I have had the privilege of knowing and working with author, publisher and educator Maggie Hamilton for the past few years. As well as her own books including What’s Happening to Our Girls? (Viking, Penguin 2008) and What’s Happening to Our Boys? (2010), Maggie is a contributor to my last two books with chapters ‘The seduction of girlhood’ in Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls (Spinifex Press, 2009) and ‘Groomed to Consume Porn: How sexualised marketing targets children’ in Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry (Spinifex Press, 2011). Maggie decided she had to produce something beautiful for girls as a gift for them, which she’s done. I spoke with Maggie ahead of her book launch in Sydney tomorrow night.
I wanted to put something together that was fun, funky and joyous for girls, as so much of what they experience in pop culture is dark and depressing. It’s concerning to see a whole generation of girls becoming slaves to leading brands, and causing girls serious anxiety around looks and possessions. This in turn forces them to get on the spending treadmill very early.
The book is packed with art and craft ideas, with getting girls back to the soil, to earth, to imagination and discovery. Why do you feel girls have been cut off from what was in the past just considered normal every day hobbies and interests for girls?
Research suggests that almost all the spare time girls have is spent in packaged entertainment or shopping, which is pretty depressing, as there’s not a whole lot of life experience happening there. Living in a performance culture also means girls are constantly trying to keep up with what’s expected of them, so they’ll maintain the acceptance and approval of peers. This leaves little time for anything else.
Girls also take their lead from the rest of us. We’ve all become seduced by endless opportunities for instant gratification. In the process we’ve lost a lot of nuance from our daily lives – the joy of a personal handmade gift, or the fun and real sense of satisfaction at having to work for something, to watch it slowly unfold before us.
I’ve profiled fabulous vintage blog queens from London to Brooklyn, for example, to encourage girls to think vintage. The joy of vintage clothing is that these garments are about story – someone wore this dress or jacket before you and, if you look after it, it will look after you. Vintage items are often better made. Girls can re-purpose an outfit simply by changing the buttons or removing the sleeves or changing the hemline. They can then enjoy wearing a genuinely individual item. Vintage clothing is also great for girls of different shapes and sizes as there’s other decades that work perfectly for their bodies.
With the overwhelming marketing to girls there’s little chance to learn about their own story. There’s something very special about learning a little here and there about your family history from the discovery of an old button, postcard or photo. But as girls are increasingly pre-occupied with lives of celebrities, this isn’t happening. So in the book there’s a number of fun ways to change this.
Clearly we need more than a new book to solve the problem – but what contribution to you hope Secret Girls’ Business will make to helping girls rediscover their creativity and reclaim their imaginations from the onslaught of advertising, marketing and the global beauty industries which demand conformity to an idealised norm?
We are seeing a radical drop in imagination and personal creativity in girls, as they’re growing up in worlds full of branded junk. Crafting helps girls become confident about their own ideas and self-expression. It also helps them unwind from their full-on 24/7 world.
Crafting is deeply personal. You invest your love and time in something which you gift yourself or someone you care about. It can be hugely inspiring and comforting as well. Recently a girlfriend was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. She said all she wanted to do was go home and knit. Handmade is precious, it brings intimacy back into our fast-paced hard-wired existence.
I recall when you were working on your last book What’s happening to our boys, you described feelings of trauma, and needing to recover from what you had learned during the research phase. Is this book part of your healing?
Yes, doing the research I have has taken its toll. When you’re spending a couple of years at a time looking at what’s going wrong for our kids, it can be deeply challenging. There were many times I felt overwhelmed with the issues girls face. Putting Secret Girls’ Business together has been so healing, because creative projects and ideas are life-enhancing. There’s something very profound in these activities. They feed the soul.
Do you think we all need to consider scaling back, getting off the treadmill and discovering places of peace and simplicity?
Putting the book together has made me rethink my own values, how I live and what I want from life. I now see how invaluable it is we reconnect with each other. Our kids need a village to grow up in. They need the support of committed engaged adults, the wisdom of their elders, meaningful rituals, to spend time in nature, to have more fun and laughter, more opportunities for spontaneity.
