Despite the strides made towards achieving gender equality in our society, the portrayal of women and girls in media and culture continues to promote and reinforce negative stereotypes and images.
From television and film to magazines and marketing campaigns, girls are bombarded with messages that tell them how they should look and act, not to mention who they should become.
At Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, we know media literacy is a fundamental skill to help girls build positive body image and self-perception. This year, Girls Inc. Week — held May 2-6, 2016 — is dedicated to media awareness and how we can empower girls to critically examine what they see and hear and how they can advocate for positive changes around them.
Growing up, girls receive very distinct messages from the retail industry. Many of the toys manufactured for and marketed to girls are designed to develop skills in nurturing, cooking and housework while toys designed for boys promote the development of spatial, scientific and building skills, which encourage their cognitive and physical development.
Gender labeling impacts the toys children like, how they develop and what they learn about the world.
As girls enter adolescence, they receive powerful messages about sexual behavior, violence and substance abuse — all of which are depicted as being more prevalent than is really the case and as having no serious consequences.
Girls also receive mixed messages around standards of beauty, diversity, gender roles and careers, influencing their self-confidence and decision-making.
Girls Inc. teaches girls to be stronger than the messages they receive. Our girls learn to critically examine how and why messages are constructed, how they reflect and/or shape social values and how girls can influence the message.
Girls also have the opportunity to explore the business side and governmental regulation of media, and they get to produce their own media messages about issues important to them. Their resulting media literacy helps them look behind the lens and transform their worldview.
As part of our Early Literacy Program for kindergarten through third-grade girls, we use a collection of books featuring strong female characters, both fictional and biographical, as the catalyst for learning.
Our STEM Fridays program introduces girls to careers in science, technology, engineering and math through engaging, hands-on activities led by women working in these fields. These local women serve as role models and reminders that STEM fields are not just for boys.
Seven-year-old Sophia from Carpinteria is a shining example of how our girls are countering stereotypes. Sophia particularly enjoys participating in our science enrichment program and the many hands-on experiments, such as creating a “tornado in a bottle” using dirt, rocks, sand, water and glitter. She hopes to become a biologist when she grows up.
The success Sophia has achieved in just the short time she has been with our organization is a testament of how our programs are helping girls to aim high and dream big.
As we celebrate Girls Inc. Week, I encourage our community to discuss the representation of women and girls in media and marketing with a girl in your life.
Whether it’s celebrating the accomplishments of women who are succeeding in nontraditional areas or encouraging girls to develop a healthy body image focusing on health, flexibility and strength, we can all play a role in teaching girls to be media savvy.
By encouraging girls to think critically about what they see in media and retail, we empower them to discover their own values and positively advocate for themselves and others.
— Victoria Juarez is the executive director of Girls Inc. of Carpinteria.