Blog Archives

Bright Young Girls or “Bright Young Things”?

Victoria Secret

Guest Post by Marketing Intern, Molly Decker

At Big Sister, we pride ourselves on staying up-to-date about gender-specific marketing; marketing strategies could not be more gender-specific than those of Victoria’s Secret: a corporation famous for their bras and underwear, and most recently for the popularization of their PINK line. PINK is Victoria’s Secret’s line for their younger 15-22 year-old demographic. However, Victoria’s Secret has gone younger.  Victoria’s Secret has recently come out with a line called “Bright Young Things,” otherwise known as PINK’s Spring Break collection. Bright Young Things features, among other things, underpants that have “Wild”, “Call Me”, “Dare You”, and “Feeling Lucky” printed on the back (or the front, in cases of the thong). Not only are they covered with sexualized phrases, they are cut in familiar Victoria’s secret styles of “cheeky hipster,” “lace trim thong,” and “The Date Panty.”

When a tween or teen girl sees her peers wearing PINK merchandise, few things will make her want it more than getting a “no” paired with a “because I said so” from her parents and mentors. This is why it is not enough to ask that Victoria’s Secret simply eliminate the collection. PINK will still be there. This is why it is not enough to tweet at Victoria’s Secret that this collection is unacceptable and leave it at that. The fact is, no matter how hard we try, young girls will continue to see these sexualized media messages, through other advertisements.

We need to educate these young girls.

Maybe they are daughters. Maybe siblings. Maybe they are our Little Sisters. Regardless, they need to know that when their parents, teachers, Big Sisters, and other mentors tell them to think critically about the messages on the backs of these underpants, it is not because we do not want them to be popular, or because we do not want them to succeed. On the contrary, we want them to succeed more than they know. We want them to succeed in finding relationships with people who will hear “call me” after a conversation about mutual likes and common goals, not see it on the front of their thongs. We want them to know that while Victoria’s Secret may see them as Bright Young Things, we see them as Bright Young Girls, and that alone makes a difference.

So the next time a young girl in your life asks why you think she shouldn’t choose “Wild” underwear, talk to her about why she feels she needs them. Talk to her about the social and media pressure she may be feeling. Encourage her to come to terms with her body and what she wants to do with it on her own terms, not her friends’ terms, or Victoria’s Secret’s terms. Teach her that success is not about what she wears, but what she knows and where she goes with that knowledge.

What are your feelings about Victoria’s Secret’s marketing campaign? How do you respond to the overwhelming pressure of the media? Do you have any advice for Big Sisters who don’t know how to begin that conversation? Leave a comment below.

Spotlight: Big Sister of the Year, Lisa Ewing

BFAD Lisa Ewing LS Jessica Gallo

Lisa Ewing was honored as Big Sister of the Year in our Big For a Day program. Big For a Day (BFAD) is a program where women are matched with a girl on our wait list for a one-time Big Sister activity such as bowling, a dance class, a martial arts workshop, or a trip to the Aquarium. Big For a Day activities occur once a month on a Saturday. You can volunteer as little as twice a year or as often as once a month.

Guest Post by Marketing Intern, Molly Decker

Initially, what made you want to get involved with Big Sister?

I got involved in a program for mentoring middle school students for their science projects, in preparation for the local and state science fairs.  I enjoyed the program and began thinking I could do more.  I was working full time and going to school at night, so I wasn’t sure if I would have the time to be involved.  Then l learned about the Big For a Day program, and it seemed like a great fit.

How do you approach making connections with the new Little Sisters you get paired with at each event?

There’s often a lot of activities at the events, so if there are multiple games or arts and crafts projects, I just ask my Little Sister where they want to start.  If they’re still holding back a bit, I’ll  suggest we start at a particular activity and go from there.  I’m usually pretty excited to be doing any activity, and they usually pick up on my excitement.

What’s a favorite activity you’ve done with Big Sister and what makes it so memorable?

That’s hard to say – Big Sister always has such fun events.  The Halloween parties are a lot of fun – everyone dresses up in great costumes!  Especially the home-made theme costumes where matches create something together.  The Winter Wonderland party is a lot of fun – being in Faneuil Hall with the decorations and getting to decorate cookies. The sporting events at colleges are also a lot of fun.  As I said – it’s so hard to pick just one!

