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Geena Davis Keynotes SPARK Summit at Hunter

Academy Award winning actress and women’s advocate Geena Davis delivered the keynote address at the SPARK Summit (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge) at Hunter College on October 22, where some 400 girls and adults gathered to learn the necessary tools to become advocates, organizers, and policy influencers to combat the sexualization of girls in society. The summit attendees heard reports on the latest research on sexualization of girls, participated in workshops, and created fun alternatives to sexy Halloween costumes during a Halloween costume fashion show.

Geena Davis told the crowd that, throughout her career, she has tried to choose roles where women get to choose their own fate. She spoke about her experiences growing up as the tallest girl in her class and how her fondest wish in high school was “to take up less space in the world.” She challenged the audience to rise up and protest to make change, to start noticing sexualization, especially the lack of female representation in children’s films.

Among the research that was presented at the Summit was a new study of girls ages 11-15 by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin. The study of more than 200 middle school students reveals that girls personally endorse cultural messages about sexualization earlier than was previously thought, and that these beliefs negatively impact girls’ academic achievement.

Girls who internalized messages about sexuality had lower grades in math, science, English, and social science, and scored lower on standardized tests in math and reading, than girls who resisted such messages.

Although virtually all girls are exposed to the sexualizing messages prevalent in our culture, some girls internalize these messages more than other girls do, veteran researcher Rebecca Bigler and graduate student Sarah McKenney found. The study was one of the first to measure internalized sexualized beliefs among pre- and early-adolescent girls, using a survey that included an assessment of preferences for more and less sexualized clothing (one-piece versus bikini bathing suits).

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Published on October 25, 2010

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