“Girls are not toys but humans, and they deserve
to be respected and not stared at.”
Girls today are creating their own empowerment movement that is less commercial and more substantial than the “grrl power” of my youth. September 22, 2011 marks the first Day of the Girl (and the first post on this blog). I have recently been concerned about the hostile environment created by way-too-sexy fashions for young girls. But thankfully, there are young women out there who see through that and other harmful trends, and want to feel empowered. They also want to empower their sisters around the world.
Consider the overdue conversation about Toddlers & Tiaras taking place in the popular media that alerted me to the public discourse on the sexualization of young girls. This spring, the Sex Roles journal published an analysis by a Kenyon College research team that examined sexualizing characteristics in young girls’ clothing. Not surprisingly, the team concluded that 29% of clothes for young girls at popular children’s clothing stores “emphasized a sexualized body part, had characteristics associated with sexiness, and/or had sexually suggestive writing.”
Why is this such a big deal? Because little girls who may look cute in an all-grown-up outfit are susceptible to negative repercussions in their “cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitudes and beliefs.” More specifically, “research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood.” A few books emerged over the last couple years aiming to help parents deal with the issue, including M. Gigi Durham’s The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It and Diane Levins’ So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect their Kids. Levin will be in Madison today to speak to parents and community members. Parents play an important role in informing their children on the impact of clothing choices and the effect their favorite commercialized characters have on them, but girls can also educate each other.
The Day of the Girl allows many girls — the same girls who face sexualizing clothing in stores, on their peers, and possibly in their closets — to take an active role in their community and in their identity. The girls involved in the movement “want the freedom to be ourselves, and to be treated as equals, regardless of sex. … We want a National Day of the Girl to explore gender discrimination and advocate for equality for every girl in the world.” The event website has a powerful speech by Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues creator), information about 12 different issues that affect girls throughout the world, and ways for girls — and anyone — to gain awareness and get involved. My favorite part is the “Girl-caught” sticker project which teaches girls to identify harmful and/or unrealistic depictions of women in the media and “catch” them in the act of disrespecting women.
From what I gather on the website, the movement is still striving to gain national recognition and a substantial following. But now there is an international forum for girls to speak up on issues that matter to them. The more empowered participating (or observing) girls feel, the better for their futures and ours. I hope this is the first of many days, weeks, and years of lasting, girl-driven empowerment.