Monthly Archives: February 2010

Girl Scout Survey Sheds Light on Girls’ Body Image Battles

A recent body image survey conducted by the Girl Scouts determined that many girls are feeling the extreme pressures of the fashion industry to be thin and to use any means necessary to accomplish this goal. The survey, Beauty Redefined [PDF], asked 1,000 girls ages 13-17 across the United States how they felt about their bodies.  Some of the unnerving statistics:

Girls attribute media and fashion to the pressure to be thin.  Nine in ten girls say the fashion industry (89%) and/or the media (88%) place a lot of pressure on teenage girls to be thin. Girls say they would prefer to see more “natural”/“real” images in the media. Eighty-one percent of girls would rather see “real” or “natural” photos of models than touched-up, airbrushed versions.

Additionally, the survey found that many girls have a “love/hate” relationship with the fashion industry, often viewing fashion as very important to them while simultaneously hating what it represents. Girls do seem to notice the problems with too-thin models, race representation, and other unrealistic expectations found in the fashion world:

Sixty-five percent of girls think that the body image represented by the fashion industry is too skinny; 63% think it is unrealistic; and 47% think it is unhealthy. More than a quarter (28%) say the fashion industry body image looks sick…Only 46% think the fashion industry does a good job of representing people of all races and ethnicities, with Caucasian girls the most likely to say this (52%, compared to only 42% of Hispanics and 32% of African Americans).

Interestingly, African-American and Hispanic girls felt more satisfied with their bodies than did Caucasian girls. A media event on the survey and the topic of body image will be held at the Bryant Park Hotel in New York City the day before Fashion Week begins and will include celebrity panelists and other experts.

Body image for young girls in the United States is a serious and often overlooked problem. Girls as young as thirteen are experimenting with diet pills and weight loss attempts while trying to cope with self-esteem issues that come with not being the size zero they see on the runway.  These mental and physical pressures are enough to cause emotional stress on girls who should be concentrating on school, playing outside, or enjoying being a teenager. The average size of an adult woman in the United States is 162 pounds and she wears a size 14 – it is time we start seeing her and ignoring the waif model stereotype until it disappears for good.

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Filed under Girls, Women's health

Female Judges in the United States Are Few and Far Between

Update: This blog post originally stated that there were no women on the Mississippi Supreme Court, which came from the executive summary of the report. However, Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, Public Information Officer for the Administrative Office of Courts in Mississippi, emailed us to let us know that there is a woman currently serving on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Judge Ann H. Lamar. Our apologies for the mistake, and thanks to Beverly for letting us know.

Via Ms. JD, we learn about a study on female representation in the state and federal judiciaries in the United States [PDF]. The study was conducted by the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany and its findings indicate that women still have a long way to go before equal representation in the courts.

Some highlights (or lowlights) from the study:

In the U.S., women make up only 22% of all federal judgeships and 26% of all state-level positions.

With respect to women’s share of federal judgeships, only New Jersey and Connecticut achieved critical mass of 33% (the point at which women start exercising significant influence). About 20% of federal judges in most states are women. Women’s share of federal judgeships is at 10% or less in eight states. There are no women judges on federal benches located in Montana and New Hampshire.

There are no women judges on the U.S. District and Magistrate benches of the U.S. Northern District of New York (a 26 county region) despite the existence of a pool of 359 female judges serving on New York State benches.

Women are also absent from the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts District of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. There are no women judges on the Supreme Courts of Idaho, Indiana (see update above); and from the Alaska Court of Appeals.

In Pennsylvania, 22% of federal judges are women, and 27% of state-level judges are women, resembling the national average.

Equal representation is important in every profession, including the judiciary. In a thriving democracy, the court system plays a crucial role in ensuring that justice is a reality for all citizens and that the branches of government do not overstep their bounds. Like every judge, women bring their own unique experiences and history to their work. In a diverse society, this is extremely important and should be emphasized. And when women reach a critical mass, they can start to break down stereotypical gender roles more easily than when there are fewer women on the bench.

