Today was our Girls, Media & You final celebration! We decorated Alumni Hall with all of our artifacts from the class. The lovely Miss Stephanie and Miss Jaime were our emcees for the night. This night was really an affirmation of all the wonderful work that had been done throughout the semester. We had poets and speakers who spoke from their hearts about what this program means to them. By the end of the night there were a lot of hugs and hopes to see one another next year.
I feel that I gained so much from being around these girls. I really learned that being genuine is the best I can ever do, and that it is enough. I came into Girls, Media & You very worried that the girls did not like me, and getting those affirming hugs and words throughout the celebration meant a lot. This is a big thank you to everybody involved in our group!
For our last week in girls’ group, we talked about self-advocacy in different kinds of relationships. To ensure that conversations were developmentally appropriate, we split the middle school girls into two groups and the peer leaders had their own group as well. In the two middle school groups, we focused on sticking up for ourselves in the context of friendships, family and some more intimate relationships. In one of the middle school groups, a girl suggested making a checklist for what to look for in a healthy relationship. In my group, we mostly talked about family and friendships. It stayed very conversational. Erin and I were at this table and we got to know a few of these girls on an individual basis. The high schoolers were in a place where they could have an open conversation about sex in relationships, and they focused on advocating for themselves in a more romantic relationship.
Each group came up with a music video that depicts some type of relationship. We showed a Justin Beiber video, a Chris Brown video and an Usher video. Right after watching the videos, we all wrote down initial reactions to the videos on a large sheet of paper. There were some really insightful comments written. Some comments acknowledged that the girls outnumber the guys in the video and that the girls serve as the backdrop for the males. I personally was really impressed that the girls in the group could make that connection without having read the theory that the college girls read about in our class.
Unfortunately our group did not have a chance to formally wrap up and say goodbye. This week the girls are on school vacation, but we cannot wait for the celebration. We have a lot planned, and we cannot wait to see our favorite middle school and high school girls!
Week 5 in girls’ group was an important week for us because it was our second-to-last week in our groups. I think that I got a good taste of difficulties that can come with nearing the closure of a positive experience. The girls in our group have been able to form really meaningful relationships with us and were really open to speaking when they were given the chance. I felt that we had built trusting relationships that carried us through the weeks and that will come to a structured close in a few weeks. As one of our TAs mentioned in our Wednesday morning reflection, it is normal for people in trusting relationships to protect themselves from the anticipation of loss that occurs when the relationship’s end is in sight. Being so close to saying goodbye can be and was a major challenge for everybody this week.
The week’s topic was love and healthy relationships. Our awesome leaders worked really hard to plan out this week’s group. After dinner, the leaders lead a discussion on what love is and what the girls look for in a relationship. Some things that were mentioned that go into a healthy relationship were trust and honesty from the beginning of the relationship. The girls had very sophisticated things to say… they clearly had a strong idea of what they want to look for in a positive relationship. Later in the discussion, we began talking about Chris Brown and Rihanna’s relationship. Interestingly, we had a very strong divide between girls who believed that this relationship is abusive and girls who thought that Rihanna’s willingness to go back to her relationship with Chris Brown was indicative that this relationship was not abusive. This conversation ended up turning into a debate. In hindsight, it may have been better to break up the girls into small, developmentally appropriate groups, considering the divide between opinions on the relationship was also parallel to the divide of girls by age. This was a challenge that the college girls did a great job following up with the next week.
After this discussion, we moved around a bit and had everybody do different activities in an unstructured way. We depicted what healthy relationships looked like visually as well as creating recipes for what goes into a healthy relationship. We also used video cameras again to interview the girls on their opinions of what makes a relationship healthy. We all got a lot of hugs from the girls on their ways out the door. While this week did not go according to plans, we as a whole learned a lot about facilitating through this experience. We knew there was a lot more to come for the next week, and we put all our energy into making week 6 a great week.
Looking back on this past week’s Girls’ Group allows me to appreciate where the college girls, middle school girls and peer leaders have gotten in such a short span of time. This week we discussed race, culture and ethnicity, which we have been told has the potential to be a dead end topic if not approached appropriately. Our leaders this week did a great job preparing activities and our girls were incredibly receptive to the topic. During dinner, our peer leaders began with a quick “rate your day” activity using a scale of 1-10. After this, the peer leaders had the chance to lead a discussion about our community norms. I thought that revisiting these norms was really important. Our discussion about stepping up and stepping back laid down some necessary groundwork for the discussions we had for the rest of the session.
Between group norms and the discussion for the day, we all had a much-needed dance party. The girls had come back from a day of MCAS, so we mean it when we say it was much needed! The best part was getting each girl onto the dance floor having a good time.