That’s why I’m now encouraging older women to volunteer to teach girls to knit and hand sew in schools, in community halls, in their homes or wherever. It’s about knitting the generations back together again, providing a fun relaxed space for girls to be creative, where they can make things for charity. It’s also about sharing life stories as you knit or sew. Creativity and fun go together – we need more of it.
A few weeks ago I met a beautiful 28-year-old teacher who’d recently lost her mum who had been a great knitter. She was looking for a way to honour her mum, and is now setting up an SGW group to do just that.
Book launch: Monday 24 September, 6.30pm at Better Read Than Dead, 265 King St, Newtown 2042
Sexualisation, violence, commercialisation, commodification: Right to Childhood conference hears evidence of harm to children
The Right to Childhood conference last Friday at Sydney’s Wesley Centre was a wake-up call to a society hell bent on forcing children to be exposed to imagery and messages which wreak havoc on their physical and mental health. Initiated by Dr Ramesh Manocha of HealthEd and co-sponsored by Collective Shout, close to 400 people heard expert evidence on just how bad things are for children and young people: and how all the indicators on health and wellbeing are set to worsen if not addressed as a matter of urgency.
Here’s a sample of some of the media coverage, and some related media treatment this week of issues impacting children.
Channel 10 News Segment: Right 2 Childhood Seminar
Advertisers blamed for increasing sexualisation: The World Today
Advertisers using ‘same tricks as sexual predators’
…Ms Hamilton says her research indicates modern advertising is becoming increasingly exploitative, especially towards children…
“I have done a paper recently which looks at how the corporations do market products, whether it is clothing or cosmetics or whatever – toys – to kids, and interestingly they use exactly the same tools as sexual predators do to groom children,” she said…
Another speaker at the conference, writer and social researcher Melinda Tankard Reist, says she is sickened by deliberate marketing – often with sexual undertones – to children as young as six months.
“They are very callous. I mean this is one of the reasons we use the term corporate paedophilia, because corporations are in a sense abusing children,” she said.
“They are driving childhood out of children and we see this as a systemic assault on childhood…” Read full story here
Advertisers should own up to harmful images says Australian Childhood Foundation
ADVERTISERS would have to publish “impact statements” detailing how their ads could harm youngsters, under a plan being pushed by a children’s lobby group.
Australian Childhood Foundation chief Joe Tucci said children as young as six were showing inappropriate sexual behaviour, which he blamed on saturation levels of violent and sexually explicit images in advertising, music videos, and computer games…
His call for companies using sexual or violent images to produce the impact statements comes amid growing concerns over the sexualisation of children.
Dr Tucci told a Sydney conference yesterday that 200 children showing inappropriate sexual behaviour were referred to his group a year, compared with 10 children a year a decade ago.
“There are children displaying aberrant sexual behaviour who can’t even tie their shoelaces yet,” he said.
“We ask children in counselling where they get these kind of ideas,” he said. “They pick out magazines, they pick out pictures and videos…” Read full story here
We disagree and believe the industry has had its way too long. See Collective Shout’s submissions here and here which argue that self-regulation has failed.
Kids too afraid to eat
CHILDREN as young as four are being hospitalised for eating disorders after refusing to eat and going on dangerous diets in their quest to be thin.
The largest eating disorders clinic in NSW, based at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, has reported a 270 per cent spike in the number of children being admitted to hospital over the past decade.
Even more alarming is the rise in the number of children being treated as outpatients at the hospital – it has increased more than 10-fold, up from 298 in 2003 to 3157 in 2009.
Clinic co-director Dr Michael Kohn said patients are getting younger.
“The average age for presentation is decreasing and the reason is the stress on young people has increased, so that those people vulnerable to develop eating disorders are doing so at a younger age,” Dr Kohn said.
…Melinda Tankard Reist, of lobby group Collective Shout, which is organising the petition to ban child beauty pageants, said presenting children in such a way was tantamount to child abuse. ”I think any Australian who cares about the welfare of little girls doesn’t want to see them dressing up like Tammy Faye Bakker or Joan Collins,” she said.
Collective Shout’s petition, which has more than 1200 signatures, will be sent to federal Minister for Early Childhood Peter Garrett and Victorian Minister for Children Wendy Lovell…Read full story here. And great to see 95% of voters in an SMH poll are also opposed to child beauty pageants in Australia.
