Category Archives: Real Discussions

Malia Obama – Fashion Icon or Future President?

Malia Tennis

Recently in USA Today, there was an article about Malia Obama on how she is inspiring girls. She wasn’t inspiring them because of her interests or her dreams but rather because of what she was wearing and how her body looked. The article byline read “Is a fashion magazine in her future?” There is nothing wrong with teenage girls wanting to be fashionable but by focusing on Malia’s fashion sense and appearance rather than her ambitions, what are we inspiring girls to achieve?

It is important to recognize that kids look to their peers in the media as role models and want to emulate them based on what they wear or own. One study from the National Institute on Media and the Family found that at age 13, 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies. This grows to 78% by the time girls reach 17. It is difficult to find positive role models in the media.

This is why it is important that the President’s daughters should be looked up to for their focus on academics, involvement in the community and talents, such as dance and basketball. Their ability to dress fashionably should not be the focus when it pales in comparison to their other achievements.

Seventeen fashion director Gina Kelly wrote, “That’s inspiring to girls,” Kelly says. “Especially when they’re that age, they’re not too confident in trying new trends or putting together clothes in a different way. Girls are really hungry for, ‘Gosh, how do I wear it?’ and I think she can show them that.”

While we can agree that girls do need more role models for dressing appropriately without the need for short-shorts and low cut tops; we need to emphasize that outward appearance does not determine value.

Girls are easily influenced by what society and the media deem important. As long as we place importance on the outward appearance of girls rather than their aspirations, where does their future lie?

The Power of a Woman’s Vote

Guest Blog Post by Nikki White, Executive Projects Coordinator

One of my closest female friends recently told me, “I don’t vote, there are no issues that really affect me personally.” As a spirited feminist, I was upset because I believe women have a stake in everything. They control household budgets and advocate for the education of their children. They are property owners, activists, philanthropists, and they just happen to be the most sought-after voters in the upcoming election.

Women comprise 51% of the United States population. They make up 53% of the electorate and often vote more than men. They also can be the deciding factor in a race as close as this one.

“In a very close election, with almost ten million more women voting than men, the gender gap can make a difference in the outcome of the election,” said Debbie Walsh of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. It is important for women to cast their vote in order to influence the bills passed concerning the issues that directly affect them. These issues might include:

  • Affordability of healthcare for women and children
  • Prenatal care for women
  • Equal pay in the workplace
  • Job loss for women
  • Accessibility to childcare

In addition to being a powerful voting majority, women are becoming political figures as well. However, they are often criticized by the media for the way they look, how they speak, and how they carry themselves. Nancy Pelosi has been portrayed as a “cackling witch” in attack advertisements. Michele Bachmann, during the primaries, was on the cover of Newsweek with a photo and the title, “The Queen of Rage.” Hillary Clinton, is consistently criticized for not being feminine, while Sarah Palin was judged for the opposite, she was too feminine.

A woman’s voice is critical, and with a majority voice women can have an influence on the issues that are most important. As you look at the issues facing women today, remember the women from history that fought for future generations to vote. Be a part of history tomorrow by exercising your right to vote.

Gender Specific Marketing – Does it Need to Stop?

Have you ever walked into a department store and wondered why the toy section for girls is filled with dolls, pink Easy Bake Ovens and toy make-up kits while boys have a section filled with action figures, blue sports equipment, and toy guns? Well, you won’t find that at Harrod’s Department Store in London, which is taking a new marketing approach to selling toys. Instead of the typical gender specific sections found in most toy stores, they created a “Toy Kingdom” where toys are organized by their own “worlds” such as circus and tree-top. By doing this, they have opened the door for praise and criticism.

For some, this is the exact change that is needed for kids to make their own decisions on what types of toys they want to play with instead of older generations deciding for them.

“Kids get a lot of ideas early from play about what they can do, what they like and what they can aspire to,” said Deborah Tolman, co-founder of SPARK, a girl-fueled activist movement to end to the sexualization of women and girls in media. “By making those themes gender specific, it leaves out a whole range of possibilities.”

Lego received a lot of heat this past winter for “Lego Friends” their new toy line for girls with Lego colors changed from the original red, green and blue blocks to pale greens, pinks, and purples and offering kits to make Lego vets or ice cream shops. Although there was a lot of backlash, many marketing experts called Lego’s marketing strategy smart.