Make sure to read the whole report [PDF] and see how your state ranked.


Filed under Democracy, Equality, Government

Reproductive Coercion Among Young Women and Teens

Reproductive rights activists have posited that the rise in unwanted and unplanned pregnancies among teens and young women in recent years could be due to the failure to use adequate birth control or the effects of abstinence-only-until-marriage education. A new study indicates, however, that reproductive coercion may be an additional factor. This type of abuse of power is defined as male pressure on his partner to control her reproductive choices and decisions. Research conducted at the University of California at Davis has revealed that many young women experience this type of harassment and intimidation. In the study, 1,300 women between the ages of 16 and 29 were asked questions about birth-control sabotage, pregnancy coercion, and partner violence.

The study found that one in five women said they had experienced pregnancy coercion and 15% had experienced birth-control sabotage. More than half had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. The researchers concluded that the rate of unintended pregnancy was double among women who experienced reproductive coercion and partner violence.

These research findings might explain why unintended pregnancies are so much more common among women and teens who have been abused. Younger women may have a harder time dealing with this phenomenon as they generally have less access to doctors’ appointments and emergency contraception, especially if they are minors. Additionally, less experience with intimate relationships may contribute to a difference between perceived and actual reproductive choices. Young women are also less likely to be earning enough money to support themselves, and may be more likely to depend on their male partnerswhich is ultimately the goal of abusers–not an actual, wanted child.

“What we’re seeing is that, in the larger scheme of violence against women and girls, it is another way to maintain control,” says Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics at University of California, Davis. “You have guys telling their partners ‘I can do this because I’m in control’ or ‘I want to know that I can have you forever.’”

There is discussion about potentially including reproductive coercion under the umbrella of sexual abuse, which would require healthcare professionals to report each case to the authorities. But this may not be the best way to handle such situations. Miller advocates a solution wherein a woman’s doctor could provide a more covert means of contraception and counseling that could help her “explore the possibility of ending the relationship.”

Whether or not reproductive coercion is determined to be an indicator of an abusive relationship, it is a significant violation of a woman’s right to choose and be comfortable in her own reproductive decisions. Covert birth control prescribed by a woman’s doctor is a necessary first step, but affected women must also be provided with the skills and support needed to avoid or leave unhealthy and malignant relationships. And there needs to be targeted outreach to young men who may commit reproductive coercion, through school programs, faith communities, or other sources. This problem will need both men and women to solve it.


Filed under Domestic violence, Pregnancy, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Not All Athletes are Anti-Choice

Among the building excitement for this weekend’s Super Bowl match between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, the controversy over the Tim Tebow and Focus on the Family anti-choice advertisement also continues to develop. In response to CBS’s plan to broadcast the ad on Sunday, three professional athletes voice their opinions on family and women’s reproductive health in this video from Planned Parenthood

This Planned Parenthood video features former college and professional football player Sean James and Olympic gold medalist Al Joyner who assert their commitment to a women’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. The video is positive in its message and doesn’t condemn any perspective regarding abortion, including Mrs. Tebow’s. Both athletes make it clear that the most important issue is respect and trust for women. They each personalize their statements, referring to their mothers and daughters, and hope for a future in which every woman’s decision regarding her family will be respected. “We celebrate families by supporting our mothers, by supporting our daughters, by trusting women,” says Joyner.

And in a New York Times article, New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita responds to the ad by “standing up for equal rights.” Fujita also makes it clear that while he respects Tim Tebow’s opinion on abortion, he does not share it. “‘The idea of focusing on the family – who wouldn’t agree with that?’ Fujita said. ‘But the means of doing so, he and I might not see eye to eye all the way.’”

