Girls’ Life: how can we change the newsstand for the next generation of women?

Amy Schumer and Blake Lively called out Girls’ Life for its sexist cover, and reignited a conversation about what the media is saying to America’s youth.

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What is the difference between boys and girls? Well, according to Girl’s Life and Boy’s Life magazines, a lot. In late August, an alert dad snapped a photo of the two mags for pre-teens, side by side.

The Internet outrage was swift: Why are boys encouraged to dream about their futures while girls are encouraged to dream about their hair? Why are girls “confessing” about their first kisses, while boys are getting a step-by-step plan on how to become an astronaut? Why are girls “waking up pretty” and finding friends, and boys are learning to use tools like microscopes? Mom Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll called out the editors of Girl’s Life in a widely shared post that said, in part, that editors have a responsibility to “create covers and stories that treat girls as more than hair, lips and kisses.” Even stars Amy Schumer and Blake Lively got in on the action, posting the side-by-side covers on their Instagram feeds.

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A photo posted by @amyschumer on

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The issue with this isn’t so much that girls like fashion or makeup (grown women like fashion and makeup, too!) but that media for girls is so limited. Boys are encouraged to dream and to learn, while girls are reduced to frivolities.

Kids will take what we offer them, in terms of stories, books, magazines, and movies. Girls want to see themselves in mainstream culture: As Erynn Brook noted in this terrific essay about the significance of the Wonder Woman movie, girls want stories about girls. If princesses are all there is, they’ll take the princesses. But if we offer stories about princesses, and about Wonder Woman, and about Rosie Revere, Engineer, for example, or if we offer magazines for girls like Muse or National Geographic Kids, or Kazoo, which markets itself as the first magazine for girls that’s not about looks, we’re also offering a landscape for girls that’s full of possibility. (Kazoo Editor Erin Bried said about the magazine’s founding: “I couldn’t believe that the newsstand was such a depressing place for girls.”)

Girls, like boys, are interested in exploring their interests and discovering what they can offer the world. This genius blogger re-designed the original cover to look like this:

As adults (and especially adults working in media like yours truly) we have a responsibility to create books, movies, magazines and stories that show a variety of girl’s experiences and interests, from rockets to fashion to music to, yes, makeup.

We need to help children to learn what they uniquely have to offer the world, whether that’s astronomy or homemaking. We need to help children become their most authentic selves, unconstrained by others’ ideas of what they should be. Boys would benefit from this too—I’d like to see a boys’ article on how to “find friends” and build communities too. Maybe the girls’ magazines could feature more microscopes and the boys’ magazines more sewing machines, and then we’d get a generation of kids who see all the possibilities, and find a place for themselves in a world that’s, well, bigger than a newsstand.

Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson is the author of "The Games Bible: The Rules, The Gear, The Strategies" (Workman, 2010) and has written for Vox, Newsweek.com, and Popular Science, among others.

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