Once our dance party ended, we settled our energy and broke up into three small groups. We all watched a video from the Tyra Banks show regarding race. In this video, three women were interviewed about their race and how they feel about their race(s). One of these women was half black and half white – the same racial makeup as one of the girls in my group. Our group had a very fascinating discussion about the struggles that come with being multiracial and how to deal with them. I was really impressed with how the middle school girl in my group discussed how she feels about her two races in a way that was respectful. She found it difficult to understand how the woman in the video can say such racist things. This led to a discussion about how people’s backgrounds influence their perceptions of racial groups. What I thought was interesting was how the diversity of our group influenced the discussion. I did not get the chance to hear what the girls in other groups had to say, but I am sure they noticed the same thing: the college girls alone would have had a very different conversation regarding the video than the middle school girls had. I felt that the middle school girls took these concepts of race to an even deeper and more personal level, which was incredibly valuable to hear. I think that our college class, which is not incredibly diverse, would have looked at the video with a lot more distance than the girls, who deal with race every day.
This past week in Girls, Media & You, group 1 discussed the topic of family. This discussion was prompted by the Disney World Package TV commercial called, “Some
The first reactions came from multiple girls who began to recite the words of the voiceover as they were being said in the commercial. As someone who does not watch TV and just found this video on YouTube, hearing the girls recite the words to the commercial really affirmed this choice of media for me. Clearly this commercial is something the girls hear many times while they watch TV. Even before this commercial ended, a girl mentioned that all the majority of the families were white. After it had played, we discussed aspects of family that were not represented in the commercial, including but not limited to family structure and interactions. Our lovely college girl, Ashley, had pointed out to us before this session started that a Google image search of the word, “family” yields many similar results. Clearly there is an idea circulating about what a family “ought to” look like.
After this discussion, we started our family tree/journal activity. We gave the girls the option to either visually depict their families or to write about their families in their journals based on a list of open prompts. During this time, our peer leaders also took the girls into the hall to interview them about their families. In the classroom, we began playing family-related music to listen to while we had a lot of 1-to-1 time with the girls. We were able to establish a lot of meaningful connections, and before we knew it, the session was over!
This past week in Girls, Media and You, Group 1 focused on body image! Erin, Jazzmyne and I, being the three leaders for the week, had many structured activities ready for the group. Once dinner started, we went around saying a rose (something that is going well in your life), a thorn (something that could be going better in your life) and a snowflake (something that makes you unique). Once we were half way around our picnic style circle, we knew that, in the interest of time, we would have to cut out some of the other activities planned. While rose, thorn, snowflake was not the quickest icebreaker, it was once that was meaningful. We had our entire group of girls this week. It was exciting to finally meet everybody, and the rose, thorn, snowflake exercise helped us get present with one another. The girls were genuinely interested in knowing more about their peers from different schools. For example, after someone had their turn, the girls would ask that girl, “why was that a rose,” or “why was that a thorn.” This exercise did a lot for our group cohesion because it was a structured yet conversational way to check in with how everybody was feeling that day.
After dinner, we revisited our community norms. These norms will be a continual project that we revisit every week. This week, the goal of community norms was to add in anything that was missing from last week to make sure that everyone had a chance to add what they feel is important.
Then we jumped right into the topic of body image. We split up into two discussion groups and both watched the “Dove Evolution” video:
The discussions we had in our small groups about this video sparked many sophisticated comments about the media’s ideals of beauty. What was really impressive about the girl’s reactions was that they immediately started at a place of sociocultural critique. The same things that we college girls read about in our fancy-shmancy books about body image and the media were being reiterated by middle school girls. I thought that this discussion shows how much these girls really take in and process on such a high level, but only rarely are provided an environment of safety and acceptance to share these thoughts.
Next we watched two separate videos in our two separate groups. One was titled, “Love Your Tree” by Eve Ensler and the other one was called, “The End of Diets” by Laci Green.
These videos produced conversations about loving ourselves. Because these came after the “Dove Evolution,” the girls had a firm grasp on what Ensler and Green meant by the media and its distortions of reality. These videos took us into a great discussion into what it means to be beautiful here and in different cultures. At one point, the same discussion on multicultural representations of beauty was happening at both tables: at one table, a high school peer leader was speaking and at the other a middle school girl was speaking. It was really impressive to see the same conversation happening across different levels of education. Later in the discussion, a middle school girl brought up the discussion of whether or not boys have these pressures too, which brought us into a conversation that also mimicked one that the college girls had in class toward the beginning of the semester.
After these discussions, we brought back journals and identity maps. We had a journal prompt prepared, but nobody used the prompt. I thought it was phenomenal that nobody felt pressured to use the prompts, because that really shows that the girls feel a type of ownership over their journals and choose to use them how they feel is most relevant.
