Such a rewarding day. Totally chuffed.
April 18, 2013
On Friday, the last day of term, my colleague and I ran a workshop with our Yr 10 and 11 girl students (aged 15-17 yrs old). We looked at the objectification of girls and women through the media and ran lots of workshops to help them navigate through the tripe they’re being fed, looked at what is beautiful (them – exactly as they are) and how to be a voice in this saturating, hyper-sexualised society.
The boys, of the same year groups, were in a separate location, journeying through the harms of pornography and participating in workshops to help them with all the issues they face as young men. They are also being fed false ideals about what it’s like to be a ‘real man’ and are also in strife. The wonderful feedback I got from this workshop is that the boys drew up a contract, their words, as to how they were going to treat women and they all signed it.
The dynamic psychologist and teacher, Collett Smart of FamilySmart (and who was one of the original board members of Collective Shout) came to talk to both the boys and the girls together. She reinforced a lot of what we had covered up until lunch…and more.
It was such an inspiring day, that I’m still a little giddy from how good it felt to run a part of it.
I was up first and for an hour or so I covered what the girls are being sold by the media – more importantly, how they’re being represented and whether they were happy with it. My aim was to incite discussion and reinforce some Media Literacy with them.
To start off with, I asked them what characteristics we had that made us women. Two interesting things came out of this.
1. The first few characteristics were physical – boobs, curvy, vagina.
2. When I steered them towards non-physical, they came up with some beautiful ones, like compassionate and strong – but I was the one who wrote up intelligent (with lots of arrows pointing towards it).
From this point I launched in to a visual smorgasbord of examples of how women are represented in the media today. Basically one way – hyper-sexualised and objectified.
But it’s not just about ads, shows, movies etc – it’s also important to discuss the effect and consequences of a saturated paradigm, like our current one.
Objectification is the issue. What the girls needed to understand is that once you are seen as an object, anything can be done to you without remorse.
It’s a complete disconnect and is why the argument, “That could have been your sister” (for example) doesn’t work. Their sister is their sister, whom they love. An object is an object.
As Collett later told them (and the boys) – the Porn Industry now has to compete with the Porn Culture of our media. The images looked at in the dirty magazines of yesteryear, are now on billboards selling sunglasses/jeans etc.
So in order to keep their addicted masses, mainstream porn has to be bigger and far more violent. Women’s bodies are the commodity; bodies which only last between three to six months, before they’re tossed aside. Broken.
I showed the girls the following clip from Canada which covers a lot of what I wanted to discuss:
Notice how ludicrous it is to have the men portrayed that way?
We can’t do anything else but laugh about it because it’s not a reality for them – although they do have their own fair share of issues.
We watched the following Lynx ad by Unilever, being discussed in the States. The reason I showed this clip is because there is one female panelist in a studio full of men. Watch their reactions (nothing surprising).
What’s interesting here is mainly the woman’s take on it. It seems like everyone agrees – if it makes money it’s OK.
And the men’s reactions? Well, nothing out of the ordinary. Does that mean that we are also desensitised – seeing ‘boys just being boys’?
This led me to discuss the Porn Culture which surrounds us and how that’s become the ‘fashion’ now. I showed them more clips and what it means to them. I discussed this concept in my penultimate post: The fine line. A chat with teens.
I could have talked about this FOREVER, but time was short. I finished with the trailer for Missrepresentation – the wonderful documentary I hosted a screening of last year – which perfectly encapsulates the serious issue of our gender’s representation in the media.
My colleague then tackled, What is Beautiful?
We looked at photoshopped images and got the girls to do an activity, where they put stickers on each others’ backs with positive phrases about their characteristics.
They loved it.
We talked in groups about some possible party scenarios, looked at sexuality and relationships and finally encouraged them to be a voice – to call out injustices and be a sisterhood to each other.
After lunch the boys and girls came together to listen to Collett Smart.
She discussed issues such as the truly damaging effects of child pageants on young girls (affirming from a very tender age that the only validation a girl can have is through her looks) through to hearing the tragic story of a teen girl who survived a rape.
She reaffirmed many of the issues we had discussed with the girls earlier in the day, which gave those messages more strength – Yay!
But there was one important point that Collett made, that stayed with me – it resonated:
She said the path toward a better social existence between girls and boys; women and men – is mutual respect. There seems to be a huge portion of the responsibility laid on boys and men to respect women, but women and girls also need to respect men.
Question #155: Are women truly respecting men in this hyper-sexualised, porn culture?
It’s a tough question, but we need to step back and look at this through a balanced perspective.
Both genders play a role in perpetuating a state of existence.
Both men and women. Boys and girls.
Something to ponder.
At the end of this day, I hoped our girls left feeling a little more empowered about their whole selves – not just what they look like – and will become more united as women to cultivate that word – RESPECT – in themselves and those around them.
So it was no surprise that I actually cried a little when I saw the following messages from some of the girls, on my Questions for Women Facebook Page:
I just want to thank you and Miss Fitzgerald for your talk today. I honestly feel so empowered to change the society we live in. I feel so much better about myself and I really want to make a difference in the world. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the world we live in. Hearing what people had to say about me in the sticker activity made me feel so good about myself. To know that people like me for something more than my looks is amazing. You are an inspiration to me and so many others. xx”
“Thanks so much ms. You really are an inspiration xxx”
“MISS ! thank you so much for today ! It really made me think twice about what i do now and the way i see my self. you are a true inspiration and we’re all so lucky and grateful to have you at our school.”
“Thanks so much for today miss! It gave us such a great message in a very fun way. It was really eye opening to many of the girls and it was really good to realise we all empowered each other as women. We love you miss!”
“We’re so lucky to be surrounded by such empowering women!”
My message to these girls was:
“May your love, intelligence, strength and compassion be what shines through and gives you true validation. That’s what makes you beautiful.
You’re all necessary and needed just the way you are. xxx”
I wish I could do this every day. My soul feels full and alive.