Category Archives: Media

old news but good…

I don’t know about you, but I only get to read the papers I buy on Saturday slowly during the week, so here it goes, a bit late…

Guess what everyone is talking about these days, and was the headline of the Guardian this Saturday? New regulations on the sexual commercialisation of children. David Cameron (the UK Prime Minister that is) commisioned research on this, called the Bailey Review, and the report is out this week. Some of the recommendations include:

‘to back a plan to stop retailers selling inappropriate clothes for pre-teens and shield childrenfrom sexualised imagery across all media, including selling “lads magazines” in brown covers and making the watchdog Ofcom more answerable to the views of parents.

Retailers would be required to sign up to a new code preventing the sale of items for pre-teens with suggestive slogans, which the prime minister has repeatedly criticised.’

What it seems like is that more than regulation and legislation the recommendations are  going to be for signing up to voluntary codes of conduct for instance.

What Tanith Carey argues in the the family section is that regulation is a good way of sending a signal, but it is only a starting point, and urges parents to be more vocal and to exert their power as parents too.

I think it is a step forward that this is a matter of debate, of regulation and that it migth open up spaces for parents to feel that they are not isolated in thinking that padded bras and thongs with suggestive slogans are a bit mad for 6 six year olds.

In this debate, there were many opinion pieces which can be found online here and here and here for instance, and luckily the F word made an appearance because I was already starting to worry about siding with the conservatives!



Pink and pretty – how ‘innocent’ can harm

Orenstein, Peggy, 2011, Cinderella ate my daughter. Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture, New York:  HarperCollins Publishers

I explained before what moved me to grab this book. As the title of the book suggests, it studies and analyses the new incarnation of the girlie-girl culture.

I liked this book for several reasons.

First, because I could identify with the authors concerns for her daughter and the reasons she set out to study more in detail this phenomenon. She describes how she wants to encourage her daughter to be a healthy, happy, strong girl. The girlie-girl culture freaks her out, but at the same time she does not want to give her daughter the impression that feminine, or girly stuff is not good, that ‘boys’ things are better. She wants her daughter to find a way of exploring her sexuality in her own terms, and being able to understand her body, her desire, her needs. And thus, objects strongly to the early sexualisation of children, and to the models of coming of age that seem to follow the princes stage – that of modern human ‘princesses’ such as Hannah Montana or Britney, which ends up being about objectifying.  She wants her daughter to be strong and independent, to have a healthy body image and at the same time to fit in. She is worried about media, but also about social media. And more. 

And she is brave to tackle head on these difficult issues. To do so, she immerses in the girlie-girl culture, by talking and interviewing different people, such as the mind behind the Disney Princess phenomenon, by analysing different products and toys – from Barbie, American Girl to Bratz, and all the z phenomenon-, by talking to mothers and children –including toddler pageants’ mothers- , by reviewing studies, and also weaving in personal stories. This book is mainly targeted at the general public, more than an academic audience. It is journalistic. And it is well-done in this sense as I found it not only informative, but also funny, and very engaging. I read it very quickly.

A thing I really appreciated about this book is that it is not written from a smug ‘know-it-all’ perspective. She questions herself, backtracks, starts again, moves in different directions around the issues and shows her personal struggles. It is like reading a funny, honest, on-going conversation of the author with herself, and with others, around the tricky issues parents and children face in contemporary girlhood. It is the type of conversation I would have myself. So in a way, I am glad she has done so much work that I can use, and also work with. Beware, if you are looking for a more ‘parental advice’ book, this book shows her journey, not a clear cut ‘solution’.

For me, this made the book meaty and engaging, but also particularly difficult to review properly, to summarise. And for this reason, I have decided that it would be more interesting to describe here briefly the issues the book touches on, and to, in the following weeks follow up with the different themes this book raises.

So here it goes:

Orenstein starts this book by arguing the importance of thinking about the girlie-girl culture, even though we might be tempted – with so many other issues to worry about- to give it a pass. She states that the emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase a girl’s vulnerability to the issues that most worry parents: depression, eating disorders, disordered body image, risky sexual behaviour, to name a few.

