You Don't Have to Be Barbie: Girls and Media Literacy

In the last year, I joined the Board of Directors of Women's Expressive Theatre and Risk Takers. How could I not get involved? I have a daughter and I want her to know that she is unstoppable.
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I often write about things that bother me. But not today. Today, I am going to write about an amazing organization that is trying to make a difference in young women's lives. And they are doing it in an unconventional way.

Though this is supposed to be an uplifting piece, let me first pose the following questions: When it comes to evaluating media, what kind of tools do we give our girls? Do we give them the skills to tackle and combat media messages? Do we give them the motivation to forge their own paths, free to go beyond "what is expected" of them? Sadly, young people today (both boys and girls) are lacking media literacy. For that matter, plenty of adults have challenges with it, too.

For years I have tried to get my students to think outside the box, so to speak. I frequently ask students to explore the messages about sexuality, relationships, body image, and femininity/masculinity that they are bombarded with on an hourly basis. I encourage them to think critically about those messages and to explore the benefits, problems, and challenges that may arise from taking those messages as fact. Last, I propose that students toss those messages aside in order to create a new set of guidelines, or if it's possible, no guidelines at all.

I found out that I was not alone in my desire to create wiser and healthier teens. Two years ago, I was asked to speak at something called the Risk Takers Health Fair.

Risk Takers is a leadership and media literacy program for New York City girls created by WET Productions founders, Sasha Eden and Victoria Pettibone. In an effort to squash the unhealthy images and representation of women in the media, Risk Takers was born.

According to the Risk Takers press information, this program "seeks to provide tools and confidence to avoid at-risk and unhealthy behaviors, and teaches (girls) media-literacy skills ... to navigate their media-saturated lives with safety, awareness and bravery." Risk Takers uses film as a launching pad for mentored discussions on topics from domestic abuse and eating disorders to sexuality and drug/alcohol use.

But in my opinion, what separates Risk Takers from other leadership programs is that in addition to education, teenage girls have the opportunity to meet, question, and challenge the women (actors, directors, writers) from the films that they screen. And most surprising, for the New York City girls who apply and commit to the program, it is free (yes, free).

In my humble opinion, this program is certainly not given the attention that it deserves.

But don't take my word for it. Do the research yourself. Contact the Risk Takers. If you know a teenage girl (in New York City) that you think could benefit from this experience, let her know. And if you want to get involved, of course, that always helps, too.

And for the sake of full disclosure: in the last year, I did join the Board of Directors of WET and Risk Takers. How could I not get involved? I have a daughter and I want her to know that she is unstoppable. She can take risks. She can do whatever and be whomever she wants. The world is hers, if she wants it.

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