“Segmentation is the key to marketing and the further you mine into the segmentation the stronger your message will resonate with the audience,” says Emily Spensieri of advertising firm Quiller and Blake/FEM.

Also, researchers have found that children have an inherent preference for certain types of toys that is demonstrated as early on as infancy. Girls like “girls toys” before they realize that they are girls. A 2008 study of rhesus monkeys found that the males preferred trucks to dolls.

Regardless of whether it is smart to market toys based on gender or if toy preference is an innate choice, it may have a negative effect on a child’s identity when companies predetermine what their interests should be through marketing strategies.

Lisa Serbin, research chair in human development and professor of psychology at Montreal’s Concordia University, says that the problem with targeting toys is that “it reinforces the stereotypes and reinforces the separation of play groups. You’re not expanding their horizons or encouraging them to try something new. Do we really want to limit girls to things that are colored pink? To me that’s bizarre.”

Harrod’s is not the only store that is changing the way it displays its merchandise. Toy Et. Cetera also markets its toys based on types of activities rather than gender, with an increasing numbers of independent toy stores doing the same. So, should this trend that should continue or are we being too sensitive to the impact that gender specific marketing can have on kids?

Do you think gender specific marketing has an adverse effect on girls’ and boys’ identities?

Do kids learn at an early age what toys are “gender appropriate” or is it an innate characteristic in both boys and girls?

What role does toy choice for boys and girls have on childhood bullying?

Real Discussions: Olympics 2012 – What is Real Progress?

Before the 2012 Olympic games began in London this July, they were already being labeled as the “Women’s Games.” A historic mark was made when we learned that for the first time, not only would women be participating in all 26 sports, but that every country entered was sending female athletes. However, even with all of these positive changes, a debate has been brewing. Are these games really the Women’s Games or have we still not made big enough steps to call it our year?

“The progress at London was a major boost for gender equality, with equality and neutrality two of the most important Games values.” says International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

Female athletes train hard for the Olympics. They go to win and this year has been no different. Breaking 38 world records so far, they have proven themselves time and again. We saw amazing displays of skill and endurance from competitors such as Kayla Harrison who captured the first ever USA women’s gold in judo, Missy Franklin who won 4 gold medals and a bronze while breaking 2 world records in swimming, and Gabby Douglas who took home 2 gold medals and became the first African American woman to win gold in gymnastics. It’s not surprising that USA’s women are taking home so much gold, this was also the first time we sent more female athletes to the games than men.

“The 2012 Olympics have been hailed as the ‘Women’s Games’ for including women in all sports and from all national teams with campaigners hoping this will lead to more role models in sport and increase female participation in physical activity.” writes Megan Gibson for Time.

It’s easy to see why these were dubbed the Women’s Games, the successes of the women are obvious. However, in our celebration have we been overlooking the backwards steps for true athlete gender equality? The fact that women have only 132 events in the games and men have 162, giving men 30 more chances to win gold, the negative comments and derogatory remarks; these are not indications of equal standards. Some view these games as a “statistical victory for female participation, but not real progress” – Jen Floyd Engel for Fox Sports.

Negative comments and remarks about weight, looks, sexual orientation, and ethnicity are being flung around the arena and have left female athletes wounded and feeling defensive. More attention has been paid to the neatness of Gabby Douglas’ hair than her historical accomplishment. The women’s beach volleyball team was described as “glistening wet otters” in their bathing suits by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Japanese female soccer players and the women’s Australian basketball team flew to the games in economy seats while their male counterparts flew business class with claims being they “don’t need as much leg room” when in fact 12 of the women were taller than the shortest male athlete.

Zoe Smith, a British weightlifter was attacked on Twitter by people saying she looked like a “lesbian” and a “bloke.” She won several fans by defending herself saying “We don’t lift weights in order to look hot.” It’s hard to classify this as our year when there are several glaring steps backward for gender equality in sports. We shouldn’t allow this behavior to continue with little to no consequence. It makes you wonder if it’s really about the sports at all.

So the questions beg to be asked – have we made enough progress to truly call this the Women’s Games? Or should we stand up and say it will be our year when we see true athlete gender equality?