There will be no blog for this week, because the college girls are on spring break, but we are hard at work planning for next week and we cannot wait to see the girls again!
I have to say our first girls’ group was more about quality than quantity considering many of our middle school girls were not able to make it! We were still able to build meaningful relationships that will carry us through the rest of the weeks. During dinner we had the chance to play two truths and a lie as our very first icebreaker. We were able to learn a lot about one another…we have girls who have been to places like Ethiopia, girls who have lived in Washington D.C., girls who might as well have lived in Washington D.C. considering the number of times they have been there, and then we have girls who have never been out of New England. Some of us have never even been to Walmart (just kidding – that was the lie!). Clearly we have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience between the middle schoolers, the two high school peer leaders and the college girls.
I was continually realizing as the night went on how the peer leaders will be a great resource. Seeing them in action was quite a sight, because as soon as they walked in the entire of the room made a switch in a positive way. Nobody was nearly as nervous as they were before after seeing how at home the peer leaders were. The peer leaders are high school girls who have completed the Girls, Media and You group as middle schoolers. It made me realize that this place essentially was a second home for these girls, and I am excited to see how they continue to be essential to the group process.
After dinner, we continued to learn more about one another through an icebreaker, called “the wind blows.” It was a great way to get up and moving. After we finished, we moved on to create our community norms, which are a set of expectations that we need in order to create a safe and comfortable environment for us to share whatever we want to share. This activity allowed many of our girls to speak up about what they need to be comfortable here. The peer leaders were a huge help by bringing up norms that were brought up in that past that they thought were helpful.
Then we introduced journals to the girls. These journals are a place where the girls can write, draw, collage, you name it! We will be trying to incorporate either a journal prompt or free journaling time in every week. This week, we were running out of time, so after introducing journals we went straight into identity maps. Each girl took on very different approaches to her identity map. One of our girls chose to cut pictures out of a magazine, and the other two mostly worked with markers and construction paper. Our girls choose to voice themselves in many different ways. One of our girls was a lot more vocal during community norm building and general conversations, while others could express themselves a lot more eloquently through visual modalities. We will definitely be planning to incorporate more modes of expression as the semester continues, and we cannot wait to meet the girls who were not able to make it Tuesday night and hear their voices!
The college girls are hard at work preparing for the middle school girls’ arrival this Tuesday! We have been working amongst ourselves to generate ideas for how this experience can be most meaningful to everybody involved. While we have a plan for what we will be doing each week, we know that dynamics will not always allow for us to stick to this plan precisely. From discussions with our TAs, who have all worked with Girls, Media and You groups in the past, no day is going to go entirely as predicted. I think that the day-to-day, minute-to-minute flexibility that we have will be the most exciting part of working with the girls.
Last week, the college girls had the opportunity to listen to a panel presentation with women who have had a wide breadth of experience working with middle school girls. They had a lot of meaningful knowledge, and it was nice to hear what we read in our books and constantly discuss in class from many different perspectives. What I took away from this panel is that there are many different ways to interact appropriately with the girls. There are not always going to be clear-cut answers to questions about appropriate boundaries, and I appreciated hearing so many different perspectives from knowledgeable women.
I think I speak for all the college girls when I say that we are all incredibly honored to have this opportunity to build relationships with middle school girls. Our discussions, as planned, will consist of all the things that seemed relevant in our lives as middle school girls. Some topics, such as race and sexuality, were topics that everybody thought about, but nobody talked about openly. I cannot wait to hear what these girls have to say when given the chance to discuss some of these trickier topics. It will certainly be a learning experience for all of us.
When I first signed up for Girlhood, Society, and Girl Culture, I chose it because it was one of the options for my Women’s Studies minor, and because I am interested in working with adolescent girls with behavioral disorders. I thought this class would give me some understanding of how girls think and operate within modern Western culture, and that a little bit of experience with the age group I want to work with would be good for a resume. I figured it would not have much relevance to the field of psychology that I want to get into because we were not working with girls undergoing psychiatric care, rather relatively “normal” girls with “normal” experiences. But throughout the weeks working with them, I realized that their experiences and the very personal and omnipresent topics we talked about in the groups affect every girl living in our culture on very deep levels, and for many girls, their everyday experiences have effects on their mental health.
Depending on what theories you subscribe to within the field of psychology, culture plays a certain role in shaping identity and personality. Our culture inherently does not promote the development of healthy, well-balanced young women, and being a girl without experiencing at least some kind of acute depression or anxiety at some point is extremely difficult. Girls are huge consumers of media, from Barbies and Disney Princess movies and merchandise, to fashion magazines, TV dramas, and music, and almost limitless Internet social sites and resources. Girls search for aspects of their identity in this outside world, to learn norms and expectations. But as Lipkin (2009) states, “The mixed messages girls are given can act like a vise. Turn one way and certain restrictions tighten; turn the other, and a different hook catches – often making adolescence a treacherous path to navigate with few ways to turn” (p. 15).
