Posts Tagged ‘sexualization’
Since early May people from all over the world have been voicing their negative opinion over the Merida makeover that turned our wild hearted, daring, confident princess from a youthful role model into a 16th century Maxim cover girl. Having Merida’s new image focus on beauty and sex appeal is everything Merida wasn’t, and strips her of her empowering qualities that were beloved by audiences and fans everywhere.
What occurred to me the other day, as dozens of parents were emailing me and posting their children’s reactions to the new Meridas was “That’s not Merida” was being said over and over again. I honestly think I saw it a couple hundred times in a forty eight hour period.
The kids are right. That’s not Merida. But with so much of the activism around the Merida makeover taking place on social media, we are leaving out a key group of consumers — our children. My daughter and son had a lot to say about the Merida makeover, but they can’t sign a petition or comment on a viral blog post.
But they can talk to Disney. These girls know what kind of characters they want – more Meridas and Izzys and Doc McStuffins and Vanellopes. I collaborated with an artist friend, the talented David Trumble, who created this image of what it would look like if Disney allowed our girls to help them turn this ship around. Getting back to Disney’s roots, Steamboat Willie looks on happily as a confident and young girl takes the wheel and shows Disney the direction she wants her media to go in.
Disney is a cornerstone of America. I grew up with Disney, my own children have Disney characters they love. Disney has enormous potential to do good here. They have the reach to be a leader as a media content creator who recognizes the pitfalls girls face in so much of our media and stay committed to doing better. They can have princesses and adventurous girls, sparkles and spunk. There are many ways to be a girl.
What do your children have to say to Disney? If you printed off this image for them and they colored or wrote on it, what would they say about Merida and other strong girls they want to see?
What if we told our children that instead of a corporation being “evil”, we described it as a bunch of moms, dads, uncles, grandmas and neighbors who work at a big company and they should probably know what kids have to say about wanting to see strong girls. And that maybe these adults care a lot about kids, but maybe they need to learn more about what these issues around girls are really all about.
What if instead of attacking Disney, we try to have a conversation with them (even if we are really upset) and express our point of view in a calm and positive way?
I’d love for you to share this image around your communities and friend circles. If your child writes/colors a statement to Disney about why they want strong heroines like Merida, please share it with us, I will happily create a gallery on the blog.
Letters can be sent to Disney at:
Disney Enterprises Inc
Attn: Board of Directors
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Disney Consumer Products
1201 Flower Street
Glendale, CA 91201
or Disney Consumer Products firstname.lastname@example.org
The Merida Makeover has been big news the past couple of weeks, and rightly so as families are fast becoming tired of the continuous sexing up of female characters and toys for girls. Viral blog posts, viral petitions, viral satire cartoons…. the story and disbelief of the sexy makeover has proved to be highly contagious. Discussions and shares on the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies blog and facebook page last week alone engaged over 60,000 users.
The backlash over Sexy Merida was primarily driven by social media activism giving consumers an aggregated voice that went viral and then hit mainstream media. We’ve seen this before a dozen times (think JC Penney t-shirt gate, Chap Stick, LEGO, sexist Abercrombie tees, SPARK girls vs Seventeen), so this in and of itself is not phenomenal or new.
What was new last week (and phenomenal!) was parents and concerned adults active in communities like Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies became teachers, taking the messages about sexualization and gender stereotypes to their circles. These people turned their friends into informed activists, and that is an incredible thing. The ripple effect can be powerful, which is something I discuss in my upcoming book, “Redefine Girly”.
Disney has not budged in light of the media frenzy over the change.org and other smaller petitions. The petition was a good start and was useful in calling a huge amount of attention to the story. But it only required three seconds of activism. Now we need to go several more layers down, and as experienced activists, I know this community is the perfect group to get busy creating true, lasting change.
There are three things I want us to focus on today:
1. Contact Target to let them know their exclusive versions of Merida dolls are inappropriate and they have lost a sale because you will not purchase these dolls for a child. You can see my comment to Target here.
Effect: This tells retailers that as consumers we will expect more from them and what they carry from suppliers. This tells suppliers/media creators (Disney) their retail partners will also feel pressure when products like the Merida makeover go amiss.
2. Help the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Community create a list of 5-7 Action Items that creatively lays out steps Disney can take to make this right.
Effect: By using our consumers voices to talk *with* a corporation (as opposed to making demands from) we demonstrate to the people inside that we understand they are friends and parents and neighbors who may not completely understand the issue or how to get out of it. This community believes in “When you know better, you do better”. Let’s show Disney how they can do better.
3. A little bit later today I will introduce a new interactive website that was created by a team of allies dedicated to making sure girls are seen as smart, daring, and adventurous. This website will connect the dots between Merida being a symptom of a much larger public health issue.
Effect: This will be a way to inspire ongoing, informed activism to create lasting change. The website will simultaneously teach on the issues and harness the power of social media to attract more voices to the discussion with Disney.
First, I want us to focus on letting retailers know what we think when they carry versions of Merida that are disingenuous of the character created by Brenda Chapman, consumers become frustrated and angry and hold them accountable for taking part in spreading sexualized messages to children. Chapman has been very clear on why Merida was created in the spirit she was. Target stores carry some exclusive Disney licenses produced by Mattel. Whether it is a complete lack of common sense, a void of creativity, or both, this doll is not Merida:
I wrote a review for this doll, which has yet to populate on the Target website:
While looking for an “end of the school year” gift for my brave and spirited daughter, I stumbled upon this doll and was completely taken aback. I cringed and laughed out loud at the same time.
I would never buy this for my children. This is insulting to the fans and consumers of Pixar’s gem of a female protagonist from last summer. Be sure that the majority of children and parents see right through this. We fell in love with Merida *because* she was different. I would think Target is a large enough retailer to be able to demand better from Disney. Did no one at Target or Disney actually see “Brave”?
This doll is clearly a drastic departure from the Pixar Merida; the wild, strong, fresh faced princess that my entire family fell in love with last summer. I find myself continuing to ask why toy manufacturers insist on such a narrow depiction of female characters, shoving all of them into the “pretty and delicate princess” toy mold. Surely there is more creativity involved in creating this second tier merchandise.
When you put the daring, tangled hair, non-perfect Princess Merida on your shelves, you’ll have a customer in me. This doll is ridiculous and I will be spending my money elsewhere.
While I was showing my daughter the doll above, I came across this doll also exclusive to Target:
And wrote another review, which like the other review has yet to appear on the Target website:
While reviewing Target’s new Princess Merida doll, virtually unrecognizable as Merida, I pulled up this doll to show my daughter the difference between the two and we could not believe what we were seeing.
I purchased this doll in this exact box in November 2012 as a Christmas gift for my daughter. Six months ago the doll did not have a sparkly dress with sweetheart neckline. The doll I purchased wore the emerald green dress Merida wore in the movie when she declared her independence from her mother’s plans for her future. The bow for the doll I purchased was true to the movie, this one is gold and fit for a princess, I presume. Gone is the leather quiver that came with my doll, replaced with a golden comb, natch. A core part of Merida was the character her unruly, wild hair held.
If these dolls are exclusive to Target, licensed through Disney, I have to wonder if Target thinks its consumers are stupid, or if the toy designers never saw the movie or understand exactly what was so popular about it.
I am glad I purchased the Merida that I did before she got the Disney Princess makeover. I would not purchase this current version for my children. When viewing this, my seven year old asked that you be brave enough to make bold dolls for girls. I hope you are up to the task.
My research revealed that both of these dolls seem to be exclusive for Target, designed by Disney and produced by Mattel. Disney is responsible for the design. My question to my community is, does Target have to carry them? Or can Target be the retailer who stands up and says no to the ridiculous sexualization of these dolls? While the dolls themselves are not overtly sexual, the sexualization comes in when we see a doll like the first one in this post be made over to fit beauty norms and have her beauty be her sole attribute to the exclusion of all other things; she is made into an object of beauty, so much so that she is unrecognizable as the character she is supposed to be.
Let’s inform Target we do not appreciate them carrying dolls that teach our children a girl should be valued for beauty and nothing else. Merida broke that mold in her movie, and I’d like to see Target be the retailer who breaks that mold for our familes. My comment on Target’s facebook page is here, and I would love for you to add your thoughts underneath it or create your own respectful message to Target. As my seven year old daughter said today, she would like toy companies and the grown ups who sell the toys to be brave.
After you make contact with Target, let’s focus our energy as a group on making a list of 5-7 action items to be sent to Disney, sort of a road map for Disney, that includes some creative problem solving but also lets them know we will not stand for the strong female protagonist we fell in love with to fall into the dainty, pretty princess trap. What would we like to see Disney do, and what are reasonable asks? Let us craft this as if it were going into a board room with top executives and as a group of tens of thousands of concerned consumers, this is what we would like to see them do.
