I was privileged to spend some time with some gorgeous girls in Samoa last year. As my blog posting has been sporadic-at-best as of late, this has sat in my 'drafts' way too long!
In 2013 I was planning a family holiday to Samoa. As someone passionate about social justice, I like to ‘give back’ to the communities I live in and visit. I had helped organised an aid package to go to Samoa Victim Support Group previously, and I thought I may be able to offer a workshop to the girls at their residential shelter. Wellington-based charity SpinningTop connected me to their President Lina and we organised for me to provide a workshop for them.
What I Did
When we arrived in Apia I met with Lina at the SVSG offices and she gave me more background on their organisation. We discussed what I would be teaching the girls and I gave Lina a couple of boxes of supplies I had brought with me – Air NZ had kindly agreed to transport these for free. The boxes contained some donated stationery items, disposable sanitary pads donated by Kotex, as well as re-usable packs from Days For Girls NZ (containing underwear, cloth pads, and a wash cloth).
I spent a morning with approximately 30 girls - the girls were fantastic and really engaged, and the staff were very supportive. The girls were gorgeous, so full of smiles and laughter. They are survivors for whom I have the utmost of respect for. Lina had told me some of their stories, and these girls have all been on traumatic and heartbreaking journeys. Most of them are with SVSG because they are survivors of sexual violence, for many of them this is incest. Many of them have been pregnant as a result of this violence. Tragically in many cases these girls have been disowned and blamed for bringing shame on the family. SVSG provides safety, education and a home for these girls. SVSG also manages the legal process to bring justice for these children.
The girls had lots of questions and I felt like we could have spent a lot more time together. The level of knowledge and understanding of how their bodies work was very low. Most knew very little about the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and childbirth - despite there being pregnant girls and girls who had already birthed in the group. My (then 10 month old) daughter Nina accompanied me and I found that having her there was a good ‘icebreaker’ with the girls. The girls enjoyed chatting and playing with Nina as they warmed up to me. As it turned out Nina ended up sleeping in my front-pack for most of the morning as I taught - it was more than 30 degrees in the classroom so we were rather sweaty by the end of it!
I was a little taken aback when TV cameras arrived just as we were starting. They filmed the introductory part of my session and then in the middle of the session I was called out for an interview. I was a little anxious about this as had had no warning and I wasn't sure what angle they were going to take, but I kept it very neutral and emphasised the importance of all people having a good understanding of their bodies and sexuality. It came across well on the news that night.
I left SVSG feeling like what I had done that day with the girls was but a drop in the ocean. I felt like I had empowered the the girls with knowledge of their bodies, but also knew there was so much information we didn't cover. SVSG were hugely grateful for the workshop, but I wanted to do more. These girls really touched my heart. There is a huge need for ongoing body/sexuality education as well as antenatal education for the pregnant girls. SVSG has been on my mind a lot since.
Earlier this year SpinningTop approached me to see if I would be interested in offering a more comprehensive programme for the girls at SVSG. With SpinningTop's support, I am returning to provide a one-week programme in August 2014. I am currently fundraising for supplies (food, baby formula, educational supplies) for SVSG and am hugely appreciative of any donations. For more details on this project, please click here.
I have fond memories of my collection of childhood toys - wooden blocks, Big Ted, My Little Pony, the Cindy doll my parents bought me (instead of the Barbie I REALLY wanted), Lego, railway tracks... And nowadays I enjoy sometimes escaping into the imaginary world with my four-year-old boy and his collection of treasured toys. I read about the toys on offer for kids, I see kids playing with toys and the students I work with tell me about the toys that are and were important in their lives.
There is a lot of writing about the highly gendered and also sexualised nature of many childhood toys these days, but on Friday I suddenly realised that I could count on one hand the number of times I have been in a toy store since entering adulthood. Inspired by other writers, I decided it was time to hit the front-line. What was on offer for New Zealand children? Was it as bad as it was in the USA? (where much of the research I read comes from) And what are the 'good' options out there?
Armed with my camera, I entered our local toy store (one of a nationwide chain). And thus began an hour of walking up and down every aisle, taking note and photographing the good, the bad and the plain downright ridiculous.
Into 'GIRL ZONE'
Upon entering the store, the first thing I noticed was that there was an area labelled ‘Girl’s Zone’, but the only other zone to be labelled was 'Pre-school'. Is this because all the other toys in the store are designed for boys (the default ‘normal’), or is it that all the other toys are for both boys AND girls but this wee corner is for girls only?
I headed over to investigate further and was nearly blinded by the pink-ness.
First up, the Barbie display...
"Hmmm, who do I want to be today?"
I had high hopes for the Barbie 'I Can Be..." range. I recall as a child in the 1980s Barbie was a real 'girls can do anything' kinda gal, so I thought that surely by 2012, any remnants of that 1952 original passive doll would be well and truly banished. Unfortunately it seems that Barbie's career options in 2012 are very limited to what she can do whilst still wearing form-fitting lycra and/or heels. And the ubiquitous pink of course. There were five career options in the character dolls (see below) - I challenge anyone to find me any real-life professional woman whose wardrobe resembles any of these outfits?! And as someone who spent my teen years as a surf lifeguard, it sure as hell didn't resemble this Barbie scene. A friend was telling me recently that she had relented and had promised her daughter a Barbie as long as she could find one doing 'normal' things - such as snowboarder Barbie. There wasn't a snowboarder Barbie in this shop, but I can envisage her ensemble already...
