RSS Feed Visit our Tumblr blog Visit us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Write us an emailDonate to SPARK!

website under construction

hello SPARKfriends,

Thank you for visiting us. We are currently rebuilding our website and we can’t wait to share our new vision with you… soon!

Please be patient as we make some SPARKling improvements.

Website Under Construction Message. In the EPS file, each element is grouped separately. Clipping paths included in additional jpg format isolated on white background.

Happy International Women’s Day!


website under construction

hello SPARKfriends,

Thank you for visiting us. We are currently rebuilding our website and we can’t wait to share our new vision with you… soon!

Please be patient as we make some SPARKling improvements.

Website Under Construction Message. In the EPS file, each element is grouped separately. Clipping paths included in additional jpg format isolated on white background.

Research Blog: The Best Little (Queer Brown) Girl in the World

by Allison Cabana

Once upon a time, I was a 15-year-old queer brown girl with an eating disorder. I wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last, but perhaps my experience is a more common one than people think. Let me back up for a second.

In my ninth grade health class, we watched a particularly memorable made-for-TV movie: The Best Little Girl In The World (1981). I may not remember everything from health class, but I definitely remember this movie and how it made me think about eating disorders. The movie—classic that it is—is about a teenage girl who, despite being “the best little girl in the world,” develops an eating disorder in order to cope with the pressures and troubles of her life. Casey, the protagonist in the movie, is a white, heterosexual, “conventionally feminine,” girl who is a student in good standing in her high school. She cheerleads; she dances; she gets all the answers correct on tests. She also has an eating disorder. The movie was pretty stereotypical about who was supposed to, or even allowed to, have eating disorders (and then get help for them). From watching the movie, it seemed to me that only cisgender, white, feminine girls had eating disorders—and that all girls were heterosexual. I didn’t fit the stereotype, but that certainly didn’t stop me from having an eating disorder.

Feet on scale

As people, we’re complex. We identify with different races, gender identities, sexual orientations, and social classes, among many other social categories. A person’s gender identity is the gender they identify with. Sometimes a person’s gender identity matches the gender that they were assigned at birth – these people are referred to as cisgender people. Sometimes a person’s gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth – these people are referred to as transgender people. And some people prefer not to identify as men or women at all, and these people are sometimes referred to as genderqueer or non-binary (for more information, check out this helpful resource). So, with all this awesome variation among people, wouldn’t it make sense that we all could be susceptible to disordered eating?

Eating disorders are persistent health conditions that center on damaging food consumption habits. While related, disordered eating is not always diagnosed, but it also has to do with harmful relationships to food. In this blog, while I do not advocate eating disorders or disordered eating, I do want to examine whether we are fully supporting all of the people who may struggle with this. As a queer, brown young woman, I have a hunch that people from all sorts of different and/or overlapping groups do have, or have had, or sometimes have and sometimes don’t have, disordered eating or eating disorders. But is there actually any research out there about eating disorders among queer or trans people? Am I making this up?

Apparently, I’m not. A group of researchers had an inkling that the stereotypes about eating disorders didn’t encompass everybody affected, and they set out to prove it. In their study, Elizabeth Diemer and her colleagues[1] asked college students across the United States to fill out a survey that asked questions about their gender identity, sexual orientation, eating disorder diagnoses, and disordered eating behavior. Their study was different from past studies in its high number of participants who identified themselves as non-straight (also referred to in research as sexual minority) and transgender individuals. Not only does this mean that these people were included in the study about eating disorders, but by also including straight and/or cisgender girls and boys, they were able to make some comparisons. What Diemer and her colleagues really wanted to know was how often sexual minority and transgender people experience eating disorders compared to their straight and cisgender peers.

What did they find? Just as I thought, their study suggests that eating disorders do affect people across all different identities. The team of researchers report that transgender and sexual minority college students have just as high rates of disordered eating as their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. Of course, this doesn’t mean that cisgender and heterosexual people don’t also experience disordered eating, but it does mean that we can’t forget that eating disorders—thought for a long time to only affect white, straight, cisgender, teenage girls—can and do affect us all.

I’ve been thinking about what this research study means to me now, and what it might have meant for me as a teenager—especially as a teenage girl who was brown and queer. What would I have given at that age to know that I was not alone? To know that my struggle was just as real as the struggle straight, cisgender, white “best little girls in the world” faced? Sometimes, I think we underestimate how important it is to make a problem visible. I watched that movie in my health class and the stereotypical representation of eating disorders I saw made me feel like my own experience wasn’t quite true—even though it absolutely was (and is). This study is so important because it shows the world that eating disorders and disordered eating are problems faced by all sorts of people. We can’t ignore it anymore. And I must admit, I’m already dreaming about the new research questions this study brings up. For example, do transgender and genderqueer people experience eating disorders for the same reasons as cisgender people? How and why people are affected by eating disorders at such high rates are important questions that future research (and maybe even us as future researchers!) can and should start investigating. But I think today, one thing we can do is to make sure that we recognize the struggles that we all might face, and to support all of our peers in recovery. Because no one deserves to feel invisible.




