As a research and writing instructor, I have read many papers but the one that really struck me was a recent paper on Women’s Studies and Middle School Girls. The paper discusses the fact that it is in middle school when puberty strikes and young girls are most susceptible to the bombardment by the media and peer groups that they must look and act a certain way. My student’s hypothesis was that if middle school administrators were to include a course on women’s studies, it would go a long way to help young girls combat issues related to poor body image. To teach them to accept who they are as individuals and to be proud of who they are and how they look, regardless of what pop culture says.
I thought this was brilliant. I began talking about this idea with various people and I was surprised to see the divergence in views. Some believe feminism is too radical, too political – an idea that would only harm girls into always viewing themselves as the victim and men as the victimizer. Others believe feminism isn’t taken seriously enough and should be taught as young as grade school, after all, we see eating disorders crop up in girls as young as nine.
This is not the argument I want to be involved in. What I want to discuss is the fact that women continue to be objectified by the media. It is a woman’s body, a woman’s beauty, a woman’s sexuality that is forced down all of our throats. Look at the cover of any woman’s magazine and a media appropriate beautiful woman will stare down at you along with large slogans for helping your love life, losing that extra 10 pounds, finding the perfect man, etc. Music videos are filled with images of thin, sexy women gyrating in skimpy bikinis. Even Disney and Nickelodeon put out television and music stars who all look like the personification of what the media says is “beauty.” It is not what I believe is beauty. Not what I want my children to believe. But how can we combat the incessant drone of this message?
Objectification is not merely a problem for women. It is also one that affects young boys and men. Young boys can be just as susceptible to issues of poor body image. But for purposes of this post, I want to focus on young girls. We must no longer allow the media to dictate how our girls view themselves. We must teach them to get rid of that third party view and to look at themselves with their own eyes wide open. They mustn’t look in the mirror hoping to see someone who looks like a model or actor. They must look in the mirror and see who they really are and to be proud of what they see. By allowing women’s studies to be introduced into a middle school curriculum, young girls can start to understand what objectification is and how psychologically harmful it can be. By having this conversation with our daughters, we can expose the lies that the media forces us to accept as gospel. Beauty is not the end all. Beauty is only skin deep. Self-worth is where true beauty lies.
So regardless of what you feel about feminist literature, I think there is much merit in discussing historically where women were, where women continue to be in our society, and what we can do to help institute a continuing change for the better. There is great value in critical discussions of body images, objectification, psychology as it all relates to gender studies. These are all issues that you would find in college courses so is it wrong to ask for it to be included in the middle school curriculum? I say no. I say this is the best time to begin this conversation. That it is good for boys and girls. Education is the most effective tool. Providing these feminist theories at a younger age arms our girls against the pervasive danger of media objectification.
I’d love to know what you all think. I’d love to know if this is a plausible idea and if it, what can we do to make it a reality.