And if you wanted to simply give your exisiting Barbie a new career, you had six different outfits to choose from. As you would never guess the occupations from their outfits, let me label them top to bottom, left to right:
Next to Barbie was the much criticised new line of Lego, designed especially for girls - the 'Friends' range. Their catch-phrase is "The Beauty of Building" - because we wouldn't want girls to forget for a moment that regardless of the activity, it always comes down to beauty, right?
Anyone for Disney Princess paraphernalia?
I personally dislike this range from Lego. I dislike the emphasis on beauty and I hate that the 'Friends' range have totally different bodies to the 'standard' range - they have boobs and makeup. There is no way one of the 'Friends' would EVER want to play with a standard Lego boy or girl! It's problematic that in creating a specific 'girls' range, by default the rest of the Lego range becomes a 'boys' range, thus limiting girls' options. And the narrow range of activities and colours offered to the girls drives me nuts. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to indicate that girls have a natural inclination towards pastel colours. Lego is just playing into the pinkification of girl-world that serves to further the gender gap amongst children and thus increase the profits of those marketing things to children.
Next up was the Disney Princess Zone. In a moment of marketing genius, this line was released in 2000 and now there are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items and many other companies have jumped on board to create Princess-mania in girl world. Lyn Mikel Brown, co-author of Packaging Girlhood, is concerned by the the sheer dominance of princess culture: “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice; it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”
As I continued to wander round 'Girl's Zone' I found more and more pink washing, and more and more toys with come-hither eyes and sexy poses. What really struck me was how much some of these toys had changed since I was a girl. In my day 'My Little Pony' was a sweet chubby thing with demure eyes. Her latest incarnation is decidedly sexy, curvy and oh, those eyes.
There were a few brands in 'Girl's Zone' that really stood out in a positive way:
Venturing out of 'Girl Zone', I headed towards the 'Pre-school' zone...
I was pleased to see the gender-neutral 'preschooler' sign, although interested in the offerings as many of the toys in the 'Girl's Zone' were aimed at the pre-school age group. This section gave the impression of being very gender-neutral, but upon closer inspection, many of the toys revealed themselves to be playing into tired gender stereotypes:
However, there were also some great non-gender-limiting options:
(No other 'zones' were labelled, so the following categories are ones that I have used)
Puzzles and games
Of all the different types of toys, I would have thought that this genre would have the least need to be gendered. Apparently not. I think the biggest issue with gendering things like this is that it strongly discourages cross-gender play. Unfortunately I feel that few four year old boys would want to play with the pinkified versions of these games. By then, for many boys the gender message has been well and truly absorbed.
A WINNER from Little Tikes! Gender neutral packaging PLUS an image of a boy and a girl playing together!
*calm down Rachel, keep in mind how ODD it is that this is so rare!*
Building and Science Sets
These were located in the area I think a child would describe as the 'Boys' Zone' (although there were no actual signs to indicate this). Alongside these sets seemed to be an overwhelming collection of toys based around themes of fighting and violence. As the mother of a little boy, I am disturbed by the messages these toys give him about what it means to be a man. I could not find a single toy in this area that depicted a boy or a man in a caring or nurturing role. Play is one way children learn about what it means to be an adult as they role-play with the toys provided to them. What are the consequences of raising a generation of boys whose understanding of manhood is based on ninjas, soldiers and Avengers?
My little adventure into the toy store was both depressing and comforting.
Depressing because of the overwhelming number of gender-limiting options out there. I imagined my four year old son Sol being let loose in that store to explore and admire the toys available to him. He would be confronted with SO MANY gender-limiting stereotypes. He would be presented with a very clear picture of what it is to be a girl, and what it is to be a boy. Both of these definitions are very narrow, and he would quickly realise it was high time he dumped all of his female friends.
I would label very few of the toys in this shop inherently "bad or "wrong", but it's the overwhelming message they present en masse, and also the stark reality of what is missing. I managed to find three images of girls and boys playing together IN THE WHOLE STORE. Research shows that cross-gender play in childhood increases the likelihood of more healthy romantic relationships in the teen years, yet it seems that marketers are doing all they can to prevent this.
Comforting because I realised that, if I searched hard enough I could find toys and games that were not gender-limiting. There are options out there for parents willing to take the time to find them. Some companies are still marketing their product to both genders, and although many had fallen into the highly-gendered trap, a number still offered a 'gender neutral' option alongside their gendered stuff. For this, I am heartened, and this quote comes to mind: "Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are." - James W. Frick
Childhood lasts for such a precious short time, let's not shorten this further by placing limitations on who and what our children can be. Let's not allow the financial motivations of toy companies have any part in how our children define themselves. Let's give our children the time and the space to explore and experience their world without being limited to what pop culture dictates is "right" for their gender.
Vulvas. There are billions of them out there, and they are a pretty diverse collection. I am no geneticist, but I would say there was as much diversity in vulvas as there is in fingerprints. And as long as women have had vulvas, in most cultures they have been covered in public hair. Until recently...
A few weeks ago I was visiting a Catholic all-girls’ high school. I had never been there before and I was meeting with the school counsellor and the Deputy Principal for the first time. They had come straight from the staffroom, where it sounded like a very lively discussion had been taking place. After we greeted each other the Deputy Principal said that before we started the meeting they would love my opinion on the topic the staff had been musing over during morning tea. Of course I said yes – very curious by this point!
“We are all trying to work out WHY none of our senior girls have pubic hair?”
(Apparently the topic had come up in a health class discussion).