What’s something you’ve learned about yourself or about the world since becoming a part of Big For a Day?

I now understand that even if you don’t get to spend a tremendous amount of time with a girl, you can still make a difference in her life.

What would you say to women who are on the fence about applying to Big For a Day—any words of encouragement or advice?

I would say find a way to become involved.  Just call the office or search the website for opportunities.  It is a great experience, and you get back so much in return.  It means so much to the girls.  Just think back to when you were young. If you were lucky, you had a big sister or someone you could talk to about whatever was on your mind.  If not, wouldn’t you have liked to have that someone?  You can be that someone for a young girl.

If you’re interested in the Big For a Day program, check out the Big Sister website.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Guest Post by Marketing Intern, Molly Decker

Winter is here, and it’s definitely brought with it flurries, blizzards, and below freezing temperatures. If you’re at a loss for fun things to do with your Little Sister that won’t leave you more frozen than the Boston Common Frog Pond, look no further! Here’s a list of some fun winter activities around Boston.

Frog Pond

Boston Common Frog Pond

If you’re bundled up properly and the temperature is in the positives, it’s not such a bad idea to venture outside and try your hand at ice skating. For Little Sisters 13 and under, admission is free, and for the rest of us (who are still kids, just on the inside) it’s only $5. The pond is open to the public daily from 10am until 9pm or 10pm, depending on the day of the week, and skating with your Little Sister (or trying not to fall with your Little Sister!) is always a fun choice. For more information or to check if it’s open, check out bostonfrogpond.com.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

For Big and Little Sisters alike who are interested in history, the JFK Museum is an amazing place to spend the day. Open 7 days a week, this museum features films, recreated settings like JFK’s personalized Oval Office, and a special exhibit that gives insight into Jackie Kennedy, first lady and strong female role model. Admission pricing is as follows: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (62 and over) and students (with valid college ID), $9 for 13-17 year olds, and free for children 12 and under. For more information, check out the museum’s website.

food projectWinter “Grow Well, Eat Well” Workshops

Since 1991, The Food Project has built a national model of engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture. What better way to engage young people than to participate in a workshop with your Little Sister! The “Eat Well” Workshops take place at The Food Project Kitchen in Dorchester, and the “Grow Well” Workshops take place at the Dudley Greenhouse in Roxbury. Advanced registration is required for most of the classes, but it’s worth checking out. If you’re interested, check out this flier and see what’s cooking!

Public Open Night at the BU Observatory

Look up at the stars through Boston University’s telescopes and while you’re at it, learn a thing or two about the night sky! Every winter Wednesday starting at 7:30pm, you’ll get a chance to use these telescopes and see what’s out there. The telescopes are outside so you’ll have to dress warmly, but seeing the sky with BU’s astronomy department is worth it. Weather conditions such as extreme cold and clouds can’t be helped, but check the BU Observatory’s Twitter or call them 2 hours before the event to see if it’s been canceled. Check the website to learn more.

bostonbowl1Boston Bowl

Go ahead and be Alley Cats for a day and have fun bowling with your Little Sister! Boston Bowl is located in Dorchester just off of I-93, and features Tenpin and Candlepin bowling, as well as games, food and pool tables once you’ve had your fill of bowling. Daytime bowling during the week is at a discounted price, so go after school until 6pm and have a ball!

Museum of African American History

With February comes Black History Month, and that makes this museum a great stop for those with a thirst for knowledge. It’s full of great exhibits including one through the end of February highlighting Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement. The exhibits are housed in the Abiel Smith School, the first public school in the nation to serve black children. It’s open from 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, and children 12 and under get in for free. Check out their website to plan a visit!

paintbox1Boston Paintbox Tour

In an effort to lessen the vandalism of public utility boxes, Mayor Menino decided that promoting public art was the best solution. We now have, all over Boston and its surrounding communities, a series of painted utility boxes, painted by artists in their local area to make those necessary boxes beautiful. Here’s a further explanation of the project, and here’s a map of where around Boston you can find all of the boxes. They’re outside, but with the map, you can plan your trip around and not do too much excess walking. Plus, finding all of them is sort of like an art mystery, so you can show Sherlock Holmes how we girls do it.