[1] Diemer, E. W., Grant, J. D., Munn-Chernoff, M.A., Patterson, D.A., Duncan, A. E. (2015). Gender identity, sexual orientation, and eating-related pathology in a national sample of college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57, 144-149.


Research Blog: The Gift of Feminism

by Marisa Ragonese

Oh, niceness. The basis of so many religions. The fundamental lesson of kindergartens across the US. The peace and good will towards man thing that’s especially popular this time of year. It’s a big hit across the ages and across the board.

It could be because I’m a little bit of a grinchy/hater and/or an activist at heart—it’s celestial (I’m an Aquarius! Scorpio rising)—but the focus on being good has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve always thought it’s not enough. This vague “niceness” as the bottom line, the whole idea that teaching kindness more, and more effectively to children, will fix the big problems in society, I’m sorry/not sorry: it is totally unrealistic. The way I see it, of course it’s good to teach children to be kind, but lots of our laws and morals and especially our media have been teaching us for hundreds of years that whole categories of people (women, people of color, indigenous people, non-Christians, etc.) don’t matter much; it’s a little late for gender/race/identity-neutral niceness. It’s just not going to cut it. However, pushing back works wonders. So it’s high time to move beyond the realm of being nice, and finally tackle oppression in the classroom, don’t you think?

I’m not the only one who’s wondered about how effective it is to preach and teach niceness as a strategy for social change. Researchers Erin Pahlke, Rebecca S. Bigler and Carol Lynn Martin[1] wanted to know if teaching children to recognize and speak up about gender stereotypes and sexism that they encounter in the big forums (through media) and the small ones (peer relationships) would help them to see and respond to stereotypes and unfairness more than children who are only taught to be nice. Could they figure out and push back against meanness towards girls as a group when it assumed the form of (for instance) one boy teasing one girl about how disgusting it is when she goes to the bathroom? (Ahem…)

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But the reason they wanted to do this study is because preventing bullying is a big thing in schools these days, and it’s much more common for schools to do that using lessons that address interpersonal bias (between two people, like little Donald and little Hilary) rather than intergroup bias, (between groups, like men and women). So it’s more common to teach (individual) kids to be nice to each other rather than to teach them about all of the not-niceness perpetrated against women, or people of color, or immigrants.

And so the authors of the study divided elementary school kids from ages 4-10 into two groups—one got five sessions of the regular gender-neutral training that focused on seeing and speaking out against unfair behaviors from peers (for instance, teasing)—and the other got those trainings plus they were taught about sexism (for instance, gender-based exclusion, gender stereotypes, and unequal relationships between boys and girls). Then they tested kids in both groups to see if they would recognize sexism in children’s media, and if they would challenge a peer’s sexist comment.

And you know what? They found that after the training—even 6 months after the training—the kids who were taught to identify gender stereotypes and sexism did a better job of identifying it and calling it out. It stands to reason, then, that focusing on manner and tolerance is no substitute for teaching about equity and helping children challenge injustice.

And so, Happy New Year to me, I have been vindicated by evidence. (As an Aquarius, this thrills me, obviously.) Teaching kids to be nice is, well, it’s nice, but if we want to see more egalitarian relationships, including equality between boys and girls, the better bet and the biggest payoff is in training kids—including little kids as young as 4—to be media literate, critically thinking feminists and up-standers—that is, to be feminist activists.

So yes, dear feminists, in 2016 and forever after, be the change you want to see. Try to treat everyone (at least everyone who deserves it) with kindness and respect. Good will and peace to humankind, and all that jazz. But let’s remember to teach the future generation the skills they need to identify inequality between men and women, to watch the world closely, and especially to speak up when they recognize injustice. Let’s teach kids to do good, (rather than just “be” good). For goodness sake.

[1] Pahlke, E., Bigler, R. S., & Martin, C. L. (2014). Can fostering children’s ability to challenge sexism improve critical analysis, internalization, and enactment of inclusive, egalitarian peer relationships?. Journal of Social Issues, 70(1), 115-133.