And we are not talking about delayed puberty here. We’re talking about teen girls, and why it is the norm to have a vulva stripped of hair.
These days, many girls tell me about the immense pressure to look a particular way now extends to their vulva. It’s not enough to have perfect legs, a flat stomach and blemish-free skin – their vulva must also be bald.
Why indeed is a generation of teen girls finding themselves under immense pressure to wax or shave all their pubic hair? Because it certainly wasn’t like this 15 years ago when I was at high school. We’d shave our bikini line when necessary - just enough to ensure no stray hairs were visible when swimming. But if anyone had suggested getting rid of it all, I am sure we would have been appalled. In fact, I remember girls in my first year of high school proudly displaying their pubic hair growth – for us it was a sign of maturity, of leaving girlhood behind. Now it seems that as soon as pubic hair appears, girls are feeling the pressure to get rid of it so their vulvas resemble a prepubescent child.
I want to talk a little about pornography.
When I was at primary school, every so often we would hear the boys whispering about a Playboy magazine that one of them had found amongst their Dad’s secret stash. And one memorable day my friend and I were exploring and we came across a man stashing a whole pile of Penthouse magazines on the side of the road. We spied on him and after he left we grabbed them all, had a little giggle over the contents and handed them over to our parents. I am sure our parents would have preferred we hadn’t seen those magazines, but other than a fascinating glance at spread-eagled nude women, they were pretty unmemorable. A far-cry from the easily accessible plethora of porn available these day. This generation of youth are being exposed to explicit pornography in a way that generations before just were not. According to Big Porn Inc. "Pornography has become a global sex education handbook for many boys, with an estimated 70 per cent of boys in Australia having seen pornography by the age of 12 and 100 per cent by the age of 15." In one recent Canadian study of boys aged 13-14, more than a third viewed porn movies and DVDs “too many times to count”.
The impact of this early viewing of explicit porn on girls’ vulvas?
If boys are getting their primary sex education from pornography, their expectation is that vulva’s come in one model – hair-free. And if this is what the boys expect, many girls will comply. One teen girl commented that it wasn’t pressure from boys to wax - it was the pressure from her girlfriends. Teens are desperate to fit in – I know that should I have been a teen in this era, there would be no way I would have wanted to be the only girl in the changing rooms with pubic hair. Hair-free vulvas are now entirely the norm. In fact, a school that I used to teach in ran a full-page for Brazilian waxing in the school diary. This diary was distributed to all students, from Year 1 to Year 13. Imagine your five year old writing in their homework for the evening, right next to the “Home of the Brazilian” advertisement.
I have no problem with adult women doing whatever they want to their vulvas. Hey, if bejazzling your vajayjay is your thing, go for it. (Just don’t package it in terms of empowerment PLEASE!). My problem is also not with pornography - sexuality is to be celebrated and although 'ethical porn' is a pretty rare thing, it does exist.
The thing that really concerns me is that no part of a girls’ body now seems immune to the beauty pressure. The pressure starts so young and this is a ‘trend’ that is driven by a misogynistic porn culture seeping in to our everyday lives. It makes me sad to think of girls being so ashamed of their vulvas in their natural state.
I haven’t got a simple solution. Other than to talk talk talk with our children. They need to know that the pornography that they are likely to see (inadvertently or not) is not ‘real’. That is not what women look like, that is not how people experience loving relationships. Give girls the message that they are beautiful as they are, and teach both boys and girls the beauty in diversity.
Speaking of diversity, now it is possible to make your vagina whiter. Yep, vaginal bleaching. I have never really considered the colour of my genitals, but apparently it should be another thing to add to my list of "women's worries". This post by Moata reiterates my feelings well!
Diva is a budget Australian jewellery company popular with young girls - their ranges include Winnie the Pooh charm bracelets, Disney Princess pendants and Cute Cupcakes Best Friends necklaces. Recently they launched a range of Playboy jewellery - necklaces, rings, bowties, earrings – all come adorned with the popular Playboy bunny symbol. Suddenly Diva’s shop windows were plastered with Hugh Heffner’s porn symbol .
Australian bloggers, activists, media commentators, TV and newspapers erupted in anger and controversy over Diva’s Playboy paraphernalia.
Collective Shout explains Playboy’s marketing strategy:
Playboy has succeeded in embedding its bunny logo on pencil cases, bed linen, cosmetics, jewellery, wallets, slippers and key chains, normalizing and sanitizing the Playboy insignia to children and young people. Playboy deliberately markets its brand to girls as cool fashion chic. Diva has become a willing participant in pimping the brand and its values to its young customers. Many of the Playboy products the company sells are decorated with sparkling diamantes or are in the shape of love hearts. There are ‘Playmate’ pendants and Playmate of the month necklaces (‘Miss January’, ‘Miss February’ etc), which invite girls to think of themselves as porn stars. One necklace depicts a Playboy bunny from her backside down. Her upper body, including her head, is missing.
No longer merely a ‘soft-porn’ magazine, Playboy is now a billion dollar global brand profiting from the exploitation and subordination of women. Playboy Enterprises pornographic film titles include “Cum Drinking Sluts”, “Barely 18 Anal Virgins”, “Fresh Juicy Lolitas”, “Double Entry”, “Wait your turn, bitch!” These films and others depict women enduring body punishing and violent sexual acts for men’s sexual pleasure. Diva pretends this doesn’t matter.
The Diva Facebook wall was overwhelmed with passionate arguments from both sides of the case. I want to share with you Dannielle Miller's case for what Playboy really means.
