It's that magical time of the year when prepubescent girls congregate to the malls and their mothers buy them hammocks. For their labias.
I never thought I'd marinate into the type of woman who would bitch and moan about young girls dressing provocatively, but I did. Why? Because I've acquired some wisdom over the years and I know the issue runs much deeper than simply thirteen year old girls wearing thongs as outerwear.
At times I truly believe that our society is trying to do everything in it's power to mould our youth into drooling peons, and young girls seem to be the focus of the attack, as if patriarchy is rearing it's ugly head and seeking revenge. After all the monumental social changes enticed by the movers and shakers of the 1960's and 1970's (Betty Friedman, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, etc.), women of today are lazily lounging on the coat tails of hardworking, second wave feminists. The dominant power structures that pull the strings of our society (a weave of governments, capitalist powerhouses, media, etc.), are taking note of our apathy about a movement that we often perceive as over and done with and they are exploiting our weaknesses like vultures feeding on prey. Meanwhile, moms are buying their bulimic ten year old daughters Bratz dolls and surrendering their kids to the newest form of oppression that plagues Western culture.
I promised myself that I wouldn't preach annoying text book mantra, and look at me. LOOK AT WHAT FOURTEEN YEAR OLD GIRLS WEARING LABIA HAMMOCKS DO TO ME. NO, I CAN'T STOP YELLING, 'CAUSE THAT'S HOW I TALK.
So what's going on with our young girls?
The increasing trend of girls dressing provocatively is really not the problem, it's just one of many symptoms of a much deeper phenomenon. Let's do an overview and use provocative dress as a focal point.
Girls are dressing provocatively at a younger and younger age because they are perceiving their sexual image as their strongest asset.
Why are children doing this?
Because we teach them to.
When the term "female sexual objectification" is thrown around, people groan. Even I groan, and I am a feminist sociology major who reads Bitch magazine. I think the word "objectification" turns people off because it insinuates conservative sexual boundaries, which are then perceived as restraining and are muddied with sex-negative guilt. But that's not really the case. I tend to conceptualize a society like an eco system that requires balance to maintain healthfulness and sexual objectification is a social imbalance. I have never been one who supports blatant censorship, and I definitely think there is room in our society for titillating material, whether it be hardcore porn, or less raunchy material, like raunchy music videos, or the freedom to dress in provocative attire. But when sexuality, particularly a narrowly moulded image of sexuality, starts to conquer mainstream media, that's when our social ecosystem loses its balance and people begin to feel unhealthy effects. Unfortunately, the people who are affected the most are society's youth, and this phenomenon is turning out to be incredibly damaging, particularly to our young girls. We're creating a hallow, social reality that not only inhibits girls from reaching their full potential, but also embraces an exploitative, pedophilic theme at the expense of our own youth.
The issue has become such an area of concern that the American Psychological Association has implemented a task force against the sexualization of girls, which is largely focused on media influence due to it's wide spread commonality. Their definition of sexualization includes the following points:
a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
Bratz dolls, the result of sexually retarded, creative minds gathering in a board room and collectively deciding that baby dolls dressed like strippers would be a good thing. Moms everywhere raved. How cute! I wonder if I can get that outfit in a size 6X for my daughter?!
Overt female sexualization is unavoidable because it is everywhere: concentrated, photoshopped, and teased into a sexual fantasy. When I walk into a corner store, I am automatically greeted with at least thirty magazine covers glossed with female sexualization, from beauty mags, to male mags, women's mags, gossip mags, fashion mags, fitness mags, and then the sex mags that are sold from behind the counter. The internet is unabashedly swollen with smut. Television shows and teen movies continuously depict women as play things who are either sexually valuable or not. The music industry focuses on countless, minimally talented teenaged pop stars who say next to nothing but are primped and carved into images of beauty, fashion, and sex, and then marketed towards young girls. Popular clothing stores, like Forever 21, market sexy clothes towards teen figures and offer more "modest" lines for developed women. Etc. Many inquisitive, thoughtful women have realized this social imbalance and have learned to develop critical filters when navigating through the messy environment of our social eco system, but kids, particularly young kids, don't have the capacity to filter this information like we do, and we can't expect them to, especially when we often have trouble filtering it ourselves.