Reimagining School Dress Codes

By Ejin Jeong, SPARK Action Squad

Clothes have always been an important part of our lives.  They allow us to characterize our era, culture, and personal tastes.  In many ways, clothing helps us express ourselves as individuals through various different styles. However, whenever it comes to expressing ourselves and being an individual, society has morphed fashion into another monster. From cultural appropriation to body shaming, society has shaped clothing to bring positive and negative impacts among young girls.

One of the most positive benefits of clothing is that there is such a wide variety that fashion allows us to be stylistically involved and think of creative, innovative ideas that can drive our personal tastes. For many years fashion designers have used clothing as a means of proving their artistic genius. Many people enjoy fashion because they can choose from a wide variety of styles in order to convey their own personal style to the public. However, there is a difference in what contributes to your individuality and what defines you. Most of society attempts to assume that a person’s clothing style defines their personality, and from this, many stereotypes are linked to different styles of clothing that can be harmful and prevent people from being free to wear whatever they want without being judged. Women are at many times slut-shamed for wearing shorter, more revealing clothes but when a woman wears more covered clothing she will be judged for being “drab.”

Society has constantly policed women’s clothing in the past decades. Women have been judged by their clothing to define their bodies, personalities, cultures, and lifestyle. Another huge part of how society has misused clothing is in cultural appropriation. Many people simply are unknowledgeable on what cultural appropriation is and how harmful it is. The lesson to take from these issues is in valuing the importance of education and activism. Much of the harm from stereotyping and racism comes from ignorance and a lack of knowledge on the sensitivity of such issues.

Consistently mirroring the misconceptions that society has about women’s clothing, schools and workplaces have also established rules that have deemed women’s bodies as automatically inappropriate and sexual. In the month of August and September, the SPARK Action Squad discussed several different topics related to clothing and feminism. Body-shaming, identity, judgment, and cultural appropriation are only a few of the major issues that is related to clothing. The SPARK Action Squad has complied a “universal dress code” that lists established rules that work places and schools should follow when laying down dress codes. Through the universal dress code, we were able to come to conclusion as to what would pass as acceptable dress code rules.

We at the SPARKteam would love to hear your own thoughts and opinions on issues in feminism regarding clothing.

Universal Dress Code Rules

  • Students must have input on the dress code, either through a vote, student representation on whatever group or committee decides the dress code, etc. Students spend most of their time in school and are deeply impacted both inside and outside the classroom by dress code expectations, so it’s only fair that we have input on this important decision.
  • Each dress code rule must have an explanation. So much of the discontent with dress codes is that students often don’t understand why the rules are in place, and are not given good explanations when we ask. As a result, dress codes (and their enforcement) often feel arbitrary and unfair.
  • “It’s a distraction” is not a good enough reason for something to be banned by the dress code. Often times, when girls’ clothing is considered “too revealing,” it gets banned because it’s “a distraction” to boys. This is unfair to everyone: it puts the onus on girls to be responsible for boys’ actions, while also suggesting that teenage boys are not in control of their own behavior. Instead, rules should have clear and specific explanations.
  • Dress code rules should be the same across gender lines. There is no reason to allow boys to wear tank tops while banning them for girls, for example. Also, boys should be allowed to wear clothes that are typically labeled as “female clothing”, such as skirts and dresses. No enforcement of boys having to wear masculine clothes  only and women having to wear feminine clothes only.
  • Dress codes should be evenly enforced, with honest conversations about whether or not that’s happening. A faculty or adult should not punish only one person for breaking a dress code rule when someone else that is clearly visible is not punished. It reinforces discrimination and favoritism towards students. In a school environment, unfair treatment should absolutely be  banned.
  • Punishments for dress code violations shouldn’t include sending students home or pulling them out of classes. What’s more distracting, my shoulders or the fact that I just missed an entire history lesson? Revoking privileges is much more conducive to the learning atmosphere for everyone and motivates students more to abide by the dress code than to get a day off from school.
  • Natural hair styles (afros, braids, locs, etc.) should not be banned in schools. Hair styles have nothing to do with interfering learning and banning certain cultural hairstyles can be offensive and restrictive of student’s freedom to express their culture.
  • Students should be allowed to wear items to express their religion and culture that does not promote discrimination against others (ex: white supremacy). These permitable items include head scarves, turbans, bindis, yarmulke,

And some other things to consider:

  • dress codes should be rooted in comfort, safety, and self-expression and be equally enforced
  • dress code architects need to take into account who has access to the kind of clothing they require (ie rules about “must wear leather shoes” are difficult to stick to for low income students)
  • dress codes, until now, are mostly about power and order and less about student needs, and that needs to change
  • dress codes shouldn’t discriminate along class, gender, sexual orientation, religious or racial lines
  • dress codes should be accessible and fluid, they should be open to change if they are found to be offensive or discriminatory to a particular group of people