Questions and Answers

1. What is Packaging Girlhood about?

Our book takes a hard look at the sexy, diva, boy-crazy shopper image of girls and girlhood packaged and sold to our daughters by media and marketers. We show how girl power has been co-opted by marketers of music fashion, books, television, movies, toys, and more to mean the power to shop, find their own style, and attract boys. Girls are encouraged to use their "voice" to choose accessorizing over academics, sex appeal over sports, and boyfriends over friends. We expose these stereotypes and the very limited choices presented of who girls are and what they can be. Then we give advice to parents about how they can guide their daughters through the barrage of narrow images without taking a "just say no!" perspective. Turning off the world is not the answer. Giving her the means to reflect on it and your company in doing so is.

In short, our book is about the incessant selling of age-old stereotypes to girls repackaged in newer glitzier forms. This is, excuse the F word, a feminist parenting book for ALL parents.

2. What inspired you to write Packaging Girlhood?

We've studied girls and their worlds for over 20 years and are fed up with the "You've come a long way baby" perspective, when in reality girls' worlds are filled with hot-tubbing, glam dolls, ballerina mice in pink, and sexy MTV fly girls. We also both teach college students and we've seen the ah-ha experience they've when we ask them to choose something in girls' world - board games, birthday cards, t-shirt slogans, teen magazines - and look more closely at the messages it gives about how to be a girl. We also have seen how seductive and influential the media images are to our own children and the girls we work with - Sharon in her clinical practice and Lyn at her nonprofit, Hardy Girls. We wanted to do more than notice the problem; we wanted to give ourselves and other parents a way to think the issues through and talk with their daughters.

In short? Anger, and a revolutionary spirit. We get angry whenever we hear the words "girl power" used to encourage a girl to buy something, to be more like a boy, or to be sexy and hot. Revolutionary because we think parents can make a difference and together we can fight the media.

3. How is it different from all the other marketing to kids books out there?

First of all, ours is a parenting book. Second, we focus on the impact of media and marketing on girls. The other books that tell you about the techniques used to market to kids - and there are some really good ones - are exposÈs of corporations and show in detail how marketers target and manipulate kids. Our focus is not the cheesy and deceitful strategies marketers use, although sometimes we can't help but point out one or two. Instead we focus on the messages they're sending about what it means to be a girl.

In short, this book looks at the world created by marketers and the media; it's our daughters' world and it's full of stereotyped, degrading, and outrageously old-fashioned images.

4. Did you do research? How did you gather your information about what girls wear, watch, read, listen to and do?

We surveyed over 600 girls from across the country and in Canada. We conducted focus groups with girls, mothers, and school counselors. We did walk-throughs of the stores girls told us they love, talked to salespeople at malls, interviewed girls at parties and dances, watched hours of girls' favorite TV shows and movies, and read loads of books and magazines aimed at girls. After girls told us what they watched, wore, read, listened to, and did, we analyzed these with an eye for stereotypes. The same old stereotypes that researchers taught us were there in the 50's 60's and 70's are still with us, , and in some cases, in even greater number than before.

5. Any surprises or interesting experiences while conducting your research?

First surprise: The problem was bigger and more complicated than it first seemed. Media strategies were more subtle but the patterns and themes were more blatant. The images and messages were more seductive. And marketers were more deliberate and thoughtful about the way they targeted girls;. We'd just get our minds around one thing and some variation would emerge-we felt like we were dealing with one of those alien creatures in old science fiction movies: lop of it's head and 5 more pop out.

Second surprise: The girls in our surveys and the young women in our classes were more critical, savvy, and irreverent than we ever remember being at their age. Marketers have to work hard to stay ahead of smart, media saturated kids, so they create the most absurd products to keep girls invested from childhood right into adolescence: Spas for her stuffed animals, hot tubs and drink bars for her dolls, pimp and prostitute Halloween costumes, serial books about rich, spoiled girls. How far will they go? How much will parents take? We discovered that we were asking the same questions marketer's were asking, but with an entirely different agenda.

6. What concerns you most about the ways media and marketers "package girlhood" to girls.

We're concerned about girls embracing a version of girlpower that just perpetuates old stereotypes and makes girls feel powerful when they are conforming to the cute, sweet, hot, little shopper diva image they see all around them. We think this image sucks up too much of that youthful energy and channels girls' attention away from activities that give them a sense of real power. Some of this stuff is fun, but we'd rather see them use more of their time and energy developing long-lasting skills, some of which could make their world a better place.

