Thursday Round-Up

Gender Charts, Why “Strong Women Characters” Are a Canard, Heart-Rending Poetry, Uncle Bush, and Should Toys Be Gender-Free?

Discovery of the Week

Double discovery, actually: The blog itself – Rooted in Being

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open”

And the poem in this post that has been open on my desktop for a couple of weeks now:

The One That Got Away
or
The Woman Who Made It

by Robin Morgan

From the Queer Blogosphere

I love charts and maps!

Gender map:

Click to view full size

And a chart: 

Media & Culture

More takes on “strong women characters”:

Gender & Socialization

Body Image: Victoria’s Secret does not love my body

Girls’ Socialization: Peggy Orenstein wonders if stripping gender from toys really makes sense.

Characterizations of women & minorities: Ads that would never be allowed today
My personal take is that we haven’t actually come that far… What do you think?

Random

The Uncle Bush story

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Just a little sliver of history.

I recently saw a movie called Get Low about a hermit in the 1930s who has his funeral party before his death and everyone comes… It was a pretty good movie. I like true-story stuff like that when it really is unusual. And while not exactly true to life, there was a real Uncle Bush at its root, who got people from at least 14 states to come to his live funeral party… Here’s his page. And another good site.

    

The Lolita Effect (Lessons for Girls series)

What do you think of thongs for 10-year-olds with slogans like “eye candy”? Underwear for teens with “Who needs credit cards…?” written across the crotch? Tini-Bikinis for toddlers? High heels for 5-year-olds?

~**~

Last week I wrote about what Disney princesses teach little girls, and it’s pretty scary. Except that this is only one of a multitude of ways in which little girls are socialized to be partners in their own objectification. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Teaching girls that it is more important to be pretty than to be smart (or successful/independent/fill-in-your-positive-value-here).
  • Sexualizing girls from a young age
  • Silencing. Girls are taught to avoid confrontation (so they have trouble saying and meaning NO). They are taught to please. They are taught that their role is to nurture others (often at their own expense). They are taught to apologize for having opinions. They are taught to be comfortable in support positions/the back row.

Each of these can be broken down into sub-categories, and I could probably happily spend my life writing a dissertation on each of them if I had the time and resources. Alas, all I have is this blog, but hey, that’s what I started it for. I have a feeling that I can’t begin to do justice to any of the topics in a mere paragraph, so I’ll do a separate post for each.

Part 1: The Lolita Effect, and sexualization of girls in the mainstream media.

In her book, The Lolita Effect, M. Gigi Durham, Ph.D., discusses what pop culture, and especially advertising, teaches young girls and boys about sex and sexuality. She defines five myths that are ingrained in this culture, which make up the Lolita Effect:

  • Girls don’t choose boys, boys choose girls–but only sexy girls
  • There’s only one kind of sexy–slender, curvy, white beauty
  • Girls should work to be that type of sexy
  • The younger a girl is, the sexier she is
  • Sexual violence can be hot

She talks about how the mass media undermines girls’ self-confidence, condones female objectification, and tacitly fosters sex crimes. (Here is an in-depth interview.)

I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of this – but how closely are we watching? Little girls are increasingly portrayed in mainstream media and advertising in a sexualized way, and treated as consumers of a sexualized self-image.

Remember in the late 70s early 80s all the controversy around Brooke Shields? At the age of TEN she was photographed by Gary Gross (via Playboy Press) in a series meant to “reveal the femininity of prepubescent girls by comparing them to adult women”.

Later, at the age of twelve, she triggered another media frenzy when she portrayed a child prostitute in the movie Pretty Baby. The movie included four Shields nude scenes (note: the original version of the movie with these scenes is no longer available; today’s version on DVD has edited out the nudity).

And later yet, at the age of fifteen, Shields let us know on national television, in no uncertain terms that “nothing comes between me and my Calvins”. Hard to interpret that in a non-sexualized way.

    

The thing is that back then, this still stirred controversy. Brooke Shields was not in any way mainstream. Let’s take a look at some of what’s being presented to little girls *these* days:

In 2006, UK supermarket chain Tesco marketed this in their online TOYS AND GAMES section with the words:Peekaboo Pole Dance Set

“Unleash the sex kitten inside…simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!”

