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100 Women: How South Korea stopped its people aborting girls

Daughters were traditionally valued less than sons in South Korea

For every 100 baby girls born in India, there are 111 baby boys. In China, the ratio is 100 to 115. One other country saw similar rates in 1990, but has since brought its population back into balance. How did South Korea do it? Yvette Tan reports.

“One daughter is equal to 10 sons,” was the message desperately being promoted by the South Korean government.

It was some two decades ago and gender imbalance was at a high, reaching 116.5 boys for every 100 girls at its peak. The preference for sons goes back centuries in Korean tradition. They were seen to carry on the family line, provide financial support and take care of their parents in old age.

“There was the idea that daughters were not regarded as part of their own family after marriage,” says Ms Park-Cha Okkyung, the executive director of the Korean Women’s Associations United.

The government was looking for a solution – and fast.

In an effort to reduce the incidence of selective abortions, South Korea enacted a law in 1988 making it illegal for a doctor to reveal the gender of a foetus to expectant parents.

At the same time women were also becoming more educated, with many more starting to join the workforce, challenging the convention that it was the job of a man to provide for his family.

It worked, but it was not for one reason alone. Rather, a combination of these factors led to the eventual gender rebalancing.

South Korea was acknowledged as the “first Asian country to reverse the trend in rising sex ratios at birth”, in a report by the World Bank.

In 2013, the ratio was down to 105.3, a number comparable to major Western nations such as Canada.

Rapid urbanisation

Monica Das Gupta, research professor in sociology at the University of Maryland who has studied gender disparity across Asia, says factors other than legislation are likely to be the most significant in accounting for this change.

A legal ban can “dampen things a bit”, but she points out that “seven years after the law [was instituted] sex-selective abortions continued”.

Rather she attributes the change to the “blistering pace” of urbanisation and industrialisation in South Korea.

While the country was predominantly a rural society there was great emphasis on male lineage and boys staying at home to inherit their fathers’ land.

But in just a few decades a large part of the population has moved to living in apartment blocks with people they don’t know and working in factories with people they don’t know, and the system has become much more impersonal, Dr Das Gupta says.

China and India, though, still have a stark gender imbalance, despite India outlawing, and China regulating against, sex-selective testing and abortions. So why is that?

Dr Das Gupta believes that in China this may be because until last year, the rule that your household registration – known as the hukou system – remained in the village where you were from, regardless of the fact that you might work in the city, meant that there was still an emphasis on male lineage and land ownership, but that this should now start to shift.

But she also stressed that the change is not always linear. As people gain economic advantage they have better access to sex-selective testing and have fewer children, which actually then puts greater emphasis on their gender.

In India in 1961, there were 976 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven. According to the latest census figures released in 2011, that figure had dropped to a dismal 914 and campaigners say the decline is largely due to the increased availability of antenatal sex screening, despite the fact that both the tests and sex-selective abortion have been outlawed since 1994. They say that in the past decade alone, 8 million female foetuses may have been aborted in the country.

But she argues that several factors in India are slowly having a trickle-down effect on attitudes to women including media representation of women functioning in the outside world, and legislative changes enforcing equal inheritance rules and requiring one-third of elected positions be reserved for women.

What is 100 women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year. We create documentaries, features and interviews about their lives, giving more space for stories that put women at the centre.

Other stories you might like:

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Who is on the BBC’s 100 Women 2016 list?

While South Korea may have rebalanced its population, this does not necessarily equate gender equality, Ms Okkyung argues.

“Even though Korea has a normal gender ratio balance, discrimination against women still continues,” the 47-year-old says. “We need to pay more attention to the real situations that women face rather than just looking at the numbers.”

Women in South Korea face one of the largest gender wage gaps amongst developed countries – at 36% in 2013. By comparison, New Zealand has a gap of some 5%.

“Nowadays women go to university at a higher rate than men in South Korea. However, the problem starts when women enter into the labour market,” Ms Okkyung explains.

Women are still expected to manage both work and family in South Korea

“The glass ceiling is very solid and there is a low percentage of women at higher positions in offices.”

One of the reasons it is harder for women to compete in the workplace is because they are expected to devote their time to both work and family.

