Category Archives: media studies

If You’re a Female Olympian, You Better Look Like One

By Julia Hunter, Editorial Intern

Art by Camisha Kelley, 17
Texas

The first women were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games in 1900.  At that time, out of 997 athletes, only 22 were women.  Additionally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) limited their participation to the sports thought to be ‘feminine,’ such as croquet and golf.

Since then, Title IX has made sex discrimination in federally funded schools and sports illegal.  It does not apply to professional or Olympic sports, but the conversation and controversy about the role and rights of women in sports has affected the Olympic Games.  From 1900 to 2012, the IOC has tried to improve its policies to benefit female athletes.  In 1991, IOC members decided that henceforth, any new sport introduced in the Olympics had to include both men’s and women’s events.  Three years later, the Olympic Charter ordered that the IOC promote women in sports at all levels and act with a “strict application of the principle of equality of men and women.”  With all of this new policy, you might expect that the IOC would be an organization dedicated to addressing the interests of women and men equally.

However, if you look at the actual members of the IOC, you may wonder.  According to their own 2011 reports, the IOC has 110 board members, but only 19 are women.  Thus, less than 20 percent of the
This year, in preparing for the 2012 Olympics, the IOC is struggling with a very complex issue related to women’s inclusion in the Olympics:people making decisions about the Olympic Games are women. As much as the IOC professes to be fair and to support women’s interests, the reality is that they haven’t done much to ensure equal representation of women.

When should someone who identifies as a woman be allowed to participate in women’s athletic events?  When should she not?

Many people may remember the case of the South African runner, Caster Semenya, who won the gold medal in the women’s 800 meter race.  Her androgynous appearance made headlines, and a participant from Italy remarked, “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”  Semenya was banned from competing for 11 months during ‘investigations,’ but she was allowed to keep her gold medal and will be back participating (as a woman) in the upcoming Olympic Games.  What changed?  According to a track and field manager at the University of Pretoria, which is located next to where Semenya trains, Semenya  did have hormone treatments.  Semenya declines to comment on the topic.  If Semenya received hormone treatments, they most likely aimed to reduce her testosterone level, a hormone produced, on average, in larger quantities in men than in women (although there is a great deal of variation between people of the same sex, as well as across the sexes).

The particular case of Caster Semenya has led the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) to write new standards for managing inter-sex athletes and to create a test to determine who should be categorized as a ‘woman’ for athletic purposes.  This idea might seem cutting edge, but in fact, it’s nothing new.  Until the 1960s, women were required to walk naked in front of a ‘panel of experts’ who assessed the appropriateness of their sexuality in a sort of warped beauty pageant.  Thankfully, this practice ended in 1968.  However, only four years ago, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a sex-determination lab was set up in order to test “suspect” female athletes.

In trying to deal with the fact that gender is increasingly viewed more broadly, as a spectrum rather than as rigid, opposite categories of “male vs. female, the IOC is searching for the best solutions to allow the Olympics to be a fair event for everyone.  Their latest idea is to perform hormone testing on athletes, which requires evaluation of factors like back hair and breast size.  One endocrinologist employed by the IAAF, Dr. Myron Genel, says, “We’ll get it right.” That sounds reassuring, but in fact, he never indicates when exactly the criteria will be.

So what’s happening in the meantime? Well, the “flavor of the month” for femininity testing is judging a woman’s femininity by her testosterone levels.  Too much testosterone?  The response may be: “Well, sorry honey, you might have to sit out this year, or at least go through time-intensive and unpredictable hormone treatments.  If they affect your athletic performance and other aspects of your life, well, too bad.”

According to an article published in the New York Times, testosterone is one of the worst markers that the IAAF could have chosen to determine the sex of athletes.  Sure, on average, testosterone levels are different between men and women, but they also differ based on the time of day, age, and one’s level of athletic training.  Thus, this system seems somewhat problematic, considering that most of the women participating in the Olympics have been doing intense daily training for years, certainly enough to alter testosterone levels in their bodies!  Furthermore, medical science indicates that despite what testosterone levels might be present in your body, there’s no way of knowing how each person’s body responds to that testosterone.

In sum, it appears that scientists don’t yet have a clear-cut solution to offer the IOC, even if they’re determined to “get it right” one day.  With such a complicated issue, the IOC might consider listening to the athletes themselves.  Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto, says, “If the proclaimed human right of self-expression is to mean anything, surely it should protect the right to name one’s own gender.”  Unfortunately for Olympic athletes and their fans, that right still isn’t protected by the IOC.