“Soon you’ll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars”.

The store subsequently removed it from the toy section and repackaged it as a “fitness accessory”, but continued to deny that it was sexually oriented. However, Tesco continued to face public outrage due to padded bras and other sexy items it marketed to young girls.

Other UK chains that targeted sexy clothes and underwear to pre-teens include M&S, ASDA, and Argos, while US retailers Walmart, and Abercrombie & Fitch also marketed push-up bras, padded bras, and thongs to girls as young as six years old. French Jours Apres Lunes markets lingerie for pre-teens. And have I mentioned Tini-Bikinis for toddlers?

Major UK retailers have since signed on to a government guideline banning such items for children under twelve (12-year-olds can still be sexualized freely). A&F, on the other hand, were pretty happy with the publicity they received (they eventually removed the word “push-up” but left “padded”).

Whether or not public pressure is applied on a case-by-case basis, there is still a very clear truth being outlined here: That there is a MARKET for this. This article suggests that 30% of clothing sold to girls is sexualized. And much has been written on how girls’ Halloween costumes are increasingly sexualized.

The fashion world hasn’t missed out on the party. This ten-year-old model featured in French Vogue in lipstick, high heels, and provocative poses has become the darling of fashion if not of parents:

Finally, lest anyone think that all this is objectionable from “merely” an ideological perspective, or that parents are being “moralistic” when they oppose this, the American Psychological Association concluded in their 2010 task force report that sexualization negatively affects girls and young women across a variety of health domains:

  • Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
  • Mental and Physical Health: Sexualization is linked with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women – eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
  • Sexual Development: Sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

Read the full report here.

Gotta Know What’s Important In Life (Tiaras!)

I’m not sure when was the first time I heard of this trend of princess classes: Little girls in a sort of etiquette class teaching them how to wear tiaras, curtsy, and sip tea. I do remember being pretty horrified by the idea, but not surprised. It isn’t a far cry from the type of dolling-up done to little girls on the pageant circuit.

I remember mothers and daughters giggling at the camera, wondering what could possibly be wrong with this, doesn’t every little girl dream of being a princess? Of catching a prince?

(And this year’s British royal wedding certainly did nothing to quell the wave: even Israel, with no history of aristocracy or royalty, nor even a concept of rudimentary etiquette, offered a Young & Beautiful Princess Summer Camp following that romance of the century.)

This is what I think princess-iness teaches girls. This picture has quickly become a Facebook meme, and I love it:

     What I learned from the Disney princesses

~~*~~

I found a great blog post by Jill Lupescu on The Feminist Breeder website about the lessons of Disney princesses: Why Disney Princesses Should Come with Warning Labels:

WARNING: May cause distorted body images, poor self esteem, delusional thoughts and unrealistic expectations.

You can also check out her dedicated blog: Disney Princess Recovery.

~~*~~

Last but not least — don’t miss this Second City Network video series Advice For Young Girls:

Little Mermaid

Confessions: Trinny & Susannah

Trinny & Susannah

I have a confession to make: I LOVE watching What Not to Wear. The Trinny & Susannah shows, of course. I hear there’s a US version. I hear there’s a new UK version. Not those. I love Trinny and Susannah.

When I watch the program, I sometimes question myself — how does this fit with my feminist beliefs? With my core values regarding women, how women are perceived in our culture? The pressures on women? Women’s body image? Sense of self worth?

The answer is that sometimes I feel great about it, and sometimes I feel wrong. And of course when I feel wrong about stuff it tends to piss me off. I kind of like to shout at the TV screen as if Trinny will hear me, and say, “Oh yeah, you have a point”.

I watched a chapter of Trinny & Susannah Take On Israel last night. I did a bit of shouting. I also got a bit teary-eyed.  And what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t write about it?

