Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Feminist Sheros: Take Back Halloween

A year ago, in the Halloween Costume Challenge, I explored how to be creative and have fun with costumes that don't sexualize children or rely on racist or sexist stereotypes.

Today I attended a work event where we were encouraged to dress as our favourite Shero.  Costumes depicted a wide range of women who have gone before and led the way in sport, literature, medicine, science fiction, and music just to name a few.

My photography skills are limited and I only had a phone camera...  but this was such a perfect opportunity to capture a whole bunch of creative and empowering ideas for future halloween costumes. Please ignore the fuzzy photos and bad lighting and instead appreciate the evidence that it doesn't have to be a challenge to costume ourselves and our children as heros, sheros, role models and other powerful figures from history.

And just to keep this page smart as well as fun...  I've included links for more information on each of these Shero's, as needed!  

[Note... it turns out that the layout of all these photos & words isn't working well in mobile format so I hope you are reading it on a computer.]

Huge thanks to my colleagues who let me share their pictures here!!  

Starting with today's prize winner for best costume...   Clara Hughes

She is a six-time Olympian medalist, Officer of the Order of Canada and Member of the Order of Manitoba. As a spokesperson for mental health initiatives she has used her voice to reduce stigma and create positive social change.

 Two interpretations of  Rock 'n Roll icon 
Joan Jett; performing since the '70's she helped paved the way for women in rock music.

The most historical female of them all... 
Mother Nature

Annie Oakley (1860-1962), known for as a famous sharpshooter and performer in the Buffalo Wild West Show; She was also known for her philanthropy in the support of women's rights. 

This Shero doesn't need an explanation if you have daughters or were a child yourself sometime in the past 20 years!   Of course she is the beloved Paper Bag Princess from the story book by Robert Munsch. 

 Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was first arrested for providing contraception to women in 1917 and arrested multiple times for speaking her mind.  She founded the organization that became Planned Parenthood.


 Tavi Gevinson is the 17 year old American writer who founded Rookie Magazine featuring topics that range from pop culture and fashion to social issues and feminism.  Unlike a few of our more historic Sheros, you can follow Tavi on Twitter

Velma Dinkley,  was the adorable brainiac part of the gang in the animated series Scooby Doo!

The iconic image of Rosie the Riveter shouldn't need an explanation, but there is a pretty fabulous collection of artifacts, stories and photos here of American women who served at the home front during the second world war.

Kathrine Switzer first ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 - five years before women were legally allowed to enter the race.  She tells her story here. 

Katherine was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating a social revolution by empowering women around the world through running.

Fans of Battlestar Galactica won't need an introduction to Kara Thrace aka "Starbuck" one of television's most complex action (s)heros!
Perhaps she is a lesser known Shero to some... but here the management team pays tribute to our Executive Director, Joan Dawkins.  Well done team! 

Channelling Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this colleague arrived as her own Shero:  
Sharon the Patriarchy Slayer! 

Beloved Canadian author and feminist (and some hope... future Mayor of Toronto?)  Margaret Atwood

You can follow her on Twitter too! 

One ambitious colleague dressed to capture an entire genre... here she embodies Film Noir

I confess I couldn't find the Shero in the genre itself (femme fatale perhaps?) but I believe this costume was just an excuse to wear that stole and fabulous hat - and that is good enough for me! 

In case you aren't up on international punk rock protest groups, Pussy Riot is a  feminist Russian, guerrilla performance group. Two of it's members are currently in prison in Russia as a result of peaceful protests. Super fun costume but also a really serious issue! Please check out the link to learn more about these women and the organizations that are supporting their efforts to be released from jail:   Help Free Pussy Riot

And finally, the last Shero of the day... Athena, a goddess from Greek mythology. 

Athena is the Goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, math, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts and skill. 

That pretty much sums up all the awesomeness of the women I spent my day with, numbering far more than those featured here. 

Have a safe, creative, empowered Halloween everyone!!    

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

International Day of the Girl 2013

Friday October 11th, 2013 marks the second annual International Day of the Girl.  

This campaign was initiated by Plan Canada, and the cause was taken up by thousands and thousands of supporters. Responding to advocacy efforts,  Canada proposed a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly. In December 2011, the UN declared that October 11th would be an annual international observance day in honour of the girl child.  You can read the full text of the resolution here.

Around the world girls face multiple barriers to education, and in many parts of the world they are at higher risk of poverty than their male counterparts.  Many are forced into early marriage and childbirth.  This day serves to shine a spotlight on these issues and to encourage action  all year round.