Child Beauty Pageants: the misconceptions
“Being a little Barbie doll says your body has to be a certain way and your hair has to be a certain way. In girls particularly, this can unleash a whole complex of destructive self-experiences that can lead to eating disorders and all kinds of body distortions in terms of body image.” Read full blog article by Collett Smart here.
What’s happening to our boys?: Maggie Hamilton’s new book
When I first began turning my attention to the sexualisation of girls in the media and popular culture, a book that significantly echoed my own thoughts was What’s happening to our girls: Too much too soon, how our kids are overstimulated, oversold and oversexed (Penguin, 2008) by author, publisher and teacher Maggie Hamilton. Not long after, I approached Maggie and asked if she would be willing to write a chapter for my book Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). I was delighted when she agreed. In her chapter ‘The Seduction of girls: the human cost’, Maggie combined research and her own thoughtful observation to analyse the impacts of the onslaught of sexualised messaging on girls. She explored the decline in imagination, slowing cognitive development, plummeting self-esteem, self-harm, performance culture, sexual assault and how girls were socialized to be objects. Since then Maggie and I have shared a few platforms and friendship has developed. I am blessed to have the support of a woman of her calibre.
Maggie has now turned her attention to what we are doing to boys. What’s Happening to Our Boys?: At Risk, how the new technologies, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure and porn affect our boys will be launched in Sydney today at a private event, following by public events during the week.
Increasingly, as I traverse the country speaking about the effects of a toxic culture on the health and wellbeing of girls, I’m asked about boys. What can be done for boys? It has been helpful to be able to point to Maggie’s book and say, this will be a good place to start. What’s happening to our boys? is a major and in many ways overdue resource to help us address the problems boys are facing, which cannot help but improve the situation for girls.
This is an interview I did with Maggie in the lead up to the launch.
Maggie, what inspired you to write this book?
While we’re increasingly conscious that girls are vulnerable to a whole range of issues, we do tend to assume that boys can cope with whatever they’re faced with. But this isn’t necessarily the case.. Parents were constantly telling me really sad and concerning stories about incidents with their boys. Many were distressed they hadn’t seen these issues coming and, because they hadn’t faced these things themselves, were unsure of how best to respond. So it seemed like a good idea to take a closer look at our boys’ lives. I’m so glad I did – it’s given me a much more intimate sense of what boys are dealing with.
What is happening to our boys?
The marketers have realised boys are the last untapped demographic, so they’re spending millions to market to boys. We’re going to be seeing this in everything from the entertainment industry, to fashion and toiletries, to name but a few. Already this push is impacting our boys. We’re seeing a growth in anxiety around looks and possessions from preschool on. The boys as young as eight or nine who I spoke with were very preoccupied with having the right gear, and worried that if they didn’t they’d be seen as a loser. So by the time boys hit their teens we’re starting to see a spike in body issue concerns and self esteem problems. Basically our boys are going down the same track as girls in experiencing anxiety and self-loathing – perfect for advertisers, but not so great for our kids.
We’re also seeing the growth of secret lives as there’s so many ways boys can do their own thing, often right under parents’ noses. The growth in violence in video games is also affecting our boys, as is their growing addiction to online gambling and other unhelpful activities.
Do you think we have been ignoring the welfare of boys?
One of the big problems for boys is that there’s a whole range of issues we hadn’t dealt with for boys before the 21st century issues bit. We still have a long way to go to nurture boys more. Before they can be strong and independent, they have to be nurtured. Yet we tend to be more hands off with boys, which means they have to find their own way. We also need to pay more attention to promoting reading and communication skills from early on in the home. This can make a huge difference to a boy’s confidence, but still isn’t happening to nearly the level that’s needed. Boys also have the right to a rich emotional life, especially as they’re living in a far more emotionally complex world than previous generations. When you then add in the challenges of cyber-bullying, increased levels of violence in games and in the playground, the pressure to look a certain way, act out, concerns around body image, the pressure to drink and how to operate in an increasingly sexualised environment, you begin to realise this is a lot for any kid to deal with especially when parents aren’t up to speed.
Why have they been so neglected do you think?
Boys (and men) tend to keep on going regardless, which isn’t always ideal. So when we look at them we assume everything’s fine, when this mightn’t be the case. We’ve also become a little blind where many male issues from health to relationships are concerned. When we neglect our boys, everyone is impacted – families, future partners and children.