“One example is that working mothers have a dilemma, as children in elementary schools come home early after lunch. Therefore, mothers who cannot see a sustainable future in the workplace tend to quit their jobs,” says Ms Okkyung.

Dr Hyekung Lee was one of the few Korean women in her generation that did find workplace success.

“I have been very lucky that I was brought up in a very enlightened family. My family had three girls and two boys, and all were given the same support for education,” says 68-year-old Dr Lee, who is the chairperson of the Korea Foundation for Women, the country’s only non-profit organisation for women.

“But when I became a full-time faculty member in my university, I had to be the only woman professor in my department throughout my 30 years there.”

Moving ahead

Generally, attitudes towards women have improved as today’s Korean men become more educated and exposed to global norms.

They also inevitably mix with women across all spheres of life, in workplaces, schools or social circles, something that perhaps was not so common decades ago.

Having children makes it hard for women to compete in the workplace, partly because of school hours for younger children

It is amongst the older generation that many still cling on to the preference for sons.

Emily [not her real name], 26, recalls that growing up as an only child, she was always treated equally by her grandparents – until her step-brothers were born.

“I only noticed the difference when my brothers came,” she said. “Then I realised that they would never do stuff like the housework.”

“My birthday is also one day before my father’s so my grandparents didn’t allow me to celebrate it because as they said: ‘How dare a girl celebrate a birthday before her father?'”

How long will South Korea’s women take to catch up?

“I think Korea is at that transitional phase that people are more aware now than previous generations, but it’s still not quite equal compared to Western countries,” she says.

“I’ve had friends tell me I can only keep my career if I stay single, and others tell me I’ve chased away men because I was too bossy on the dates and took the initiative.”

She also notes that there is also a substantial difference in attitudes towards women in bigger cities and smaller towns.

“Cities like Busan are more traditional. I’ve had friends from Busan get a culture shock when they come to Seoul,” she says. “In the capital, things are more progressive.”

Yet she believes change will eventually come.

“Women in Korea need to be aware that there is gender discrimination,” says Emily, who is now studying in Holland “I didn’t know until I left – I thought the way things were was just how they were.”

“It’s not until you expose yourself to other cultures that you start to question your own. I think things will change, but it will take a lot of time.”

Additional reporting by the BBC’s Geeta Pandey and Yuwen Wu.

Henry Sapiecha

India states an estimate of 21 million of its girls are ‘unwanted’

The desire among parents in India to have sons instead of daughters has created 21 million “unwanted” girls, a government report estimates.

The finance ministry report found many couples kept on having children until they had a boy.

Authors called this a “subtler form” of son preference than sex-selective abortions but warned it might lead to fewer resources for girls.

Son preference was “a matter for Indian society to reflect upon”, they said.

The authors also found that 63 million women were “missing” from India’s population because the preference for sons led to to sex-selective abortions and more care was given to boys.

Tests to determine a foetus’s sex are illegal in India, but they still take place and can lead to sex-selective abortions.

Where are India’s millions of missing girls?

Some cultural reasons for son preference were listed, including:

  • Property passing on to sons, not daughters
  • Families of girls having to pay dowries to see their daughters married
  • Women moving to their husband’s house after getting married

The cultural preference for male children has even led one newspaper to list scientifically unfounded tips for conceiving boys, including facing west while sleeping, and having sex on certain days of the week.

The states most affected by son preference were Punjab and Haryana, while the least-affected was Meghalaya.

In Punjab and Haryana states there were 1,200 boys under the age of seven for every 1,000 girls of the same age, the authors of the Economic Survey found.

Henry Sapiecha

The women who regret becoming mothers for their own reasons

Most mothers feel at some stage that they’d like a break from the endless demands of small people, to reacquaint themselves with who they used to be – or to just drink a cup of tea in peace.

But what if that ill feeling persists?

What if a mother suspects she has made a horrible mistake having children? In a society that idealises and sanctifies motherhood, it can be almost impossible to voice these fears aloud.

