Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's about the power of a community rising up and saying, we're not going to buy into it any more.

When I was a little girl, my mom always had a wonderful trunk that we called the costume trunk. It was filled with her old dresses, shoes, and costume jewelry. I loved getting dressed up and pretending to be a lady like my mom. My mom didn't wear much makeup, but she always had on lipstick. I was mesmerized by her red lips, and wanted to have lipstick, too. Every once in a while she'd let me put on a little lipstick when I had one of the costume dresses on. There I was, walking around in huge shoes, with an over sized dress dragging on the floor, loaded down with "jewels," and my red lips. I was in heaven. But, I also looked like a little girl playing dress-up.

Today, women's sexy dresses are made in tiny sizes for little girls. They are not just emulating us, they are being us.

Children have a beauty like no other. It is a natural beauty - one of rosy cheeks and sparkly eyes, pink lips and white teeth. They are incredibly gorgeous without any accoutrements. They are ...stunning. Why in the world do we want to doll them up to look like a bad version of us?

Childhood is so fleeting...can we give them more time just to be children?

Where do we start? What can WE do? First we have to begin the conversation. Sometimes visual images make the most impact. Because, even if you haven't seen it in "your neighborhood," the sexualizing of children exists. And...the problem is growing. We run into a real problem when we project the problem onto other people. Don't we owe it, as parents, to provide a real childhood for our girls and our boys? Are we just going to take care of our own? Or, do we want to build a community in which we can come together and make the world that is out there a better place for all children?

I received the following comment yesterday after my post: Will they wonder why we didn't stop the make-overs at 5?

I for one am confident enough in my parenting to know that my daughter would be able to attend a *gasp* pop star party without becoming a future slut.

Have a nice day.


I am grateful for this comment, because therein, lies the problem. It's not about those girls, it's about all girls. Because this affects all of us and the relationships that our children will form later in adulthood. And it is certainly NOT about labeling them "good girls" and "sluts."

It is sooo ... easy to just say, "That's not MY child!"...and turn away. But, is that what we want to do? Really?

Girls that choose to dress this way are being pounded daily by the media. The normalization of female objectification in popular culture is so present, we don't even recognize it. And, some of us as parents are buying into it. Because, although the images in my previous post are blatant, many more are not. The problem is insidious. And if the products are being bought, the companies make money and if it makes money...then it's a tougher battle to fight. But, it can be fought. It can.

WE are the suckers here. And our children are the victims. The advertisers are sitting smugly in their mansions laughing their asses off at our stupidity. Or better yet, they're not even thinking of us. They're just enjoying the money that we spend...filling up their pockets.

So, whose problem is it? Is it about the parents? I think it is. But, it doesn't do any good to point fingers and put parents into the good parent/bad parent category. It's about education. It's about having the conversation with other moms, and dads. It's about talking to our kids. It's about the power of a community rising up and saying, we're not going to buy into it any more.

Here are a couple of stories that were shared on an online chat group after seeing the images in my previous post:

At my daughter's spring sing last year there were some little girls dressed somewhat similar to those pictured. There were first graders wearing halter or tube top dresses in colors like black and hot pink that were pretty short, and definitely meant to be sexy. I've seen much less revealing things in the juniors section. You know what my daughter was wearing? Her white dress with yellow flowers and a yellow shrug from Easter, with white Mary Jane type shoes. She really looked out of place among many of those girls.

And this...

My sister was telling just yesterday about a friend of hers, they came over and her 7 year old daughter was wearing this outfit, that at first my sister thought was a bit much but cute, then she turned around and on the skirt it said

"booty call"

Booty Call was a movie about adults. The tag line for the movie?

Some guys will do anything for a little something.

And we wonder why sales of child pornography have sky rocketed?

I want my daughter to grow up knowing that she can be anything, do anything, because she has a marvelous brain and is free to use it. That her body is strong and healthy and a wondrous thing. That girls are worth loving for who they are. Not that her total value and worth lies in her sexual body, and whether her body is good enough/sexy enough to attract boys.

And, I want my son to know the same.

So, how can we come together? We in the blogging community have a lot of power. We can get the word out. We can start reassessing what our children are watching, and we can talk to them (age appropriate) about what they are seeing on billboards, and in everyday life. We can stop purchasing from stores that sell clothes that objectify girls and boys. If two dozen girls can shut down the manufacturing of offensive t-shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch, just think what we could do collectively! We can change things, but we have to all come together, stop the finger pointing, and realize that it affects all of us. This is not a battle just for those of us with daughters. Think how powerful it could be to talk with our sons. To raise them to respect girls and women. It is time for our voices to be heard.

If we don't do something, then we have to take responsibility for helping to turn young girls into a commodity. Is that what we really want? Let's shrug off our detachment, and make a difference. What are you going to do?


"Self-objectification isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So what can we do about it? First, we can recognize how our everyday actions feed the larger beast, and realize that we are not powerless. Mass media, the primary peddler of female bodies, can be assailed with millions of little consumer swords. We can boycott companies and engage in other forms of consumer activism, such as socially conscious investments and shareholder actions. We can also contact companies directly to voice our concerns and refuse to patronize businesses that overtly depict women as sex objects.

What would disappear from our lives if we stopped seeing ourselves as objects? Painful high heels? Body hatred? Constant dieting? Liposuction? It’s hard to know. Perhaps the most striking outcome of self-objectification is the difficulty women have in imagining identities and sexualities truly our own. In solidarity, we can start on this path, however confusing and difficult it may be. "

Caroline Heldman from Ms. Magazine Spring 2008

"Blue Day" painting by Ruth Sharkey.

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  1. I totally agree. I teach Kindergarten and am shocked at the pants that say "juicy" on the butt, and the belly-baring fashions. We have a dress code, and the parents thing the school is ridiculous! During our "Star of the Week" interview, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, many girls say "pop star" and it scares me.

