clothing · fitness · gender policing

Girls, skirts, shorts, modesty, and movement

Bright pink girls’ running skirt with blue waistband

Have you ever found an issue that brings out all the views?

Mine this week is girls’ school uniforms and exercise. New research shows that girls’ clothing is part of the story about the play gap, why even young girls move less than boys. Their clothes are more restrictive and there are modesty concerns about young girls getting their rough and tumble on in skirts and dresses.

Here’s this explanation of girls’ lack of movement from Australia news:

“When they get to high school it’s becomes harder to get girls active during recess and lunch than it is for the boys. It’s not surprising then that girls participation rates in physical activity drop off significantly in their early teenage years.

People talk a lot about how girls behave in schools as though it’s providing vital evidence for a genetic-like inability to be naturally active and into sport. “Girls simply aren’t interested in sport” we’re told, “boys just naturally want to run around whereas girls don’t”.

But it’s the girls’ uniforms that are acting like physical shackles. The majority of school uniforms still see girls wear dresses that fly up, blouses that allow little arm movement, stockings that sweat and ladder and long skirts that don’t permit the freedom of mobility needed to run and kick without tripping over in painful schoolyard shame.”

So some of the debate is about relaxing dress codes that require girls to wear skirts and dresses. Fine.

But some schools have gone further. A school in Melbourne has made shorts and pants mandatory for everyone.

It’s still telling girls what to wear, say our Facebook readers. That’s the overwhelming response there. There’s also the worry, given the cultural context, that there is some Islamaphobia going on. But the school says they’ve done it to encourage girls to move more.

Of course, in schools with school uniforms they’re already in the business of telling girls and boys what to wear. Boys can’t choose dresses either. I’m not a big fan (okay, I hate) gender binary school uniforms. What about kids with non-binary gender identities?

So there’s that issue too, I think.

Then there are the other routes that people have taken to either let girls move more in skirts or protect their modesty. What’s their motivation? It’s hard to tell.

We’ve written about this before here on the blog, about schools that require girls to wear shorts under skirts and dresses. See How clothing rules and modesty obsession limit girls movements.

Other people have views too. See Please don’t slut shame my toddler.

What do you think? About what? Well school uniforms, for one. Telling girls and boys what to wear. Being active in skirts and dresses. There’s a lot going on here. How do you think it through?

Blue and White checked school uniform skirt
cycling

Girls and bikes together again?

Last week I was a speaker at an event all about celebrating women cyclists. We were talking about how to get more women on the road on two wheels. Better cycling infrastructure obviously. Safer roads for everyday cyclists.

One of the questions I asked was where in the pipeline do we lose women as cyclists. While there are twice as many men as women riding bikes in Canada, the gap between men and women starts when we’re young.

Outside magazine asks Why Aren’t More Girls Riding Bikes?

Partly it’s that children in general are riding less.

“According to the federal program Safe Routes to School, the number of kids commuting on bike or foot to school has plummeted from 48 percent in 1969 to 13 percent in 2009. In the CDC-funded survey, parents cited distance to school, traffic-related risks, and weather as the biggest barriers to biking and walking. Factor in distracted drivers and kids’ increasingly busy after-school schedules, and it’s no wonder that biking is such a tough sell.”

But as we know around here it’s also gendered. Girls’ participation drops off more than boys’. There’s such a thing as the play gap.

One explanation for kids moving less is the ‘protection paradox.” Parents and teachers worry about kids getting hurt and so encourage less risky play. Activities like biking and walking to school are seen as dangerous. It’s a paradox because the kids are less well off overall as a result of moving less. But the “protection paradox” is also gendered. Parents and teachers worry more about girls than boys. And that maps the result.

More from Outside: “New research presented last year shows that girls’ participation in riding drops off noticeably in adolescence. The study’s author, Jennifer Dill, an urban studies and planning professor at Portland State University, surveyed 300 families in Portland to find out how their attitudes and behavior toward bicycling changed over the course of two years. Dill found that the girls between 11 and 16 who lost interest in biking shared common concerns: They felt less safe riding in traffic (even in areas with designated bike lanes), they were uncomfortable riding alone and reported having trouble finding friends to join them, they believed cars were safer than bikes, and they thought biking took too much time.”

At the panel, my daughter talked about learning to ride as a child. She talked about riding with a bike club in Australia that taught kids to ride and race on a track. Her favourite drill was learning to ride side by side with another cyclist holding on the other rider’s shoulder. She also liked learning look back and shoulder check while continuing ahead in a straight line. These are skills that help with cycling safety and give beginning riders confidence. It’s great to teach them to kids at an age when they aren’t so afraid of falling and they’re not so self-conscious about getting things wrong.

I think this kind of skill development is especially important for girls.

I love girls on bikes. Like Ruby Isaac.

Guest Post · soccer

Society Empowerment through Sport (Guest Post)

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.  Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.  –Nelson Mandela, 25 May 2000

Oyugis is a town of about 10,000 in a rural part of western Kenya.  The vast majority (72%) live in poverty.  Only 5.6% of the households have piped water; 3.3% have electricity.  HIV/AIDS is rampant: 25.7% of the county (Homa Bay) population is infected (the highest rate in Kenya) and 61,000 households include an orphan.  This has a profound impact on the community – 48% of the population is under 15.

The conditions are especially difficult for women and girls. 12% of girls have a live birth before age 15.  Most primary schools (K-8) in the region do not have toilets, so when girls reach puberty, most stop attending school.  Sanitary products are not available.  As the statistics indicate, many of these girls end up pregnant and with HIV/AIDS. What might one hope to do in such circumstances?  How is change even conceivable?  Soccer.

