Monday, February 9, 2015

Packaging Girlhood

Packaging Girlhood

Back when it first came out I read Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel
Brown's Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers'
Schemes. My daughters were sixteen and thirteen. A family friend who
spent lots of time with us was eleven. Although I did not review it
because I was in between freelancing for a newspaper and writing my
own blog I wrote my reaction on the inside cover. I felt relieved and
vindicated. I'd come up with many of the ideas the authors discuss
and locked horns with other parents who saw no harm in the way
products are marketed to girls or felt like there's nothing we can do
to change things. I ended this piece with, "I've always been far more
than a girly girl. I want my daughters to know they are too."
The very same year my older daughter saw the book and asked me
read it to her. She is a very bright, perceptive young woman who was
able to relate to the book from the marketed to perspective. She told
me a lot I would never have figured out on my own. I don't think
either of us could see shopping the same way after that experience.
With my daughters grown and no grandbabies in sight I picked the
book up for a third read, hoping society would be changing in the way
of it becoming obsolete. No such luck. It's sadly just as relevant
as it was hot off the press. It is still a must read for parents,
teachers, and all who care about liberating our unique and complex
girls from the one dimensional stereotypes our capitalist/consumer
society seduces them to conform to.
The authors wrote Packaging Girlhood not as college professors
(their day jobs), but as mothers and women. Society was telling them
that we live in an age of girl power where our daughters are
encouraged to be their true selves and discover their talents. When
they tested this premise, however, combining observations with surveys
and background research, they found it to be far from true. From pre
school to high school girls are offered a very limited range of
"choices" (focussed around consumerism and sexuality) and the illusion
that they are actively choosing.
In chapters focussing on what girls wear, what they watch, what
they listen to, what they read, and what they do for fun Lamb and
Brown depict an eerily hollow set of images. Our littlest, clad in
pink, are little angels and cuties being taught the roles of princess
(rescued by someone else), shopper/consumer, and homemaker/
caretaker. Very early on, though, edginess in the form of precocious
sexuality begins to slip in (think Toddlers In Tiaras). By the time
our daughters hit middle school they are unabashedly being exploited
as hotties, taught to think of sexuality as a way of luring the all
important male gaze rather than an authentic source of pleasure,
confidence, and identity. Only if they go "too far" they become the
"skanks" and "sluts" against whom the "good girls" are juxtaposed. In
this whole tangled mess one strand is amazingly consistent: whichever
identity they select, girls gotta buy a lot of outfits, accessories,
and other accoutrements to pull it off.
All is not lost, however. As Lamb and Brown remind us, we have
very special and crucial roles in our daughters lives. If we explore
together with them, ask the right questions, and really listen we can
help them grow up with much healthier identities and attitudes than
those pimped by Madison Avenue. Throughout the book and especially in
the last chapter are helpful suggestions for starting these all
important conversations.
Quite fortuitously, while I was reading the book a Valentines
Day catelog from a jewelery firm arrived in the mail. The only
difference seems to be that where girls are supposed to nag moms into
buying pretty things women are supposed to seduce men into doing so.
All the pictures show a every-hair-in-place she looking adoringly at
the allowed to be rumpled he gazing back at her, thinking, tonight's
the night. Don't women buy anything for men? In a perfect parallel
the charms through which adult women are supposed to express ourselves
are as relentlessly limited as those for girls described in the book.
We're crazy about bling and hearts, especially if diamonds are somehow
involved. We adore cute baby animals. Some of us want to be moms.
On a personal note, I auditioned for the Jungle Book which will be put
on this spring by Orono Community Theater. The very ungirly girl role
I really want is Kaa the snake.
A great big shout out goes out to all moms, teachers, and other
mentors working to give girls a much more authentic version of
girlhood and to everyone who will celebrate Valentines Day in
inclusive, non commercial, and creative ways--especially those who
remember that treating those around you with kindness and dignity all
year around is much more important than whipping the old credit card
out once a year.
Julia Emily Hathaway

Sent from my iPod

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