  2. Oops, I got so busy typing that I missed my typo. It's "think", not "thing". Sorry! Momnesia strikes!

  3. Where do I sign up? (Booty call on the butt of a 7 year old is mindnumbingly frightening).

  4. When kids are so young, what's important to them? Acceptance and love isn't it?
    The problem with alot of young girls I've talked to is they NEED to feel that they 'BELONG'...
    when all her friends dress in that way and she doesn't, she becomes the outcast.
    such groups are becoming the majority, so there isn't much choice left for her.... that's how these girls told me... to them, being a part of the majority, satisfy their attention seeking self, which in turn boost their self confidence...

  5. You go girl! I will stand with you.

  6. Great post! Get's me fired up even more than the last one. EK was upset with me a few weeks ago because I wouldn't let her grandmother buy her a halter top dress. It was actually a cute dress in a "nice" catalog, but I just won't let her wear that style. She picked out another dress.

    I don't buy this garbage for my girl. What else can we do?

  7. You know, when my boys started going to school, we chose for them to attend a Magnet/Charter school for a couple of reasons. Some were content-related, but a big reason was that the school, although public, has uniforms. They are simple and affordable and straightforward, but there is a standard set for how young gentlemen and ladies are supposed to dress. Essentially, it's business casual for elementary students, and I love it. If a girl comes to school in too tight a shirt or skirt, her parents are called to bring in appropriate clothing. Some parents might think it drastic, but I wish more public schools would re-institute dress standards. If parents are not going to be an appropriate taste-filter, then maybe the school could serve that function.

    I wrote in yesterday that my youngest is a little girl and that I fear for her in an atmosphere where we accept sexualized images of little girls. A lot of good parents out there think they are doing well by their daughters but think nothing of allowing them to dress up like Hannah Montana, even though they are 5 or 6 years old. We need to be honest with ourselves -- Hannah Montana is a Disney brand! "Good" parents let their kids watch the Disney Channel, right?

    I had a series on Midwest Moms about Kids and the Media a few weeks ago, and I was surprised at how many parents wrote in to say that they let their kids have carte blanche with The Disney Channel.

    I know it sounds like I'm draconian, but I don't give my kids carte blanche with anything on TV, especially programs aimed at a much older audience.

    When people ask what can we do? I say, push for standards -- dress standards in schools, higher standards for what your local retailers carry for your children to wear. Talk to other parents. Raise awareness, so there's no going over to someone else's house to watch or play something inappropriate. And most importantly, educate your children so that they understand the links between marketing and money on everything from putting the candy within children's reach at the checkout to billboards to television advertisements.

    JCK, you've identified a monumental problem. But I truly believe that there are steps concerned parents can take to address it.

    Great posts yesterday and today. Thanks.

    - Julia

  8. I look forwarding to seeing where this goes.

    I am remembering a tear-filled trip to Target for Easter shoes with my 10 year-old daughter. I would not let her wear anything other than the smallest Mary Jane type heel and there were no shoes without high heels--for 10-year olds! It was a trauma for both of us--she wanted them and I didn't know how I could hold to my principles if there were NO shoes.

  9. I want to send a call out to Pasadena's Institute for Girl's Development which offers empowerment groups for girls, including an empowerment summer camp.

    Also, the YWCA has a lot of terrific programs that focus on girls getting past the kind of deplorable messages being foisted upon girls.

    You're right. We need to fight against the message, and in some cases there are good institutions with structures in place to help us do just that.

  10. We struggle with the question of whether to keep PunditGirl in the small, independent school she attends or go back to the public school system. But when I hear what the girls talk about who she knows from larger schools and see her and her friends, still innocent for a bit longer, I know it's worth it.

  11. JCK, I want to thank you for these two posts, they clearly illustrate how our young girls are being sexualized and lead to believe that such dress and behavior is the key to social success and happiness.

    I also want to thank you for your interview series, I've enjoyed reading them, and have met some very interesting women through them.

  12. I truly believe that one person can make a difference, but there is also power in numbers. I admire you for being passionate about what you believe, and for taking a stand!

    I think a big reason that people don't do more is because we are afraid - afraid to be labeled rabble rousers, or complainers, or overzealous and idealistic. The truth is, we all just need one brave soul to stand up and say, "NO! THIS IS NOT OKAY!", and you are doing just that.

  13. WE are the suckers here. And our children are the victims. The advertisers are sitting smugly in their mansions laughing their asses off at our stupidity. Or better yet, they're not even thinking of us.(Motherscribe)

    Have you ever thought about where you invest your money? You might be surprised to find out your dollars fund the madness of which you speak.

  14. The community rising up??

    This is 2009, and as long as it doesn't directly affect them, it's anything goes.
    The community is fat, lazy, and self-absorbed, down to our "leaders."

  15. I stand with you, and I stand afraid because I think for many people this is just all in fun.

    No big deal.

    Stop being so fussy.

    Thanks for these thought provoking posts.

  16. It's in my neighborhood - I'm sure it will be in my daughter's kindergarten.
    I'm in there with you - I do NOT want my daughter to think that sex is the only thing that makes her worthy. Nor do I want my son to be focused on that. I also don't want my children to be outcasts (I know what that feels like). It will be a challenge. But I'm in.

  17. Thank you for some of the most engaging interesting and stimulating posts on modern feminism I have read since leaving college. I love your interview series, love reading the different thought on motherhood, partnership, feminism, working, it's a wonderful use of blogging and I'm thrilled that you are giving this time thought and effort to it.

    Just thank you very very much.

  18. oh oh oh. very interesting. i work hard to dress my daughter like a little girl, but it's hard. and she's only 6!


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