Thursday, January 27, 2011

"School is not a runway, girls"

Most girls hear it growing up - from parents, teachers, and principals: School is not a fashion show. You're here to learn.

Yeah, if only it was that simple. The sad truth is, no matter what clothing or makeup you ban, and no matter how much you lecture girls on the fact that school is for learning, not dressing up, it's not going to do shit about the culture surrounding teenage girls and appearance.

The most popular magazine for girls tells them to look cute at school. The first half of the magazine instructs girls on how to dress, how to do their makeup, how to style their hair, and that they should do all that before getting on the school bus.

Guys expect girls to look good. Girls expect girls to look good. Most girls would feel naked and exposed without makeup, and many would feel ugly and self-conscious if they did not look good in school.

And of course this isn't good, something that needs to be changed. Ideally, how a girl looked wouldn't matter in school. In fact, one would argue that the focus on how a girl looks while in school is a huge distraction. Girls wake up earlier than they need to just so they can do their hair and makeup and pick out the right combination of clothing. Why aren't girls eating breakfast before school? Because they only have so much time to get ready in the morning, and most would rather spend that time grooming than eating.

I wasn't completely exempt from this. I went through phases where I'd wake up an extra ten or fifteen minutes each morning so I'd have time to do my makeup - other times I slept in and didn't really care how I looked at school.

The distraction is multi-faceted. The most obvious form is girls putting on makeup during school - either in the bathroom or at the locker, in which case they may risk being late for class, or in the classroom, where they focus on their face instead of what's being taught. Then there's the mental distraction, the worry that they don't look good enough, they don't measure up to the other girl - when a girl worries about how she looks, she's not absorbing the material, or taking notes, or thinking critically. This contributes to the gender inequality in education.

And then, girls who do look good in school are demonized for distracting their male classmates. The idea that attractive girls distract boys is what motivates dress codes. Dress codes are about keeping the boys focused, not the girls.

It doesn't help that in movies, the girls who are valued most by the student body are the ones who strut down the hallway, wearing high heels and toting purses instead of backpacks, often not even carrying books.

The question is, how do we tackle the issue? Policies that restrict dress and appearance don't change the cultural pressure to look good. Gender segregation only does so much, because girls don't just dress to impress boys, they also dress to impress their judgmental and competitive female peers.

Answer: the culture as a whole needs to change. If women are truly valued for their intelligence rather than their appearance, girls will focus more on their performance in the classroom than how they look walking down the hallway. But that change can't come from authority figures. As Mary Pipher said in Reviving Ophelia, adolescents tune out their adult authority figures, even their parents, and instead look to their peers and mass media for their cues on where they fit into the world. The media - magazines, TV shows, commercials, young adult literature, movies, music, etc. - becomes their guide on how to act, how to dress, and what their priorities are; and these toxic cultural values are passed among adolescencts, and teenagers enforce these rules on each other. Parents and educators who try to intervene are ignored. The media needs to change, and it's not as simple as calling up the editors of Seventeen and the producers of Gossip Girl - the change needs to come from new media that's devoid of junk values.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Distracted by Beauty

Ah, my senior year of high school. I was an avid feminist, focusing on liberal politics and my goal of changing the world. I was so excited to go to school, major in political science, go to law school, run for office, and really make a difference. My appearance was a statement: band t-shirts, jeans, studded belts, skull necklaces, gothic skirts and tops; I wore no foundation over my blemished skin, just dark eyeliner and lip stick. Yeah, fuck beauty standards, fuck conformity.

And then something changed. In college, I began to worry about my appearance, I wore makeup to make myself look pretty or sexy instead of intimidating; I worried about whether guys liked me, I obsessed over my weight; and it suddenly mattered whether certain groups accepted me. And with all these new preoccupations, my studies, and my politics, took a back seat.

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf argued that women's learned obsession with beauty is a distraction from holding power in society. If a woman spends all that time buying clothing and beauty products, styling her hair and putting on makeup, touching up her appearance, thinking and worrying about whether she looks okay, that's time and energy not spent on doing anything more productive or fulfilling.

And sure enough, when I was so busy trying to look good, and going to anime club hoping to win the affection of one guy, I was less concerned with spending time with students for choice; I went on dates instead of attending meetings of the feminist student organization.