Yet Dr Orna Donath, research sociologist and author of Regretting Motherhood, says it is likely far more common that we realise. “Often [the regret] boils down to two main reasons; the experience of responsibility that never ends – even as grandmothers – and the knowing feeling that motherhood doesn’t suit them,” she says.

“Motherhood might change women’s lives in ways they could not have predicted up until one second before birth. If we don’t treat motherhood as a mythical kingdom, and if we treat mothers as human beings, then we should be able to comprehend that flesh-and-blood women might think and feel that they have made a mistake.”


Graphic designer, mother of one

“Most days I don’t feel like I’m parenting, but shifting gears; doing the bare minimum to get my daughter to and from where she needs to be so that I can say I’ve done my job. It’s both the least I can do and the most I can do. My heart isn’t in any of this. I went into motherhood at age 33 excited about the future, and in my head everything looked like one big nappy cream commercial with a happy, bouncy baby and a cooing mum constantly hovering adoringly nearby.

Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the constant demands, the damaged relationships or the loss of my freedom. Suddenly I was expected to be chained to this little human day and night, and although I knew that was the way it would be before I had a baby, thinking about it and living it year-on-year are two very different things.

At first people thought I had postnatal depression, but I knew it was more than that; deep down I just knew I’d made a terrible mistake and that I should never have become a mum. Some women aren’t cut out for it, and the unfortunate thing is that sometimes there’s just no way of knowing which way you’ll swing until you come home with a baby. And then it’s all too late, you’re trapped. And that’s exactly how I feel most days – trapped.

I was worried, of course, so I did the counselling thing and the medication thing, but by the time my daughter was four years old , I knew it had nothing to do with postnatal depression and everything to do with the fact that I wasn’t mum material.

You can’t tell people that, though, because unless you’re of the opinion that having kids is the best thing ever, you get crucified. So you learn to smile a lot and say the right things and do the right things in order to fit in.

I haven’t even told my husband because he’d probably think I’m a monster. That only serves to make me feel more alone in the world.

My daughter is 11 now and some days I feel like she’s onto me. She has a way of looking at me like she can see straight into my soul and I’m terrified I’m damaging her. I wish I could tell her it’s not that I don’t love her – I love her immensely and I’m so, so proud of the person she’s growing up to be – but it’s motherhood with all of its limitations that I struggle with.

I wish I could tell her that I’m just as surprised as she is and that I went into this with the best of intentions. But mostly, I think I would tell her that I’m sorry and that I would have wished better for her.”


Corporate lawyer, mother of two

“When I had my first baby at 35, I was what you would call the ultimate career woman. I had several phones, a calendar full of meetings and a husband who worked in same field – although I was always just that little bit ahead. I went on maternity leave confident I could just pick up where I left off, and of course my world just imploded.

For the past eight years, I’ve watched my husband’s career rise and rise while mine has deflated like a balloon, as though it popped out a baby and came crashing down to earth.

I went into motherhood without thinking too much about how much I wanted it personally, only that it was just something everyone was expected to do. I hadn’t been around babies before and had no idea what I was doing, so the sense of shock when I first held my daughter was overwhelming. Prior to motherhood, I was a runner – I left jobs when I didn’t want to work there any more and relationships when I no longer felt they were working.

Suddenly, here I was in this situation where I couldn’t run. Instead of that grand rush of love everyone talks about, I became aware that I was no longer free, and that quite possibly I had ruined a life that had been pretty great.

My daughter has special needs and that is tough on a day-to-day basis, but for me, the hardest thing has been the loss of my identity and the loss of agency. I began grieving for everything that seemed lost to me, and that’s not easily done because you’re grieving in a space where you’re not allowed to grieve, so there’s a real cognitive dissonance with everything around you.

When my daughter was four months old, I began working part-time again, but felt like I couldn’t do anything – my job or parenting – as well as I’d hoped, and that only added to my disappointment.

My husband and I thought giving our daughter a sibling to focus on would make things less intense and so our son was born five years ago. We are on the right track – things are better at home now – but careerwise, I still struggle with what is and what could have been.

I worked in my own business part-time for years, but it often felt like I was spending most of my time watching YouTube tutorials on how to fold fitted sheets. Every time I was asked, ‘Where is my dinner?’ I’d immediately think, ‘How did this become my life? Who am I?

