Standing up for girls
Local fifth-grader tells Hollywood execs to
Friday, May 20, 2005
To tell you the truth, the Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles doesn’t really look any different from your typical hotel. It has all your basic things: two queen-size beds, a desk with a chair, a TV, a bathroom and a copy of a van Gogh or da Vinci on the wall. But for a few days in mid-April, it was filled with about 100 girls.
Why am I talking about the Hilton? Well, New Moon magazine—an advertising-free publication written by and for girls—had a poster contest this year, and the theme was Turn Beauty Inside Out.
After I sent in my poster design, I kind of forgot about it, not expecting to win. One day after school, I came home, threw my backpack on the couch and noticed the blinking light on the answering machine. I pushed the red button and was shocked as I heard a woman’s voice announce that I won the contest.
So, you think, what the heck does that have to do with the Hilton Hotel?
Well, the grand prize was a trip to Los Angeles to participate in the Girls Leadership Conference and stay at the Hilton, where it was held.
I was excited to hear that many stars, such as Geena Davis and the Cheetah Girls, would come and talk about women and girls and the media.
The conference was phenomenal—it gave us girls an opportunity to make friends, taught us to stand up for ourselves and encouraged us not to fall for everything TV and movies say or do—such as portray girls in a negative manner. I loved Geena Davis’ presentation. We learned there are many more boy characters in television and movies than girl characters. Even on “Sesame Street,” only two of the 29 characters they created are girls—the first girl came after 19 male characters.
Geena Davis was extremely funny when she pretended to be one of the Sesame Street producers. She pretended to be deep in thought, thinking about the show’s characters, and said, “Hmm … we’ve got the mean one and the nice one, the happy one and the grouchy one, the big one and the little one. Are we missing anything?”
Put real girls on TV
During the conference, we also got the chance to tell Hollywood producers and movie executives what we thought would improve the films and TV shows made for our age group.
Here are some of the suggestions we came up with—ways to make movies better for kids, and more fun to watch:
• Include people of all colors and sizes—not just thin blond girls.
• New stories—not the same old plots and characters.
• Show happy girls and women.
• Show girls wearing more clothes. And more normal clothes.
• Give girls and women roles that are based on more than what they look like.
• Have female characters that are strong, brainy, independent and successful.
• Feature girls who look and act like real girls and don’t all hate their parents.
• Use humor in a positive way, not to tear people down or make pointless, dirty jokes.
• Break down stereotypes about people and places instead of playing them up for laughs.
Some of the producers admitted they have a long way to go—partly because movies and television are trying first to sell things, rather than tell us good stories.
Another panel of speakers included women who worked for different magazines. One of the speakers acted as if it were a radical, huge step for them to put a more realistic-looking Hispanic girl on the cover. She kept saying that she “really had to fight for it.”
The girls at the conference later talked about how obnoxious it was, that it should not be a big deal to put different kinds of girls on the covers of girls’ magazines. Plus, the cover girl the editor was talking about turned out to be a movie star, America Ferrera, from the new movie “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”
The conference reminded me to always think about what I see on TV, in magazines or at the movies. The conference was amazing, and I will always remember it.
I even got my picture taken with the Cheetah Girls.
Willa Sachs, 10, lives in Chicago with her parents and her sister, Genevieve, 8.