When I think of all the money I've spent on makeup, accessories, and hair care products, I wonder what else I could have done with it. I could have spent it on more fulfilling experiences, trips, going to museums, buying books, going to feminist conferences. I could have saved it for after I graduate.

When women spend so much money on their appearance, they risk losing their financial independence. Magazines frame makeup as a financial priority, as if rent and food were to be bought on a man's salary - be it daddy's money or money from a boyfriend or husband.

Instead of thinking about my weight, or my skin, or my hair, or whether I'm accepted, worthy, loved, I could be thinking about the status of women, or political problems this country faces, and what I could do to help solve those problems. Energy is wasted on obsessing over appearance.

Well fuck that, I don't want to be known for being pretty, or thin, or sexy. I want to be known for my intelligence, for what I have to say, and for what I can do.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts on Abstinence

My dad said to wait until marriage. My mom said to wait until college. Me? I just wanted to wait until I was in love.

One big target of feminism is the purity movement: abstinence-only classes, lies about sex, purity balls, slut-shaming, all that bad stuff.

But in our fight for a sex-positive society, people tend to get confused and think we're all against abstinence and pushing girls to become sexual.

Make no mistake, that's not the case.

I, for one, am not a virgin, but I see nothing wrong with the choice to abstain from sex, and our society should be just as accepting of abstinence as it is of sex.

My only issue with abstinence is when it's done for the wrong reasons. Whether a person becomes sexually active should be a personal decision. If a girl decides not to have sex, it should be because of her own values, not because the men in her life - father, priest, teachers, politicians, or future husband - expect it of her. My problem with purity balls is that a girl is basically giving her personal autonomy over to her father, rather than maintaining it.

Conversely, if a girl decides to have sex, it's because she's ready, and it's in accordance with her own personal values, be them secular or spiritual (there's a difference between blind adherence to religious dogma and sincerely believing that sex is sacred and should be saved for certain situations, be it marriage or just a committed, loving relationship) - NOT because her boyfriend wants it and she feels obligated to please him.

Whether a woman chooses to be sexual should also have no impact on her value as a human being. The problem is, many see women as valuable only if they are sexual - look sexy, act sexy, and put out for their male partners - and most others only value women who are pure and virginal. In either case, reduction of a woman to her sexuality is based on her willingness to obey and please a man, be it her older authority figures who expect her to save her flower for marriage, or her same-age male peers who expect sexual gratification from her, is detrimental to her personal autonomy.

If a woman makes the decision on her own, and has the gall to claim ownership over her own body, well, that's a different story - she's either a whore or a frigid bitch, depending on who she's refusing to submit her autonomy to.

Gay women can't win either way in the virgin-whore dichotomy because either way, they're not pleasing men. They're pissing off their male authority figures by simply being lesbians, and they're frustrating their male peers by not having sex with them - the only way they can be accepted by their horny male peers is if they're a) hot and b) willing to make out in front of guys, make lesbian pornography, or engage in threesomes. Otherwise, they're scorned because they're seen as worthless.

The problem with this current society is that a woman can't win. Why? Because she can't please everyone, and pleasing everyone is what women are supposedly here for. If they give their bodies over to their fathers, male religious figures, and future husbands and promise to be pure until marriage, they're prudes in the eyes of anyone who expects sex or has simply has different sexual values. If a woman chooses to have sex before marriage, she's a slut in the eyes of those who expect the former behavior. If a woman refuses to have sex in any one instance because she simply doesn't want to, she's a bitch in the eyes of the man she rejects; but if she gives into the pressure and has sex unwillingly, she has no self respect.

The phrase self-respect is thrown around a lot when discussing sex, specifically abstinence. This is particularly true in urban areas where misogyny runs rampant and women are reduced to sexual objects in a culture fueled by hip-hip and rap, infamous for their sexist and degrading themes. In such a culture, using self-respect as a means of female empowerment sounds great - the problem is, it's assumed that every girl who has sex is doing it because of low self-esteem rather than making a personal choice of her own free will. Not always the case. It's sometimes hard to decipher a woman's motive to do anything these days - is she dressing that way because she thinks she should, or because she wants to? Did she have sex because she wanted to, or because the pressure got to her?