1. Playboy is not harmless, mainstream fun. It is not a cute little bunny.
2. Playboy is Hugh Hefner. He is 85. He lives in the Playboy mansion with his girlfriends, all at the same time. It’s not so much that he could be their father, more like their grandfather. Or great-grandfather. He ain’t that cool really, is he?
3. Playboy isn’t harmless or soft porn. As Collective Shout notes, some of Playboy’s films “depict women enduring body punishing and violent sexual acts for men’s sexual pleasure”. Some of their films have titles that are sickeningly degrading of teen girls and women... It is clear from the titles alone that this brand sells material that denigrates women and treats them as objects.
4. Criticism of Playboy isn’t a new thing. Writer and feminist Gloria Steinem exposed the truth of the Playboy Bunny’s life when she wrote a magazine article after going undercover to work at the Playboy Club almost 50 years ago. It wasn’t glamorous. It was badly paid, exploitative and denigrating. She pretended to the woman interviewing her for the bunny job that she had been a secretary. The interviewer looked at her and said, “Honey, if you can type, why would you want to work here?”
5. Playboy is not about women expressing their sexuality. It’s not about liberation. It’s about making money from women’s bodies. This marketing line on the Playboy site sums it up, really: “Get all these girls for 1 low price!”
I lent my support to the various Australian individuals and groups voicing outrage and I signed Collective Shout’s petition for Diva to remove their Playboy range. I visited Diva’s Facebook page and voiced my dismay. As far as I was aware, Diva was an Australian company selling products in Australia and I wanted to support my Australian colleagues in their protest. Not a word about Diva was mentioned in the New Zealand media, or by any New Zealand blogger or commentator.
Imagine my shock when walking down Wellington's Lambton Quay at lunchtime to be greeted by this sight:
Yes, Diva and their Playboy bling are alive and well in New Zealand with 21 stores across the country. These are some products from their New Zealand website:
It suddenly struck me: I had heard the Australian voices loud and clear – but where are the New Zealand voices standing up for New Zealand girls? Is it OK that Hugh Heffner’s failing porn company is being propped up by kiwi girls, some not even in their teens? What does a father say when their 10-year-old daughter delightedly shows them the new Playboy bowtie they bought at Diva with their pocket money? Do we want a company that exploits and degrades women to be developing brand loyalty in our little girls? I say no. Anyone else with me?
**NB: I am not anti-porn or anti-sex - I am anti-exploitation. I welcome comments and love to debate, but will cheerfully delete any comments that make personal attacks on anyone. Check out my comments policy if you need clarification.
A couple of months ago Universal Royalty announced that they were heading to Australia. That's right, the company of 'Toddlers and Tiaras' fame decided that Australia needed to glitz up their kids, and they were the people to help!
But there was a strong voice of opposition in Australia, and many voiced outrage at the proposal. Catherine Manning founded Pull The Pin and rallies were held all around Australia to draw attention to the pageants and the the harm they cause. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have backed calls for child beauty pageants to be banned, saying they encourage the sexualisation of children and can cause developmental harm. The chair of the college stated "We're giving these kids messages that how they appear, how they perform and standards about what they're to come up to is actually more important than what they're like inside."
Catherine is an Enlighten Education colleague of mine, and last week when Universal Royalty announced they were also New Zealand-bound, Catherine asked me to coordinate the Pull The Pin campaign in New Zealand. I felt honoured to be asked, and set up the Pull The Pin NZ facebook page.
We are campaigning to end all child beauty pageants in New Zealand. It is our view that pitting young girls against each other in a competition based on physical beauty is potentially harmful to their development, and can lead to lowered self esteem and other conditions including eating disorders and depression. We are also concerned with the adultification and sometimes sexualisation of pageant entrants, and their engagement in adult cosmetic treatments such as waxing and spray tanning. We are calling on the government to legislate to stop parents and pageant organisers from exploiting children by enforcing age restrictions on beauty pageants and adult cosmetic procedures (unless for medical reasons).
We will be co-ordinating public rallies once we have more information on when and where these pageants will be held.
It's been fantastic receiving so much support on this issue - it is definitely a topic that many New Zealanders feel strongly about!
New Zealand media coverage over the last couple of days:
Enlighten Education's CEO Danielle Miller was interviewed this morning about the sexualisation of girls and the effect that child beauty pageants have:
And if you needed any more convincing that these pageants are NOT something we want to become a part of kiwi culture, check out this video featuring Universal Royalty's Eden Wood:
'I think [Liz Hurley] will be thrilled by the endorsement'
Dear John Key,
My team and I at Enlighten Education support girls to understand that it's NOT all about who is hot and who is not, that it's NOT all about who is the sexiest and who is not.
But John, your comments recently tell us that it IS all about being hot. Did you really need to publicly mull over which women would make it on to your hot 'wish list'? You have succumbed to the media's preoccupation with women as body parts, women as sex objects whose bodies are there to please males. How about a media conversation focussing on the top female scientists, the top female educators, the top female writers, the top female business leaders?
I would never lambast men for having a private 'hot' discussion. But John, as the prime minister, what you say and how you act publicly has greater repercussions. I understand that you are trying to appeal to the 'average kiwi bloke', but in doing so you have lowered yourself to the lowest common denominator. You are providing fantastic fodder for the media, further objectifying women.
I look forward to further 'high achiever' lists, this time not based on 'hotness' please.
I will start it off - congratulations to 17 year old Jamie Fenton who has just been awarded Young New Zealander of The Year for her all-round abilities as a youth role model, academic achiever and inventor. Amazing girl, fantastic achievements!
