Focus on Women

How We Encourage Miley Cyrus to Behave So Inappropriately

August 28th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

I turned on the MTV Video Music Awards the other night because I wanted to see Lady Gaga perform.  And I was not disappointed.  But then there came Miley Cyrus.  After watching her performance, which shocked, saddened and appalled me, I turned the TV off.

John S. Dickerson’s opinion piece in USA Today this morning gets it right.  We own some responsibility (and blame and shame) for encouraging such inappropriate public behavior by young women.  We encourage it through our viewing and purchasing habits, which tell young girls like Miley Cyrus that they will be loved, valued, popular, if they “get as naked as possible and behave the way sex slaves are forced to in countries where women are chained to beds and beaten.”

My biggest fear is that the post VMA chat about Cyrus will encourage her to behave this way even more.  And that other young girls will be encouraged to follow in her footsteps.  When we choose to watch programs that value girls and young women for something other than their bodies, only then will the kind of public display we witnessed stop being valued by our society.


Airport Magazine Rack Observations

August 21st, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford

Because of my job, I am spending more time in airports these days, traveling to and from northern California. While waiting for my flight this morning, I couldn’t help but notice the magazine rack, and how the periodicals segregated into “women’s” and “men’s” sections.  I suppose that helps direct people to the kind of magazine they might be most interested in.

But then I took a second look.  I noticed how the covers of the magazines in the men’s section are very different than those in the women’s section.

This is the section for men.  Most of the covers highlight things like cars or golf, or show fully clothed (usually professionally dressed) men.  The one glaring exception is the cover of Maxim, strategically placed smack dab in the middle.  That cover features a barely clothed woman.



Now take a look at the women’s section.

Notice how most of the covers are of faces and/or bodies (some with more skin showing than others).  Instead of covers highlighting hobbies or intellectual things, like we see on the men’s side, the women’s side is mostly about beauty and gossip.  If I’m a woman, looking for a more substantive periodical like the New Yorker, or the Economist, I have to search for it from the men’s side.

The next time you are in an airport, take a look at the magazine rack.  See if you notice the same thing. (I’ve been to three different airports in the last 2 weeks, and the pattern has been similar at each one.)

Is it just me, or is something wrong with these pictures?


You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

July 21st, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford

One of the most powerful experiences for me at the SIA Convention in Hawaii was the opportunity to hear Jennifer Siebel Newsom talk about her efforts to raise public awareness of how our culture devalues girls by only recognizing them for their beauty.  Messages to girls are mostly about their looks, not their intelligence, creativity or leadership ability.  As a culture, we really don’t celebrate girls–except as beauty queens.  While boys are taught to master their universe (think superhero), girls get little to no encouragement to master theirs.  Boys are encouraged to strive to become superstar athletes–while girls get little to no encouragement to excel in sports (despite Title IX).  When it comes to the media–whether it’s television, movies or magazines–there simply are too few women in roles that reflect positions of leadership.  When girls mostly experience women and girls in the media as bodies, sex objects and beauty queens, they begin to believe that’s what they should become, too.  As Seibold Newsom pointed out, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The film, Miss Representation contains some shocking facts and statistics.  Did you know that 77% of prime time television content has sexual references?  Did you know that the number of youth (i.e., under age 18) getting cosmetic surgery for youth tripled between 1997 and 2007?  That 80% of girls between the ages of 11 and 17 have dieted to try to attain an unrealistic body like the photo-shopped ones they see in magazines? The film made me shocked, then sad, then angry, then sad, then inspired, and finally, really, really angry.

Since watching the film, I’ve been thinking about how I have been inadvertently contributing to culture that devalues girls and their abilities.  Jennifer Seibel Newsom said, “It’s really up to us to change our practices and demonstrate a better way.”  She encouraged us to do this by celebrating and supporting good media–and by challenging and not purchasing harmful media.  Could my weekly People magazine subscription be contributing to a culture that glorifies celebrity and appearance over substance and contribution?

Women represent 86% of the purchasing power in our country.  So I’m going to be more choosy about what I watch, and what magazines I buy.  (In other words, perhaps it’s time to cancel that magazine subscription).  And when I don’t like what I see, I’m going to say something about it.  Silence is a form of acceptance.  Because of what I’ve learned, I can’t be silent any longer.