The IOC and IAAF are trying their best to find a solution to a complex problem, but a decision about gender testing might best be held off until scientists, athletes, and the IOC come to an agreement on a test that really works without invading an athlete’s right to privacy and health.  In the meantime, in preparing for the 2012 Olympics, the IOC should think seriously about not only who they allow to compete, but who they allow to take part in these complicated decisions.  And maybe, when a woman qualifies to compete at a superior athletic level, she should more consistently be regarded with respect—not questions about her gender.

For more information, see the sources used in writing this blog:

www.olympic.org

“Olympic Games are Obsessed with Policing Femininity” www.feministing.com

Michele Norris Takes Us Beyond “The Grace of Silence”

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

Sometimes you attend an event that opens your eyes and sticks in your mind and heart. For us, this event was the 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference. Surrounded by powerful and inspiring women like Billie Jean King, Meg Whitman, and Jane McGonigal, it’s no wonder why this event empowered us to embrace our womanhood and continue our drive for success.  Earlier this year we wrote about the speech that Whitman gave at the conference and we published our interview with McGonigal. We could think of no better way to wrap up this series than by featuring a conference speaker near and dear to the Teen Voices mission: award-winning journalist Michele Norris.

Norris has led an extensive career, becoming one of the most honored voices in modern journalism, Currently the host of NPR’s flagship afternoon broadcast, All Things Considered, she has dabbled in every manner of media, interviewed personalities from Oscar winners to American presidents, and worked as a writer on such newspapers as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Her work has earned her a plethora of awards including an Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, and the 1990 Livingston Award, as well as an Emmy and Peabody Award for her contribution to ABC News’ coverage of 9/11.

Norris recently released her first book, The Grace of Silence, a memoir that explores the concept of identity in America by asking the reader, “How well do you really know your parents?” While taking the reader through her own personal journey trying to answer this question for herself, she delves deeper into the racial legacy of American history during the Post-War period.

She told attendees at April’s conference that when writing this book, she initially wanted to research the role of race in America, until she realized that the topic of race hit closer to home than she’d initially thought. “The elders of my family seemed to have entered into a period of historic indigestion; the stories were just spilling out. ‘Pass the peas, and do you know what happened to me in 1940?’” It was only through this casual dinner talk that Norris learned that her own father had been shot in the leg by white police officers just after he was discharged from the military after World War II.

The story utterly flabbergasted her and made her recognize: “I needed to pay more attention to how the people in my family were talking about race, because I realized there was family history that was unknown to me. I realized that I didn’t know enough about the people that were closest to me. So, I changed course and started examining my own family history.”

It’s an amazing journey. Michele Norris takes her readers not only through this country’s long and sordid past of racial struggles, but also reveals interesting bits of history about her own family. In one tidbit she relates how her maternal grandmother was an “itinerant Aunt Jemima” who would tour the Midwest selling pancake mix to housewives.

Norris emphasized to the conference audience the absolute importance of really listening to your elders when they tell stories of your family’s history before it’s too late, because you never know what you’ll learn about the people close to you.

Suffice it to say, Michele Norris is an admirable woman whose career is inspirational for girls aspiring to journalism. A strong, vocal personality in modern media, her unyielding energy continues to carry her into new fields in the media.

What We Learned at Teen Voices This Week

Being a teen editor at Teen Voices brings with it a lot of experiences, togetherness, laughter, and learning. Our teen editors compiled a list of the things they have recently learned about relationships, hip hop, life, and each other. See if any of them sound familiar, and you may just learn something new!

• People almost always want to be your friend and it’s almost always worth the effort to be friends with them.
• Giant companies own many radio stations and control what we listen to.
• Looks don’t always reveal what’s going on inside. Actually, it doesn’t reveal much at all.
• You don’t need to specifically need to have a conversation with someone to feel close to them. Just sharing experiences shows trust and trust can make you feel close.
• When guys take care of their children (like they should in the first place) it shouldn’t be especially looked upon or praised because that’s what is expected.
• Media has a major impact on our lives when it shouldn’t.
• All the girls here have a lot in common as far as what they have been through in life.
• The power of a group is the most healing, beneficial and cleansing. There are many things that are not achievable individually that are possible to overcome in a group.
• The moment you give in to being yourself and overcome your shyness in a new environment there is a feeling of liberation and extreme happiness.
• I don’t always think about the music I listen to.
• The girls who seem the meanest are often the ones who have been through the most in life.
• Women don’t have an independent role in the hip hop world as much as I thought, especially after seeing how Beyonce dances around Jay-Z.
• You have to pay attention to the things you say, because you never know how other people are going to take it.
• A positive community can bring the best out of people.
• Making a difference in the world starts with you.

