Plan International’s “It’s a Girl Thing” film for International Day of the Girl
Today, October 11th, is International Day of the Girl. Why do we need a specific day, one might ask, to highlight girls? Well, here are a handful of possibilities: continuing discrimination based on gender, harmful stereotyping, FGM, body image anxieties, the effects of porn, a continuing wage gap, child marriage, rape culture, male-dominated industries, violence against women, the intersection between sexism and racism, poor health services, the treatment of women in some countries as second class citizens, poor access to education, pervasive inequality. And that is just the briefest of lists.
To address all of these issues would require a book the size of a brick. Yet the power of Day of the Girl lies in the forum opened up, the space created and the dialogues encouraged on all these topics and more. It’s a way of seeing them as both individual problems and interlinked areas, some global and others local.
Violence against and coercion of women, particularly young women, is especially extensive. Yesterday, I typed ‘teenage girl’ into the search bar on Twitter. Two sets of consistent results came up, mingling with the others. Many were devoted, most deservedly, to 17 year old Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize win – proof (if any was needed) that young women have the potential to be powerful instigators of change. But many results were less positive, relating to teen girls who had gone missing, been followed, been attacked, been raped, been murdered. As a young woman, one tends to grow up with the background noise of being told that you must stay safe, look out, not do anything stupid, not bring anything upon yourself.
There are other ways violence and the objectification of women can be enacted or justified. Of particular interest to All Walks is the issue of the representation of women in the media, the images and ideals held up in ads, in fashion shoots, online, in films and in music videos.
All Walks screening of Missrepresentation at Parliament,
The visuals that permeate our day-to-day life have a knock-on effect in varied ways according to the individual. Some of these could include lowered self-esteem; the loud whisper that slender is best; the worryingly Caucasian image of beauty presented; the suggestion that a woman is the sum of her looks; the focus on appearance above and beyond ability or achievements; and the privileging of able-bodied individuals.
One especially worrying trend, particularly in relation to Day of the Girl, is the fashion industry’s continued use of violence against young women as a trope or device. Think of the number of adverts and editorials featuring corpse-like models; represented as cadavers or, occasionally, in the process of being attacked. Death is portrayed as attractive, whether self-inflicted (as in Vice’s shoot depicting various female artists who died by suicide) or perpetrated by someone else, as in Jimmy Choo’s ad with Molly Sims lying, eyes shut, in a car-boot. Violence is shown to be glamorous, alluring, sexy, provocative, compelling.
Couple this with a phenomenon articulated by Caryn Franklin as ‘the pornification of the fashion industry’ and what do we have? Recurring images of women – often teenage girls – reduced to their bodies, but not their body’s potential, the incredible activity and motion and elegance of a figure. No, these are bodies that have become passive, acted upon, hurt, violated, objectified, sexualized. It gives out the message that these bodies are expendable.
But no woman, young or old, is expendable. Our right to live without fear of violence, wherever one may live, matters. Our desire to have a media that isn’t saturated with images of harm done to women matters. Our voices matter. Our representation matters. And it’s for all of these reasons that The Day of the Girl is so important. So let’s start some more conversations, raise a little more noise and carry on challenging these damaging, damning messages.
Words: Rosalind Jana
Rosalind Jana is reading English Literature at Oxford. She won the Vogue Talent Contest in 2011 at the age of 16, with a satirical take on an agricultural show written in ‘fashion show’ style. Visit Rosalind’s blog: Clothes, Cameras & Coffee