We have considered and discussed countless effects of constant media consumption, and have seen in the girls groups the kinds of anxieties and difficulties girls face as a result, including bullying and ostracism, pressures and assumptions around sexual activity, racism and bigotry, even a fear of being killed. These are day-to-day experiences for some girls, including us college girls. It makes no sense that 50% of the population, probably more when you consider other marginalized groups, experiences such stress and ambiguousness in their everyday lives, and it is easy to believe that these constant experiences can take a toll on mental health.
I can now identify that I have been experiencing anxiety since middle school, since I realized that I had to take on certain roles and choose how I would be perceived. I have been assessing and amending how I portray myself ever since, based on perceived reactions to me and how I want others to see me. I began by adopting a “punk,” edgy style, in rejection of the “popular” girls. But I was also aware of how adults judged me based on my outward appearance, and I felt that I had to deserve their respect by achieving well in school despite my eyeliner and dyed hair, as if it was on my shoulders to prove adults’ perceptions of me wrong, perceptions that I probably invented. This caused anxiety because I had the identity of a studious, genuinely involved student battling with the identity of a non-conformist rebel that I picked up from my peer group. I also felt pressure to rise to the expectations of the body type I was assigned: tall, slender, “model-esque”. I knew I was tall and thin, but I also knew that the average size of a model was 00-2, which I was not. But I felt that if I was “blessed” with my body type, I had to take advantage and validate it by not eating breakfast and throwing up my school lunch in order to reach sizes that were physically impossible.
I still have trouble with my body image when I see ethereal, willowy models making their shapes look achievable and commonplace, and I still am always working to come to terms with my multiple identities, including the labels ascribed to me from 7th grade. I have also never been in psychiatric care. In the girls’ group, I saw many of the same patterns I went and am still going through in searching for my identity and stressing about my “image.” I see the causes and results of these experiences in the readings, written from the perspectives of adult women who experienced the same things. Of the people in our groups, college or middle school girls, and of the authors we are reading, and of the girls they are talking about, how many of us have been in psychiatric treatment for our constant stress and anxiety and identity crises? It’s not all of us, and yet what we are experiencing should not be considered healthy, normal, or commonplace. The difficulties we face every day should not be accepted, they should be voiced and changed. This class helped me to realize that, and the field of Girl’s Studies is helping the world to realize that.
I barely knew anything about the field of Girl’s Studies before this class. I knew about feminism and identified as a feminist, and I knew about girls like Shelby Knox and Tavi Gevinson who used the Internet to reach out to spread information about girls’ issues. But through our readings, I have discovered that Girls’ Studies is an important and relevant field that does not have enough attention paid to it, especially by feminists. Every girl is going to grow up to be a woman, making up half of our society’s population, helping it to continue functioning. Why should we put aside the serious issues that affect them, such as girl hate and negative female representations in the media, in favor of reproductive rights or pay equality? Not to say that these are less important issues, but these issues are begotten because for generations girls were taught the way of the world by the media and a patriarchal social structure, and did not realize the inherent inequality of their status until they were adults. And some women were so consumed by the patriarchal nature of our society as children that they don’t see the importance of fighting these gross injustices as adults, and don’t see them for what they are and the effect they have on all women. That is why people who identify as feminists, who believe that women are still not treated as equal citizens and must be, are in the minority. But as the field of Girls’ Studies and programs like ours show adolescents these issues, then they can grow up fully aware of the problems they face, and can brainstorm ways to fix them.
I did not realize the importance of these programs before I was in this class, but now I reflect on my adolescence and wonder why no one ever told me that what I saw in Seventeen was going to make me want to starve myself, and no one suggested to me that instead of wanting to throw up and count calories at age twelve, I might want to stop my subscription and pick up a Tamora Pierce novel or watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I could experience strong female role models before I finally realized what they represented at age 17. Nobody knew that my problems existed and permeated my everyday life, and no one realized that the solution was simple: expose me to a strong female role model, because that was exactly what did the trick after about 5 years of bulimia. Girls experience clinical mental illnesses; anxiety disorder, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia, anorexia nervosa, anorexia athletica. But if they aren’t close to death or attempting suicide, or if no one happens to notice their strange behaviors, then they are just practicing social norms for women. But this isn’t normal, and our group has hopefully brought that to light for a small group of young women. Hopefully, the field of Girls’ Studies with raise awareness to a few more, and we can move forward in womanhood together.
Lipkin, E. (2009). Girls’ Studies. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.