Cupcakes aren't typically known to cause uproar.
But a week ago, in our coverage of the annual Girls to Women, Women to Girls Conference, we featured a photo of girls decorating cupcakes under the guidance of a local cook -- and on the next page, we pictured boys doing push-ups during the annual Boys2Men event. The reader response came quickly and was characterized by distaste that such a traditional homemaker's job as baking would be associated with a conference that prides itself for offering progressive career guidance to teenage girls. As one letter-writer put it, she was upset with the content of the conference and with the coverage of it.
That is criticism for the newspaper and the conference's organizer, The Women's Foundation of Colorado, to take to heart.
The conference is targeted at eighth-grade girls for a specific reason: Research shows that at that age, girls begin to become more concerned with what others think of them, develop negative body-image issues and begin to shy away from math and science -- and even excelling in school -- under peer pressure to fit in.
For seven years, the organizers of this event have worked to design an all-day experience that counteracts those negative pressures, offering seminar topics such as body image, self-defense, confidence-building and career choices. For seven years, local women, including bank executives, lawyers and artists, have spoken at the conference to inform young girls about their career options.
During this year's conference, girls took part in three sessions throughout the day. During each session, girls picked one seminar to attend from as many as 10 choices. One of the most popular seminars -- in fact, the only one offered during all of the sessions -- was culinary arts. It was at one of those seminars that the ire-raising cupcake photo was taken. Rather than pushing girls to become '50s-era homemakers, we hope the presentation by an area cook gave the girls insight into a lucrative career field -- one that girls should be no more ashamed to pursue than law, medicine or education.
However, in our coverage, we should have selected a photograph that better reflected the overall goal of the conference.
The conference's keynote speaker, Christine Scanlan, came with a job title backing up her belief in broadening young minds -- she is the chief operating officer of The Keystone Center, overseeing the work of Keystone Science Center, which provides students with "inquiry-based experiences to broaden their perspectives of nature, the environment and society." Scanlan exhorted the girls to have the self-confidence to speak up, make decisions and take on leadership positions.
On the whole, the conference provided a day full of opportunities reinforcing Scanlan's message. However, a look at the design of the conference indicates that more thought could have been put into offering girls a wider range of career-oriented seminars. Seminars about computers and the Internet, careers in agriculture, women in business, women in the legal profession, math and science and teaching were offered -- but they all were offered at the same time, meaning girls could attend only one of those seminars during the conference. During the other sessions, girls could choose seminars on topics including women in sports, entering high school, self-defense, eating disorders, art, music, dance and massage.
Providing an enjoyable time for the young participants is important, but in the future, perhaps content --nd coverage --hould focus more on the girls' futures, and the wide range of careers that are limited only by their desires, not by any gender-based expectations.