Category Archives: guest post

We’re delighted to bring you Megan Cooke’s review of The Suffragettes film. Megan is 10 1/2 and watched the film with her mum, Jackie.

Megan Cooke
Megan Cooke

“This film has a lot of lows, but one big positive message. It is about a 24 year old lady called Maud who gets involved, unwillingly at first, into suffragettes, encouraged by a courageous strong lady named violet. And from there, well let’s just say it has many downs. It does have some violence and the bit my mum warned me about was the hunger strike scene. I didn’t watch it, but it sounded pretty horrid. Also my mum cried during the film a lot too. I would not advise children under the age of ten to watch it. However, I am very grateful that I did watch it. I think all girls should watch it at some point during their young lives, and be inspired and grateful to those amazing women who took their lives for us. Imagine if they hadn’t done that! If your child is mature and over 10 they should watch it. I would rather watch it than not. One of my favourite films”. 
Stars *****. 5 out of 5.

‘It’s Not Just Make Believe’: Girlhood and Fantasy Fiction – Carolyn Rickards

We are delighted to bring you a guest blog from Carolyn Rickards who hosted a cafe conversation about Girlhood and Fantasy at  International Day of the Girl.

 

‘It’s Not Just Make Believe’: Girlhood and Fantasy Fiction

 

From recent blockbuster adaptations of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood through to the Harry Potter phenomenon, fantasy and fairy tale continue to dominate popular culture.  And children are often immersed in fantasy worlds from a very young age through books, films, television, online and other affiliated merchandise such as toys and games.  They grow up to recognise and understand the meanings and messages inherent within these texts.  Fantasy worlds can provide a unique arena in which to question or even challenge established norms and stereotypes.  However, fantastical stories can also promote more conservative and traditional ideals, particularly around issues of gender.  Given the continued popularity of the fantasy and fairy tale, we should perhaps attempt to address whether such fiction resonates with the interests and concerns of young girls today.

This post was inspired by a lively public discussion which took place as part of the International Day of the Girl Event in 2013.  The aim was to debate and answer some of these questions and we began by talking about the enormous appeal of the Disney Princesses.  Created by Disney Consumer Products chairman Andy Mooney in the late 1990s, the franchise features a line-up of fictional female heroines, including Snow White and Cinderella, who have all appeared in various Disney animated films.  In this period, Disney have also released dolls, costumes, jewellery, stationery and a variety of other products designed specifically to appeal to young female fans.  In a sing-along video starring all the princesses and aired on the Disney Channel in 2006, the cheery lyrics announced:

Frame:

I look in the mirror and I’m not who I used to be at all

You got me glowin’!

 

Chorus:

I’m Cinderella at the ball

I’m Alice growing 10 feet tall

It’s not just make believe

Here comes the prince’s kiss

I’m positive the slipper fits

It’s not just make believe

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yZCX-rG_nM

 

 

carolyn

This song captures perfectly the narrative arc of the typical Disney Princess who experiences dramatic transformation in the fairy tale story.  In the examples of Cinderella, Snow White and Ariel, each character goes through some personal change either in their bodily appearance or through the sudden presentation of expensive dresses and fine jewellery (thanks to a certain fairy godmother!).  And it is also clear that this process of transformation is initiated, or at the very least endorsed and supported, by a powerful and highly influential male figure – the prince.  In the lyrics to the song, the fantastical experiences of the Disney Princesses are transposed to the everyday.  The young girl listening or watching at home is encouraged to engage with their highly fictionalised adult lives; to grow up and become a princess themselves.  The message underpinning this song is that the magical stories presented in the fairy tale are really ‘not just make believe’ at all and should be embraced as a normal and expected transition from girlhood to womanhood.