Made By Me

For Big and Little Sisters who would rather make the art than go around looking for it, Made by Me pottery painting studio is a relaxed, fun atmosphere to do it in. You can work on a piece together, or you can choose you own individual pieces and paint side by side. The cost is the price of your pottery piece (they range from $3-$40, usually depending on size) and then $4 per half-hour per painter. It may seem on the expensive side, but on the plus side, you get to bring your kiln-fired piece home with you when it’s done! Check out their website for more info.

children's museumBoston Children’s Museum

Everybody loves to be a kid sometimes, and the Boston Children’s Museum is exactly where anyone can be one. It’s full of interactive exhibits and chances are you’ll be having so much fun, you’ll forget that you’re actually learning a lot. Admission is a bit pricey most days, but on Friday nights from 5pm-9pm, everyone gets in for $1, courtesy of Target, so take advantage of that. If you’re interested, you can see more at their website.

Open Art Thursdays at Roxbury BPL

For people who love art but aren’t so jazzed about pottery painting, there’s always the Boston Public Library. The Parker Hill Branch in Roxbury boasts Open Art Thursdays, which are open to all ages from 3pm-7pm every Thursday. They ask that you call ahead if you plan to come with a group, but they’ll always have fun, creative art projects for you there! It’s also always worth checking out the Master Calendar of Events for all the BPL branches, because they always have workshops and other fun things to do.

So what are you waiting for? Go out and have fun in the winter wonderland of Boston with your Little Sister!

Sheryl Sandberg Helps Women “Lean In”

Sheryl Sandberg

Guest Post by Marketing Intern, Molly Decker

It is essential for girls growing up today to have competent, caring, strong women to look up to and model themselves after. But for those girls interested in taking the business world by storm, we find ourselves with few women running the show, and even fewer who get recognized for their hard work in mainstream media. With all the women we have in our families, in our workplaces and schools, and in our day to day lives who do great things, we have to wonder why the representation of women in high-power positions is still so small. Where are our women leaders?

An article in last week’s New York Times suggests that Sheryl Sandberg, current Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, might have an answer.

Facebook is a social media company well-known and loved by just about anyone who’s over 13 and has access to a computer. With all the daily attention Facebook gets simply by being an open tab in most internet browsers for “study breaks”, and with the Facebook movie, The Social Network, showcasing of Mark Zuckerberg’s determination and sheer genius, one wonders why few know that the person right behind Zuckerberg in the chain of command is a strong, independent woman.

The article discusses Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which is due to be published later in 2013. In the book, she writes that while “chauvinism and corporate obstacles” definitely present an issue for women taking charge in the business market, women are too often socially conditioned to settle for what is given and in doing so, effectively hold themselves back.

Sandberg says, “We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve.”

This is something young girls can take to heart instead of the “negative messages”: just like having an emotion is not only for females, having a strong opinion is not only for males. We should use our strong voices and stand by our beliefs when we see changes that need to be made. We must share our ideas in group projects and in meetings. We need to let ourselves be heard.

ForbesWoman did a study in 2012 of America’s top 500 companies, and found that “there are now 20 female CEOs…[and] that paltry number (4%) is actually a record.” Why is that, when we are capable of achieving more? As women, if we continue to dream small or let the negatives messages affect us, we may never see a world where there are just as many women working as CEOs as there are men. So, we can’t be afraid of dreaming big. And more importantly, we must be assertive, and let ourselves turn those dreams into a reality.

What can you do to be more assertive? How can you support your friends when they speak up? What can you do to promote positive change in the way girls approach business? Leave a comment below.

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.

CEO Deborah Re’s Op-Ed on the Negative Impact of Marketing on Girls [Boston Herald]

Over the weekend, Saturday’s Boston Herald included an Op-Ed that our CEO Deborah Re wrote regarding a t-shirt that said “I’m too pretty to do homework, so I have my brother do it for me”.

Although JCPenney pulled the t-shirt from the online “shelf” before the Op-Ed was published, Big Sister felt it was necessary to give girls a voice on this very important issue. We are proud of this piece, and of the opportunity it gives us to show that Big Sister Association of Greater Boston is the leader in the healthy development of girls.