I met Festus Juma in 2010.  He deeply understands the power of sport for community development.  Having family in the Oyugis region, he also understands the power of soccer to motivate local youth.  Festus directs the Society Empowerment Project (SEP), based in Oyugis, which leverages soccer/football to teach life skills in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention; health and sanitation; agriculture & nutrition; reproductive health; peace building; and substance abuse.  Girls, in particular, gain opportunities to become fit and strong, to build friendships, and have contact with adult role models.  The program also prepares them for youth leadership through training in coaching, refereeing and tournament management.

A current goal of the SEP is to register a girls team in the Kenya Premier League.  Doing so will enhance their status in the region.  Stronger and better educated girls and women will reduce domestic violence, improve reproductive health and well-being, and decrease HIV/AIDS infections.  This is a proven strategy for community development and it changes lives.

Together with my son Isaac, I have been working with the SEP since 2011.  Isaac played soccer through high school.  Seeing a photo of children in Oyugis playing soccer barefoot on dirt patches, he was shocked by the comparison with his teammates who had several pairs of cleats and fancy uniforms.  We began to collect used cleats, uniforms, and other equipment to send to Kenya.  (The team featured on the SEP facebook page is wearing Boston Blast jerseys!)  It is not cheap to send equipment to Kenya.  It is not easy to build a sustainable program that empowers girls in a region where not even food and water is easily available.  But sport motivates and strengthens those who participate.  And it awakens hope.

 

You can reach Festus at: festus.juma@yahoo.com and he can provide information about how you can send used (or new!) equipment to the SEP, and about other ways to help.  Donations can be made on the SEP website.

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies at MIT.  She works on feminist and critical race theory.  She is an adoptive mother, a social activist, and recently was client of the month at her gym!

 

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diets · eating · family

Multi-Grain Cheerios talks to women about dieting

While I was away working on the book with Tracy, I occasionally turned on the television in my room. It’s a bit of a novelty. I don’t have one at home.

I have a flat box with a screen in my house you see, but it’s not set up to get TV, hasn’t been since the kids were little and we set ourselves free. (I’m an abstainer, not a moderator, by temperament. See Moderation Versus All or Nothing.) We do watch DVDs and Netflix but I never really see ads except when traveling.

And while watching I saw an ad that surprised me. It was by Cheerios and it featured happy little girls and the last line, that’s what caught my ear, was “Because she will never diet.” I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but no. It was just fine.

Multi-Grain Cheerios talks to women about dieting (Marketing Mag)

“In an effort to create a dialogue with diet-fatigued women, General Mills Canada has launched a multimedia campaign for its cereal brand that it hopes will encourage women share their experiences and feelings about dieting via an online hub.

The ultimate objective, according to General Mills Canada vice-president of marketing Dale Storey , is for the brand will help foster a “movement” that believes “healthy, balanced living is a much more effective way to managing one’s weight and health than the yo-yo of deprivation dieting.”

A national TV commercial kicked off the effort last week. The 30-second spot, developed by Cossette – General Mills’ creative agency – shows young girls having fun and fusing those scenes with copy that uses dieting terms. For example, “She will never stress over yo-yoing.” The last line of the spot is “Because she will never diet.”

The awareness campaign is meant to make adults more mindful of their impact on young girls’ perceptions of dieting.

“We want this generation of women to be the last to diet,” said Jason Doolan, General Mills director of marketing, cereal, in a release.

To help further spread the word, Multi-Grain Cheerios has partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters to back its Go Girls! mentoring program, which educates girls 12-14 about living healthy and is one of the organization’s fastest-growing mentoring programs.”

Here’s the Cheerio’s Go Girls website. I think it’s pretty well done. What do you think? And I’m curious, as someone who doesn’t watch regular TV with ads, if this is playing in the US.

cycling · family

Give the girl a bike!

 

Everyone loves this Susan B. Anthony quote: “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

We tend to think of the connection between bicycles and feminism as a historical thing. See my post about the anti-bike backlash of the late 1800s here:  Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s.

However, bicycles are still playing a role in improving the lives of girls and women all over the world. See, for example, Will bike riding in Saudi Arabia change the way women dress? October is bike to school day/month in many parts of the world where the choice is between biking and getting a drive from parents. But in many other parts of the world it’s the possession of a bicycle that makes getting to school possible at all.

Thanks to reader and business ethics blogger Chris MacDonald for sharing this academic paper with us, “Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India,” by Karthik Muralidharan and Nishith Prakash. (A University of California at San Diego NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH Working Paper, http://econ.ucsd.edu/~kamurali/papers/Working%20Papers/Cycling%20to%20School%20%28NBER%20WP%2019305%29.pdf)

What is the challenge with keeping girls in school? In rural India many, about half, of the girls drop out midway through their education. Although school is free, transport costs deter rural families from sending girls to school. Bikes make education possible for girls who would otherwise have to leave school. Charitable programs like Give a Girl a Bike aim to provide bikes and improve educational opportunities for girls in rural India.

“Bikes for girls” programs sound great. But do they work?

Yes, according to research conducted by Muralidharan and Prakash. “We find that the Cycle program was much more cost effective at increasing girls’ enrolment than comparable conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia, suggesting that the coordinated provision of bicycles to girls may have generated externalities beyond the cash value of the program, including improved safety from girls cycling to school in groups, and changes in patriarchal social norms that proscribed female mobility outside the village, which inhibited female secondary school participation.”

 Read more here:

How cycling set deprived Indian girls on a life-long journey: One simple initiative in Bihar state not only solved an everyday problem for schoolgirls, but also expanded their horizons (The Guardian)

India Free Bicycle Program Crucial To Keep Girls In School (Huffington Post)

Thanks Chris!