And really, can you blame any girl for succumbing to pressure? Why not blame the guy who coerced her in the first place? Why not focus more on hammering home ideas such as "no means no" and "silence is not consent," rather than tell girls to just say no? Saying no isn't enough in a world where, to many guys, no means "I shouldn't" rather than "I don't want to," and that a no can easily be turned into a yes with enough persuasion. Saying "no" would be enough if guys knew to take it seriously.

In general, it takes ovaries of steel for a woman, much less a teenage girl, to rise above society's expectations of her.

I'm also not implying that two people should stay together if they have different values regarding sex. If a girl wants to wait until marriage to have sex, she should either date someone who's also waiting, or a guy who isn't necessarily waiting, but willing to abstain from sex as long as he's with her. If someone wants sex to be a part of the relationship, they should date others who want the same thing.

Abstinence is a perfectly legitimate choice if made for personal reasons. The purity movement would be fine in the eyes of feminists if all it did was promote acceptance of the choice to remain abstinent until marriage, but it's not about choice. The purity movement is one side of the spectrum of sexualization, reducing a woman's value to her virginity, and her willingness to sacrifice her sexual autonomy to the male authority figures in her life, and demonizes women who claim their bodies for themselves.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Asking For It - The Ethics & Erotics of Sexual Consent [Clip] - Coming S...

I just posted something on this, and while I don't want to use my blog as a showcase for other people's words and works, this is something I think everyone should see.

Gender Roles at the Newsstand

Go to the magazine rack at any local drugstore or supermarket, and take note of what kinds of women's magazines are available there. You'll probably observe that most of them are magazines that focus on how to dress, how to look pretty, tips on dieting and exercising to achieve the ideal figure and how to have sex and be a good girlfriend. The rest of the magazines aimed at women are magazines about domestic skills - how to cook, how to sew, how to keep house, and the big one: how to be a good mother.

Nowhere in those racks does one ever find Bust, or Bitch, or even Ms. Magazine - empowering feminist magazines about real women's issues. No, those are only found in large newsstands, and often in the special interest section rather than the section for women's magazines.

As I mentioned before, I was once in charge of the newsstand at a large bookstore. I could have made a full time job out of managing that section of the store, really, it was enormous and involved a lot of maintenance. I quickly noticed a few things about how magazines were organized. There was one section specifically designated for women's magazines. What were considered "women's" magazines? Magazines about fashion and beauty dominated the top tier, the middle tier was dedicated to parenting, young teen magazines such as J-14 and Seventeen, and finally the bridal magazines. The bottom tier held animal-focused magazines, and publications for young children.

In fact, that whole side of the newsstand was the "feminine" half: it held the magazines about home decorating, cooking, sewing, crafts, health, and spirituality.

There was also a men's section of the newsstand. This section had the adult publications, the tattoo magazines, magazines about marijuana (yeah, apparently tattoos and drugs are a men's topic), magazines about fishing and hunting, the endless amount of gun magazines, hobby magazines about model trains and coin collecting, fitness, and of course GQ and Esquire (we were always puzzled as to where in the men's section those were actually supposed to go). That whole half was mostly either men's or unisex interests: music, movies, video games, cars, sports, business, finance, travel, science, technology, history, current events, and at the very end, almost hidden behind the gay interest magazines, were Bust, Ms., and Bitch.

Not only were the feminist magazines not in the women's section, they weren't even in the "feminine" half of the newsstand. They were somewhat close to the celebrity gossip magazines, but unless a woman was looking for them, chances are they would go unnoticed. Chances are, even a woman looking for those magazines might not find them without the help of the magazine expert, should one be working at the time.

So there you have it: according to major booksellers, feminism is not a mainstream women's topic, but instead a special interest.

"You Know You Want It"

I've dated my share of sexist men. One joked that no means yes, and yes means "take me now." I wasted 5 months of my life on a guy who truly believed that every woman secretly has a rape fantasy.

There's a myth that all women want to have sex, and that the only reason they say no is because they aren't supposed to. Men who buy into this think they're doing women a favor, liberating them, by trying to push past the original "no." We live in a society where refusal to have sex is not taken seriously.

Sure, it's praised by some groups. Women who succeed in saying "no" are put on a pedestal, revered for their purity, the sacrifice of their human desires to satisfy a male god, their male religious leaders, their fathers, and future husbands.