Wow!

Girl Scouts Is Ensuring Healthier Media for Girls!

By Teen Voices guest blogger Stephanie Harig

Stephanie Harig is an intern at Girl Scouts of the USA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office.

Every day we are bombarded by unhealthy media images of girls and women.  Even though we know that these depictions are not based in reality, many of us still define our self-worth by how we measure up to them.

A 2010 survey by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that 60 percent of girls compare their bodies to fashion models and 47 percent say fashion models give them a body to strive for. And only 46 percent of girls believe that the fashion industry does a good job of representing people of all races and ethnicities.

The problem is not only what girls think – it’s also what they do. The same survey found that more than half of girls admit to going on a diet to try to lose weight and 31 percent admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat. Moreover, 42 percent of girls say they know someone their age who has forced themselves to throw up after eating, while 37 percent know someone who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

We are smart and powerful, but there is no doubt that unhealthy images negatively influence our body image and self-esteem. So is there anything we can do about it?

The answer is YES!

Girl Scouts is taking steps to ensure that healthier media images of girls and women become a reality. First, our newest program, It’s Your Story, Tell It!, will be released this winter.  It will empower girls to use the media as an agent of change and vehicle for self-expression, effectively helping them build their self-esteem.

Girl Scouts also supports The Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925), which was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).  The bill addresses unhealthy media images of girls and women through three avenues:

  • grants to support media literacy programs;
  • research on how depictions of women and girls in the media affect the health of youth;
  • and, the creation of a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media.

Current media images of girls and women set unrealistic standards that distract us from what is important and make it harder to believe in ourselves. This is not the reality in which we should have to live!  The Healthy Media for Youth Act is a step toward a new, girl-positive reality!

Imagine a world full of healthy media images of women and girls. Positive images of girls and women in the media would foster self-esteem, positive body image, and healthy relationships.  Girl Scouts further encourages the media to highlight strong female role models, more women in leadership roles, and body type, racial, and ethnic diversity.

If this is the world you want to see, then TAKE ACTION!  Join Girl Scouts as we advocate for healthier media images.  Visit www.girlscouts4girls.org and send a letter of support for the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925) to your Member of Congress. By using our GIRL POWER we can change our reality!

Media and Expression: An Approach for Helping Girls Process Trauma

Teen Voices Editor and Publisher Jessica Moore wrote an article for Youth Media Reporter about using media to help teen girls process traumatic events in their lives.

When the earthquake struck Haiti in January, many of our teen editors received devastating news about family members that had not survived the disaster. Teen Voices reached out and provided a space for our Haitian teens to recount their memories and emotions in the aftermath of the earthquake. Later, some of those teens told their stories on radio shows in the Boston area.

In her article, Jessica discusses the ways that providing opportunities for teens to share privately and publicly can help them to process difficult emotions surrounding traumatic situations.

Teen Voices Featured in Documentary

Teen Voices is featured in this short documentary from What You Can Do! Watch and find out about ways you can get involved in changing the world for girls through media.

New Projects from Media Analyst Jean Kilbourne

By Teen Voices editorial intern Christina Loridas

How do we change the way society views women? How can women be seen as more than an underwear ad or a bedroom staple? It starts when we analyze the destructive images we see on a daily basis. Jean Kilbourne is known worldwide for her criticism of advertising and its negative images of women.  She has conducted studies on the media’s affect on eating disorders, violence, and addiction.

Kilbourne’s series Killing Us Softly, based on her lectures, looks at advertising and its destructive themes of sexism, racism, and perfection. Now, she will release a fourth installment of the series: Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women (Media Education Foundation) will be available online and in stores April 15. Can’t wait until April? Check out the Media Education Foundation’s excellent study guide to Killing Us Softly and find out more about Kilbourne’s work at http://jeankilbourne.com.