I have been enamored with gender and media studies since about the winter of 2001 when I took a class at Kansas State University from a brilliant and outspoken feminist: Melissa Divine.
The course was fantastically diverse due in part to the fact that the University's football coach Bill Snyder required his football players to take a women's studies class at some point in their college career (Kudos coach Snyder!), also some of the diversity was probably due to the draw of being able to watch cinema and TV for homework rather than to avoid homework. I literally was supposed to watch Ally McBeal and Buffy and Working Girl.
Since having a daughter of my own I have been acutely aware of media of all kinds and it's effect on girls. A lot of my class was based around the sexualization of women in TV as well as the violence of print ads and the pressure to be thin. It has been 11 years since this course and there are not only been any forward mobility in this movement it is the opposite. Reality TV has brought us so much more to worry about. Now girls believe that having a relationship with a guy is utmost important to their self worth and that these relationships will involve fighting and possibly competing with other girls to get said guy. This competition with other girls is catty and rude in nature (The Girl Scout Research Institute 2011). Reality TV personalities like Snooki show my daughter that she doesn't need education, self-worth or any sort of class at all to be well-known, rich and famous.
And before they may be interested in Reality TV it seems to be Disney's modus operandi to snag them in preschool and marinate them in glitter and all things "wait for your prince to come". Who cares what happens to our daughter's brains when they are making a cool more than 4 BILLION dollars a year worldwide in products 2.6 more billion at the box office (Disney Consumer Products Research).
I think Disney says it best when they tell me: "Little girls never forget their first encounter with a Disney Princess. Even long after they're all grown up, they continue to pass along their love for these heroines, introducing them to their own daughters." (Disney Consumer Products Research).
As for passing things on to my own daughter, here is what from my youth I intend to pass on.
My mother was the first woman at her college to be inducted as an athlete into their Hall of Fame. She still holds the record for most points scored in a basketball game (40 pts) and even since adding the 3 point line no one has surpassed it.
My dad and mom told me I could be anything, and meant it. They encouraged me academically and especially fostered my love of questions and answers.
We played games together as a family, my mother and father love the newspaper and would talk to us about current events and get our opinions on them.
My mother did not allow us to call boys (or my brother to call girls until age 16). You may think that sounds sexist. It was not. She did not want us worrying about "relationships" when we should be free to think about other things.
My mother did not wear much make up in front of me and never expressed disdain for her body parts.
We were not called "princess" or "daddy's girl" or any nicknames that were gender specific. She called all of us (my brother, sister and myself) "babe" as her only term of endearment, otherwise we had nicknames derived from our names.
My brother was never discouraged from crying, playing dolls alongside of us or being sensitive, in fact he was encouraged to be sweet, kind and loving.
I never heard my dad make a sexist remark.
My brother was punished thoroughly the time he dared to tell my sister she "threw like a girl", by my mother who reminded him that she could out throw him and that he never (and hasn't to this day) ever scored 40 points in a basketball game.
My parents weren't perfect but in these ways they were. My parents thinking that I was a hard worker, smart and kind were the highest accolades I could think of as a child.
This is what is important for me. Society will continue to come up with new ways to entice my daughter into believing that how she looks is more important than what she thinks, and that her "heroines" should wear tulle and glitter. It's up to me to not be the passive female consumer they expect me to be. My daughter's self-worth depends on it.
title courtesy of ani difranco: rain check