Where did I go?’ Yesterday I was offered a job which is the equivalent of the work that I did pre-children, but part-time and earning a third of the salary I was on back then. I accepted it.

Today I can say my children are an absolute delight, but I don’t mind admitting it’s taken me many years and a lot of work on myself to get there. Acceptance of my situation has been key, as has very deliberately hugging my daughter for no reason. I don’t know why, but this simple act of human touch and connection has changed us both and while I still have days when I hate motherhood, it’s no longer every minute of every day. Some days are filled with pure joy.”


Public relations executive, mother of two

“Sometimes, when I’m doing the school run, or making dinner, I daydream about what my life could have been had I not had children so young. Would I have travelled? What kind of heights could I have reached in my career? But most of all, I wonder if I would be happier.

Getting pregnant at 20 was a huge shock to both me and my boyfriend. We’d only been together a year and were firmly in that whole going out and partying phase – a baby was not in our plans! But we decided it was meant to be and at the age of 21, I became a mother to a little girl.

To give you an idea of the mindset of somebody of that age, after I came home from hospital, I got a call from a girlfriend, not because she wanted to meet the baby, but because she wanted to ask if I was free to go out drinking. That was the moment I realised I was on a very different path to that of my friends and I suddenly felt quite lonely.

My resentment towards my partner kicked in around the three-week mark when I realised his life really hadn’t changed all that much. I tried not to pay too much attention to those niggling thoughts initially, but when I went back to work part-time when my daughter was 10 months old and I commenced the work-family juggle, I realised just how furious I had become with him.

I was trying to hold down a job, do the childcare run and keep the house afloat with the meals, laundry and cleaning and then I’d get, ‘I don’t know what you’re so upset about? You get to have fun at home for most of the week away from work.’ He just couldn’t understand what a blow motherhood had been to my sense of self, relationships and career, and we ended up in couples counselling.

Truth be told, a sense of regret has really only made its presence felt since our son was born two years ago. It wasn’t my choice to have another baby so soon, but I have to have a full hysterectomy soon, so the doctors informed me it was very much a ‘now or never’ situation.

The birth itself was fine, but as my son has grown older and his demands have become more constant, I’ve realised that they’ve worn me down. I would just like one day when I don’t have to hear, ‘I want’, ‘I need’ and ‘Do this’ but I know I’m not likely to get that wish for another 20 years, if ever.

I try to talk to people about how I feel, but they tend to shut me down – even the ones I know feel the same way. Maybe it touches too close to the bone, who knows?

It’s easy to focus on all the things you’re missing out on – sometimes I can’t help myself. I think about the jobs I can’t go for because I’m currently limited in what I can do, and the friendships that have fallen by the wayside.

I know I shouldn’t wish my children’s childhood away but I dream of the day they’re older and have more independence so that I can stop being just a mum 24/7 and go back to being me.

Names have been changed.

Henry Sapiecha


The stark reality of child brides

Not all weddings have happily ever afters.

For 15 million girls and young women around the world, their wedding day is not a happy one – their childhood is ripped away and they are put at risk of rape, violence and abuse.

Their wedding marks the end of their freedom.

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This is the message behind a powerful new campaign from UNICEF, aiming to put a spotlight on the grim reality of child brides and end child marriage.

The campaign was released to coincide with International Women’s Day, a day when women, girls and gender equality are at the forefront of our minds.

In the video, made in collaboration with popular bridal blog Bridal Musings, viewers are given an insight into Lilly and John’s “storybook” wedding.

Lilly is 11 – her husband is 35.

On the blog, it says: “Lilly took the day off school so that the couple could make use of the mid-week discount at their wedding venue – not that disrupting her studies really matters as Lilly won’t be going back to school this September.

“She’ll have far more pressing matters to deal with such as keeping house and rearing children in her new role as John’s wife.”

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake says the new global programme will help drive action to reach the girls at great risk.

“This is critical now because if current trends continue, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly one billion by 2030 – one billion childhoods lost, one billion futures blighted,” Lake says.

The UNFPA-UNICEF global programme to end child marriage is being supported by Canada, the European Union, Italy, Netherlands, and the UK.