So – one of the questions we discussed was whether the Disney Princesses presented positive or negative role models for young girls.  The opinion in the group was certainly mixed.  It was agreed that the fairy tale narrative would appear to be promoting a certain femininity based on good looks, pretty clothes and conforming to societal norms with an emphasis on the prince getting his newly transformed girl.  The Disney Princess could therefore be seen as problematic; a female figure who is defined by her appearance and countenance, and whose personal story is bound to the fate of the male character all the way through to the eventual proposal of marriage.  However, on the other hand, some people in the group made the extremely valid point that their own daughters, nieces or sisters loved the Disney Princesses from a young age and still grew up into confident, intelligent and independent women.  In this context, the princess character was more associated with the nostalgic past, constituting an ultimately benign figure from childhood.  Such complexities are considered by Bella Honess Roe who recently posted a similar discussion on this topic.  Yet, despite conflicting opinion in the group about the possible lasting effects, most people agreed that the Disney Princesses have the potential to influence young girls.  Disney constitutes a major, multi-million dollar international corporation with a massive global reach.  There were some concerns that if certain representations of gender are problematic, then the extensive marketing campaigns and distribution of merchandise merely acts to disperse such images to a wider audience of children.  In doing so, the princess archetype is provided repeated exposure as a prominent feminine figure across a vast multi-media landscape.  And as the fairy tale continues to dominate popular culture, with Disney’s new adaptation of Cinderella due for a big screen release in early 2015, this particular debate will no doubt continue.  We may then wish to reflect on the significance and impact of the fantasised princess on our own everyday lives…

 

carolyn 2

The Original Riot Grrrls: How Female Teens Invented Youth Culture

International Day of the Girl is a day to raise awareness of and celebrate the creative and critical achievements of young women around the world. Inventing youth culture is one of those achievements we have young women to thank for. And they did it with an ankle sock.

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The teenager was a construction not of a consumer culture and marketers, but the subcultural resistance of the wartime female youth branded in the media as ‘bobby soxers’. As the New York Times explained in an early 1944 article entitled ‘What is a Bobby Sock?’, ‘the purchaser and her motives change an innocent pair of anklets into a sociological problem’.

It seems strange today to think that an ankle sock could cause so much fuss, but has much really changed in seventy years? From Miley’s ‘twerk girls’ to the online outrage of and at Beliebers and Directioners, young female fans continue to be the subject of simultaneous moral panic and patronizing scorn. The misogynistic critical backlashes against young women’s media tastes, the despicable online attacks on young feminists like Emma Watson, and the perennial absence of female musicians from critics top 10 lists and ‘serious’ festivals like Glastonbury, highlight the lasting need to shout about girl cultures both past and present.

Despite her centrality to wartime political and societal debates and her historical significance in defining post-war culture, the bobby soxer has largely been written out of histories of youth. From classic youth culture and moral panic theories to the nostalgic musings of contemporary music critics and journalists, the continued emphasis on working class masculinity has muscled out the compelling herstories of youth subcultures.

The bobby soxer, and the teen culture she created, is a specifically wartime phenomenon resultant of the new financial, social, sexual and creative freedoms created by World War Two. Many young women left home and relocated to vibrant cities like New York to take up employment in the war industries; younger girls had more freedom from parental supervision because their mothers were working too. Entertainment centres like Times Square responded to this new demand by opening around the clock. The bobby soxers were the key market for these extended opportunities for freedom and fun.

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From mid-1943 onwards, newspaper and magazine reports on Frank Sinatra’s rise on Broadway stressed the unique rituals and style of his bobby sock wearing female fans. Sinatra’s major breakthrough came with his engagement, from 30 December 1942 onwards, as support to Benny Goodman at the Paramount Theatre on Times Square. While the media had characterized teenage girls as dedicated fans of big band leaders such as Goodman since the mid-1930s, Sinatra’s arrival at the Paramount was seen to herald a new era in fandom.

By late-1943 the New York press almost exclusively referred to Sinatra’s young female followers as ‘bobby soxers’ or the ‘bobby sox brigade’, often raising concerns that their Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 14.04.31undisciplined consumption of swing music and fashion might encourage transgression in other areas of their lives. The wearing of the short bobby sock was characterised as a form of subcultural ‘bricolage’, the appropriation and subversive use of a commodity as a mode of resistance, identification and communication between those within the subculture. Other subcultural appropriations included the wearing of oversized men’s shirts and overalls which, whilst acceptable as part of the productive war work of mothers and older sisters, was seen as a dangerous challenge to gender boundaries within the realm of leisure.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 14.04.41These media concerns were reflected in the municipal strategies employed to tackle the problem of Times Square’s bobby soxers. From late-1943 on, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia increased police numbers to facilitate around-the-clock patrols of the area, introduced a 9pm curfew for teenagers in Times Square, and demanded the immediate closure of any dance halls admitting girls under 16.