She argues that these issues don’t just magically appear during teenage years, but are slowly built throughout the years. And that these little decisions parents make all along, such as which toys, movies, clothes, children wear/use matter. Her aim is to understand ways in which we can help our daughters navigate the contradictions they will face as girls, and to show us how and what this culture has become and what has changed in the last years.

She deals with the question of why princesses appeal, not only to children and businesses, but to parents. And shows how these are appealing to parents many times for their ‘safety’, but that this is done through a consumer culture that encourages the opposite. In addition, she scrutinises the boom of ‘pink and pretty’ for girls, and for this explores the business sense in this strategy, and how limiting this turns out to be for creating a female identity. This leads her to tackle the issue of nature vs. nurture, and to show how even though there is phase where gender for children needs to be validated through exterior signs, which makes them more prone to seek reassurance from toys, clothes, colours, this is also a stage in which they are more malleable to long-term influences on abilities and roles that go with sex. Next, she looks at how exploration of femininity can lead to exploitation and how difficult to manoeuvre the land of sexually charged toys, dolls, clothes.

Furthermore, she discusses the need for violent play, and critiques how this has been thwarted by TV. She shows how, even if children use the same toys –such as guns – as older generations used, the marketing culture in which they are immersed means that the relationship that girls (and boys) have with this toys and the impact they have, is different. The author also explains how tame Disney fairytales can be detrimental to a child’s emotional development, and describes her successful experiments with more gory versions, which at least, she argues, give better models for coming on age than the real life princesses she goes on to examine.

Orenstein described how the passage, the coming of age, of real-life princesses, such as the Hannah Montana actress or Britney Spears, for instance, seems to invariably involve the shedding of clothes. Her struggle here is that these modern day princesses seem to express the struggle of girls more widely, but encourage girls to view self-objectification as a female rite of passage.

Next comes a related, and major, issue in all this girlie-girl culture:  the importance of body image. She describes here the history of fat, and how it became not only a health issue, but the moral issue it is today. Her advice, before having a daughter, to avoid eating disroders and a disordered body image was the usual: praise the actions not the body, involve her in group sports, in volunteerism, and make her media literate. But she shows how hard it is to counteract a message that is given by everything and everyone, and also one that you find hard modelling yourself. And how hard she finds it to give her daughter a sense of self-worth that was not contingent on her looks and clothes, but at the same time make her also stay allies with other girls.

Finally, she studies how the internet and social media is experienced and used by older children. She shows how social media has changed the ways children conceptualise their selves and their relationships, and that these are build in a similar way as ‘branding’. In addition, she shows how bad judgement was much less memorable before, and how forms of harassment and bullying have found new and wider forms of expression. The author points out how different ages bring different challenges, different abilities and development, and thus, different parental strategies need to follow. The author, however, reminds us that our role is that of preparing them, more than shielding them, from the world.  

As you can see, even with this brief summary of issues, there is plenty of stuff to dissect. I do recommend this book, and would love if you want to join me in reading and discussing it together…like a geeky book club, you know you want to 🙂

And if you don’t keep up, I will send you some pink toys and a princess DVD your way…


Note: I have not been sent or asked to review this book.

Education crushing creativity in children

Just when I was thinking about finding ways of not interfering and allowing children to make mistakes and what critical thinking is, I came across this amazing video. Please please watch this amazing video talk on children’s creativity and education by Sir Ken Robinson, I found via simply montessori. It will make you think, laugh out loud, and if you are softy as me, even cry.

And if you get carried away, also watch this one, by the same guy.


Health for children not a priority in the UK

I was talking to Natalia the other day about our experiences with the NHS care for children, and we both felt that our GPs did not have much of a clue about children’s health, that they were not properly looked at (clinically), and that most of the times, our concerns were dismissed, or not heard.

First, let me say, that I love the NHS, I think it is amazing that there is such good public care, and I understand that because this is the case, many times we don’t have access to other ‘luxuries’ I could get in Argentina, like for instance, being able to call my paediatrician by mobile phone when I have a query. Because in Argentina I pay for this very expensive, private, care. And this means that you get what you can pay, which I think it is an awful way of thinking about something as basic as health care.  This, however, does not mean that I don’t feel that there are many problems, inconsistencies, and disorganisation within the NHS, which now that I have a daughter, sometimes scares me.