But most boyfriends have another view of the word "no." To them, "no" isn't genuine. A woman saying no to sex is like a dieter saying no to desert, she wants it but refuses out of obligation.

To many men, "no" is malleable. Changeable. Getting from no to yes is possible, and all in the sales pitch. Convince her she wants it, assure her there will be no consequences, and when that doesn't work, just keep pushing her boundaries until you're in.

But as long as she said no and resisted, she gets the credit.

When "no" isn't taken seriously, rape becomes a confusing and hotly contested subject. When we disregard the word "no," we instead look to actions to determine whether she "really" wanted it.

And of course, this is part of a greater issue where it's assumed women don't say what they mean. Not surprising when we're told to act a certain way, and not speak our minds, ask for what we want, or confront people directly. Not only does this lead young girls to make assumptions about what people really mean in terms of actions or words aimed at them (as discussed in Rachel Simmons's book The Curse of the Good Girl), men also learn that they must also make assumptions about what women mean, and try to speak the vague, unauthentic, and often passive aggressive language women are trained to speak through adolescence and into adulthood.

In this world where women often say one thing out of obligation when they really mean or want to say something else, it's not surprising that a refusal to have sex isn't taken seriously. It's also not surprising that women are believed to be untrustworthy, therefore reports of rape are often examined as though the victim is the one on trial. The question isn't whether he crashed the gates after being refused entry, but whether her lack of consent was legitimate. She said "no," but did she mean it? In order to investigate this further, we look to nonverbal cues and behavioral patterns to figure out what words often fail to prove.

Because of this, one way to eradicate rape culture is to reform the way women are socially trained to interact with each other. If women are actively encouraged to speak openly and honestly, without fear of losing friends or ruining their relationships with men, their words will have more legitimacy and power. And to further ensure that "no" is always taken to mean "I really don't want to have sex" instead of "I really shouldn't have sex," sexual restraints on women have got to go. Rather than idealizing women who have sex or women who do not, we must create a world where women can make their own choices of whether they do or don't want to have sex, independent of what's expected of them. Only then will "no" be taken seriously.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From "But" to "And"

I and many other feminists have a habit of saying "I'm a feminist, but . . ." For example, I say "I'm a feminist, but I watch Twilight," or "I'm a feminist, but I shave my legs."

The pesky little word "but" in that phrase does a world of damage. It reinforces the idea that there's one model of what a feminist should be, and that women who step outside that box are exceptions to the rule rather than the rule itself.

Saying "I'm a feminist, but I'm saving sex for marriage" says "feminists don't do that. I do, but I'm a feminist anyway."

Instead, we should say things like "I'm a feminist, AND I get my eyebrows waxed," or "I'm a Catholic AND a feminist."

Using the word "AND" makes feminism more of an all-encompassing group, and shatters stereotypes. It also supports the idea that feminism is a belief and a mindset rather than just a lifestyle choice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Appearance Based Discrimination in Service Professions

You hear about it all the time: a woman sues former employer, claiming she was fired because she was too fat or not pretty enough. And rather than being outraged, people accept it as a normal, acceptable behavior. Why? Well, they can do whatever they want. Besides, no one wants to shop in a store staffed by ugly people, right? No no no, the employer is within their rights to choose pretty people as a means of creating a pleasant environment.

The worst is when people go to the opposite extreme, and say things like "well you have to look nice at work, you can't just show up to a job interview dirty and shabby looking and expect to get a job." There's a difference between expecting employees to bathe, look taken care of, and wear appropriate clothing at work, and expecting female employees to look like supermodels. What does being a size 2 have anything to do with one's ability to stock merchandise and use a cash register?

Also, I do think that one's weight can affect one's job performance in some settings. If someone is obese and out of shape, and can't do the job in a timely manner or navigate around tables or merchandise fixtures, that can be a problem. If I'm eating at a restaurant, I want someone who will be able to get to me at a normal human pace and fit between the tables. And I do think flight attendants should be able to fit down the aisle of a plane.

The problem is that women are commodified in service professions. Just as night clubs and bars commodify female customers to lure in male patrons, restaurants, bars, casinos, etc. prefer female employees to look appealing to male customers in order to enhance their experience in the establishment. Female employees are used as decorations, eye candy, even expected to act as models for clothing in the retail industry.

