life was, well, simpler.

I recently heard someone say that girls naturally go through a "princess" phase. I didn't. Most other girls I knew didn't. Maybe twenty-first century girls do, but that's because there are people out there creating the "phases" a child will go through. And, because people are surrounded virtually non-stop by these images, the problem is WORSE than it was ten, 15, or 20 years ago. That's right, we're going backwards.

I read a fascinating book a few years ago called Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown (Brown is a co-founder of Hardy Girls Healthy Women). It made me angry--at marketers, partly, but they're just doing their job, and what they're I was also angry at the women who let themselves be objectified and at the parents who fall for it and at the girls who don't resist it. Yet, I know my anger is misplaced. As with most things, education is key.

Check out this short trailer for Killing Us Softly 4. Jean Kilbourne is the phenomenal woman behind the film (and many others). She has worked hard to educate everyone (not just women) about the power of media and, specifically, how it affects how society views women and how women view themselves.

After you view the trailer for Killing Us Softly 4, check out this video (from Peggy Orenstein's blog), which apparently is for a new show (with a complete line of toys and other products too, of course) aimed at young girls: Monster High. Definitely a horror show but not the good kind. If it wasn't aimed at young girls, it might actually be funny (in a "South Park" kind of way) but only for self-actualized girls (which 8-year-olds certainly are not!).

Think about the images you see of women--what are they telling you? Earlier tonight I saw a TV commercial for some sort of acne medicine, obviously aimed at teen-aged (and pre-teen) girls. The woman was flawless, but nevertheless she was complaining about one pimple, which she referred to as the "worst thing." I'm sorry, but not even when I was a teenager with raging acne (it was certainly never just one pimple) did I think of a pimple as the "worst thing." Teenagers have so much on their minds that the last thing they need to hear is that it's horrible to have just one pimple.

Some Things to Remember:
--It's okay to have a pimple (it's okay to have more than one!)
--Not all girls like pink (and it's okay for guys to like pink)
--Not all smart girls drool or wear glasses (now you'll have to watch the Monster High video!)


  1. ...And then I made my comment that you and I should wear bright colors this coming week at work :( Sorry. When did that lady come into the store?

    You would get along with one of my former professors so well! I took two of her courses--one on Feminist Film Theory and another on Feminist Theory--because I loved the topics and the education I actually gained from exposure to all sorts of media. I'll have to show you some of the material we discussed in the course.

    Excellent topic, Jess!

  2. Thanks, Julia! I actually thought nothing of your bright color comment, LOL, except that I don't think I have any bright-colored clothes! :-P