[Yours Truly featured in this article originally posted in The Toronto Sun – Sun Media Canada, 8 March 2012]
We’ve come a long way, baby?
Not far enough.
Pushing girl power is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8. The problem is, “there’s no push on parading strong, smart and savvy females in mainstream media,” says Cheryl Miller, co-founder of Greenlightforgirls.org. “There’s a shortage of inspirational, motivating role models in the public eye.”
Instead, ruling the media is a circus of bullies, surgery addicts and emotional wrecks. Digital-age divas are not exactly fabulous role models – the Kardashian sisters, Jersey Shore’s Snooki, the Housewives and Bachelorettes, all drama queens, biting and backstabbing.
Add to that public displays of poor behaviour by stars like Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan.
Gender inequality in entertainment TV persists. Women’s voices as talk show guests, talk show hosts, radio news directors, movie directors, producers, writers and editors, are shut out and shut down, reports Women’s Media Center in New York.
According to Miller, this “jumble of confusing sensory input breeds animosity and a drive to conform to externally imposed and conflicting images that stunts personal growth.”
Role models matter. “Ultimately, girls disconnect from themselves, not to mention from each other; questioning their own sense of purpose, worth and their abilities, they accept compromises. Where is there room for inspiring futures here?” says Miller, who is working to bring Greenlight for Girls to Canada. It’s a Brussels-based organization promoting girl power in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Low self-esteem can prevent girls from pursuing math and science careers. “They don’t feel empowered enough to go out on a limb and stake their claim in these areas – and the values that girls would bring to these fields never come to light,” says Miller.
“More and better images of women need to become dominant among those vying for top position in the minds of our young girls,” adds Miller. “Ultimately we believe girls will save the world.”
According to Cathy Wing, of media-awareness.ca, “media is a strong influence but we firmly believe adults mediating can mitigate a lot of the negative female stereotyping. Parents are the most important role models in kids’ lives.”
High-profile ambassadors for Because I Am A Girl are doing their part by helping the global movement spread awareness about girls’ rights and International Day of the Girl Child on Oct. 11.
Thanks to Becauseiamagirl.ca ambassadors, including Marnie McBean, Jenn Heil and Erin Davis, women’s plights and accomplishments will be recognized on March 8, as well as “the power and potential of young girls as critical agents of social change in their own lives and across the world,” says Paula Roberts, of Plan Canada.
“While stars and celebrities are highly visible, I think it’s important to remember that role models for girls are sometimes closer to home than we might think. A positive role model can be your mother, teacher, coach, aunt, or even a neighbour on your street,” says Roberts.
She adds that getting involved in initiatives not only exposes girls to strong role models, but can help girls actually become strong role models themselves.
Former Olympic sculling champion McBean is a role model extraordinaire: “I advocate for people to see that even their small actions can have an impact on others – sometimes that impact may be hidden, but there is incredible potential to championing each other, particularly when girls champion other girls, and women champion other women – we close the gap, and rise up and succeed for the effort,” says McBean, author of The Power of More – How Small Steps Can Help Us Achieve Big Goals.
Erin Davis, radio personality and Becauseiamagirl.ca: “Every girl on our planet deserves the opportunities she’s been given because girls’ rights are human rights. And by lifting up just one girl, we’ve given her the chance to fulfill her promise, her purpose, her potential and her place in our world. Join in Because I’m a Girl and make a difference in a girl — and our world!”
Jenn Heil, Olympic freestyle skier: “International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women around the world and the progress made. As an ambassador for Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl initiative I have travelled to Burkina Faso and Rwanda and seen firsthand what is possible when girls have access to basic education.”