For more information about Miss Representation and ways you can get involved in changing our anti-girl culture, visit


Toys and the Gender Gap

May 20th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford

Today I came across a little video of a little girl named Riley expressing frustration that “all the girls have to buy pink stuff.”  She doesn’t understand why girl toys tend to be pink when there are so many other wonderful colors available.  Of course, the reason is that we learn at a very young age through the media (and sometimes our own parents) that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. The video was part of a blog that looked at the history of the gender gap as manifested by the evolution and gender-based marketing of LEGO toys.  Initially LEGO bricks were marketed as toys for both boys and girls.  But beginning in the 1970′s LEGO produced its first female themed set, entitled “Homemaker.”  In addition to the LEGO story, the blog gives some great references for learning about the gender gap in other aspects of society, and actions you can take to tell companies to stop marketing based on gender.


Girl Power that Would Make Violet Richardson Proud!

May 3rd, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford

Julia Bluhm is 14.  But already, she is making a difference in raising awareness of how the media negatively impacts girls’ perceptions of their bodies and consequently their own beauty.  How did she do this?  Julia started an online petition asking Seventeen magazine to publish at least a few photos per month in the magazine that are not modified with Photoshop.  Yesterday, she hand delivered 25,000 signatures to the editor of Seventeen, demonstrating that she’s not alone in thinking the media should show what women and girls really look like, instead of using altered images that distort our perceptions of what constitutes “beauty.”

Violet Richardson Ward, Soroptimist’s first club president (circa 1921) probably would be horrified at the media images girls are exposed to these days.  But I know she’d be proud of Julia’s passion for awareness, advocacy and action.

Advocacy Opportunity — Follow Ashley Judd’s Lead

April 12th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford

I have long respected Ashley Judd for not only her talent as an actress, but also for being smart and inspiring.  Here’s the latest example–an op-ed piece she recently wrote for The Daily Beast.  In it she explains why she is tired of women’s bodies being used as the primary basis for judging their competence or worth.  She writes:

The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately.  We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simply physical objectification.  Our voices, our personhood, our potential and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted….”

Judd states that she normally ignores media reports about her, but the focus on her allegedly “puffy face” went too far. “I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered and misogynistic, and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle.”

To read the full piece and respond to her call to action, click here:

Let’s start a different kind of conversation–about why one’s appearance has become the most important element by which we are all (both men and women) judged, and what we can be doing to change that.


Lessons About Beauty from Luann

January 8th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford

Luann is one of my favorite comic strips.  Lately she’s been skeptical that a Quill, cute exchange student from Australia,  could be more interested in her than the school’s model/cheerleader/beauty queen Tiffany. The last couple of days the strip has drawn attention to the different definitions of “beauty.”  Finally, Luann talks her to mom about it.

Sadly, girls are more likely to believe the media.  Thanks to Luann creator Greg Evans for drawing attention to the impact of media on girls’ self esteem and their perceptions of whether or not they are beautiful just the way they are.

I can’t wait to see what happens to Luann next!

Miss Representation in the Media

November 1st, 2011 . by Cathy Standiford

A film about how the media shapes the image of women and girls generated lots of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival.  And based on the trailer, it’s worth seeing.

View it for yourself here:

My Soroptimist club is looking at hosting this film as a kind of community forum.  Maybe yours should too.

For more information, visit the Miss Representation website at:

Will Banning Mirrors in Schools Improve Teen Girls’ Self-Esteem?

September 17th, 2011 . by Cathy Standiford

A school in England has created controversy by banning make-up for girls and removing mirrors from their bathrooms.  Why?   Because they noticed that 14- to 16-year old teens were far more focused on vanity than learning.  It is also seen as a strategy for helping girls see themselves as beautiful without lipstick and eye paint.  Whether it will really help learning or improve self esteem is the subject of some interesting commentary, which you can read here:

Could this be one way to help girls value themselves based on something other than their looks–in spite of what the media “teaches” them?

Our Bodies, Our World

August 26th, 2011 . by Cathy Standiford

I can’t help but wonder if, in our quest for physical beauty that spans a lifetime, we begin to see our bodies as something to be conquered, not something to love.  That kind of disassociation is something that poet, activist and writer Eve Ensler also has been thinking about.  In this video, she takes us on a journey of bodily reconnection–and illustrates how our bodies can be a reflection of the good, the bad and the ugly about our world.

“If you are divided from your body, you are divided from the world.”  — Philip Shepherd

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