‘What it’s really like to be a teen mum’ starts off: ‘Babies might seem cute, but having one of your own is no joke’. Is anyone really saying having a baby is a joke? Do girls really think it’s a bit of a laugh to be pregnant in a culture where they will be punished and called sluts – as pregnant teens tell me they are labelled ? There are many ready to bring them down to earth, that’s for sure. “So many people told me ‘having a baby isn’t a novelty you know’” a young woman I know told me, referring to the lectures she received after she had decided to keep her child.
In this issue, Talia, 17, shares her story of discovering she was pregnant at only 14. Not in a relationship with the baby’s father, she says she was in “total denial” until she heard “the little heartbeat”. It was then she “instantly melted and knew I had to keep my baby”. And that’s when the punishment started. Talia was subjected to “dirty looks and endless rude comments.” Friends abandoned her. Talia went into labour six weeks early and her son was born by emergency c-section. Her family reaches out to the Red Cross for housing with other young mums and she also received support from the Raise Foundation (raise.org.au – I’m a new ambassador with the foundation so glad to see they get a mention). “Being a mum is seriously hard work. It was the best thing that has, and will ever happen to me, but there are serious sacrifices,” says Talia honestly.
Australia has the 4th highest teen pregnancy rate in the world. It’s certainly not something to encourage. The Dolly article doesn’t mention contraception or abortion, though the later could be read into the subtext as preferable to giving birth given the warnings and information on the cost of nappies. The reader is warned of “premature birth, low birth weight, death in the womb, SIDS, anaemia, high blood pressure and competition for nutrients.” (I recall a 2004 Girlfriend issue which catastrophised teen birth in a whole new way. In ‘You’re pregnant, now what?’ the reader was told if she kept the baby her parents will not support her, she’ll get kicked out of school, her boyfriend will clear out and, worst of all, she wouldn’t have time to read Girlfriend Magazine because she’d be too busy “wiping drool of your baby’s chin”. I doubt the subject would be treated so trivially under more recent editorship. While there are dire warnings about risks of pregnancy, I’ve never seen the potential mental health risks of abortion mentioned in a young woman’s magazine. Adolescent girls who abort unintended pregnancies are five times more likely to seek subsequent help for psychological and emotional problems compared to their peers who carried unplanted pregnancies to term, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence). Read article here
It felt like I had arrived at a wedding. The girls were dressed like brides. Their hair was immaculate. Their necks were bedecked with jewellery. Happy chatter filled the air as they awaited the biggest event of their lives so far.
These were slum girls, Dalits, on the lowest rung of India’s class ladder. Their lives before then had been spent collecting rags out of stinking piles of garbage, to sell for their family’s survival.
But today they would graduate.
There were many who believed such girls were not worthy of an education. Going to school was just for the wealthy and privileged, not to be wasted on ”untouchables”.
But a Christian NGO gave them this gift. These girls were not unclean but worthy of dignity and respect. Worthy, even, of an education. The basic human right of education belonged to them as much as anyone else.
I was travelling in India with two girlfriends and two of our daughters, visiting aid projects. I was given the great honour of giving out the graduation certifications.
After the ceremony, the girls joined together and sang We Shall Overcome in Hindi. We all cried.
The girls now had hope; not just for themselves, but for their whole families. They were the first in their families to learn how to read and write. No more wading through muck and slime to scavenge something to sell to be able to eat.
I realised anew that day the power of education, not just in the life of one individual girl, but to break entire cycles of poverty.
A new film, screening in Australia for the International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, drives this message home with compelling and intimate force.
Internationally acclaimed, Girl Rising shows the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world.
It tells the stories of nine girls born into cultures where girls come last.
”It’s a simple fact,” narrator Liam Neeson says, ”there is nobody more vulnerable than a girl.”
Girls are marginalised and discriminated against, denied opportunities due to harmful traditions and social norms. There are 66 million girls currently out of school. And yet, educating a girl can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation.
If India enrolled 1 per cent more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 per cent more as an adult. Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children.
A child born to a literate mother is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school.
Girl Rising chronicles the struggles they face in this fight for an education: early marriage, extreme poverty, child slavery. In daydreams they picture rows of sharpened pencils at desks, the chant of the alphabet, of school uniforms and shelves full of books.