Today, I read an article in the Guardian online, which underlined some of these problems, which are probably bound to be made worse with the cuts and changes that this government is planning. Reading the confirmation of our fear is not a nice way to start the morning, I can tell you.

This article shows how a study by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), has flagged up a very serious shortage of consultants, and a need to better organise children’s units to deliver safe care. Scarily, data from the college shows that  

‘a third of the 220 children’s units in the UK are not compliant with the EU working time directive. Doctors are forced to work longer than 48 hours, trainees – albeit senior trainees working to become consultants – are left in charge, locums are having to be employed and consultants end up having to stay overnight unexpectedly in the hospital because there is no one else.’

One of the reasons for these problems is, guess what? under-investment.

‘Under-investment in children’s services is partly to blame. The number of children arriving in accident and emergency has gone up by 12% since 2009 – now almost 4 million children a year, a quarter of all visits – possibly because GPs no longer routinely do their own out-of-hours cover. And a surprisingly low proportion – 37% – of GPs has done any training at all in paediatrics. In many other countries children are not taken to a GP but to a paediatrician.’

The problems, however, are not only in emergency care, but also in routine care, and it shows how diabetes is not well controlled, and cancer symptoms are not picked up soon enough, which means there is less possibility of chidlren  surviving.

I find the fact that the majority of GPs have not had any training in paedriatric shocking in one way, but on the other it unfortunately resonates with my experience.

Children, as Prof Sir Ian Kennedy is quoted saying, are not a priority within the health service.

Depressing. Sorry.

Something you can do:


Women in academia

I was reading this article, ‘Gains, and Drawbacks, for Female Professors’, by Kate Zernike in the New York times,  sent to the radical geographer’s list, and straight after that I read Natalia’s review. It was inevitable that I talked about this, you see.

This article tells the story of gender progressive change in the School of Science of MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts. It shows the attempts at overcoming gender inequalities, but also, how this brought about a different set of thorny issues.

This is the story. The starting point for this change was women who were fed up with the situation, who reached out to other women. This wasn’t particularly difficult, as the article points out, because there were only 15 women with tenure, compared to 197 men.

I love the way they set up to prove this inequality:

Women undergraduates outnumbered men in some departments, but the percentage of women on the faculty had remained relatively flat for 20 years. The school had never had a woman in any position of leadership. [..] The women gathered more data — crawling on the floor with tape measures to compare lab space for men and for women. They took their concerns to the dean, Robert J. Birgeneau, who did his own study, which backed up the women’s conclusions that there were wide disparities in salary and resources and a general marginalization of women.

And this is the university’s president wise conclusion, an admittance which created waves in other universities. 

 “I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception,” the university’s president, Charles M. Vest, wrote in the 1999 report. “True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.”

Satisfying to hear it admitted like this, isn’t it? It kind of makes me want to get my tape measure out…

So what happened? After 10  years of gender progressive policies, there was impressive change. The numbers of female faculty nearly doubled, there are now many women in positions of power (president, deans and department heads). It has become very family friendly, as the university provides a pause for a year in the tenure clock, and everyone gets a term-long leave after the arrival of a child. There is day care on campus and subsidies for child care while travelling on business, and  ‘inequities in salaries, resources, lab space and teaching loads have largely been eliminated.’

But. There is always a but…

  • One of the main concerns is that because of this aggressive push to hire more women, and to include more women, there is an impression that women are given an unfair advantage, when actually this is not the case, as nobody is hired without at least 15 (!) recommendations outside MIT, as the article states. But women undergraduates keep asking for advice on how to handle the ‘you are just here because you are a women’ kind of remark.
  • Because the rule is that women have to be present at every committee, and there are still less women in the faculty, a lot of their time is taken in this bureaucratic work, in detriment of their research time.
  • Even with generous family policies, which meant that families are now the norm, parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one, and women, not men, are often invited to speak about their work-life balance. Moreover, men use family time to do outside work, which increases professional inequalities. 
  • Stereotypes about women remain: there is an acceptable range of behaviour for women, which women describe as not too aggressive, but not too soft either. And biases are found in letters of recommendation for tenure, which for men tend to focus on intellect while women’s tend to dwell on temperament.

Because of this progress, the faculty now struggles to accommodate two career couples, while ten years ago, women with tenure ‘tended to be married only to their careers’.