*Postscript: The fact that John Key's original conversation took place live on air with a man who hopitalised his partner in a domestic violence incident (fracturing her back) makes this talk about women all the more inappropriate.
It’s been a fascinating few days since I was alerted to the breasts marketing campaign and wrote my original blog post. This was picked up by the media and I appeared on current affairs show Close Up on Friday evening, debating NZgirl’s founder Jenene Freer.
As my first TV experience, I would say it was definitely trial by fire! It was certainly set up as a heated debate, rather than an ‘interview’ per se, and the fact that it was live to air made it a pretty intense experience. People have vehemently criticised both of us for interrupting each other, but I feel the producers had intended it to be this way so have stuck up for Jenene here. Jenene and I shook hands afterwards and she was very gracious. She said to me afterwards that on many things we were probably on the same page. I agreed with her, and certainly regarding breast cancer, we both would love for no woman to suffer this dreadful disease. What we disagree on is the level of harm caused that is an acceptable level in order to raise ‘awareness’ or money.
Who has this campaign harmed?
• The women and their families who uploaded naked breast photos that now feature on countless explicit porn sites. These women have no control over this image, or what has happened to it.
• The many women and girls for whom a happy, healthy body image and strong self esteem is a challenge. The site clearly shows whose breasts are the most popular, and these are the breasts that conform to that narrow version of beauty pedalled by the media.
• The many breast cancer survivors for whom “a lovely pair” campaign is just a blatant reminder of what they have not got. I have been overwhelmed by the poignant messages from many of these women. Kate has written a very touching post on this.
I know that many people support NZgirl's campaign, and I know that many women have felt empowered and positive about it. That is good for them and I am not speaking for those women. I am speaking out for the many people who have been humiliated, exploited, degraded and offended by this campaign.
Jenene Freer is a smart woman, she has achieved huge things in the business world and I really respect her for what she has achieved. Among other things, she is a director of an internet advertising company – she knows how to get websites making money. And no one can deny this marketing campaign has been a resounding success. Freer will be well aware of the HUGE impact this will have had on her advertising revenue – it will more than cover their maximum $5000 donation. And going forward, she can use these viewing stats to further convince advertisers to join them. Freer yesterday stated that "And just in case anyone wonders, and to clear up the "marketing ploy", I will never enter this into any marketing awards." So, companies only run marketing campaigns to win awards? Funny that, I understood that marketing campaigns were about increasing revenue.
NZgirl are making way too much money out of this campaign, I can see that it would be financial madness for them to take it down. So I am not holding out hope for that. But I am relieved that they have responded to some of the criticisms and added a lot more information to their site with regards to breast cancer awareness, moderating images and about the implications of sharing information on the internet. It’s still too little, too late.
It’s been quite a journey over the past few days and tomorrow morning I need to get back focussed on my work projects and my family. For those of you that sent abusive whacko messages, you have provided great entertainment. For those of you that have argued fairly against me, I respect you for making a stand for what you believe in. And for all you wonderful fantabulous people from all round the world who sent me countless messages of support and encouragement, you rock my world. The passion and outrage has been so powerful and I am proud to have been a part of the voice. Onwards and upwards!
** 8 Dec Update: NZGirl have been forced to clarify one of the un-truths stated in the Close Up interview. They put this on their Facebook wall yesterday:
"The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation have requested we clarify any reader confusion and state that the ‘lovely pair’ campaign is in no way supported or endorsed by The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation."
Close Up followed up with this article.
Freer has continued to deny it, as evidenced in her comment below. I provided the exact transcript and find it sad that she wants to continue the lie.
There was widespread discussion about the ''I like..." Facebook craze last month. While I felt that this campaign sexualised breast cancer in a weird kinda way, NZ Girl's latest campaign has left me (nearly) speechless. Viewers are invited to "get your tits out for the girls!... and don't forget to check out the other lovely pairs, beautiful boobs and pretty titties already uploaded."
For every 50 pairs of "titties" uploaded by viewers, NZGirl will donate $1000 to breast cancer awareness. This campaign began yesterday and already there is a gallery of over 49 pairs of breasts to peruse, rank and comment on.
Hmm, a gallery of "titties" ranked according to popularity and the ability for me to leave comments about them. How exactly is this different to a crude pornography site?
NZGirl is exploiting women and girls in order to drive traffic to their website. It is making light of an horrific disease in order to gain popularity. It is belittling the experience of breast cancer sufferers, many of whom are left scarred or who have had to have their breasts removed. But in marketing terms, this campaign has been a resounding success - over 25,000 people visited the site this morning, crashing it.
Boganette has written a great post on why NZGirl's campaign is oh-so-wrong: "Celebrate breasts, of course. But don't do it in the name of breast cancer. Breast cancer isn't about breasts. It's not something you should have a laugh about on Twitter. It's not something you should joke about on Facebook. It shouldn't be a reason for posting photos of your breasts or flashing them or 'getting them out'... Breast cancer is a horrible, miserable, horrifying disease - that's it. It's cancer - it's not motivation for you to be happy with your body."
I hate the pretty-fying of breast cancer. The sexy-fying of breast cancer. Breast cancer is not sexy images of pert wee breasts. If you want to see the realities of breast cancer, check out The Scar Project. It's raw and it's real. There is nothing funny about it.
