Melanie is a rising senior interning at Girls for Gender Equity this summer.
“Hmm.. Josh just texted me that he wants me to send him a naked picture of myself. I don’t know that I am totally comfortable with that- but then again, he said he wouldn’t show anyone. Plus, it would definitely make him like me more- I should be flattered that he asked me, especially because Josh is in high school!”
What will this 7th grade girl do? Will her choice even matter? I have seen, first hand, many girls who make the choice to send the nude photo, and I have also seen what it can lead to… an infatuation with sexualization that diverts them from schoolwork, and a viral photo leads to embarrassment and shame causing the girl’s self-esteem to spiral downwards. It is unfortunate that these girls have insecurities about themselves that leads them to stoop to the level of sending a naked photo of in order to get (what they assume would be) positive attention, when in reality the true outcome of this action is negative. But what is this 7th grade girl really great at? Is she an insightful writer? Is she an athlete? Could she be a great artist or engineer? Why is she not thinking about that? Why is she not tapping into her talents as opposed to an over obsession with her body. The issue is not with an over obsession with her body- the issue lies with the fact that she has such a lack of self concept and self esteem that she feels the need to use her body as a tool for any attention. It is vital to help girls to understand that they have the power and control in their lives, and that they can be anything they want to be.
My name is Melanie Sperling and I am an upcoming senior at Duke. I am a psychology major with a Children in Contemporary Society Certificate. This summer I am excited to be working with Girls for Gender Equity. Specifically I will be doing work with their Urban Leaders Academy (ULA) in planning for their upcoming program year. My major focuses will be in partnership development and logistical program planning and projection. ULA is a holistic program designed to advance leadership skills, social justice principals and values, and self-determination in junior high school students – just what the girl in my example could use.
Have you ever sat and talked with middle school girls? I worked extensively with this age group my past three years at Duke through tutoring programs and The Girls’ Club in Durham. Additionally, many of my friends have middle school aged sisters, and I was a middle schooler myself not too long ago. One thing that many middle school students have in common is that they are sensitive, and are working to develop their own identity. They often fly through romantic relationships on a weekly basis, socialize in cliques, and are highly critical of one another. Middle school girls are also strong, creative, intelligent and fun loving. Unfortunately, many of the conflicts that occur for girls in middle school cause unnecessary worry and angst and can lead a girl on a negative path if they are not given the skills to develop confidence and leadership, and the perspective to understand the benefits that education can have for their future.
These girls are the people that are eventually going to go out in the world and build their own communities, and they are either going to realize their talents and perpetuate a cycle of education, engagement and leadership, or they are going to submit to a plummeting self concept and likely have negative life outcomes. I am incredibly passionate about working with GGE because their main goal is to promote physical, psychological, social and economic well being for girls, women and ultimately the entire community. GGE acts as a catalyst for change to improve gender and race relations and socio-economic conditions for the most vulnerable youth and communities of color.
I got involved in the Moxie Project through a course I took this past spring called Women in the Public Sphere. I learned about the history and current state of feminism. My sophomore year I created a research portfolio on the early sexualization of girls in the US. While I have an interest in focusing on the psychological well being of all people, from infants to the elderly, I have a special place in my heart for youth and young adults, and especially for young women. I believe that women can be the backbone of strong organizations and a strong society, and that circumstances that perpetuate negative outcomes for women must be uprooted in order to create communities and societies that can blossom.