For example, toy production for a line like this starts 12-18 months out. Can Target or Disney pull all of the dolls? That may not be possible, and it may not be doable immediately. Could they change website content to erase all instances of the new Sexy Merida and release a statement committing to doing so? Or create content with a counter message, to reassure families they got this wrong and understand now how to get it right? Could they work with Pigtails Pals & Ballcap Buddies to join with us to spread our message “There Are Many Ways To Be A Girl”? Could they write an open letter to girls (but maybe ALL kids, since so many boys loved Merida, too) and express to them they understand why Merida was loved by so many, they are proud of these girls for using their voices, and they promise to do right by them in the future? What are some of your ideas?
I refuse to believe it is a foregone conclusion that corporations act void of ethics or caring. I run a business and I don’t operate that way. Corporations are made up of people who have families and these issues affect them just as much as they affect us. If it is their job to work at Disney, how can we help them do this aspect of their job better? When my customers contact me and ask for a change, I take it into consideration and many times have made those changes asked for. (Example — remember when I forget the bike helmets on the Bike Riders design? Whoops! It was pointed out to me on our facebook page, the constructive criticism was spot on, and the change was made the next business day.)
Let’s act together as a group and with the members of our sister organizations, be strong advocates for our children. Disney may not know or understand a way out of this. Let’s give them some ideas.
Ultimately, what we do as parents and concerned consumers matters because our children are watching our actions (or lack thereof). My seven year old daughter and five year old son wanted nothing to do with new Sexy Merida. We love Original Merida. As a parent who is conscientious of the media my children take in, the Pixar Merida up against the Disney Princess Merida feels like a bait-and-switch. Disney was remiss not to capitalize on their giant hit popular with boys and girls. The adventurous, bold, fresh-faced princess was a mega-hit because of those qualities. We want to qualities to stay in place.
“That’s not Merida” is the echo from children everywhere. Target and Disney, we ask that you do better, and honor who Merida really was. By doing so, you send a strong message to my son and daughter when they see bold and brave Merida on the shelf. Children learn from the media around them. Let’s give them the healthiest messages possible.
Okay, tell us what you said to Target, and what ideas you have for our list to Disney! And let’s move fast on this! I want a printable ready by Wednesday morning for our new collaborative website!
The redrawing and sexualizing of Merida did not take place in a vacuum. It is sexy Merida + cast of existing coquettish princesses + Barbie empire + Bratz + Monster High + Winx Club + sexy Tinker Bell+ + sexualized clothing in Girls dept at stores + lack of meaningful roles and representation in media + culture saturated in sexualization and objectification of females of all ages + + + +
They’ve even sexed up My Little Ponies, Rainbow Brite, and Candy Land. CANDY LAND, People.
Each one of these instances is a drip landing in a bucket. The problem is, that bucket is now overflowing and our young daughters are standing in a BIG frigging mess, knee deep. And the stain left by that mess is the idea that looking sexy for external validation, to the exclusion of ALL other characteristics and talents, is what gives a girl her worth.
Hell no. HELL. NO.
For those who say we should be concerned about rape culture and equal pay and lack of equal political representation, yes. Yes we should be, and that is the weight women bear on our shoulders. But instead of telling us what to think, because that just doesn’t go over well with me, try thinking from our perspective and seeing that ALL of those problems some think are bigger, independent issues start as the festering sore that is the complete sexualization and objectification of women in our society. How can women as a whole achieve parity in society if individually we are only valued by that society according to how f*ckable we are? THIS is where that idea gets its start, and that idea is being taught to our very smallest of girls.
That idea doesn’t sit well with me. I think it is time we change the way we think about our girls.
The 7yo Original Pigtail Pal went to school today with unbrushed hair. Again. I asked if we could run a comb through it, specifically for the pieces sticking straight up in back. She flatly refused, saying she they were her crown and she wanted to show her friends that there are different ways to be a princess.
I asked why this was important to her, and she said “Princesses are supposed to be powerful and smart and daring. Have you SEEN what they did to Merida? I know, right? She isn’t ready to rule Scotland or Ohio. She is with a bunch of girls standing like they are trying to catch frickin’ boyfriends or butterflies. *gasp* Mom! I swore!”
“No worries, Smalls. It is pretty frickin’ insane,” I relied.
Disney, and specifically the Disney Princess brand, was a major influence when I was creating my company Pigtail Pals back in 2009. Back then we were Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly with the tagline that girls are “Smart, daring and adventurous”. I know have a seven year old girl who has been raised with empowering messages and has had a girlhood virtually free of Disney Princesses.
Until Merida came along. We fell in love with Merida. We purchased Merida toys, my first purchase as a parent from the Disney Store. Our whole family loved “Brave” and we spent the summer galloping on imaginary horses and shooting arrows from our pool noodle bows. There were early indications that Disney couldn’t help itself, and because the Princess brand is so narrow, Merida would be made over super dainty and “princessified” in order to fit in with the rest of the merchandise. What Disney doesn’t seem to get is that people loved Merida because she was different.
A child’s brand should not be sexed up in order to be more profitable, but that is exactly what Disney does. That is why my family does not do Disney. The “come hither” eyes and delicate poses and coy looks….No. That is not how we raise little girls into self confident and strong young women. My daughter’s worth is not her sex appeal.
My daughter has the natural born right to plant her feet firmly, look you directly in the eye, shoulders square, and claim her right to take up space in this world.
You can sign our petition HERE.
Here’s what I want you focused on:
-Celebrity endorsement of the sexualization of girls.
-Sexy adult swimwear (totally okay) being made into miniature versions for children as young as four (totally not okay)
-Does this child look happy? Is she doing the things a preschooler naturally does? Or is she being encouraged to act like a very small adult? Pay special attention to what the child is doing in the ad: she is wearing a bikini that for an adult woman would be considered sexy, sitting still and paging through a fashion magazine, she looks to be four or five.
-We see swimwear that is so skimpy a child cannot splay, play, or swim without having to be concerned about constantly readjusting her suit to stay covered. This specific kind of swimsuit limits how a child can experience playing in the water/beach and reinforces the message it is more important what your body looks like to others than what you can do with it.
Read: It teaches girls to sit still and be pretty rather than taking up space in this world.
-The side bar of this link: Is everything that is wrong with how society values women. Granted that we should consider the source, but this page isn’t an aberration, rather it is a microcosm of the constant evaluation and picking apart of women’s bodies. Not something we want our young daughters to be thinking about while trying to keep on a skimpy bikini initially made and cut to make adult female bodies look smoking hot on a beach or poolside. Why are we rushing these very little girls into womanhood, and a negative side of it at that?
We don’t need to argue about some bikinis being okay for girls because certainly there are age appropriate options and those are fine. Yes, bikinis make going to the bathroom easier, that is all fine and good. But we really need to think about what messages our girls are getting, from who, and why. If you don’t agree with those message, I encourage you to speak up. And if you value your daughter’s developing body image, I suggest you take a firm stance with the “I’m not buying into it” mentality. Have it become your mantra, because are daughters are worth so much more than what we see here.
Things we learned on vacation this past week:
1. No one at the beach had a body like what we hear in advertisements and see in magazines. I pointed this out to 7yo Amelia and we counted on our fingers the different ways people were using their bodies, ie: walking down the beach, picking up shells, playing catch, swimming, running, playing with kids, walking dogs, etc
2. That beach souvenir shops sell mugs depicting bare female breasts or thong-wearing bottoms, but sell no mugs depicting men. Amelia said it was inappropriate, I said nudity wasn’t the problem, the sexism was.
3. Female animal trainers at Sea World and Clearwater Marine Aquarium are more than happy to answer science questions from little girls and do not give fluffy answers in reply. (I’m sure the men are too, we just seemed to run into female staff each time the kids had a question.)
4. There is only one male trainer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and only one male dolphin. Girls run the joint! Also, if you color a picture for Winter the Dolphin like 4yo Benny did, the trainers promise to show it to her at bedtime.
5. Your first grader can read the “STRIPPERS HERE” and “LIVE NUDE GIRLS” and “HOT SEXXXX SHOPPE, Trucker discount” billboards that are everywhere as you drive through the Bible Belt (ironic). Having a G-rated conversation about patriarchy, commodification of the female body, and the selling of sex with your seven year old at 10pm while driving through Kentucky is an enormous test of patience and love as you try to help your small child understand the very unbalanced world she is growing up in.
6. Waitresses south in Indianapolis call everyone “Honey” and say “Y’all” a lot. Your 4yo is puzzled by deep Southern accent and asks why everyone is speaking Spanish to him.
7. Your mom will not let you bring home pelican wings that you found on the beach, and no, her opinion would not change even if they were still attached to the pelican they once belonged to.
There were two examples of healthy female sexuality that come to mind in the Super Bowl commercials. Did you notice them? They depicted agency and the woman in control of the encounter.
First was Amy Poehler’s spot for Best Buy, when she repeatedly hits on her sales guy, asking if “he’ll deliver” and “read 50 Shades of Grey in a sexy voice” to her. She also asks for the “most vibratiest” dryer. She is clearly showing herself as a sexual being, and wanting company.
The other spot was for Taco Bell, when a group of elderly friends hit the town in scenes reminiscent of my twenties. (I can only hope my ending days of adulthood are as much fun as the days I started it with!) We see the women in the group taking off their clothes for a skinny dip, dancing in a club, and making out with men of various ages. I liked the message that women don’t stop seeing themselves as sexy or feeling sexy when the wrinkles and gray appear.
You may not have recognized that as female sexuality because it wasn’t wrapped in shiny black leather and knee high stiletto boots, grinding pelvises and sexualized dance moves. The two examples I shared were women acting as sexual agents in their own space and own time. Tricky, I know.
We’ve become so accustomed to defining female sexuality for what is actually packaged objectification for the male gaze. I have no desire to police or limit how women choose to express their sexuality and empowerment, but can we please aim for something higher than the porniest version possible?
You wouldn’t know it from the advertising, but 50% of last night’s viewers were women and girls. I was one of those women, and I love football. It is a complicated love affair to be sure. I’ve seen some people say that we shouldn’t really be complaining about the commercials because “Football is for men, what do you expect?” With the exception of the wicked funny Amy Poehler or the uniformed Servicewomen in the Jeep ad, the rest of the females depicted in the commercials were mostly: needing to be rescued, arm candy or prizes for men who drive amazing cars, delivering beer, nagging wives, non-verbal wives as car passengers, princesses (the Toyota princess gets a pass), fembots, showgirls, and stripper waitresses.
I have a husband who loves football, and to say that all men who watch football are sexist neanderthals who don’t have a problem with the sexualized and sexist portrayals of women is unfair. Actually, it is sexist.
It was my husband who pointed out to me during the “Fast & Furious” move preview that we saw “five female asses in bikinis and miniskirts before we saw one female face”. He denounced the GoDaddy ads and also found the halftime show to be really distasteful.
The morning after the Super Bowl I posted this: Lots of folks were asking my reaction to the half time show. I answered by asking a question — Would we ever see U2 or the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springteen perform without pants? Does Bono ever slap his ass or suggestively lick his finger and run it over his mostly-exposed breasts with a sultry look for the camera on a tight shot while wearing a leather dominatrix-like ensemble? Do any male performers lay on their backs with a stillettoed leg in the air as they punctuate the refrain on one of their biggest hits?
When we are looking at advertising we often say, “If your product was any good, you wouldn’t need sex to sell it.” I think the same can be said for performers. Beyonce wasn’t just a performer last night, she was a product — she has a reunion album with Destiny’s Child soon to release and she is going on tour. So if we’re going to be spending the night calling out sexism and objectification in the commercials, we have to apply that same lens to halftime.
There is no doubt Beyonce has talent and she brought her A-game last night. The performance was electric, and you could tell she was living and loving every moment. I enjoyed her performance, but definitely felt like I was in a strip club and I’m glad my 7yo daughter was in the bath tub and not watching. Her band and her backup dancers are also talented, but why does the show need to be packaged as a burlesque troupe? Was Beyonce and her all-female band owning it and, or were they performing for the male gaze? When does self-objectification come into the picture? And when it does, can we be strong enough to call it what it really is?
Well, this comment led to an explosion on my PPBB facebook page, with nearly 600 likes, 200 some comments, and 200 some shares. Two follow up posts equally received hundreds of likes, comments and shares. But they weren’t all in favor of what I said. Many were, most were. The ones not in favor of my opinion made points about the performance depicting strength, independence, owning female sexuality, etc. There were the usual comments suggesting prudishness, jealousy, being old and out of touch, and of course the requisite (and racist) Taliban/burqa trope.
I don’t think anyone doubts Beyonce is strong. The woman is fierce and you could literally see her muscles rippling. Her body is thick and athletic and in many ways defies the stick thin Photoshopped version of femininity we see everywhere else. In that way, I think it is great we see so much of Beyonce’s body. The woman has nothing to be ashamed of there.
What I was questioning was if the Super Bowl was the right place for that kind of performance, and is that kind of performance one for “female empowerment” as it was being heralded? If it had been during her world tour (named “The Mrs. Carter Show”), I wouldn’t be writing about it. That is her space and as an artist she should be free to do as she wants. During half time she was a guest of the NFL, and from Pop Warner on up football is an American family tradition. The Super Bowl is the culmination of that tradition, and it would have been great if Beyonce had considered that as she developed the 13 minute program.
This is what I expected of Beyonce, so my kids weren’t watching. I was not expecting the halftime show to be family friendly, it hasn’t been for years. I’m not uptight about what she was wearing, I’m disappointed by it. If I were at a burlesque show, I would have loved it. But I wasn’t. I was playing checkers with my four year old in my family room.
I’m a sex positive person who sees problems with the Pornland our culture has become, and I am a feminist concerned about the women and girls who buy into it. Or worse, defend it.
When we look at the forest through the trees, we need to think about all of the kids and teens whose parents aren’t talking to them about media literacy, sexualization, and objectification. A performance like Beyonce’s is widely celebrated in the media and becomes the benchmark for female success and “empowerment”. The reach of her performance will extend FAR beyond the 12-13 minutes she was on stage. That is what I want to be questioning, especially the next day when I get a half dozen emails from parents asking what to say to their young children who are now trying out Beyonce’s dance moves.
Now I’ve got some incredibly smart women and men in the PPBB Community, one of whom said this, “You know, at first I noticed the all female aspect and thought “how nice, girl power” which, I think, is what you are supposed to think but only on a surface level. How are they getting their power? By “grinding” on each other, by being as sexy as they can possibly be, by performing their sexuality. Bey knows what feminism is and she weaves bits of female power into her performances, videos, and songs but it’s all a backhanded nod to feminism or girl power. She still knows her place (unfortunately) and that’s what we saw last night. Beyonce is such a force of nature she could easily turn the whole industry on it’s head by refusing to be part of the “male gaze” but I don’t believe she will.” (Thank you, Natalie B!)
As the conversation went back and forth all day and into the night, I wondered if I had missed something when I first watched the performance. Maybe with my kids nearby I was distracted and I missed some context that would change how I viewed it. So I watched it again. Nope, the only thing I had missed the first time around was the “wardrobe malfunction” that exposed a nipple and some vulva.
This puts me back at my original question of if this was really necessary (not whether or not she has the right to do it) for this time and venue, especially by someone who touts herself as a role model for girls?
My problem is a question of *why* a woman as talented a singer, dancer and all-round performer as Beyonce might feel as though she has to sex things up to be successful. She even gives her performing self a different name. Although she portrays this as a way for overcoming stage fright, she has made it clear again and again, that “Sasha Fierce” is not her. There’s part of me that wonders whether or not she would feel the need to make the distinction if she were able to perform, dance and sing without the massive amount of sex appeal imbued in that character.
Actresses also play different roles, but they try to make the roles their own and attempt to inhabit their characters. They don’t feel need to make sure the audience knows that who they are playing is not them. Quite the opposite. Beyonce could easily be playing a role, as many singers probably do, without stressing the point. She does though, and furthermore, she says the character, the very sexy and sexual character, makes her feel powerful, fearless.
That is women being taught that their power lies in what is, essentially, objectification. A woman even as talented as Beyonce feels that she must be sexual in order to be powerful, valued and successful, yet does not like the character and feels, when in that persona, that she isn’t even aware of her body – that her body is literally not her own.
“I created my stage persona to protect myself, so that when I go home, I don’t have to think about what it is I do. Sasha isn’t me.” Beyonce, Parade Magazine, December 2006
“I wouldn’t like Sasha if I met her offstage.” Beyonce, Parade Magazine, December 2006
“I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage, this alter ego that I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am.” Beyonce Press Statement, October 2008
-facebook comment from PPBB Community Member Jen Prowse
So my question to Beyonce would be what about the girls who look up to you, who you encourage to look up to you, who are not able to make such easy distinctions? Because they do answer for the sexualized climate you contribute to. They don’t have the money or celebrity to walk away or hide from it. You may not have to think about it, but they sure do.
But it is not just about children. It is about how this affects all of us, long after the halftime show is over. When the most pornified version of female sexuality becomes the benchmark for “female empowerment”, we’ve got problems. Big. Problems. Female sexuality should not belong to the male gaze. We need to take the responsibility to make sure it belongs to us.
I don’t mind sexy, in the right time and place. I mind “all sex all the time”, and having it defined by men. Beyonce’s performance was hot. It wasn’t appropriate for the Super Bowl. And it wasn’t empowering for me.
I’ve gotten a couple of emails from some of the “elders” on our page about the big discussion yesterday involving feminism and the expression of sexuality vs objectification. There were many, many opinions expressed but one I saw a few times was that some of us might just be “too old” or “too prudish” to “get it”.
I am 35 years old. To some that will seem old. To others that will seem young. I have a wild & well spent youth behind me, the kind that makes the corners of mouth my turn up into wicked smiles on the days I don’t find motherhood very glamorous, sexy, or exiting. It was the kind of youth that allowed me to grow into my own woman, so that I don’t need every day to be sexy or exciting because I have other markers upon which I define my worth. I don’t know it all, but in my 35 years I have learned that it is smart to listen to the folks who have already walked down the road you are traveling.
Someone said to me today, “…it frustrates me no end to have to hear/read younger women not even realising that older feminists really do try to reach across the years, but feel rebuffed when we hear the same old same old that we have been hearing ever since we started our journey. It is like boiling a frog: our hypersexualised society is the pot of warming water and our kids are the frogs.”
Here is what I DO know for sure: Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.
I was asked yesterday how to stay calm and answer the people who don’t see it. You cannot force them to see. All that you can do is know your truth and control the clarity of your voice.
For those of you, old, young and in between, who did some reaching yesterday, it is appreciated. For those of you who are older than most of us, who have been down this road and are watching us figure it out, thank you for your patience, your sisterhood, and your guidance.
During our caption contest for the photo at your left there were a couple of comments about kids not noticing this kind of thing / don’t make a big deal if they don’t / don’t shelter your kids just talk to them / and one about packing up the kids to play at the park instead because they shouldn’t be at the mall anyway. (Yes, you could have played along on our Bingo card and won several times over.
I don’t think removing children from public spaces meant for all ages is the answer. The existence of children is not the problem. The acceptance of sexualization of the female form as our status quo is the problem.
My kids and I had no choice but to walk past this on the way to the specialty store we needed to buy a gift at. I very rarely go to our mall, so I had no idea this display was waiting for us. Because of the way the window sits in the wall, from the direction we were walking a shopper cannot see the images until you are in front of them. And then you are in front of 8 feet tall porny banners for poorly made lingerie and sex toys. With your seven and four year old. You are fooling yourself if you think kids don’t notice these kinds of things. Eyes wide shut.
My seven year old daughter did notice the banners. And she did comment. And I did talk to her.
“Oh, those girls are pretty. I really like them.” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia
“What do you like about them?” -Me
“Oh, they are so pretty. Like Barbie.” -OPP
“I think you are pretty and I think I am pretty. I think these women are showing a different look. Why do you think they are dressed like that?” -Me
“Well, that is their fancy underwear and the man is trying to see their boobs.” -OPP (See photo below)
“Remember the other night when you asked me what ‘sexy’ meant? These girls are dressed in a way that many people view as ‘sexy’. The underwear is called lingerie, it is only for grown ups. Their hair and makeup and poses, it is all meant to be sexy. They want the man to be looking at their breasts.” -Me
“Oh my god. I had no idea that is what it….Mom? Am I in trouble for looking at it?” -OPP
“No, you are not in trouble. There is no way for us to not look at it right now. But I want you to see the difference between being a beautiful, strong little girl in your own heart, and being a sexy grown up who wants men to look at your body. Being sexy is not for kids.” -Me
“Yeah. That isn’t appropriate for kids’ private parts.” -OPP
We walked into the store we needed to go to, ironically the University Bookstore right next door, and on our way out, Amelia said, “Mom, you should take a picture of me in the car like Ben because then people can see that I am a kid and that sexy ladies are for sexy ladies.”
So here you go. The photo of Benny (above) was taken in the moment, to show the juxtaposition of the children’s play space being invaded by sexualization. The photo of Amelia is staged, at her request, so that you can see that, in her words, “Sexy ladies are for sexy ladies, and not for kids.”
My first grader learned two new words at school this week, neither of which I am happy about. “Sexy” was one of them. The other was “asshole”. I always say that if the child is able to ask the question, she is ready for the answer. I don’t believe in sheltering my children, but I do believe in respecting their childhood. Our children have a natural born right to a childhood. I didn’t want to be explaining these concepts to her at seven years old. I am pissed that I have to.
Yet, I do have to. Or at least, begin to. This will be just one of many conversations about this topic as she matures. This wasn’t a commercial that I could turn off or something that I could have avoided. As is the case with so much marketing, there are very few ways to escape it. That is WHY they call it marketing.
Because I respect Amelia’s right to a childhood and her right to develop a healthy sexuality and sense of self-worth, she is now starting to understand “sexy”. I explained it to her in as best an age appropriate way as I could manage. I think she is getting, in a small way, what “sexy” might mean. The concept of “sexy’ isn’t a bad thing when introduced at an age appropriate time, and allowed to be explored when the person is ready. But I do have to say, the people who force this on kids and families really are assholes.
I’m really glad she didn’t notice or didn’t ask about the whip and tie. I can handle talking about a lot of things with my kids. BDSM less than ten feet from the kiddies rides is not one of those things.
Here were my favorite captions :
Caroline Burkhart Askew: “Hop in, Mom! We’ve got to get away from this blatant display of sexism speedy quick!”
Theresa Costello: “Yellow Sports Car Ride: 25 cents. Soft Core Porn in the store window: Free. Your son leanring he has to pay more for a fake car ride then a woman’s dignity? Priceless.”
Daniel Singha:l “Mom, you can’t park in the red light district, lemme move the car.”
Christine Harris” “Bemused preschooler flees porntastic midwest mall in speedster hotwired by older sibling. News at 11.”
I received this email this morning from a PPBB Community member and I could instantly relate to her. I would be upset if my child brought this home from his or her elementary school library, and the librarian and the principal would definitely be hearing from me. I would be angry, but I would give the educators the benefit of the doubt that they were not aware of the sexualized content and illustrations, perhaps the book was purchased as a way to expose children to multicultural manga texts/graphic novels, or maybe they are just clueless about how the sexualization of childhood impacts kids. While I feel it is the librarian’s job to know the content of the books offered, I can also see where is might be impossible to know every book on the shelf. I would use this as a teachable moment, and work with the understanding the educators will act immediately to remove such highly sexualized content out of the reach of their elementary aged students.
Hi Melissa, I follow you on Facebook and really enjoy your posts. You’ve opened my eyes to many things regarding sexualization of girlhood.
My second grade daughter brought home a book called “Tokyo Mew Mew” from her school library. I am appalled that they have such a book and its allowed to be checked out by a seven year old.
The girl characters (Tweens and teens?) are outrageously dressed. Playboy bunny costumes! Large breasts/cleavage in bustiers! And on and on. I’ll send the photos separately.
I will write a letter to the school librarian but I’m wondering what further advice you might have or any other suggestions you or your readers could come up with.
I am not a fan of manga or anime so I had to look up the book title on Wikipedia. Turns out this was a popular series from 2000-2003, but it was not without criticism like this, “Conversely, in writing for Manga: The Complete Guide, Shaenon Garrity criticizes the series, calling it “uninspired”, “insipid” and “creative[ly] bankrupt” and feeling it was “clearly designed by its publisher to ride the magical girl tsunami for all it was worth: the creators’ marginal notes are filled with references to big book signings, photo shoots, and models hired to dress as the scantily clad preteen heroines.”
So how does this end up in an elementary school library and in the backpack of a second grader? And what can a parent do about it?
I would email or call the librarian and the principal and ask for a twenty minute meeting regarding concern over the content of a book my child checked out from the library. I would have a pre-written list of talking points that I would like to address right before I request the book and others like it be taken off the shelves of the elementary library. Some of my talking points would be:
-The images in these books are for older teen and adult readers. They unfairly place adult concepts of female sexuality onto the young children who would be reading this book. It is age inappropriate.
-The images show young looking girls in sexualized dress and poses, suggesting that prepubescent girls are available and willing sex partners or sex objects.
- The images of the sexualized girls suggest to female readers their sexuality (or pending sexuality) is the number one characteristic they will be valued for. Similarly, it suggests to young male readers that objectified female sexuality is normal and even to be expected.
- The image of an angry looking male grabbing a smaller, younger looking female by the shoulders while telling her she “needs to wear a bell” is dehumanizing and shows tolerance for dating violence.
-Exposure to early sexualization can cause body image issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, poor school performance, bullying, and early promiscuity in girls. This has no place in our schools.
So what would you do and say if you were in Rebecca’s shoes? And how would you explain this to your young child?