Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Fear for my Generation

It’s typically stated that the current generation of young people, spotlighting adolescents, is ignorant and self-absorbed. It’s a long, winding list of absolutes- that all kids are addicted to their cell phones; that American students don’t study nearly as much as their international counterparts; that they don’t realize all of the social progress that has allowed them to live their lives the way they currently do.

I always tried to ignore this prevalent viewpoint. How could it even be uttered? Many of my friends are caring, wonderful young people. I have one that builds houses in an impoverished area of West Virginia each summer, and another who’s seventeen and has volunteered at her local congresswoman’s office for four years. We’re the kids who invite the kids deemed pariahs to sit with us at lunch. I’m not claiming we’re perfect, of course, but I think that we are good people. And how about all of the lovely, brilliant young teenage bloggers? Julie at The F-Bomb, Danielle at Experimentations of a Teenage Feminists, and Talia at Star of Davida are just a few examples. These girls are taking the time to eloquently express their opinions in a public forum, creating a community for other like-minded people. I’ve never seen an ad hominem attack done on any of these blogs, which is far more than could be said for many adult pundits.

But my last few weeks in the start of school have made me feel that all of the ignorance and apathy associated with my generation might be right on the mark.

Take the conversation I was a part of at an athletic team gathering. A friend and I were sitting on the couch next to a bunch of very recent high school freshmen, who were discussing various females in their grade, branding them as “sluts,” “weird,” etc. It was very The Plastics in Mean Girls. One of the girls there mentioned that she was frequently called a slut, and everyone shouted, “OMG! You’re totally not! Not like [insert name here]!” (I wish I was hyperbolizing.) I tried to profess that your worth can’t be defined by your sexual activity- whether devised on the grapevine or actual- but everyone just kind of looked at me. Anyway. One girl, now Girl A, switched the topic to how Goth was weird. “My dad said that if I ever become a Goth, he’ll send me to female military school.” Alright. A bit weird, definitely. But then Girl B interjected, “Oh, yeah, that’s like when parents send their gay kids to straight school.”


I cleared my throat. “Um, hey Girl B, that kind of doesn’t make any sense at all. What do you mean?” [Fake giggle.]

“Oh, there are lots of them. And they, like, work, too. Because when the kids come out they were gay before and now they’re straight.”

“But… that makes no sense. If you’re gay, that’s it.”

She looked at me like I was completely insane, and then the conversation switched to which belly button rings each of these fourteen-year-olds planned to get when they turned eighteen.

Oh dear.


This story’s off the middle school rumor mill, courtesy of my little brother.

Most people have heard the rather annoying phrase, “Cool story, bro. You should tell it at parties.” It’s now printed on lacrosse pinnies across the country. But my brother told me about a shirt one of his thirteen-year-old male compatriots wore to school, reading, “Cool story, babe. Now make me a sandwich.”

I was legitamitely speechless.

My brother said that when a teacher saw it, she supposedly lectured him in front of the whole class, “but not like yelling at him. He wasn’t in trouble. But asking him if he even knew what it was saying.” (I knew I trained him well.) Obviously, I think that this was the right thing, if not the awesome thing, for her to do.

But really? Thirteen’s a bit young for blatant sexism.


The list goes on and on. Another shining moment is when teammate relayed to me that a kid in her Global History II class asked the teacher, “If you’re Lesbanese, are you automatically a lesbian?” “I just knew that would make you mad,” she said. And she was right.

Why does this make me so mad? Because these kids are SO young. They already have these close-minded views in their heads. I know the last generation was all Free-to-Be-You-and-Me, but I think my generation may have missed some of that acceptance. Our world is progressing so much socially. These kids could have any opinions they want. If this is what they really think, then that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.

But… how many thirteen year old guys buy their own shirts? I can’t say very many guys I knew bought their own clothes before high school. I would strongly suggest that this kid’s mom bought him the offending clothing article. What the Hell is that teaching him about how to treat women? And my teammates- it’s one thing to have self-expression stilted by threat to boarding school, but another entirely to say that being gay isn’t a part of one’s intrinsic identity. I can’t help but think that parents influenced this too. In the media this is becoming a far less portrayed view (I mean, Glee, right?) But if kids’ parents are stuffing them with archaic opinions, how much can we blame these kids for their ignorance?

And yeah, maybe I’m guilty of this too. I try as hard as I can to be open- stuck 100% in liberalism is just as bad as being stuck 100% anywhere else. My parents’ opinions on issues such as these wasn’t particularly strong in my childhood, for which I’m glad, because I’m confident that I formed opinions that are right for me personally at this time in my life. But how can my generation achieve social progress when bogged down with no room to think for themselves?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Observations in Target: Mass Marketing and Young Females

"Mom, look! That's Rocky and CeCe, from Shake it Up! Can I pleeeeease get one of their clothes?" She stands on tiptoe to reach the higher shelf, and points to a t-shirt with an attached pinstriped vest. "I like that one!" I wonder if she notices that it's almost identical to the one CeCe is wearing in the poster above the rack of clothes.