According to Stuff: NZgirl editor and general manager Tee Twyford said the campaign wasn't about driving traffic to their site, but about raising awareness. "The reason for it was twofold. There was a desire to have readers feel really good about their breasts and we wanted to align it with a breast cancer cause to get greater awareness and funding," Twyford said.
So, according to Tee Twyford, women need to share photos of their breasts with the world in order to feel good about themselves. We all need to seek external validation to make sure that our breasts are up to scratch, that they're OK. Dear Tee, please explain how being in the lower half of the rankings is going to help 50% of those women feel good about their breasts? Because Tee, in a rankings system, there is always a loser. And for the 'winners' in the top half of the rankings, are they supposed to feel great about themselves because a whole bunch of strangers have critiqued their breasts and given them a thumbs-up?
Tee Twyford, I am not going to send your website a photo of my breasts. They are beautiful and I love them. But I don't need NZGirl to rank them and I don't need strangers to give me their comments about them. Because those strangers don't know that my breasts and I have been through lots together. Those strangers don't know or care that my breasts fed my baby and that I love them in all their uneven, stretch-marky, increasingly-less-pert glory. Or that it took me quite some time to learn to love them.
Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, many of the breast photos that have been uploaded seem to be of teenagers. Through Enlighten Education I work with teen girls throughout New Zealand. I often have tears of sadness when talking with them about the immense pressures they face with regards to their body. New Zealand's rates of eating disorders and depression amongst teenagers are skyrocketing. Just yesterday I spent a morning with 150 gorgeous year 10 girls who all told me that they felt that they were not beautiful enough, not skinny enough and not perfect enough. It is campaigns such this one that add to the overwhelming pressure and sense for girls that they are just not enough. As soon as I have posted this I am going to email Tee Twyford to invite her to sit in on one of these sessions. Perhaps then she would realise the effects that such media campaigns have on our girls.
Once photos are uploaded on to the internet, the owners cease to have any control over how they are used. To assume that these photos will not be used for pornographic purposes is naive. We teach girls to never upload compromising photos of themselves - why is a (previously) respected website encouraging them to do exactly this?
Women, why are we doing this to each other? Are men rushing to upload photos of their penis to raise money for "cancer awareness"?
NZGirl, if your motivation really is to raise money for breast cancer research I can think of a million more positive ways to do this. Even simpler: if you really want to donate to a good cause, just get out your credit card and donate. Simple.
This video gives such a powerful message in such a simple way.
Reading the Sunday newspaper over a coffee is an indulgence I absolutely love. Not being an avid sports fan, I usually give the sports section a miss. But last Sunday I picked up the Sunday Star Times sports section, because one of the issues I discuss with girls through my work with Enlighten Education is how the media portray women in sport. I had read research on the media’s treatment of women’s sport but I was optimistic that surely the situation couldn’t be quite that bad.
So I opened the 16-page sports section and started flicking through. Men’s rugby, men’s soccer, men’s rugby, men racing cars, men’s rugby, boys’ soccer, men’s rugby. “Where are the women?! ” I spluttered loudly, spilling my coffee in indignation. Finally – page 14, women got a full-page devoted to them. Yes, a full page feature article on the US Open Women’s Tennis.
But don’t start celebrating - the headline?
And beneath the atrocious headline? Photos of five of the top women in the US Open, followed by a one-word description - go on; I invite you read this out loud using your best Grammy awards nominee voice:
I soon realised that Ivanovic was not awarded the Contestant title for her tennis prowess – oh no:
“Who’s the prettiest?” she says, buttering a roll, her slim wrist holding up a Rolex watch the size of a child’s fist. “Who’s the most popular, the most fashionable, who’s getting the most coverage?” She smiles sorrowfully to acknowledge that, when it comes to these contests, she tends to do quite well.”
Ivanovic wins the ‘Contestant’ award because she is winning the beauty and popularity contests.
The Bitchiness award seems to have stemmed from Elena Baltacha's comment:
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to start a fight, but if I feel someone has done or said something on purpose, then I will react. I wouldn’t just take it, I would defend myself.”
One comment seems justification enough to generalise a whole derogatory personality trait.
After being described as a “truculent teen”, Jelena Jankovic is awarded the ‘Entertainer’ trophy after stating:
“We are entertainers, as well, on court, in our own sporty way... We entertain the fans, they pay money to watch us play. It’s nice to see girls who are feminine, who dress nice. Maybe in the past there were only a couple of players like that, but now players pay more attention to it. I was one of those painting my nails different colours and matching them to my dress. If you are in a nice dress you can play better, feel better. More comfortable and confident”.
This statement sounds as though it comes straight off a Sporty Bratz doll packaging.
Despite being the number one seed for this event, Caroline Wozniacki gets only the briefest of mentions:
“Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki... is one of the nicest in the top 10”.
Because really, what interest would there be in a ‘nice’ tennis player when there are beauties and bitches to discuss? None whatsoever it seems.
And Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova obviously doesn’t live up to the sexiness-factor necessary for women to play in the US Open, taking out the ‘Soviet Tank’ award.
To further my dismay, this derogatory and juvenile article was written by a woman. Numerous quotes are scattered throughout this Sunday Star Times article that portray the women as simpering bimbo fashionista bitches. Strangely enough, despite not once mentioning anything about any talent any of the tennis players have, the journalist at times seems to be trying to take a feminist perspective regarding the discrimination that abounds in the women’s tennis circuit. Although she clarifies that the issue is definitely “not the most pressing in feminism today.” In her poem ‘Sisterhood’, Kate Wilson makes the point that it is often women who are propagating the sexualisation and objectification of women.