Here’s What T&S Get Right

  1. They believe women are beautiful. Women of all shapes and sizes. Of all ages. Of all races.
  2. They do a good job of drilling down into what is upsetting women about their bodies, about the image they project, and tackling that.
  3. They are very body-positive. They are not shy about discussing and showing their own bodies (and avoiding it being in an overly sexualized, prurient way). And they encourage (force?) the women they work with to really look at their own bodies. Generally women who are avoiding doing just that, which is a symptom of self-loathing, or at least a lack of self-acceptance.
  4. They don’t promote SKINNY. More about playing the beauty game further down, but they aren’t part of the mythological-beauty-promoting industry. IMO. They celebrate the female form. They love curves — breasts, bums, legs… And they also love women with fewer curves. I love that.
  5. They are honest about the female form including its “flaws”. Honest is good — women change when they age, when they have children, when they go through menopause… now it just depends what you do with that honesty.
  6. They are outspoken women with a point of view. They believe in something, and they make it happen. They are not in anyone’s shadow. Go T&S!

Trinny & SusannahHere’s What T&S Get Wrong

  1. Notwithstanding what I wrote above, T&S *do* engage in playing the beauty game. I disagree with criticisms that have been made of them that they make women feel bad unless they fit the beauty concept prevalent in western culture. But I do think they promote that concept of beauty — with their own celebratory contributions I described above — without ever really questioning it.
  2. Leading to the fact that I often think T&S are overly rigid in their viewpoints, probably to the detriment of some of the women they are trying to help, and certainly upsetting me from a feminist perspective. To wit:
    • Not allowing for different gender identities and perspectives.Two examples just from the recent Israeli series:
      • The first was when they made-over a lesbian couple. The femme member of that pair — no problem. But her butch partner… Major problem. Even though they said some of the right things about her maintaining her identity, they pretty much forced her into makeup she will never wear again, and into sparkly fabrics she didn’t want, albeit a sparkly vest. I didn’t feel this was a shining moment for them.
      • The second was the makeover of a self-professed feminist. She did express a desire for her clothes to express more of her femininity, but she was very adamant that she didn’t want it to spill over into anything objectifying or sexualized. The dress+leggings they picked were probably okay (though overly dressy, see next item down). But Trinny would NOT let up until the woman agreed to wear very high heels. Not respectful of a desire to align beauty with comfort — from a principled perspective as well as a practical lifestyle perspective.
    • Not allowing for cultural differences.T&S come brimming with well-defined ideas of how women should dress. The fact that they have a POV is laudable. But if they dress an Arab woman in Jerusalem as if she were an Anglo in London, well — I’m not sure how respectful, or effective, that is. I get wanting to bring on the changes they are promoting. But when they dressed a religious girl who didn’t want to wear trousers or a short skirt, the pressure came on again. They are a force to be reckoned with, and I’m not sure they are doing anyone a service by forcing the issue in these cases.

One major comment T&S came away from Israel with is that Israeli women should dress up more, and wear more color. I hear them. I feel them. I really do. But failing to understand that a shiny dress would probably only be worn at a wedding in this country, and even then — not at EVERY type of wedding — is not serving the woman they are dressing. If they really want to make an impact, they should find clothing that is still within the gamut a woman would be comfortable with given the social environment, and that also meets their exacting standards. It CAN be done.

  1. Are they overly touchy-feely? Mixed feelings about this one. I find Susannah’s admiration of the female form to be sincere, and her enthusiasm infectious. I’m just not sure every one of those women really wants her breasts grabbed. I’m wondering if participants sign a breast-grabbing release form before the show is filmed, to avoid sexual assault claims.
That’s the gist of it. I don’t find myself offended by the mere focus on beauty and clothing, given that I am a self-defined femme myself, and I don’t find it un-feminist to wear heels or lipstick. What I do object to is having a cultural dictate that says I am worth less if I don’t. I’m not certain that T&S are friends to this value of mine. But I guess I forgive them because of the many women they DO help find confidence and self love. (Like the girl on the show who developed early, and was caught up in the skinny model image of beauty, so she wouldn’t wear anything but a baggy hoodie, to hide her curvy self. Enabling her to celebrate her form, come out of her shell, so to speak… I think that’s a wonderful thing to do.)

And then, I have learned a lot from them about WHAT NOT TO WEAR. I am always extremely appreciative of those I can learn from.