My post- elementary school years have contained very little Disney Channel, which I consumed vigorously as a child. But after spending a week with a seven-year-old, I was fully informed on how Disney is functioning today. I know every person says this about the shows they watched when they were a kid, but I truly believe that the shows were much better then, especially for girls. Or maybe it's just that I have better media literacy now. After reading in Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter (not intended toward my demographic, but I still found it quite interesting) about the marketing system Disney uses, I've been genuinely frightened. There would be the show, and then an interview with the show's co-stars, and then a music video of their song, all within a half an hour. It's no wonder this young girl's eyes was drawn to the ad immediately.

As I stood in the pastel-hued feminine products aisle of Target, I muttered to the girl, like a batty old woman, "You don't know what you're doing! You're buying the clothes that she is wearing! You are not thinking! The advertisers have infiltrated your brain already!" Of course, within a minute, the vest-shirt combination was in her mother's cart.

A few minutes later, two girls and their mother passed by with a cart. One girl, about seven, sat in the cart's bottom, and the other, maybe ten years old, walked next to it. The younger girl was rooting through a small pile of clothes next to her crossed legs in the cart. "Sophia's shirt is an extra-large!" she said loudly, giggling. "Mommy! Why's Sophia's shirt an extra-large?" she asked, smirking at her sister. Sophia sped up walking, blushing. Sophia looked to be at a completely healthy weight, similarly in body type to both her mother and sister. What struck me, though, was how such a young girl already thought that the size "extra-large" was something to mocked, and mentioned, and giggled at. She knew that it was fodder to embarrass her older sister. I gather that looks have been a source of sister feuds for centuries, but I had a feeling the media threw something in here, too.

Disney usually plays it safe in terms of political and social correctness, so I was shocked on another Disney show, Good Luck Charlie, how often weight was mentioned. On the show, featuring a family of four children and their parents, the two sons frequently mock their dad for being overweight. When I saw this, I was completely shocked. Many TV shows have featured overweight fathers, but I've never actually see it be mentioned, as well as mocked, on a show targeted towards young children.

These experiences, although tiny in the scheme of my life, these girls's lives, and, feminism itself, gave me personal proof of the influence of the media on today's young girls. The girl who wanted the Disney shirt proves that Orenstein's claims, as well as those made my many feminist-themed mother bloggers, aren't alarmist. Sophia's little sister, as well as Sophia's own apparent humiliation, proved that the associations with weight begin at a very young age. It makes me so sad that by the age of seven, girls might already think that their appearance ties to their worth as a person. It makes me sad that people think that at all, but now it's happening even younger. This proves that we need to improve the media that children today consume.

This was reblogged on The F-Bomb.

Five Videos I Wish Every Middle School Girl Could See

When I’m trying to share feminism with my friends, dropping Manifesta on their desks or barraging their Facebook walls with links from the Ms. blog are often dead ends. I found that YouTube videos are an awesome way to disseminate this information. When I see the ideas that I subscribe to put out so clearly and grippingly, often with humor, I wish that every girl could see them. Maybe not every girl would agree, and that’s fine, but at least the opinions would be exposed to them in a palatable way. Here are my top five short videos, all with a feminist vibe, that I wish every middle school girl could see.

1. Good Girls Don’t Get Fat I think that this video would make a lot of ideas suddenly click in many young girls’s minds. They may know that they’re valued for more than their looks, but still put a ton of energy into being thinner. This video, to promote Dr. Robyn Silverman’s book of the same title, is very eye-opening.
2. The Girl Effect In a different vein than most of these videos- the issues affecting the middle class, middle school girls of today- this one is about girls around the world and how sexism, far more influential than it is in the US today, rules their lives. It’s incredible to see how much the world could improve
3. Billy Bricks: A Poem (This link is a little tough to get to- click on it, then scroll to the bottom of the page, and click the video there, with the girl’s face with her hands on her cheeks as the screenshot.) The Arts Effect NYC is an awesome theatre group that, with students writing the plays they perform, provides an extremely authentic voice to the preteen girls of today. This video shows that the encounters many girls assume must occur in their daily lives are actually sexual harassment, and not to be tolerated.
4. Why Girls Sometimes Wanna Be Boys By the same theatre company, I found this to be one of the most honest videos I’d ever seen in my life. These girls are brilliant. I think every adult who deals with girls this age- teachers, parents, coaches, everyone- should see this video.
5. Target Women: Story Time Target: Women, a former segment on the former show infoMania, just might be the funniest, feminist-est series I have ever seen. Although (unshockingly) targeted towards adult women, it truly exemplifies how much the media and advertising especially impact girls.

If you have girls this age in your life, please share these videos with them! And if you have any others, please comment!