The journalist’s claim that most of the world’s top female tennis players consider their on-court fashion their primary source of "empowerment" is a ridiculous statement. What research is she basing this on? Whether it’s “brilliant exploitation of a sexist media” or “a complete sellout” this journalist is part of it.
The article portrays the world’s top tennis players as if they were Bratz dolls, characters in an imaginary world of bling and beauty, the tennis a mere hobby on the side. In fact, I checked in on the Bratz website this morning, and realised that The Sunday Star Times article was just a grown-up version of Bratz Chatz. Let me share with you this morning’s inspiring Bratz Chatz:
(Note to the uninitiated: Bratz dolls are marketed at girls age 2 – 11. There are five scantily clad, heavily made-up Bratz dolls, each with their own ‘personality’ and “passion for fashion”. This is the chat that occurred between the doll characters this morning)
Sasha: Dancing is sooo much easier for me than sports. I love watching Cloe play [tennis] but it is so hard for me in gym. I have to sing to get through it!
Jade: Yeah, I would much rather watch sports than play them but I get plenty of exercise walking around the mall every weekend, lol!
Yasmin: Cloe convinced me to play tennis with her and I totally fell in front of Cloe’s very cute coach. I don’t know how she focuses on the game!
Cloe: See? Good things come to those who work out! Btw, Yas was much better at tennis than she lets on. She’s got a mega strong serve.
Sasha: Enough about the game! Who’s this new coach?? I think it’s time to set up a group hang for Cloe’s next match so we can scope out the guy!
Cloe: Everybody chill! My tennis coach is awesome, he’s on the team at school, and we are JUST FRIENDS!! But I wouldn’t mind a cute outfit to wear, tee hee.
Jade: Totally! And I’ll make her a new outfit because the last time I watched her play she was in ratty old sweats. So NOT cute!
Yasmin: Ooh, I smell a makeover in the air! Not that our pal needs a makeover, since she’s cute enough on her own. Just a cool new look.
So our young girls play make believe with sexy fashionista bimbos, and the media continues the conversation for our real life tennis heroes.
Thank you Sunday Star Times, you made my search for discriminatory reporting of sport far too easy and time-efficient. I am horrified that it is 2010 and demeaning and offensive drivel like this is the only mention of sportswomen in New Zealand’s biggest newspaper of the week. I am heartened only by the fact that it was not a New Zealand journalist. Yet why the need to import this from the UK?
I hope you will join me in emailing your dismay to the Sunday Star Times editor - email@example.com.
(Note: I was unable to access a free version of this article that was written online, but it appears to be an edited version of an article that appeared in the Guardian UK on 19/06/10.)
And while you are here check out this fantastic poem that covers a number of points raised in this post, and gives a call to action to all women:
This is an extraordinarily powerful poetry performance by Katie Makkai defining the word "pretty", and the pressures faced by girls and women to define themselves by a narrow definition of "pretty".
I love that it is calling for change and that it is raising awareness of the messages that mothers (and women in general) are passing on to their daughters. And the call to action at the end, a vow to her own 'someday- daughter' gave me goosebumps and tears.
I invite you to watch the video below.
Dressed in a slinky red evening gown with long blonde hair, lengthy dark eye-lashes, sultry eyes and immaculate make up, Sasha Bennington looks every bit the glamour model ready to strut down the catwalk or pose for a fashion magazine cover. But Sasha is eleven; strip away the makeup and the sexy clothes, she is a little girl lost.
Following on from Tuesday's 'Baby Beauty Queens' on 60 Minutes, last night 20/20 featured young Sasha and her family (from Manchester, UK). They were interviewed about Sasha’s “career” and their aspirations for her. It was a disturbing episode. With hundreds of dollars spent on her beauty regime every month, Sasha’s mother dreams of her daughter's future celebrity status – “I want Sasha to get every opportunity she can”. She seems to pay her daughter the ultimate compliment as she describes her looking “like one of those little Cindy dolls you play with”.
After Sasha's mother described her daughter as confident and talented, when asked to describe herself, Sasha says “Three words to describe myself? – pretty, blonde, dumb... I am stupid”, followed by inane laughing of mother and daughter. Sasha later points out that “I don’t need a brain”.
I acknowledge that such “current events” TV shows do often highlight the freaks and absurdities in our society, and I predict that the overwhelming majority of people who viewed this in NZ last night would share my views. Examples such as Sasha Bennington are the extreme: However, for many girls and young women growing up today, there is a similar pressure to achieve the looks and body of the models that surround us in magazines, TVs and billboards.
It seems in many circles, the backlash against beauty contests, begun by the feminists in the 70s has well and truly turned full-circle. With our society obsessed with reality TV shows, offering the average punter their chance of “fame” and “making it”, is it any wonder that we are now seeing a resurgence in the popularity of beauty contests? For parents, they are the ideal training ground for such shows as Next Top Model, Idol etc. Sasha's take on it: “Like, 20 years ago, people cared about careers and stuff, but now it’s what you look like”.
Such child beauty contests have not made it to NZ (that I am aware of), but a part of me thinks it is only a matter of time. I hope I am wrong.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart”. Child beauty pageants and all that surround them kill that light in the heart.
I was recently at a ‘style workshop’ and had been volunteered as one of the models to be 'made up' in front of an audience of business women – the goal was for me to be prepared (hair, makeup, clothes...) for a photographer to take some professional photos of me. I don’t consider myself very ‘stylish’ so it was a real treat!