As stated by Plan Canada:
 ... when you invest in girls, the whole world benefits. If a girl has enough to eat, a safe environment, and an education, she’ll work to raise the standard of living for herself, her family and her community. And in time, she can even strengthen the economy of her entire country.  (The Girl Issue)
On October 11th, 2012, the very the first International Day of the Girl (IDOG), I was invited to facilitate a workshop and spend the day with several hundred girls from the Toronto District School Board's Young Women on the Move Program at an event hosted by Plan Canada and the Dove Self-Esteem Fund.

Participants had their awareness raised about the experiences of girls in developing countries, and many of them also brought their own knowledge and experience of having immigrated or been refugees from a country where their choices would be far more limited.  While systemic barriers to attending school and early marriage may not be an issue here in Canada, we talked about how our culture imposes barriers on girls as well.  Media pressures, lack of self-esteem or self-confidence and an over-focus on weight and body were issues that girls identified as getting in their way of achievement and healthy development. 

Throughout the day we had some fun with media awareness, learned about effective goal setting and practiced skills to overcome dis-empowering self-talk.  We discussed our responsibility to build up and support other girls as well as ourselves.  It was an honour and a privilege to share the day with such an amazing group including the  the fantastic, dedicated teachers that support them in this area of personal growth. 

This year, I'll spend October 11th at my counselling job... where I work with amazing & dedicated women providing support for other women who are working at eating disorder recovery.  Our work is a daily reminder that hunger (of the body and of the spirit) can also be a barrier to women's full achievement even in Western culture.

My contribution to IDOG this year is to use my blog as a platform for this remarkable event and invite you to support the important goals of International Day of the Girl.

Please consider donating your time or resources

I don't sell advertising to my blog and I don't earn any income from this writing but today I will ask this:     If you like what I write or if it has ever been helpful or raised your awareness about issues in the lives of girls and women... then please show your appreciation now by following the links below.   

You could donate money to help send a girl to school or discover other meaningful ways to help educate, empower and change the outcome for hundreds of thousands of girls around the world.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Help Your Daughter Navigate Social Cliques

Does your daughter want to hang out in the popular crowd at school but then act like she loathes them at the same time?

YA novels, TV shows and movies glamorize rather than stigmatize the idea of cliques. In fact, in these shows, the most popular girl may be the least likeable by grown-up standards. Years ago when my friend had a daughter in middle school, she noticed that the meaning of the word popular had changed over the decades since we were in school. Popular used to mean the girl that had a lot of real friends and that everyone liked. Today popular may mean something more like the most influential girl, or the most powerful girl in the group but she also may be the most feared, rather than the most likeable one.

Photo by Karin Vlietstra at zalouk webdeesign
The message to girls is that if they are not going to be in the popular group than they had better be vocal about hating the popular group and show that they are too cool to care. 

This isn't a new idea. Remember the distinct stereotypes played out in The Breakfast Club in 1985? While the boys admired and feared Claire (preppy, rich Molly Ringwald), the other female character, Allison (wounded, angry Ally Sheedy) went out of her way to be a little odder, a little angrier, a little more outrageous than she really was in order to make it clear she had no desire to be like Claire or to be her friend. However, the truth was that each character craved connection and friendship and each one was fraught with worry that he or she was the real outcast.

Real life is not a movie but maybe that is a good starting point to have a conversation with your daughter. You could have a retro movie night and discuss the ideas in the Breakfast Club or in the movie Mean Girls [PG alert: Common Sense Media suggests that themes in both movies aren't appropriate for those under 14].  A more modern and even more exaggerated version of school cliques is found in the TV show Glee.  H
elp her analyze where fiction and real life are similar and where they are different.

Discussion points:
  • What are the cliques she sees at her school? 
  • What roles do people play? 
  • What are the social rules from her perspective? 
  • Where does she fit in?
  • What does she wish was different?
Everyone needs friends. Having a group to hang with and feel a part of is something that most people enjoy.  Unfortunately too many girls are learning to build themselves up and bond over putting others down.  Help your daughter find a group to bond with over shared interests instead.  Drama club? Math club?  The soccer team?  All of these give the opportunity to become part of a group, learn communication skills and get to know new friends.

Talk to your daughter about real friendships and what they feel like.  Does she recall a time when she was friends with someone and it just felt right? These are usually the friendships where girls can say what they think, dress how they want and be completely themselves. 

At my house we frequently rely on books to help us address complicated issues. These are some of my favourites on this subject:

Elements of this blog post first appeared in my 
Ask Lisa column for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund