No, no and no

I know I’m supposed to be sensitive to the reality that teenagers are sexual beings and that attempts to deny their sexuality are about adults’ weird hangups.

Still, to this whole Miley Cyrus thing, I say no way. We had already stayed away from the Hannah Montana clothes, especially the leopard stretch pants that looked more like hooker-wear. Now I’m just turning my back on the whole “girl culture” machine.

Maybe someone with older kids can enlighten me. To me, a topless 15-year-old wrapped in a bedsheet looking sleepy into the camera with smeary lipstick is saying “Hello, pedophiles!” How this pic looks anything other than post-coital is beyond me, but I know some folks have said the sheet covers more than some high school girls’ regular attire — though what’s “covered” is not really the point.

More than that, I just despair for my girls. My daughter already thinks that sex means something about “girls trying to look sexy so that boys will want to kiss them.” [She vehemently resists learning more, so I don’t push it.] I can’t take them to Stride Rite at the mall without walking past bigger-than-life pictures of girls removing their clothes. The worst was in Express, where in the front windows, huge pictures showed a boy standing behind a girl with his thumb hooked in her underwear. Put it in the back of the store, and I don’t care. But do my kids and I have to look at it on the way to Gymboree?

It’s true that I don’t like to think about sex and my kids at the same time, even in the context of healthy relationships. But I don’t think that’s the only factor in my discomfort with the mall photos and now the Miley Cyrus/Vanity Fair thing (and where the hell were her parents?). What really bugs me is how the process of commodifying girls (and boys, and everything) seems to be bottomless. (And I’m not referring to recent photos of Emma Watson flashing the cameras to celebrate her birthday. Major bummer.)

I really hate how feminism has been appropriated and repackaged for girls, at least since the Spice Girls, but no doubt earlier than that too. I’m thinking of all the Gene Roddenberry Amazonian women who were never more liberated than when they were wearing hot pants and salivating over Captain Kirk, though at least that was not created specifically for children. A movie like Charlie’s Angels — where hot young women are powerful because of their sexuality along with their cleverness — raises questions for me too, but I’m willing to play along because there seems to be some irony in there, and again, it’s not marketed to 10-year-olds. (For the record, we actually own the first Charlie’s Angels movie — we loved it.)

I really struggle to find a middle ground. Violet tends to find some efforts at a more intellectual form of “girl power” tediously earnest and transparently didactic, and though she is generally attracted to the manga version of teenage girls, she has no interest in looking that way herself and — again — she finds kissing gross and hates the idea of boys as anything but friends. (“Hates” as in “simultaneously intrigued and repelled,” I think.) But in the absence of our family’s efforts to offer some kind of positive girl images that will genuinely appeal to her sense of fun, her irreverence, and her awareness of aesthetics (for lack of a better word), all she’s got is the media and the mall.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “No, no and no

  1. I have no idea who MC is or what the thing is but I get the gist. I think this whole thing relates to what I said a while ago about shaving and body hair issues. In other words, the problem isn’t so much pushing sexuality on ever younger girls, it is that what passes for sexy these days is what teenage girls look like. This then becomes the ideal feminine body type, which means that ALL MEN are being conditioned to respond sexually to CHILDREN or women with child-like bodies. In my mind that is way worse than just a pedophile thing. Much, much, much worse.

    And I am more worried about the stuff that doesn’t become the whatever “thing” because for it to be a thing, means that there is public discussion about it; about whether it is problematic or not. It is the stuff that no one seems to get worked up about that is really insidious.

    Many years ago, for example, there was a chocolate bar advertisement in the UK in which a guy is looking through binoculars at a woman who keeps turning into the chocolate bar. No nudity. Not really pornographic. But the whole women as consumables thing was really really disturbing.

    I could obviously go on. But I agree. You are not a prude. You have every right to be upset. And it is much worse than you think. This stuff is turning our whole society pedophilic in a not at all nice way.

  2. patience

    We went shopping for clothes for Rose today. After bypassing the jumpers emblazoned with Hot Mama and so forth, we only managed to get some sweat pants and polo neck tshirts. My mother took her out on the same errand last week and met the same problem. Mini skirts (in winter, no less!) T-shirts with “sexy” written on them. Skin-tight jeans. It’s horrifying.

    I’m lucky that Rose has no thoughts at all of that whole side of life. Birds don’t kiss, you see! 😉 And when we come across sexualised images of women and girls, we talk about it – usually no further than, “that’s so disgusting” but she’s got the message. She never thinks of herself in terms of how the media presents girls – she thinks of herself as herself, a unique individual who happens to be female. I keep pinching myself with amazement that I somehow managed to do such a good job here!

  3. Okay, so I went and found the pictures.

    Z doesn’t know from Hannah Montana. We don’t watch the show, we don’t listen to Disney radio and we don’t go to the mall (I’m cheap, we buy her clothes at a consignment store.)

    I definitely think it is a problem that the clothes we offer young girls today are so suggestive. It is ridiculous really. I like to dress Z like a little Jackie O but recently she has been playing outside and getting so dirty that it is jeans for her.

    It is getting hard to even buy stuff at Target. If the clothes don’t say something like Juicy or Hotty on them then they are fully materialistic or bratty. *sigh*

    Back to Miley. She definitely looks like she is supposed to be sexy. I don’t think it is too smart for parents to be sexualizing her at this point. Do we really want another Britney?

    I will stop now, but I have so much more to say about Hollywood and women. I guess I will just have to give Pere an ear full tonight.

  4. I’m going to be struggling to find a middle ground too, but not for a while. What gets me is the size 6X clothing that says JUICY or PRINCESS or BORN TO SHOP – as if these girls need channelling in highly specific ways ASAP. It’s repulsive. And I’ve noticed, from living in posh neighbourhoods in big cities, that the mums are very busy promoting a lot of this gear. They wear it themselves. Mid-life crisis wear.

    We don’t do Miley Cyrus here, but I remember her father (Achy Breaky Heart singer). Honestly, it’s no wonder all these young female actresses/singers are falling apart so publicly – their parents are pimping them with great gusto.

    My daughter is a big Miyazaki fan. I love him because of his penchant for using strong-minded women as central characters. Combine that with a little They Might Be Giants and hopefully I can fend off the sexy pubescent image with our Geek shield for a few more years. Mind you, the marketing behemoths are a little more parochial here in the wilds of Canada.

  5. My solution is to eliminate the media and the mall from our lives. (We watch movies, but there is no broadcast TV, and therefore no TV advertising, in our house. I buy their clothes second-hand. The mall is a soul-sucking place on many levels.)

    And then I fill their days with stories, both true stories and fairy tales, about girls and women who are smart and valued for things other than how they look. And yes, as a mother of two boys, this is very important to me as well. When I was a kid, I had a brother, and our parents valued our brains rather than our looks, expected us to do the same chores, etc. I don’t have that same opportunity to demonstrate that boys and girls are equally capable, so I have chosen to do it, in part, by consciously seeking out stories about clever girls.

    Don’t forget that they have you as an influence and role model. Your girls are more likely to want to be like you than they are to want to be like Miley Cyrus, whoever she is.

  6. And her mom. You are a great role model.

  7. In addition to second hand, we also make clothes. And Tigger is really interested in sewing. That skill opens up so many possibilities for girls, both in terms of style and fit.

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