I find this story fascinating. To see what can be achieved when you really go for change. It is impressive. And how, as always, new things come up, or as it turns out, some things that were good in principle, such as women participating in committees, turned into burdens and a new source of inequalities. But it also shows how change has to be wider than what can be done at one faculty or university. As one of the professors there states:  

‘The more fundamental issues are societal, and M.I.T. can’t solve them on its own’.

True, oh so true. But there is no changing things unless small/big changes take place. So hurray for this.

Mostrarse (o no) es un tema feminista

Hasta ahora, venimos hablando alrededor de este tema: el taparse (o no) como cuestión feminista a través del tema de la lactancia, sobre todo con el de dar la teta en público, y del velo. Acá comparto un video que hizo Annie de PhD in Parenting sobre el tema – un blog interesantísimo que mezcla investigación sobre temas de ser padres, y que es personal y político, y que da en el clavo, que no es poco. A ver qué les parece.

This video on covering up as a feminist issue is also in English and French. Take a look.


El uso del velo en las aulas o cómo proteger a las mujeres de ellas mismas

 El País  de fecha de hoy recoge una noticia que ya ha sido debatida en distintos países europeos  referente a la prohibición del uso del velo en las escuelas. En este caso, el debate se centra en la aprobación de una ley por la Xunta Gallega que apoya la mencionada prohibición.

El secretario General de Educación de La Xunta, Jesús Oitavén, en su comparecencia ante el Parlamento Gallego, señaló los siguientes argumentos a favor de la prohibición.

a)     La consistencia de la prohibición de uso del velo con la jurisprudencia del Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos sobre la materia. En especial,  los casos Köse, Dragu y Kervanci contra Turquía.

b)     El principio de no-discriminación por razones de género.

c)      El reglamento interno del colegio que establece la obligación de no llevar la cabeza tapada.

Sin entrar a debatir los aspectos jurídicos de la prohibición del uso del velo en la jurisprudencia del Tribunal Europeo, ni las distintas decisiones adoptadas, entre otros en el Reino Unido en donde el multiculturalismo es entendido en otras claves,  sí me gustaría comentar desde un punto de vista feminista  algunas cuestiones. Si bien es cierto que algunas feministas radicales entienden que el uso del velo pone de manifiesto la inferioridad de la mujer frente al varón,  otras que se mueven en el  ámbito del feminismo liberal entienden que las limitaciones  del  uso del velo, aunque justificadas en algunos casos deben ser producto de un cuidadoso análisis de las circunstancias concretas y de su contexto .

En este caso, como en otros, resulta interesante analizar cómo los medios de comunicación y los políticos se presentan como defensores del principio de igualdad y no discriminación sin preguntar  a las mujeres musulmanas qué les parece la citada prohibición.  Será que no importa.

El velo es en muchos contextos un elemento de resistencia ante la integración, pero también puede implicar que la mujer musulmana desea integrarse sin perder su identidad. El velo no es necesariamente símbolo de sumisión ya que opera en contextos identitarios cambiantes. Para algunas mujeres implica sumisión al patriarcado, pero para otras puede significar la afirmación de unas creencias religiosas.

 Al-Hibri,  profesora feminista musulmana  pregunta a este respecto por qué es mas liberador llevar una minifalda que un velo. La cuestión por lo tanto no sólo es la propia autonomía de la mujer a la hora de decidir cómo quiere representar su cuerpo, sino también el significado que esa opción conlleva a los ojos de una determinada sociedad .

Personalmente no tengo tan claro que el velo sea sinónimo de opresión, y creo que hay que preguntar a las interesadas antes de llegar a cualquier tipo de conclusión. El hecho de que los hombres lleven ciertas indumentarias propias de su religión o creencia, en general, no causa tanto revuelo como cuando una mujer decide usar el velo. Lo que no deja de ser curioso es que en este debate la mujer se representa como víctima  inerme a la que hay que liberar incluso de sus propias decisiones y deseos.

Las razones esgrimidas por el secretario General de Educación de La Xunta son legítimas, pero no me convencen. Si de verdad se quiere apoyar la prohibición del uso del velo en las aulas  para promocionar los derechos de la mujer musulmana se debería escuchar a las interesadas y valorar las consecuencias de una decisión de este tipo para el colectivo.