The Bratz franchise, which typically designs dolls marketed towards four to eight year old girls, expanded their merchandise with a padded training bra.
Our cultural environment is teaching girls that their sexuality, which is largely identified by how they look and what they wear, determines their individual value and feminine power. While we are biologically wired to want to be attractive, and it is inevitable that girls will experiment and sometimes fumble as they develop their sexuality and grow into womanhood, the imbalanced portrayal of female sexuality within our system is extremely ill, and raising girls to base their worth on beauty ideals or mainstream sex appeal is in no way a recipe for happiness, stability, fulfillment, or success. It just isn't.
I think back to how hard it was for me to develop my sense of self as a young girl, and that was when baggy jeans and Nirvana t-shirts were still en vogue. I had outspoken, gritty riot girls to look up to, like Kathleen Hanna, thought provoking actresses/ comedians to use as relatable pillars, like Janeane Garafalo. Even Courtney Love stage diving and having her clothes ripped off while high on opiates seems empowering when set against the sixteen year old pop tart puppets whose strings are pulled by middle aged, millionaire CEOs with money signs in their eyes. I think back to how hard I struggled as my spirit was muted by feelings of inferiority and a preoccupation with whether or not I was sexually appealing to my male peers. I hated myself for a long time, and the cultural environment in which I was existing was much more subdued than the one that young girls face now. Don't get me wrong, girls are not the only ones affected by this, but there are only so many words to put into one blog post before you guys say fuck it and stop reading.
Feminine identity has so much more to it than mere sexual expression, and the prototype of female sexuality that we're seeing played out over and over again in popular media is limited, shallow, and more often than not, unobtainable to many girls who are eagerly anticipating womanhood. Mainstream female role models who display intelligence, depth of character, strength, and skills that do not involve image or sexuality are rare, and considering the many feats women have overcome over the last century, this toxic atmosphere that we're lazily buying into is absolutely pathetic.
Female sexual objectification and its relation to capitalism:
Sex has become the forefront of popular media because it sells. Sex sells because it triggers our most basic, carnal urges for sexual consumption. Sexual consumption has become saturated with our cultural obsession with power and status, which leads us to an increasing preoccupation with sexual power. Mainstream media has become concentrated with overt sexuality because we thoughtlessly buy into it. We make the rich and powerful more rich and powerful, which then prompts them to take the same formula and push it further, and they will continue to push it further until people get sick of it and stop buying it. In other words, we do have great power when it comes to influencing the media, which in turn, shapes our cultural landscape, but unfortunately the majority of consumers haven't adopted the mindfulness needed to empower themselves within this system. Instead, we tend to sit back and absorb anything that is put in front of us without weighing the detrimental social effects it may have, particularly on children.
South Park did an excellent mockery of this in their episode that attacks Paris Hilton called "Stupid, Spoiled Whore". There is a scene at the beginning of the episode where the parents of South Park cave into their daughters desires to mimic Paris Hilton and be, well, stupid, spoiled whores. I couldn't find a clip of that scene, but I did find a clip of Trey Parker and Matt Stone sharing their commentary about the episode and the atrocity of someone like Paris Hilton being marketed as admirable towards today's youth.
I understand that parents want their children to feel accepted among their peer group, and this means sometimes buying into questionable trends that they may not feel comfortable with. But children are children, and the role of the parent is to guide and protect, and sometimes the best thing for children is to hear the word "no". If half of the parents out there took a stand and said no to baby dolls dressed up like strippers, those dolls would eventually disappear off of the shelves. At minimum, sharing dialogue with young people regarding questionable toys, pop stars, clothing, etc., would help them better understand the power systems that are at play and hopefully develop a critical filter of their own... you know, rather than just accepting the notion that the most valuable thing they have to offer is between their legs.
Read some of my related blog posts:
- Naomi Wolf, author of Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood, and the The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women-- a must-read for all women.
- The Dove Campaign, a brand that actually has a sex-positive marketing campaign. If you believe in it, support it.
- About Face, an organization that aims to equip women and girls with the tools to critically maneuver through media garbage and achieve their full potential.