As you were saying: T-shirt Message Offends by Big Sister CEO Deborah Re [Boston Herald]

"Who would wear a T-shirt that says they are stupid?"

Women are graduating from high school and college in record numbers. They are on corporate boards, they are leading major institutions, they are in the Senate and they have become secretaries of State.

So does a T-shirt that says “I’m too pretty to do my homework so I’ll have my brother do it” really have an impact on girls’ chances for achieving success?

You bet it does. For every statistic about girls succeeding, there is another that shows the negative impact of marketing messages leading to lower levels of self-esteem, higher rates of depression, risky behaviors and poor life choices. When girls are taught to value their appearance to such an extreme without a responsible adult in their lives who can counter these messages, their opportunities will be compromised.

JCPenney pulled this T-shirt from the company’s Web site on Aug. 31 with the following statement: “JCPenney is committed to being America’s destination for great style and great value for the whole family. We agree that the ‘Too pretty T-shirt’ does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale.”

How did the shirt make it to the online shelf in the first place? Weren’t there men on their creative team who have daughters and know the impact of messages like these? Weren’t there women on the team who can look back on being an adolescent remembering the insecurity of trying to fit in? This shirt was being marketed to adolescent girls at a pivotal time in their development, a time when they begin to internalize messages about what it means to be a girl. The implied message that doing homework — i.e. acquiring knowledge and thinking critically — is not feminine.

I caught enough of a radio talk show discussion of the subject to know that there are many adults, including the hosts of the show, who think that messages like this one are inconsequential. The callers and hosts overwhelmingly agreed that people are simply overreacting to a harmless and trivial T-shirt. A mother called in and said that she would buy the T-shirt for her 12-year-old daughter; another caller said that it was ridiculous that people were upset, and that he wore a T-shirt in college that said “Got a sister?”

The point they are missing is that they, as adults, have context for these messages to help them process the information and dismiss them as absurd. A young girl does not have that context.

As a community of adults that supports the healthy development of children, we are responsible for reinforcing positive, empowering and constructive messages.

We want girls to know that their appearance is not their most valuable asset.

We do not want our daughters to think that they need to look a certain way or dress a certain way to be accepted.

We want them to know that being pretty and being smart are not mutually exclusive. And, given all the challenges confronting our educational system, why risk sending a message to girls, and boys as well, that doing homework is not important?

As I thought about this issue I decided to solicit the opinion of the T-shirt’s target demographic. When asked what she thought of the T-shirt, my friend’s newly minted 12-year-old daughter Cassidy responded, “Who would wear a T-shirt that says they are stupid?”

Let’s hope Cassidy can stay strong against all the other marketing assaults that are coming her way, as the T-shirt is hardly the only offender.

As you were saying: T-shirt Message Offends [Boston Herald]

Looking for a Good Read? Big Sister Recommends

Big Sister Recommends

Chances are, you’re still spending most of your free time inside. While you’re waiting for the weather to get warmer, not why head to the library or check out Amazon for these titles about the power of mentoring:

Stand by Me: The Risks and Rewards of Mentoring Today’s Youth by Jean E. Rhodes.

From Booklist:

Rhodes, a psychology professor, examines the popularity of mentoring programs and their effectiveness in improving the prospects of disadvantaged youth. She particularly focuses on research involving the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, the best-known youth-mentoring organization, showing that at-risk youth who are mentored through structured programs are more likely to succeed.

The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent People Recall Their Mentors by Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Editor with foreword by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Amazon Description:

At some point in the odyssey of our lives, most of us have been affected by caring adults who made a difference: their advice, their guidance, their example led us to encounter the world. The Person Who Changed My Life is a collection of essays in which individuals who have distinguished themselves in their fields write about the men and women who served as their mentors. Among the contributors are Walter Cronkite, Larry King, Dr. Arthur Caliandro, Elie Wiesel, Marian Wright Edelman, Julia Child, Gloria Estefan, and Dina Merrill.

Because You Believed in Me: Mentors and Protégés Who Shaped Our World by Marcia McMullen and Patricia Miller.