It has been suggested that a working mother works for daughters

daughter copy mother working on laptop

daughter copy mother working on laptop

Daughters benefited most from the role model of a mother with a career, the study said

Negative perceptions around women who combine paid work with parenthood have been comprehensively demolished in a major study by Harvard University, which shows the daughters of working mothers enjoy better careers, higher pay and more equal relationships than those raised by stay-at-home mothers.

Using data from 24 countries including the UK and US, the Harvard study says that while working mothers “often internalise social messages of impending doom for their children”, the reality is that their sons and daughters appear to thrive, with daughters benefiting most from the positive role model of a mother with a career.

Harvard Business School professor Kathleen McGinn, lead author of the study, noted that the effect on daughters’ careers of mothers working was particularly marked in the UK and US, where public attitudes to career equality could be more of a barrier than in some European countries such as Finland and Denmark.

“We hope the findings from our research will promote respect for the spectrum of choices women and men make at home and at work,” the researchers concluded. “Whether moms or dads stay at home or are employed, part-time or full-time, children benefit from exposure to role models offering a wide set of alternatives for leading rich and rewarding lives.”

The authors said that the research should reinforce calls for policies designed to help working parents. “Our findings suggest that policy should focus on supporting mothers who work – part-time or full-time. Providing quality and reasonably priced childcare is an important factor but policy makers should also address workplace policies.”

The researchers found that, on average, the daughters of working mothers were paid around 4% more than their peers, even adjusting for their greater levels of education and prevailing social attitudes, and were much more likely to have been promoted into managerial positions.

One in three daughters of working mothers were in managerial posts, compared with only one in four of those with non-working mothers.

“These findings suggest that in addition to transmitting gender attitudes across generations, mothers’ employment teaches daughters a set of skills that enable greater participation in the workforce and in leadership positions,” the study argues.

Rebecca Allen, a working mother of two children and herself the daughter of a mother who worked, said the research suggested today’s women had benefited from their mothers’ struggles against discrimination and prevailing social attitudes.

“There’s not overt discrimination against women and working mothers in the way that there had been in the previous generation,” said Allen, a senior academic at UCL’s Institute of Education and the director of an education data research thinktank.

“In some ways [the study’s findings are] a comfort to women who do go out to work – and a signal to women who don’t that they have to think hard about how the role they have within the household is going to impact their children’s perceptions of what it means to be a woman and to be a mother,” she said.

While earlier research has also shown no negative consequences for the children of working mothers, the new study reveals that the children of working mothers have more liberal attitudes towards women in the workplace, and that sons of working mothers take a greater share of parenting and other household care roles.

“Our analyses find that sons raised by an employed mother are more involved at home as adults, spending more time caring for family members than men whose mothers stayed home full-time,” the study reported.

“Daughters raised by an employed mother spend less time on housework than women whose mothers stayed home full-time, but maternal employment has no effect on adult daughters’ involvement in caring for family members.”

Belinda Phipps, chair of the Fawcett Society for women’s equality, said: “Although we have known for a long time that there are lots of benefits to children to have working mothers, it is great to see more research confirming this.”

But Phipps said it was disappointing to see that progress on sharing domestic housework other than childcare was proving slow to change. “Women are still ‘doing it all, not having it all’ and we must shift cultural attitudes to achieve full gender equality,” she said.

“What is clear is that making the workplace more family-friendly, improving the availability and quality of part-time and flexible working, and investing in childcare are vital to helping individuals achieve a full work-life balance,” she said.

Allen said that schools also need to adjust their demands on parents. “We’ve got to stop primary schools from having a day every week where parents are expected to dress up their children in some complicated outfit, or make something, or bring something in, or turn up to help with something or have an assembly,” she said. (6)

Henry Sapiecha

German grandmother gives birth to quadruplets at age 65

babies in nappies x 4 image

A 65-year-old German grandmother gave birth to quadruplets at a Berlin hospital this week, with the three boys and a girl born prematurely at 26 weeks being in good health and having a good chance of survival, German TV network RTL reported on Saturday.