Clothing stores often expect employees to don the store's merchandise in order to promote it. However, many places take it to the next level: they expect the employees to actually look like models. Just as print and runway models are supposed to look good in order to make the clothes look as appealing as possible (advertisers describe it as "selling a fantasy"), employees in clothing retail are expected to look just as good in order to sell the clothing they're wearing. And, of course, their appearance is supposed to create an atmosphere of beautiful people in order to enhance the shopping experience. To a lot of people, this makes appearance-based discrimination in the workplace okay. Why? It's just capitalism. If a store wants to use the appearance of their employees as a way to compete with other stores, it's their right, and in fact their prerogative in a profit-motivated economy.

And that's just one of the many reasons why I don't like capitalism. A system that allows companies to do whatever they feel appropriate to get ahead, within scant legal boundaries, also allows for the objectification of women as a tool to make money.

Again, I have no problem with basic appearance expectations. Of course people should go to work clean, having combed or brushed their hair, well dressed, man having shaved or neatened their facial hair, etc. That's reasonable. It gets to be a problem when employees are rejected or fired for being chubby or inherently "unattractive," and I even have a problem with expecting women to wear makeup and high heels, and style their hair a certain way in professions where one's appearance has nothing to do with the quality of their work. Which, aside from stripping, is pretty much every job out there.

Another problem is that these women are often harassed while at work, and while there are rules in place to protect them from male co-workers and superiors, little is ever done to protect them from male customers. Waitresses and female cashiers get hit on a lot, by entitled male customers who often get angry and offended when they're rejected, as if these women don't just exist as eye candy, but potential conquests as well. The few times I wore makeup to my job at a movie theater, I was hit on. I actually avoided makeup for the most part, because I was just going to sweat it off anyway, I didn't want guys hitting on me when I was trying to do my job, which is a topic for another time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Real Purpose of Ladies' Night

Ladies' Night, a night in where a bar or club gives women a discount on drinks or lets them drink for free, is not in fact a program to benefit women. The purpose of Ladies' Night is actually to lure in more male customers with the promise of lots of extra women, hopefully intoxicated.

Much of the nightclub scene is based on satisfying male patrons. Fliers benefiting a club and its various events and themed nights feature sexy, half naked women. Clubs sometimes have scantily clad female performers dancing on platforms or in cages as entertainment. The music is often about men going to the club to find women to have sex with, or women talking about how hot they are in hopes of being chosen by a man. Bouncers are often instructed to only let in attractive, young women. There's the classic image of ordinary looking women standing in line while hot chicks walk right up to the door and are let in immediately.

Ladies' Night is the worst. Its purpose is to lure women in with the promise of cheap or free drinks. This way, the club has lots of drunk women, which benefits the guys. Ever wonder why there's no Men's Night? No self-respecting woman would want to go to a club where they'd be surrounded by drunk guys, it's creepy.

Now, I could leave the issue alone and just be grateful for free drinks, but I really have a problem with women being treated like commodities in night clubs - their bodies a way to lure in and entertain male patrons, as if they themselves are not valuable customers but instead mere merchandise.

To me, it's just not worth the free booze.

New Pet Peeve

One thing that really pisses me off is when people try to find any reason to discredit someone as a feminist.

Example: At least two people will comment on something I post on Facebook or Twitter, and use it to say I'm not a real feminist. I say feel fat one day, I'm a fake feminist. I make a comment on the Miss America pageant, so I must only be pretending to be a feminist.

There are people, some of my friends included, who have one image of what a feminist looks like, does, believes, likes, etc., and when someone doesn't conform or live up to that standard, these people go "HA! you're not really a feminist!"

Let me be perfectly clear. A feminist is not superwoman. Feminists have moments of weakness and insecurity, they struggle against the same social norms and pressures all women face, AND they have their (anti-feminist) guilty pleasures.

Also, not all feminists believe the same thing! Shocker, I know. Some feminists are against porn, some are for it, many are in between. Most feminists are pro-choice, some are pro-life. Some are against marriage, some really want to get married. Many feminists want to work outside the home, some want to stay at home and fulfill more traditional roles.

To put it simply: there's no one "right" way to be a feminist.