From the Publisher:

Because You Believed in Me uses stories of real people—Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin, Ulysses S.Grant and Abraham Lincoln—to demonstrate the powerful benefits of mentoring. The relationships of these and other historical pairs are explored throughout this book to illuminate the inherent value of mentoring. What if Eugene Boudin had not encouraged Monet to paint in the out of doors? Could anyone else have inspired him to abandon studio painting and venture into the beauty of landscapes? As with this case, mentors open worlds of possibilities for their proteges. Even brilliant people need heroes.

Or check out a couple new books from the New York Times bestseller list that are focused on women and girls:

Read them already? Comment below and tell us what you think! What other books would you like to suggest for a good read?

“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Invest in Girls

Illustration by Gerard Dubois for TIME

Illustration by Gerard Dubois for TIME

The benefits are so obvious, you have to wonder why we haven’t paid attention. Less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls — and that is a victory compared with a few years ago, when it was more like half a cent. Roughly 9 of 10 youth programs are aimed at boys. One reason for this is that when it comes to lifting up girls, we don’t know as much about how to do it. We have to start by listening to girls, which much of the world is not culturally disposed to do.—To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls by Nancy Gibbs, Time, Feb. 14, 2011

According to the article from which that quote was taken, fewer than 1 in 5 girls make it to secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half are married by the time they are 18; 1 in 7 girls across the developing world marry before they are 15 and get pregnant shortly thereafter. The leading cause of death for girls 15 to 19 worldwide is not accident or violence or disease; it is complications from pregnancy. Girls under 15 are up to five times more likely to die while having children than women in their 20s. Their babies are more likely to die as well.

At Big Sister, we know that investing in girls locally is just as crucial as investing in them globally. Consider this: In 2008, 595 children were born to teenage mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 in Massachusetts, according to a study by The Alan Guttmacher Institute, as reported by the Mass Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. Big Sister has been “lifting up” girls since 1951. We encourage girls to live up to their full potential by providing them with strong female mentors. These are women who most often are simply there to listen; the point at which Gibbs urges us to begin.

There is no doubt that whether it is in Malawi or right here in Boston, we need to increase the investment made in girls. That investment is one of time, of money, and of open ears, hearts, and minds when it comes to addressing the specific needs of girls. We can also encourage girls to invest in each other. That is the mission of Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation that Gibbs references in her article. If you are a Big Sister, we encourage you to visit http://www.girlup.org/with your Little Sister. Perhaps it will spark a conversation about girls supporting girls locally and globally…and get others to start talking about what it really means to invest in girls.

To read Time Magazine’s number one most emailed article, “To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls” click here.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

– Margaret Mead

For more information on how to become a Big Sister, apply on our website at http://www.bigsister.org or call 617.236.8060.

A girl like me

We have always worked to create mentoring experiences that affirm the many aspects of girls’ identities and our Big Sisters play an integral part in bringing this value to life!  They inspire girls to believe in, and value, themselves despite the false and unattainable standards of beauty and the low expectations of intellectual achievement so pervasive in the media and in our culture at large.

When a Big Sister celebrates her Little Sister’s interest in arts and crafts she is affirming her creative identity.  When she shows interest in her Little Sister’s ethnic and racial background this affirms her cultural identity. Spending time in her Little Sister’s neighborhood affirms her community identity.  These affirmations of Little Sisters’ many selves serve as armor against the negative influences that girls still endure today.  The depth of these negative influences is evident in the video, A Girl Like Me: color is more than skin deep for African-American girls struggling to define themselves.  In this short video clip you will hear girls speak candidly about the competing expectations they are managing from their family, friends and media about how they should look as African-American girls.

Research shows: gender matters

Gender matters. Big Sister has always known the important role that gender plays in mentoring, and now we have the research to prove it. More than 50 practitioners and funders gathered at Bank of New York Mellon on Friday, March 26, to hear nationally known researchers, Dr. Jean Rhodes of UMASS Donahue Institute, and Dr. Renee Spencer of Boston University’s School of Social Work, share the findings of their respective studies on the role of gender in mentoring. The event, Getting Results: Why Gender Matters in Mentoring, was hosted by Bank of New York Mellon and Big Sister Association of Greater Boston in partnership with The Girls’ Coalition of Greater Boston, and included a community dialogue facilitated by Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith.

Click here to read Mass Mentoring Partnership’s blog entry about the event!

Read more about Rhodes’ and Spencer’s research here.