The network, which had covered the pregnancy, said Annegret Raunigk already had 13 children and seven grandchildren. The announcement of her pregnancy last month had sparked a public debate in Germany about its merits.

Raunigk, an English and Russian teacher in Berlin, had received fertility treatment in Ukraine and is the oldest woman in the world to have had quadruplets, RTL said, although other women of her age and older have given birth.

The four babies, born by Caesarean section on May 19, weighed between 655 grams an 960 grams.


Henry Sapiecha

So what happens when your kids walk in on you & you’re sprung

Tracey Spicer: "We'd avoided sex for a year for fear of being sprung. (Actually, that's not true. We were just too buggered to be bothered, most of the time.)"

Tracey Spicer: “We’d avoided sex for a year for fear of being sprung. (Actually, that’s not true. We were just too buggered to be bothered, most of the time.)”

As a child, there’s nothing more disgusting than learning about sex. I’m reminded of this while watching a hilarious video of parents asking kids, “So, where do babies come from?”

A five-year-old boy points to his Mum’s lap, saying, “There’s some kind of hole here, like an ig-a-loo.” When asked about how her aunty had a baby, one young girl declares, “It came out of her butt.”

A third, when prompted with, “You know the place between Mummy’s legs?” answers confidently, “Oh, the van-gina!”

Soon there’s a panoply of parents umming and ahhing about a “special dance” they do “under the sheets” with “no clothes on”. “That’s really disgusting, you know,” says a boy, crinkling his nose. Others bury their faces in their hands, or cover their ears, when they discover how the penis gets into the vagina.

We were forced to fast-track The Talk after our five-year-old daughter walked in on us. To be fair, we’d avoided sex for a year for fear of being sprung. (Actually, that’s not true. We were just too buggered to be bothered, most of the time.)

It happened during a family holiday in a small cabin on the NSW Central Coast. (You know, near The Entrance, yuk yuk. Benny Hill, eat your heart out.) Hubby and I thought the kids were watching cartoons, until we heard a small squeak. Yep, we’d forgotten to lock the bedroom door.

“Oh, I’m sure she didn’t see anything,” hubby reasoned. “And if she did, she wouldn’t have known what it was.” Wrong. Within minutes, Grace was in the room, giggling: “Hee-hee, you had scissor legs, Mummy. Was Daddy squashing you?”

“Er, no, darling, we were just having a cuddle,” I answered. “Do you want some chocolate?”

Gotta love distraction.

Sadly, the seed had been planted (in her mind, not my belly, I mean). So, on another holiday several years later, with the kids aged seven and nine, we decided to have The Talk.

There’s none of this “When a man and a woman love each other very much…” because, hey, it’s 2015, not 1915. And there are no euphemisms, like “pocket” for vagina or “thingy” for penis. And we don’t delve into details from the Kama Sutra.

It’s somewhat of a science lesson, involving sperm fertilising an egg, which implants in the uterus, forming an embryo. In order to do this, the penis must enter the vagina. Fortunately, they seem satisfied. Unlike me, when I misconceived my parents’ explanation.

I had it in my head that the man deposits his sperm on the bed and the woman sits on it. Kinda like a bird with its eggs. For years, I refused to sit on any man’s bed for fear of being impregnated. Thus began a series of unfortunate events, culminating in my first sexual experience at the age of 17.

As I was unable to sit on Eamonn’s bed – for obvious reasons – our early dates were destined to be in the back seat of a 1966 Toyota Corolla. Still, I managed to convince young Eamonn to come to my house one afternoon for a private viewing of the movie, The Blue Lagoon.

As Brooke Shields’ character, Emmeline, says to Richard, “You’re always staring at my buppies”, I made my move. Mimicking something I’d heard at school, I asked, “So, how about a root?” in a way I hoped was both sassy and sexy. (I am the queen of romance. Just ask my husband.)

I shan’t soil your minds with images of the spectacle that followed.

I suspect my children will face a similar fate. After all, whose first time is a bed of roses? But at least they’ll be able to use the appropriate terms, rather than, “Hey Mum, just taking my van-gina for a spin!”

