While there are positive achievement-oriented female role models, including Supreme Court justices, college professors, secretaries of state and professional athletes, there are also fairy tales, cartoons, movies, television shows and advertisements that bombard girls with the message that being thin and pretty are what matters.
“It (mass culture) may serve business,” Hamkins says, “but it does not serve mothers and daughters.”
When girls understand that those messages are intended to sell products, Hamkins says they’re more likely to be immune to them.
Girls tend to look outside their immediate families to learn about the world, Hamkins says, and “we (mother-daughter groups) provide a real alternative to values on Netflix. It doesn’t mean it’s easy and it doesn’t mean the girls won’t ever be sexually harassed or won’t develop an eating disorder, but if it does happen they’ll be able to deal with it in a loving context.”
Aiding Huisman in coordinating the Maine Mother-Daughter Project are undergraduates Tess Walter and Elizabeth Joy, who work as research assistants.
Walter is a fourth-year psychology major with a biological-cognitive concentration who joined the project this semester. After one of the films, the Niagara Falls, N.Y., native and her mother served on a panel addressing cyberbullying.
Joy is a senior double majoring in sociology and psychology, with a concentration in developmental psychology. The Waldo resident has assisted Huisman with every aspect of the project since its inception, including research and website development. She’s also the mother of a 3-year-old daughter.
“I’m thrilled to live in a community where this type of project is accepted with such open arms,” Joy says. “Most exciting to me is that other women will help nurture our girls.”
The project seems to be making an impact in the Belfast community. In addition to seven new mother-daughter groups and large audiences at the films, there’s a waiting list at the Belfast Free Library for the 10 copies of the book by Hamkins and Schultz that Huisman purchased for the project.