The presenter discussed having professional photos taken and the process of getting ready for them. She then added that with the wonders of photoshop, anything that wasn’t perfect could be fixed up. Until that moment, I hadn't ever considered photoshopping my own image. It was something that was done to celebrities and models. As I sat on the stage and looked at my image in the mirror, I suddenly saw the bags under the eyes, the crooked eyebrow... Hmmmm.
The high-profile presenter was 50-ish, but joked that with the wonders of photoshop, she hadn’t really aged in the past 10 years and acknowledged that her publicity photos are a far cry from herself in ‘real life’. It got me thinking.
Do you have your image photoshopped? Why or why not?
(PS: I have not ever had photos of me digitally altered. The main photo on my homepage is me complete with my smile-lines, forehead-creases and spots. But these are what make me, me. I have a red spot above my left eye which appeared in the first month of my pregnancy with my son (which resembles a pimple permanently threatening to break out... charming). It bugged me at first and I was assured it was hormonal and would disappear after the birth. Three years on, it has shown no sign of departing: but I like it. It is another mark on the journey of my life.)
We have mothers’ day, we have grandparents’ day, we have children’s day and we have teachers’ day. The proliferation of such days does get me a little cynical at times, but asides from the commercial aspect; they are all positive, loving days designed to honour a group in our community.
This Friday we have ‘Hug-a-Ginga’ day, which seems to me to be to be a radio station’s big marketing stunt. Not being a commercial radio station listener, or a red-head, I hadn’t given much attention to this day in previous years. But this year the ‘Hug-a-Ginga’ concept has attracted a bigger debate, and this got me thinking.
To me, ‘Hug-a-Anybody’ day gives the notion that this group is not used to being hugged, that on this one day of the year we should try and extend some charity and bless them with our sympathy. Transpose ‘ginga’ with any of the following: Pakeha, Maori, Fattie, Asian, Gay... you see my point.
Is 'gingerism' the last acceptable prejudice?
My adult red-headed friends take this day in good nature and play along and enjoy the comedy aspect and the extra attention. And I think this was probably how the day was intended to be ‘celebrated’. But my concern is for children. Red-headed kids cop more than their fair share of teasing as it is. Children ostracise those with differences and it is made worse when adults (indeed, media celebrities) are sanctioning and encouraging this bullying.
This Friday, red-headed kids will have to play along with the ‘Hug-a-Ginga’ concept, or risk being further ostracised. I personally would feel violated if someone hugged me uninvited out of pity and charity. (And in schools, I can’t imagine many of these ‘Hug-a-Ginga’ acts will come from a position of love). With a bullying culture a real problem in most of our schools and a horrific youth suicide rate, is the promotion of prejudice based on genetics and the promotion of bullying based on hair colour really something to celebrate?
Thanks to Dannielle Miller for pointing me to this video. A powerful statement on the media's portrayal of women. It sent chills down my spine and tears to my eyes.
It’s not often (ever?!) that I am heard uttering the words “Good on you Britney”, but today, I think Britney Spears has done good. She agreed to let the UK's Daily Mail release un-airbrushed images of herself next to the digitally-altered versions. They say "the 29-year-old singer made the extraordinary move in order to highlight the pressure exerted on women to look perfect".
I spent some time looking at these photos, comparing the 'before' and 'after' shots and am amazed at how extensively every blemish and "not perfect" aspect is corrected. The dry skin is covered, the bruises are banished. Even Brit's muscles have been smoothed over and 'minimised', and the *ahem* 'camel toe' dealt to. With glossy magazines and bill boards taunting women with impossible beauty it is great to actually see the full extent of how we are being deceived by the use of digital enhancement.
On a conscious level, I know that most magazine and advertisements featuring scantily clad women are airbrushed. On a subconscious level, I still find myself marvelling at the petite bottoms, incredibly long legs and flawless bellies.
I am long past aiming for such “flawless perfection” and have even come to love my belly that always has and always will have a slightly-pregnant pose to it. But as a teenager facing these billboards and glossy pictures, I remember having such a distorted view of my body. At 14, I went bikini shopping and spent hours in front of shop mirrors in countless numbers of size 8 bikinis grabbing every piece of “fat” (read: skin fold), only to finally conclude that I was definitely too fat to wear a bikini and went home empty handed. It makes me sad to think that I, age 14, incredibly fit and swim training up to 16 hours a week, was so sucked in by the media portrayal of ‘beauty’ to think of myself as too fat to wear a bikini. (But it also makes me smile when I throw on my a-few-sizes-bigger-than-an-8 bikini now!)
My heart goes out to the girls growing up now, in a society so much more saturated by mass media and commercialism than it was in my childhood. Countless studies have shown a direct link between the media’s portrayal of beauty and body image disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. These disorders are increasing at a disturbing rate. We need to get real about the unrealistic images of “beauty” that are so prevalent in the media.
So I thank you Britney for showing the world that in fact you do have dimply thighs. You don’t have a concave belly or shiny skin and you even get bruises on your legs like the rest of us. I hope more celeb’s follow suit. In fact, I hope this starts the tide of people demanding that we see REAL people in our magazines and advertisements. Getting rid of digital enhancement is an unrealistic request, but what I want to see alongside all future airbrushed images is a statement like this:
“This woman’s body has been digitally enhanced. She really has dimply thighs, a cute sticky-outy belly and a small scar on her knee, but we were worried you wouldn’t buy our product if you saw those humanising features”
Rachel is a writer and educator whose fields of interest include sexuality education, gender, feminism and youth development.