Despite such escalating controls, Sinatra’s return engagement at the Paramount on 12 October 1944 led to the sensationally described ‘Columbus Day Riot’, which happened 70 years ago tomorrow. As the New York Times reported, ‘25,000 crooner fans, most of them early teen-age girls clad-in bobby socks and sweaters’, blocked Times Square when fans inside the Paramount refused to leave. The most serious fallout of the riot was traffic congestion and a few broken windows, but the highly visible nature of the incident provoked the media and Board of Education to demand an intensification of police and court powers. It also brought New York’s bobby soxer to national and international attention, defining the teenager as simultaneously social problem and ideal consumer market.

This pattern of sensationalized media reports sensitizing the public and legislators to a threat that demands new and escalated controls, fits the classic moral panic model as defined by Stanley Cohen following the clashes he witnessed between mods and rockers in Clacton in the summer of 1964.

The ultimate solution to the bobby soxer problem was commercial rather than legislative however. As the bobby soxer trend spread nationally in late-1944, companies like Coca Cola and emergent teen fashion brands like Teen-Timers collaborated with federal government and local authorities to channel female youth’s energies into spaces where supervised leisure and regulated consumption converged. An institutionalization of leisure was coordinated through a nationwide network of ‘teen canteens’ which offered ‘wholesome’ entertainment (dancing, ping pong, jukebox) within ‘clean’ and regulated spaces with age restrictions, adult chaperones, and soft drinks rather than alcohol.

As with any youth culture, once adults get involved and your style becomes available in department stores it becomes less exciting and youth start to look elsewhere for rebellion and fun. But before James Dean, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Teddy Boys came along to set the masculine agenda for youth rebellion, teenage girls started a riot with just socks and oversized shirts.

Dr Tim Snelson is a Lecturer in Media History at the University of East Anglia, UK. His forthcoming book, Phantom Ladies: Hollywood Horror and the Home Front (Rutgers: 2014), explains how shifts in women’s cinema-going habits resultant of WWII encouraged Hollywood to change its film production practices. He has also published articles on gender and contemporary media, youth (sub)cultures and film, and cult cinema and its audiences.

Female Entrepreurship

I accidentally started out in business at the age of 23, having been in a pop band that toured with Take That and then playing Cinderella in Disneyland for a while. My CV certainly wasn’t impressive, in fact it looked like a 5 year old child had dreamed it up.

No degree, no clear career path and no idea what I actually wanted to do. Luckily for me, the one thing I had buckets of was ambition and that (with some added sheer, dumb luck) has found me running a successful business 5 years later.

wharf

The Wharf Ltd. is a music school based in Norwich. I knew I would be involved in music, but never anticipated full-time teaching for a living. However, my role here at The Wharf began with me teaching 10 hours a day and then catching up on Admin and lesson planning in the evening, 6 days a week. Over the last 5 years I’ve gained a team of 10 brilliant tutors and Administrators that has allowed my role to change. I now manage my team and develop the business, teaching a few students in the evenings. In 2010 I won the Young Business Woman of the Year Award, giving me the boost of confidence I needed to grow my business further. We now have a client base of 500+ students and a turnover expected to hit £200k next year.

As a young female in business, I did encounter difficulties. From the patronising Estate Agent who wasn’t keen to even discuss the lease on a premises, to the networking events filled with men in suits who had no interest in my business, but wanted me to sing at their staff parties. To be taken seriously was difficult and I’m still finding moments to this day when I feel the need to justify myself to people. Occasionally I will have a brief moment of regret about not achieving a degree, usually when I’m struggling with a difficult  situation. It’s these moments when I remind myself that I have achieved more than I could have anticipated, that having a degree would not have made this process easier.. I’m learning constantly by mistakes I make every day. Running a business is like learning to drive a car. You can be taught how to do it, but until you’re out on the road by yourself, hands on the wheel and steering alone, that’s when you learn to take control.

Looking back over my career in business so far, the one thing that really stands out to me is just how great other women in business have been. Whether it’s specific groups such as the team at Everywoman (a dedicated, online support network for women in business) networking groups in the city aimed specifically at women, Twitter members who support and share advice… there is a wide network of people out there, both male and female, who will support women in business and appreciate just what we are able to achieve. The idea that for a woman to succeed in business she has to be brutal, cut throat and willing to sacrifice starting a family is long gone… this is the new dawn of female entrepreneurship and “mumpreneurs”. It’s meant to be difficult, but that’s what makes it so very rewarding.

 

-Samantha Parravani-Coe

The Wharf Academy