Implicit in all three athletes’ statements is respect for a woman’s choice regardless of her ideological views of abortion. Anti-choice rhetoric, for which Focus on the Family is known, however, decidedly disapproves of women making a narrowly defined “wrong” choice. It is for this reason that so many women’s organizations are protesting and petitioning CBS. The Women’s Media Center submitted a protest letter to CBS that identifies why the station should have turned down the ad:

By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers.

Fujita also extended support for an ad for a gay dating site that was turned down by CBS for Super Bowl Sunday. The station rejected an advertisement for citing the company’s Standards and Practices guidelines in its reasoning. Action like this only reinforces claims made by groups like the Women’s Media Center. There seems to be an obvious double standard. “The fact that CBS approves the Focus on the Family ad made us think CBS would be approving all spots from advocacy groups. We thought it’d be a slam dunk,” responded’s marketing coordinator Thomas Young.

Despite all of the negativity surrounding the anti-choice advertisement, the messages from Fujita, James, and Joyner to trust women and respect family is important. If the Tebow ad does run this Sunday, perhaps it will encourage families to discuss their own views on abortion and women’s reproductive choices.

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Filed under Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, February 3rd, the Women’s Law Project will join Pennsylvania Senator Mary Jo White and Representative Tim Briggs in the Capitol Rotunda to recognize National Girls and Women in Sports Day, an annual event honoring the achievements and participation of girls and women in sports.

The legislators will also talk about legislation they have introduced to help schools, parents and student athletes address gender inequities that persist in Pennsylvania’s high school athletic programs decades after Title IX was enacted.  SB890 and HB2061 require Pennsylvania’s schools to annually compile and disclose information about participation and treatment of athletic programs for grades 7 through 12. The press conference will be held at 1:00 pm in the Capitol Rotunda, Harrisburg, PA.

For more information, contact info [at] womenslawproject [dot] org.

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Filed under Events, Girls, PA Legislature, Sports, Title IX

Inspiring Girls to Lead Governments

The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania is sponsoring a  program called “GirlGov,” which is designed to encourage young women and girls to get involved in politics.  The program will send 16 girls, ages 13 through 17, to the state capital to shadow a state legislator on March 8, International Women’s Day. Participants of Girl Gov will be able to learn firsthand the work that being a legislator entails, the goal being to encourage girls to become more engaged with the political process, and perhaps eventually, to pursue politics as a career.

This program is a much-needed one, as in 2009, only 24.3% of the 7,382 state legislators nationwide were women. This average is obviously dismal, but when examining Pennsylvania’s own percentage of women legislators, 24% seems downright progressive. According to Business and Professional Women PA [PDF], in 2009, Pennsylvania’s percentage of women state legislators was ranked 46th out of the nation’s fifty states. Only 14.6% of the State Senate and House were women, and the only states with lower percentages were Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Even worse, Pennsylvania has ranked no better than 43rd in the past 30 years.

If you or someone you know wants to apply, visit However, act quickly – applications will not be accepted after Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 5 PM.

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Filed under Girls, Government

Working Women, Happier Families

A recent report by the Pew Research Center has reignited the debate over gender roles within heterosexual marriages. Due to significant changes in educational and employment statistics between men and women, the economic roles between spouses is changing.

The study focuses on the correlation between education level and income among men and women (and husbands and wives) between 1970 and 2007. Women’s disproportionate gains have been characterized by gender role reversals both inside the home and out. A New York Times article points out that the effect this has on the stability of marriages is generally positive.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that shifts within marriages – men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home – have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

Additionally, the recession has forced many couples to respond to unexpected financial pressures by stepping out of traditional gender roles. As it is becoming less unusual for women to be primary breadwinners, the same is proving to be true for men staying home and caring for the home and children.

These changes, however, come with new challenges. Adopting new gender roles means giving up traditional responsibilities.

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to women’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.

Despite difficulties in adjusting, the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive overall effect. In marriages where husbands and wives share household and employment responsibilities the relationship is likely to be more egalitarian, and spouses tend to be happier.

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Filed under Education, Employment, Equality