Suma works as a bonded labourer in Nepal. Sold at six, and called ”Unlucky Girl” by her owners, she sleeps in the goat shed, eats scraps from her master’s plate and is beaten daily. Eventually social workers enrol her in a Room to Read night class.
They demand she be set free, telling her owners that bonded slavery has been illegal in Nepal since 2000. Suma becomes the last bonded worker in her family.
”I am my own master now,” she says. ”After me, everyone will be free; I feel like I can do anything.” Suma wants to use her education to help all girls get to school.
Azmera is 13. Her widowed mother is under pressure to marry her to an older man. But her older brother says he will sell everything he has to keep her in school, thus avoiding a fate that will see 38,000 girls married today.
Amina, in Afghanistan, is married as a child to a cousin. ”My body is a resource to be spent for pleasure or profit,” she says. But she wants to change things for other girls.
”I will speak. I will not be silenced. I am the beginning of a different story.”
She lays out a challenge to all of us. ”Don’t tell me you are on my side; your silence has spoken for you.”
As the film tells us: ”These girls hold our future in their hands. If they get what they need incredible things will happen.”
The two most important articles in this issue are on anxiety and the importance of sleep.
Anxiety appears to be a plague on our girls right now. ‘Feeling anxious? How to deal when your worries take over your life’ looks at the symptoms of anxiety and how to recognise when it is impacting on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis at school, home, work or socialising with friends. Different forms of anxiety include social anxiety, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Girls are encouraged to seek professional help if their anxiety is spiralling out of control. Maise, 16, shares her story of developing a nervous disorder which made her physically ill, with vomiting, panic attacks, crying and shaking. After treatment with a psychologist, her anxiety attacks have ceased. “For anyone out there who is a sufferer, one thing I can say is don’t deny you have a problem, because chances are someone you know is going through the exact same thing. And, most importantly, there is help out there,” says Maise. A related piece is on dealing with stress.
‘Next stop ZZZ Town’ stresses the importance of sleep at a time when all the indicators are that girls just don’t get enough of it – which of course exacerbates anxiety. Teens need nine hours of sleep a night to function well. Says sleep specialist Dr Chris Seton: “If you’re too tired, your mood goes downwards and it affects your learning and ability to remember stuff – lack of sleep is linked to issues like depression, anxiety and suicide”. Sleep shortage is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Girls are advised to: go to bed and wake up at the same time, avoid caffeine from the afternoon onwards, exercise, turn off electronics 45 minutes before going to bed, do something relaxing 45 minutes before bed, open the blinds and be exposed to sunlight as soon as they wake up, have a cool, dark, quiet room and not to sit on their bed to do homework or watch TV – their brain needs to learn that this is a place to sleep. Read more
For the past few weeks I’ve been addressing female and male students around the country on the issue of the representation of women and girls in media and popular culture. I’ve been urging the boys to reject cultural messaging that socialises them into a calloused and brutalised version of masculinity. Yesterday I received a Facebook message from Ethan, in Year 8 at a Sydney school. I was so encouraged.
Hi Melinda my name is Ethan, I was at your seminar. I was in the year 8 talk and what you were saying really moved me. It made me realise that even when I make joke how much it can affect girls. Im really going to watch what I say from now on. I would just like to say thank you, I learnt a lot (: Ethan
It has been heartening to see so many boys joining Collective Shout because they want to fight sexploitation and make a difference. To see them getting angry, to hear them asking from the audience: “What? How can that be allowed”? To listen to their concerns for their sisters and even for their future daughters.
I was reflecting on this as I finally got around to watching this Ted talk by Jackson Katz. So many people had mentioned it to me on my travels. It is such a timely message. As Katz says, violence against women isn’t a women’s issue – “This issue is primarily about us.”
It appeared on Huffington Post last month but I’ve only just read it. It is the kind of piece which needs to be read slowly, and a few times, it contains so much to absorb. Here’s an extract:
The problem is determining at what stage she started to cede her self and becomes, in her own eyes, mainly some (bright, young) thing other people see and use. This process begins much earlier than when a girl is 15 and maybe buying thongs.
In general, parents, schools, counselors, “concerned” adults aren’t openly confronting the unrelenting pressure girls feel to base their self worth on being beautiful, perfect creatures idealized for the sexual and breeding purposes of others. For many people, girls and women are biologically meant to be available to boys and men in these ways. Our default is “Yes!” and “Of course!” You know the kind of being I’m talking about — females whose purpose, abstracted, divine or biological, is to look out for boys and men and guide them to ultimate pleasure and eternal happiness. Hey, aren’t Victoria’s Secret’s models called ANGELS? What a visually pleasing, totally random and meaningless coincidence.