Also, a feminist is usually capable of enjoying something while still looking at it critically, and acknowledging some anti-feminist problems with it. For example, I love cheerleading, but I know there are sexualizing aspects of the sport. Just because something has some "bad" elements doesn't mean I have to hate it. I might hate it, like I really don't like Taylor Swift, but for some reason I also really like Ke$ha. Is she a feminist artist? Not really, but I find her music catchy and I just can't bring myself to hate her.

Back to the original topic. I find that the people who pounce on feminists like that and accuse them of not being real feminists are usually against feminism, usually because they have this one set image of what a feminist is. I say fuck 'em. I don't have to justify myself to anyone. I identify as a feminist, that's all that really matters.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kanye's Monster Video

I love horror movies. I love gory horror movies. I ate up every single Saw movie.

Even I find this video disgusting.

TL;DW: sexualized images of naked, dead, dismembered women murdered by Kanye and other male "monsters."

Don't get my wrong, I listened to the lyrics. I have no opinion either way because, quite frankly, I don't care for rap in general. But what I saw in the video was the senseless, sexualized killing of women. I say senseless because it has nothing to do with the song.

It reminds me of the photo shoot they did years ago on America's Next Top Model - sexy pictures of murdered women. The models were dead, and the pictures were gruesome, but they were also "fierce." Again, fetishizing violence against women. That is not okay.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hidden Toxins: Dissection of Teen Magazines

As a teenager, and even into my college years, I loved reading magazines. I read J14, YM, Cosmo, Teen Vogue, and of course the big one: Seventeen. Being completely uninterested in fashion and conventional beauty ideals, I typically skipped over the first half of the magazine and only read the health articles, relationship advice, real life stories, sometimes the embarrassing moments, and the horoscopes.

When I was 18 I began reading Cosmopolitan. A year later, I realized how toxic it was and put it down.

Over the recent years, I've realized the hidden dangers of these magazines, especially the ones aimed at adolescent girls. We can point out the skinny models all we want, that's not news. What people don't usually pick up on is the amount of articles on how to look good versus empowering articles on how to be confident, smart, and awesome. People fail to notice that the relationship advice subtly convinces girls that getting a guy means taking on a false self, and that once she has a boyfriend it's better to please him and try to resolve conflicts than to walk away when a relationship doesn't make her happy and hold out for someone who will love her for who she is, not who she is expected to be.

To go into greater detail, here is a breakdown of the messages in a popular teen girl magazine:

Before she sees even a table of contents, she is bombarded with in-your face advertisements for clothing and makeup. There is also a letters to the editor, which used to feature dissent from women unhappy with certain articles, often politically or morally motivated, and that was wonderful because it indirectly encouraged girls to have opinions and think critically about what was presented to them - now, however, all the published responses are those that praise the magazine for articles in past issues.

The first section of the magazine commands the reader to go out and buy new stuff, update her wardrobe, and keep up with the latest trends. Labels are often heavily used to describe different looks (girly, classic, preppy, glam, grunge, sporty, rocker, etc.). From this section, girls may learn to subscribe to a certain label, or to dress to fit whatever style of clothing is in season rather than dress according to her own unique tastes. They also learn that they need to keep buying new clothes, accessories, shoes, etc., and that those are what they should be spending their money on.

This section focuses on makeup, skin, and hair (both how to style it and keep it healthy). Headlines do not begin with "how to" or "ways to" but instead read like commands: "GET CLEAR SKIN NOW," "TAME YOUR HAIR," "LOOK CUTE ALL DAY." As with the fashion section, girls learn that they must keep spending money on cosmetics and hair accesories and products. From the bulk of these sections, which take up almost half the magazine and usually dominate the front page, girls learn that their appearance is extremely important and should take priority in their lives. There's usually an article every year on what makeup to wear to the beach or pool, as if women are merely supposed to appear at those places and look cute rather than actually go swimming.

This section does offer useful articles, such as those on sexual health and how to be safe on the beach. There's often even an article on loving your body. However, before any of that there's a section on how to eat (specifically, what foods to avoid because they'll make you fat), and a two-page pullout on fitness that boasts yet another commanding headline like "TONE UP YOUR THIGHS" or "GET A BIKINI BODY." While it's important to encourage healthy habits, these articles focus on how fitness and eating makes girls look rather than how such habits can make one feel. This introduces the mixed messages of the magazine: work out with the goal of slimming down and toning up and never eat fattening foods (boasted in big letters over multiple pages, reinforced with images of skinny girls throughout the magazine), BUT don't obsess over your weight (something whispered on one page, if at all).