I’m re-reading the classics at the moment. (Yes, I am a nerd. *Adjusts glasses*.) The latest is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë or, should I say, Mr Ellis Bell, because female authors weren’t taken seriously at the time. The novel challenges the strict Victorian standards for women, exploring their egregious disempowerment, and I love the main character, Catherine, a “shape-shifting, Gothic demon”, according to feminist author Ellen Moers. Gotta love a woman like that.

Aside from my usual diet of ABC TV’s 7.30 and Four Corners (see nerd confession, above), I’m waiting for the new series of Game of Thrones and House of Cards. Despite being middle-aged suburbanites, my hubby and I have taken to binge-watching these shows. Frankly, they’re our heroin. In fact, the kids have been known to berate us in the morning with, “You’re overtired because you stayed up all night watching that show about boobies” in the case of the former. I hasten to add that we enjoy the political machinations in both series, not just the boobies.

To continue my frabjous* frolic in old and new media at Sky News, Fairfax, The Hoopla and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. But my abiding passion is convening Women in Media, a networking and mentoring group aimed at amplifying female voices in the industry.

*One of my favourite words, a blend of fair, fabulous and joyous, from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.


Henry Sapiecha

The result of when you let a toddler choose your clothes is this..

Summer Bellessa in some of the outfits chosen for her by her son Rockwell, 3.

Summer Bellessa in some of the outfits chosen for her by her son Rockwell, 3. Photo: Instagram/SummerBellessa

It’s just one of the long list of tasks parents of toddlers undertake every single day – deciding what their child will wear.

But when one mum turned the tables and let her young son choose her clothes for a week, not only did she end up wearing unusual wardrobe combinations and mismatching shoes, she also inspired other mothers to do the same.

“How crazy could it be? I like everything in my closet, and I mix and match items all the time,” Summer Bellessa wrote of the seven days she let three-year-old Rockwell dictate what she wore. “Well, let’s just say it was interesting.”

Some of the outfits on show under with the #toddlerstylist tag on Instagram.

Some of the outfits on show under with the #toddlerstylist tag on Instagram. Photo: Instagram

Bellessa, an American actress and fashion blogger, documented her experience on Babble and posted pictures on Instagram.

The popularity of the posts lead to the creation of the #todderStylist hashtag, which is seeing mums from around the world post social media pics of their own child-directed outfits.

Day one of Bellessa’s experiment started well, with her son creating a rock-chick look consisting of a Bob Dylan shirt, grey skirt and matching tights. The mum-of-two became a little worried when Rockwell teamed the outfit with nude coloured shoes and a blue hooded jacket, but nevertheless she accepted the toddler’s decisions and began her day.

Some of the outfits on show under with the #toddlerstylist tag on Instagram.

Some of the outfits on show under with the #toddlerstylist tag on Instagram. Photo: Instagram

“I walked down the stairs to show off my outfit to my husband. I waited for a laugh, but he didn’t notice anything different. I decided his lack of reaction was either (because of) the fact that I’m constantly wearing things that are a little out of the ordinary, or that I’d trained him too well,” Bellessa wrote on Babble.

From there things got more interesting, with Bellessa spending two days of the week in mismatching shoes.

And when the little boy only chose three tops for Bellessa to wear one morning, she had to gently point out that “Mummy can’t go outside without pants on”.

“He nodded his head in understanding and pointed to the closest pair of pants,” Bellessa wrote.

Bellessa admits she felt a little self-conscious some days, such as when she had to run errands dressed in a flower print dress which Rockwell had matched with flower print knee-high socks and stripey shoes. However, by the end of the week Bellessa had realised that people don’t really care what others wear.

“The pressure we put on ourselves to look a certain way is just that: pressure we put on ourselves,” she wrote. “I wore two different shoes for two days, and no one noticed until I pointed it out. You can be playful with your clothes, or casual or stylish, but it’s really up to you.”

From a parenting perspective, Bellessa believes it was good for her son to have a turn at being the decision maker.

“A lot of being a mum is telling people what to do, and it was therapeutic for both of us to change roles, if even in this small way. He enjoyed having his opinions heard, but he was also done after a certain point,” she wrote.

“I would recommend letting your little one pick your outfit one day this week and seeing how it goes. Not only will it be something that they remember, it was also be liberating.