Once a self is ceded it’s hard to get back. Regardless of a girl’s or woman’s age, this kind of objectification and “sexualization” results in a performance. It’s not about being a sexual person, it’s about acting out someone else’s idea of a sex object. And… what girls and women want, feel, need and experience are irrelevant unless they help fulfill the dreams of boys and men. The impact is real, meaningful and measurable. It’s also serious and not at all entertaining.
Girls who conform well and internalize their “thing-ness” don’t miraculously stop doing it when get their driver’s licenses. It NEVER ends. Read the full article here.
Many girls and young women look to girl’s magazines for advice on life, relationships, bodies, health and sexuality. But too often they receive conflicting advice and mixed messages and even, sometimes, outright contradiction.
Take for example, information provided in the sealed section of Girlfriend this month, where, within four pages of each other, two medicos give different information about age of consent laws. A 15-year-old, in a relationship with a boy the same age, enquires about age of consent laws because the two want to have sex. Dr Philip Goldstone replies “generally, if you are both under the legal age of consent, it is still illegal for you to have sex.” However Dr Sally Cockburn, under the heading ‘What if you’re both under the age of consent?’ writes: “If two people are both under the age of consent, but are the same or similar age, and both decide to engage in sexual activities, it’s not a legal issue – as long as there’s no coercion, violence or power imbalance involved. Basically, as long as you’re both in control and making informed decisions, there are no legal problems.” So who is the reader to believe? Isn’t this important enough to get right? How does the editing process work at Girlfriend for a contradiction like this not to be noticed? Girls don’t need confusing advice about where they stand under the law.
Not a matter of legal confusion, but something that is consistent is that I have to comment on the ‘Project You Reality Check’ again like I have to on the equivalent in Dolly. The logo is used so inconsistently I have little choice. On the front cover the ‘Reality Check’ provides the vital information that a tag was removed from fashion girl Kylie’s top and that the water in the background was darkened. Seriously, why bother? Then inside, ‘Style School’ features four girls with the ‘Reality Check’ telling us “We haven’t retouched any of these images – we didn’t need to! All the girls look great just the way they are”. So if that’s the case, does it mean that when girls are airbrushed they didn’t look ‘fine the way they were’? Do some need to be airbrushed while others don’t? Also confusing is that the young women featured are specifically clothed to highlight and play down certain parts of their bodies. For example Alex, 15, is dressed to give “the illusion of longer legs” and a mix of large and small prints “also disguises any unwanted bumps”. Eloieese, 14, is lanky, so given curves and a defined waist and “fuller figured” Gemma, 18, is put “in a peplum top, as it draws attention to the slimmest part of her body – her waist”. No airbrushing – but they are still dressed to give the illusion of something other than what they are, and to hide unwanted bumps. I’m all for the disclosure…but it needs to be consistently applied and align with what else is in the magazine as a whole. Otherwise it loses all meaning. Read article here.
This issue contains an explanation of the ‘Retouch Free Zone’. “DOLLY is all about healthy body image – that’s why we only feature photos of girls that haven’t been altered or ‘perfected’ in any way. Whenever you see this stamp, you know the girls pictured are real and unretouched!”
Wonderful. But if only.
“Whenever you see this stamp”? What if you don’t see it? What does that mean? The declaration does not appear on every image of every female in the magazine. It occurs inconsistently, which raises doubt. Why ‘retouch’ free’ on this one and not this one? And what about the ads? They are never ‘re-touch free’.
Selena Gomes is on the cover. Not a ‘re-touch free’ logo in sight and Selena’s skin is as flawless as the day she was born. Was she re-touched? Don’t readers have a right to know that? A consistent approach would be helpful.
More helpful (though somewhat lightweight) is ‘The 7 deadly sins of facebook’, on online etiquette – how to avoid looking like a stalker, keep control of your online image by setting your privacy settings high (the context is avoid being tagged in ugly pictures of yourself posted by others prior to approval…not so helpful), taking it easy with the ‘like’ button and avoiding angry outbursts.