This section may cover all aspects of dating: from trying to get a guy's attention, to how to behave in a relationship, and finally how to get over a breakup. Sometimes there are empowering messages, but most of it is how to please a man. Articles list his turn-ons, what he expects in a relationship, what makes him cheat, and how to avoid a breakup. The message here is that dating rituals and relationships should be done on a guy's terms. Wear what he likes to see on you; act the way he wants you to act; don't say "I love you" first or press for a commitment, let him do that when he's ready; plan dates that he'll like; he only cheats if you're not good enough for him; and finally, getting dumped is a mark of failure, it means you didn't try hard enough. Women are under constant pressure to maintain good relationships with those around them, and in relationships with men, they're often expected to be self-sacrificing caretakers in charge of making the relationship run smoothly.

I always liked this section. Honestly, I don't have many complaints - it brings important issues to girls' attention and educates them about real-world problems they may face. My only issue with this section is when the story is about any kind of sexual issue (rape, sexting, etc.), there's always at least an undertone of victim blaming. Any time women are instructed to refrain from certain activities or take precautions to protect themselves, there's the unwritten reverse notion that if something bad does happen to you, it's because you put yourself in a bad situation where that could happen and therefore shoulder part of the blame.

There are smaller articles as well, that help girls with college, finding jobs, and navigating tough friend situations. The college advice is usually fine, though it does have an awful lot of focus on how to dress and date while in college. Aside from articles about possible summer jobs, the ones about internships and careers typically feature feminine career paths: designing clothes, planning weddings, or working in mainstream entertainment. Rarely does this section try to inspire girls to consider careers in math, science, politics, law, or finance. Articles on how to handle situations with other girls reinforce the deeply entrenched notion that girls should be nice to everyone and do whatever they can to avoid conflict.

This isn't inherently a bad section, I used to read it with great amusement, and there's nothing wrong with being embarrassed by some of the material. However, a lot of these stories have to do with farting, or in some way revealing the fact that you're on your period. The message: passing gas is shameful, and having your period is something gross that should be hidden from view.

These messages are dangerous because the messages girls receive in childhood and adolescence often stick with them for the rest of their lives. The earlier and more often a message is hammered in, the harder it will be to reverse later in life. You cannot expect women to live by one set of societal rules and then automatically become strong, autonomous adults the second they turn 18. In fact, many girls who read magazines like the one dissected above usually go on to read adult versions, which are typically just as bad if not worse.


A quick fix could be to simply ban certain magazines, or regulate their material. I don't believe in censorship. Allow the magazines to exist, but try to drown them out with magazines containing more empowering material. If female empowerment and media literacy become more common among young women, they may be less likely inclined to buy magazines that put a huge amount of focus on appearance and relationships. Such magazines will have to either become more empowering to keep up with the trend, or fade into non-existence.

How do we do this? As of right now, there really aren't any empowering magazines for young women. The only publication that comes close is Bitch, which is not mainstream enough to be sold in drugstores, and is never displayed in the women's section of a newsstand - it's usually found in the special interest section next to the gay/lesbian magazines (I should know, I used to practically manage a bookstore newsstand single-handedly).

Adolescent girls need a magazine that encourages them to dress to express rather than impress. That they only need to be neat and clean, and that wearing makeup and perfectly styled hair need not always be part of that expectation. They need magazines that empower them to take care of their own needs in relationships, it's okay to be assertive (both with friends and boyfriends) and that it's okay to walk away from a relationship if they're not happy. They need to be told to love their bodies first, and only occasionally be reminded that eating fruit and taking a walk once in a while never hurt anyone.

Once such a magazine exists, parents and guardians should buy it for their daughters and encourage them to read it. Until then, parents should introduce other sources of positive influence to their daughters, and express concerns when they are viewing or reading negative influences. They shouldn't be simplistic or preachy - merely saying "this song is bad because it's about sex, and sex is bad!" they could say "this song is degrading because it defines a woman's worth based on her willingness to be sexual."