7. What three pieces of advice do you give parents who worry about the impact of media on their daughters?

We're all about reality-based parenting and the reality is that you can't turn off the world. These days TV, movies, the internet, music studios, clothing and toy manufacturers, fast food restaurants, and even publishing houses are all part of one big media network. So here's what we suggest:

1. Become familiar with what's out there. Watch what she watches, listen to her music, read her books and magazines. Know what messages this world sends her.
2. Listen; Get to know her world from her perspective. Don't assume you know what "hott" means or why she loves the rapper 50 Cent. Ask her and then really hear what she has to say.
3. Bring her the world on your terms. Reflect on what she says, share you discomfort. Help her notice the bigger picture, for example, how looking hot like her latest teen idol can be fun but also connects her with a lot of other stuff she might not have noticed or thought about.
Most important: Parent from a place of maturity and thoughtfulness, not from a place of fear or anxiety.

8. Are there any good products and media out there? How can girls and parents find and support what's going right for girls?

You probably saw or heard about the "True Colors" Dove commercial, shown during the Superbowl. Dove's "Campaign for True Beauty" gave money to the Girls Scouts. In spite of the fact that it's a commercial for a product and the company that owns Dove also owns lots of other products with less positive commercials, we think this was a step forward. There are also magazines, like New Moon and Teen Voices, wonderful music by artists like Ani DiFranco, girl positive TV shows like The Gilmore Girls, and fun educational websites like Zoey's Room. Our job as parents is to find these alternatives and bring them to our daughters' attention. And of course, we can reduce the time spent on media by increasing the time spent trying new activities that don't conform to age-old stereotypes.

QUESTIONS PARENTS OF YOUNGER GIRLS MIGHT ASK:

How do I respond to my daughter when she wants to buy that sexy tank top?

We have a whole chapter in Packaging Girlhood about how to talk with your daughter about such things as sexy clothing. Most important: telling her not to wear something because of what others will think about her is never a good idea. Sure it's good to discuss with her that girls' bodies are under watch and that it's totally unfair that girls have to walk a thin line between good girl and slut. But don't emphasize the rules or what others think. Instead ask her why she wants this tank top and really listen to her answer. Her world is not your world, so you stand to learn something. If she's a budding teen, her world has been filled with images about the power of "hott" sexy clothing and how it has made her TV idols so fun, attractive, and desirable. If she's in middle school, she's may be forging an image that's connected to a "type" of girl she sees in the teen magazines she reads, and that gets reinforced by her peers. If she's an older teen, she may be experimenting with an identity that she thinks is unique to her. So listen to why she wants to buy it. Only when you understand where she's coming from can you really talk with her about your concerns. And really, it's much more important to talk about her ideas about looking sexy, conforming to a "type" or creating an identity, than it is to talk about that tank top.

Should I discourage my little girl from wearing pink?

Of course not. We love pink. We're concerned more about including the other colors. Why narrow her world to one color, especially when that color gets associated with so many stereotypes and limited choices for girls? We're more concerned about creating possibilities, mixing it up, giving her a range of options. One place to start is offering her the full rainbow of colors.

Shouldn't we all just turn off the TV?

Most kids watch TV and even if they don't, the TV is a small part of the media picture these days. Turning it off doesn't turn off all the other media images TV spawns or that interact with it. And some of what's on TV is quite good, so you need to know what's out there and talk about it with your daughter. The goal is to show her how to question what she sees, to give her the bigger picture that includes an awareness about who's making decisions about what's hot and what's not, and who benefits from the image of girlhood packaged to her. She may still choose to watch shows with plenty of stereotypes, but she'll be less likely to be duped by all the hype and less influenced by the endless images of skinny shopping crazed divas.

Aren't all those princess movies and pink fluffy things really sweet? Don't we want to preserve their innocence as long as possible?

Yes they are funny and sweet, but in a narrow kind of way. Again, we're not saying take away pink, but just to notice that no other images or messages can squeeze though all that fluff. It's also important to notice that when people say they want to go back to innocence or modesty, it often means returning to a time when girls weren't assertive or independent. And innocence itself is sold as sexual so watch out! Take a look of grown-up women sucking on lollipops in shorty PJs in a recent MTV video.

But she loves Disney movies, Barbie dolls, and Princess costumes!

Then watch them, buy them, and let her dress up in them. But do so with a critical eye to the stereotypes, the snide comments about girly girls and girl things, and the limited roles they offer to girls. Talk with her about what she sees. Ask her to imagine stories other than romance, shopping sprees, or saved by the prince versions she'll see over and over. Mix it up; offer her lots of alternatives. She'll want them eventually if you help her to see how little the variations on this limited theme offer her.


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