What was the most confronting thing you learnt about what boys were doing?
The explosion of pornography and the very easy access boys have to this material – sometimes at home, on their phones or at a friend’s place. It’s more than concerning when you realise just what they’re accessing – everything from bestiality to the deflowering of young girls. Studies show that repeated exposure to porn shuts down a boy’s feelings, and may even lead him to become a sexual abuser. Scratch the surface and you see just how many boys are viewing porn, and increasingly as a group activity. This isn’t just an activity high school boys are into. Increasingly primary school boys are getting into porn, and boys are also watching it together. Porn gives them a new language, a new way of relating, which can lead to significant harm.
I understand you had to take a break in the middle of writing the book because what you were finding out was so disturbing and you weren’t entirely prepared for that. Can you tell us more about what that time was like for you?
This has been a very hard book to write in some ways. I love working with boys and find them astonishingly expressive, but sometimes when you’re aware of what they’re up against it can seem overwhelming. I kept asking myself how come we moved so far from our duty of care? It was a pretty dark time, but then I had to remind myself that we can’t afford to despair. Ultimately I believe there’s lots we can do, but we can’t be complacent. We need to act on everything we see that we know is unhelpful to our kids. It’s not just the seduction of billboards, magazine and movie ads, and MTV clips we need to be concerned about. We need to be aware of how easily young boys can access porn, for example. “We’re now seeing kids sexually active way under ten, because of access to porn, or their parents’ own behaviour”, John, who works with troubled youth, told me. “I’ve seen many cases where porn is readily left around the home, where it’s part of the family culture. Then you’ve got parents who carefully stash their porn away, and kids have a way of finding it”.
How is boys’ behaviour impacting on girls?
I think boys and girls are equally vulnerable – especially in the sexual arena. While boys can’t get pregnant and don’t face the same slurs a girl who is perceived to be overly sexually active faces, and have more ways of protecting themselves, we can’t be naive about the fact that boys are increasingly vulnerable to sexual assault. This doesn’t in any way lessen our concerns around the growing predatory behaviour we’re seeing towards girls. We have to face the fact that boys are now also stalked by determined often aggressive young girls who are encouraged by cultural messaging which teaches them to act in predatory ways . They send countless inappropriate texts to boys to try and gain their attention. It’s not just photos of low tops girls are sending around. This makes it very difficult for boys to know how to respond as it can seem very enticing. At the same time, boys consuming porn can place our girls at risk – and not just teenage girls. In one Brisbane primary school a seven-year-old girl was sexually assaulted over two months by a boy her age. Hitting her and threatening to kill her if she spoke out, the boy repeatedly forced this young girl to perform oral sex. In another school a group of six-year-old boys banded together and were forcing classmates to perform various sexual acts on them. According to one youth worker, “We are now seeing children grooming younger kids for sex, there’s a real seduction pattern going on. A lot of this appears to be exposure to porn”.
What is your message to parents of sons?
Love and nurture your boys, encourage them to be part of all the good things the new technologies and popular culture have to offer them, but don’t be naive about the dangers.
I think there’s no doubt we need more men in the education system. Our boys lack good role models. There’s no substitute for a wealth of good men in their lives. What a wonderful thing it would be to have a positive recruitment drive for bright engaged young men – good for boys and girls.
To policy makers?
More work needs to be done on the 21st century issues boys face and how we can protect them. Making the Advertising Standards Board more accountable and more aware of the new issues we’re facing would be an excellent start. The growing violence in video games needs to be regulated and soon, as does the increasing blurring of sex and violence in games. We also need a strong and clearly drawn regulatory framework with which to deal with pornography now so available to our children.
To the community as a whole?
For too long we’ve seen boys as problematic. We get cross when we see skate-boarders and boys involved in other activities. Strong communities are inclusive. They accommodate and celebrate the needs of their citizens – and that includes our boys. It’s not hard, but it does need time and effort – resources that are well spent. The role of adults has always been to protect our young – that still stands, so we need to have the courage to be good gate-keepers, to question material we know to be harmful to our kids – if we don’t then who will?
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
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“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
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
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
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
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“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.