We need to empower girls and educational psychologist and consultant Lori Day has written a groundbreaking book: her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and so much more. A co-founder and member of the board of Brave Girls Want, a think tank of girl empowerment experts who advocate for healthier media and products for girls. Don't forget to check out her website for mother/daughter bookclubs. I'm honored to have her here. Thank you, Lori!
This is such an important topic. Was there a specific event that sparked this book?
I’m a blogger for the Huffington Post, and an acquisitions editor at Chicago Review Press “discovered” me there when she read a post I wrote about princess culture. She then went to my website and read more of my writing, and reached out to me to ask me to submit a book proposal to her on anything I wanted to write about. It was so unexpected and so fortunate to be presented with such an opportunity. I decided to write about mother-daughter book clubs because our own club was the most transformative experience of my parenting journey, and also of my daughter Charlotte’s childhood. I work in the girl empowerment space, with a special focus on media literacy, and I realized I could write about the kind of mother-daughter book club I would create today given the changes in girl culture and how much more difficult raising girls has become. I realized these clubs could serve as very practical media literacy vehicles on top of their traditional purposes of encouraging bonding, socializing and reading, and that moms really need more tools.
I also thought it would be both fun and genuinely helpful to collaborate with Charlotte, now age 22. I’d always dreamed of writing with her. She is so incredibly talented, and wants to be a professional writer, so having her as a contributing author would 1) seriously make the book better, 2) be super fun to do, and 3) give her the credential of being a published author at a young age, as she pursues her own writing career. It all played out so well. Her reflections at the end of the last 8 chapters really helped the book blossom and added the genuine perspective of a young woman. But also, she’s a great editor. I mean that in a couple of ways. She’s a fantastic proofreader—much better than me—and she caught lots of small mistakes. She’s also a great developmental editor. We brainstormed all the chapters together, even though I did the research and writing on my own. One of the things that makes Her Next Chapter unique is that we wrote it as a mother-daughter team.
Can you talk about what you think is "female-empowering" literature and why it's so important?
I think there’s a difference between female-centric and female-empowering, and it goes for movies, music, gaming and lots of other media in addition to literature. You can have a book about girls that is full of stereotypes, and it would be female-centric, but not female-empowering. There’s a saying: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” (Marie Wilson, founding president of the White House Project). So we need girls to see and read about female characters who are heroines, and that does not mean they must save the world, but they must be the heroines of their own lives. It’s about demonstrating authentic agency in the arcs of their own narratives…being subjects rather than objects who are acted upon by other characters, or who are ornaments beside the adventures and self-actualization of male characters. That’s where empowerment lies. It’s important for many reasons, but two of the most important are that girls need to believe there is no gendered limit to their potential, and equally important is that boys need to see that too.
What do you think a more modern mother-daughter bookclub would be?
I often joke about how it would not be about baking brownies! No offense to moms and daughters who love to bake together, and they should feel free—but that is what the term “mother-daughter book club” brings to mind for me, and a more modern club would be so much more powerful than that.
If I were starting another mother-daughter book club today, there are many things I would do differently in response to how much more challenging our culture has become for girls. I would want to be able to tackle head-on some of the known impediments to healthy emotional development for girls and young women (such as gender stereotypes, sexualization, negative body image, "mean girl" bullying, obstacles to female leadership, etc). It would be important to me to have this sharper focus, and to build a club with other mothers who shared these same concerns and values, and whose parenting style, like mine, was to talk openly and directly about the sensitive and difficult passages our girls were navigating. I would take all of the benefits of reading girl-empowering literature plus the collaborative development of media literacy skills, and I would help our group harness all of that energy to push back against a marketing and media culture that tells girls their greatest value lies in how they look, and that the world they are inheriting places gendered limits on who they can be and what they can do. And all of this is exactly what I’ve tried to do with Her Next Chapter! Mothers and other adult women who work with girls learn to identify the cultural obstacles that women face, to understand more fully why and how they occur, and to recognize in themselves how they as adults are affected. Moms also learn to use suggested books, movies, other media and group activities to create a place outside the modern girlhood box that their daughters can inhabit and in which they can thrive.
Can you tell us some of the practical tools the book offers?
I do give mothers and other adult women practical tools for getting at these tricky subjects--recommendations, original reviews and discussion guides for books, movies and Internet media that open up dialogue on these topics. Also included are group activity suggestions, insightful interviews with some of the leading experts on healthy girlhood, and lots of parenting tips to use at home in addition to the ones for use during club meetings. When we talk about the urgent need to teach children media literacy so they can deconstruct and subvert the thousands of unhealthy messages that bombard them every week, we often don’t give adults the tools to do that. Yes, it’s about the teachable moments everyday, but a lot of parents need more structure and support. Her Next Chapter is a media literacy guidebook.
As the mother of a son, I also worry about the images boys are fed, as well. Is that something you are looking at as well?
Absolutely. Although I talked about that throughout my book, I did not focus on it extensively from the male perspective because the book’s mission was to help mothers parent their daughters, and thus most of my focus was on what happens in our culture that makes it hard for girls to reach their potential and transcend our society’s laser-like focus on them as beautification projects or sexual objects. But it is that very issue that is also relevant to boys, because when we always depict girls in marketing and in media as sexualized and powerless—sometimes as degraded and violated—this is also what boys consume. And the message to boys is that girls are objects. What we know about that from the work of Jean Kilbourne and others is that when the female body is so often depicted in dehumanizing ways, and girls are so often shown as less important than boys (to the point of either being completely missing in the media kids consume, or present in token numbers and marginalized or objectified roles), it subtly conditions boys to view girls as inferior at best, and worthy of violation at worst. We are all aware of the many, many distressing events in the news these days about boys and men who abuse girls and women as if they are not fully human. Media and marketing, as examined in Her Next Chapter, are shown in certain ways to be culpable for providing girls and boys a steady diet of toxic gender roles that hurt them all. And it is all profit-driven, which makes it all the more enraging.
What's obsessing you now and why?
Ha ha, good question! Porn. Seriously. I am absolutely obsessed with the current role of porn in our culture, and the fact that so many young boys (as well as some girls) partake of free 24/7 access to it on the Internet beginning at very young ages while they are just beginning to understand sex. As an adult society we don’t seem to be dealing with this well at all. When I was a child, men would sometimes leave Playboy magazines lying around, and kids would find them. But today, extremely violent, sadistic and degrading porn is viewed by large numbers of boys and men, and while there has been porn since cavemen could draw it on their walls, it has never been anything like this before. Porn has gone mainstream. It is heavily influencing the advertising industry, the fashion industry, the music industry, you name it. It is affecting boys and girls in their relationships, in the pressure boys put on girls or girls put on themselves to perform what is shown in movies, in the emptiness of relationships that are often exclusively sexual between kids who barely know each other, and so forth. As a former school administrator, it was so difficult to stay ahead of the kids on this, and I know that for parents it is nearly impossible. Other countries are much more concerned about it and taking action at the government level to protect kids, but at the risk of wandering to near the porn/free speech precipice, just let me say that the US could benefit from looking outside our own borders on this one!
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Perhaps “What do you hope to accomplish with your book?” And this is simple: to launch as many mother-daughter book clubs into the world as possible; to give mothers and other female role models the education and the tools needed to push back on our toxic media culture for girls and women; to change girlhood for the better. Kind of a tall order, I know!