“The last thing I learned from this experiment is to find moments to be silly. Silliness is good for your kids and for your heart. Don’t take yourself too seriously: they’re just clothes.”

Dollhouse inspiring young women into science, engineering and technology

Alice Brooks, an engineering graduate of Stanford University,created the ultimate geek doll house Roominate to get more girls into an engineering and science career.

Alice Brooks, an engineering graduate of Stanford University,created the ultimate geek doll house Roominate to get more girls into an engineering and science career. Photo: Eddie Jim

For Alice Brooks, a pathway into engineering was a somewhat natural course. When she asked her father — robotics expert Rodney Brooks, one of the founders of iRobot — if Santa Claus could bring her a Barbie, she received a saw instead so she could make her own dolls and dollhouses.

She said it was that hands-on experience of building and making things which sparked an interest and saw her finish her masters in mechanical engineering at 23. However, it seems that the question of how to encourage more women into careers such as engineering, science and information technology is one still in need of an answer.

The 26-year-old Brooks is in Melbourne at the Australian Toy Hobby & Licensing Fair promoting a dollhouse called Roominate that she developed with electrical engineering masters graduate Bettina Chen. It is a dollhouse that operates lights, fans and lifts with the use of motors and light circuits.

Brooks said she and Chen thought of the concept when they asked how more women could become interested in engineering and realised that “we were really inspired by what we played with when we were younger”.

“[A way] for encouraging more girls into these fields is just to give them more possibilities as young as possible, [and] get them comfortable with building and circuits,” she said. “Those are things that traditionally have been more geared towards boys and their toys.”

But while the PR spin spruiks it as a way to interest girls in science, engineering and technology, does the concept of a dollhouse promote the gender bias in toys? Brooks said the dollhouse — there are now cars and helicopters also available — was chosen because young girls were comfortable with it.

Can Roominate get more girls interested in science?

Can Roominate get more girls interested in science? Photo: Eddie Jim

“We thought about it really carefully, we actually spent a lot of time going back and forth on this,” she said. “There’s a fine line of playing into what they are [already] doing versus showing them something new and we saw it as an opportunity to give some context that really made sense to a six-year-old with a dollhouse.”

Katina Michael, an associate professor in the faculty of engineering and information science at the University of Wollongong, said she was impressed with the concept behind the toy.

“It’s open, light, it’s aesthetic, it’s pluggable, its functional, it’s not just Barbie meeting Ken although young kids have (always) been playing with dollhouses,” she said.

She said Brooks and Chen have also become examples to young women in using their degrees in creative ways.


Henry Sapiecha


Lotte Hofmeester was filmed once a week every week since her birth in October 1999.image

Lotte Hofmeester was filmed once a week every week since her birth in October 1999.

It took Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s daughter Lotte 12 years to grow from a full-cheeked infant to a coy 12-year-old girl on the brink of adolescence.

But you can watch this incredible (and inevitable) evolution take place in less than three minutes, thanks to Hofmeester’s video “Lotte Time Lapse: Birth to 12 years in 2 min. 45.”

Hoffmeester filmed his daughter once a week, every week, since her birth in October 1999. As she was about to enter adolescence, he decided it was time to share this visual history of his daughter’s growth with the world.

He strung the videos together and sped them up, creating a time-lapse video of sorts that has gone viral on the Internet. In the last week it has racked up close to 2 million views on Vimeo and YouTube.

“She was changing at such a rapid pace that I felt the need to document the way she looked, to keep my memories in tact,” Hofmeester said in an email to the Los Angeles Times.

The images in the video are not static – so the video lacks that creepy slow morph that we’re familiar with from people who take their picture everyday.

Hofmeester said it wasn’t always easy to get Lotte and her younger brother Vince to sit in front of the camera every week.

When they didn’t feel like it, Hofmeester said he’d ask them questions about their lives, trying to stall them until he got the shot.

Hofmeester said he decided to share the video with the world now because Lotte is entering puberty. “She’ll be changing a lot over the coming years, but primarily on the inside,” he said.

But of course, he will continue filming.



Henry Sapiecha