In many third world nations, approximately 60 percent of the girls are not in school, and others suffer health problems, violence, malnutrition and discrimination. The Beijing Platform for Action (paragraph 259) delineates areas where the “girl child” typically faces discrimination, including the common preference for male children, early marriage, sexual exploitation, violence and practices such as female genital mutilation. According to the United Nations (U.N.), these problems stem from “harmful attitudes and practices.” The United Nations’ Millennium Report declared, “Shortchanging girls is not only a matter of gender discrimination; it is bad economics and bad social policy.”
It’s easy for us to mourn the “harmful attitudes and practices” of those nations that shortchange their girls. We agree that it is “bad economics and bad social policy.” Yet, after the United Nations (U.N.) delineates eight strong recommendations for helping the girl child, including strengthening the role of the family, the U.N.’s summation of the problems facing the girl child is that they “receive inadequate information, guidance and services to help them to go safely through adolescence to adulthood ... especially regarding their reproductive and sexual health.”
Generally, American girls are spared the worst problems facing girls in third world nations. In the United States, education is free; clean water, sanitation and health care are available (though not always easily accessed); and opportunities abound for those girls that are talented and determined. In the U.S., too, there are plenty of resources in churches and communities to help girls navigate successfully through adolescence to adulthood.
But when it comes to “harmful attitudes and practices,” our culture can certainly hold its own –– especially regarding the nation’s sexualized pop culture. The dangers to girls from the worst of American culture can be just as destructive as the cultural practices that are recognized around the world as harmful to girls and women.
The effects of our cultural destruction can be illustrated by Britney Spears, America’s troubled girl child. Though an adult, Britney’s problems began in her childhood and only worsened as she moved through adolescence into adulthood. A wholesome child actress from the Mickey Mouse Club series, Britney became a multi-millionaire and super-sexualized celebrity performer. She is a Grammy Award-winning performer who, according to Time magazine, has sold over seventy-six million records worldwide. She is the eighth best-selling female recording artist in American music history.