‘The downside of YOLO’ – the motto ‘You Only Live Once’ and LWWY, ‘Live While We’re Young’ discusses the risks to young people of living by these codes. Dolly asks: “Do these cute shorthand mantras really warrant their sometimes long-term effects?” Psychologist Gemma Cribb says these mottos attempt to justify crazy behaviour regardless of consequences. “When somebody tweets ‘Oh well, YOLO’ it means they’re already aware that their decision might not be sensible.” Another psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, says YOLO can be used as an excuse to deal with peer pressure or embarrassment. “Girls might be pushed into situations that they don’t want to face and instead of saying no, they think ‘What do I have to lose?’”. Rapper Ervin McKinness and four friends were driving in a speeding car when the 21-year-old tweeted: “Drunk…going 120 drifting corners…#YOLO.” Minutes later all were dead. Brain development is discussed. The frontal lobe – responsible for impulse control, problem solving and considering consequences – isn’t properly developed until 25. Girls are advised to think smart rather than by the YOLO mantra. Read more here
‘It’s a Girl’, a disturbing but awareness-raising film, screened in Sydney last night. I was asked to say a few words. Here they are.
It’s a girl.
I’ve heard those words three times in my life.
Unlike the women we will hear about tonight, those words brought joy. It’s a girl. Three times for me – each child a cause for celebration.
It’s difficult, actually I would say impossible, for those of us in a country like ours, to imagine the dread that comes for other women in other worlds, when they hear these words. The words are not delivered with joy. They are more like a curse. It’s a girl. A terrible fate awaits her. She will suffer. She will eat last. She will need a dowry you can’t afford. If she doesn’t please her husband or her in-laws, she may be burned. If she has daughters also, she will be blamed, even though, biologically, sex is determined by the male.
She may be bought and sold, traded like a piece of meat, used in brothels, sold as a bride. There are so many opportunities for her but they all opportunities to be treated badly, as second class, essentially owned, a slave, for the rest of her life.
So a dreadful option presents itself. Perhaps this suffering can be avoided, perhaps another chance for a prized son will come, if this girl child is done away with. Female foeticide, female infanticide, amounting to femicide on a global scale. According to the UN, about 200 million girls in the world today are ‘missing’. India and China are believed to eliminate more baby girls than the number of girls born in the US each year.
Girls, disposable, their lives snuffed out because of a systemic, embedded, ingrained, cultural bias against them.
I’ve spent time in the countries where these unspeakable human rights violations take place.
Some of the most moving experiences of my life have taken place in South Asia, the focus of this film.
Hyderabad, India, a home for abandoned girls and women. There were three levels. On one, young single pregnant girls, (who names on a blackboard were listed under the heading ‘inmates’), among them girls who had left their villages and come to this city to work, taken advantage of by their male bosses, made pregnant, and came here). On another level, the abandoned baby girls, and on the third, the widows.
Each floor represented a despised group of women and girls…one baby girl blinded, another with limbs broken after being thrown onto a rubbish heap. I can still picture her. She lay naked in a wire crib. I didn’t think she would live very long.
I have sat with prostituted women in brothels in India, cared for abandoned Chinese baby girls, met female children rescued from the prostitution and pornography industries of Cambodia (all used, I might add, by Australian men), and girls used as slave labourers in Thailand, through my work with World Vision. (I hope to do the same in my role as a soon to be appointed ambassador for Compassion Australia).
The hatred of women is hard to believe. The systematic, orchestrated abuse against them by individuals, groups and society as a whole. The systematic erasure of lives by an unspoken cultural decree demanding female genocide.
But there is a growing tide against these anti-women and girl practices. New grassroots actions springing up around the world. Girls themselves rising up and demanding their right to be treated with equality and fairness, girls like Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. I want to go to school, she said. And got shot by the Taliban for it. But she lives and inspires other girls to recognise their dignity and worth and their right to live and move freely in the world and partake of all that is to offer.
This film can help. It can create awareness that will hopefully be turned into action.
As you watch it, think of the women and girls eradicated from our midst. Who knows what they might have done, what they might have achieved.
Think about how you can engage and make a difference in the lives of women? Can we give ourselves to this just cause and not retreat a single inch? Can we dare to think we really could make a difference?
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Ruby Who? book and DVD plus Too sexy too soon MTR DVD in one bundle for $120 saving 22% on the individual price.
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.