I don’t want my kid to grow up in a culture so pornified that tweens are buying adult-style lingerie and wearing it as outer wear. I’m angry that when I went to buy my two year old daughter jeans at Target, the only ones I could find were ‘skinny jeans’, so I bought her a boy pair instead (let’s not get started on why there must be gendered jeans for two year olds in the first place). I’m sad that my pre-pubescent sister-in-law obsesses about her waist and whether she looks fashionable enough and fashionably thin enough. It enrages me that everything from brazillian waxing to Playboy branded pencil cases is being marketed to children as desirable. Being desirable themselves is the ultimate goal that we’re peddling to our tweens and teenagers. Magazines and other media, clothes and cosmetic sellers are teaching girls as young as eight to pursue sexual attractiveness as a life choice. And if girls are the tantalisers, the bait, the holders of only Pussy Power, then where does that leave boys? The inevitable role is predator. Be sucked into the vortex of body image fears and feel obligated to spend on cosmetics and other external image enhancers, like girls, or heap scorn on all that by playing Grand Theft Auto and learning how to be violent instead. It’s not a great choice. In online games, in advertising – in the cultural script – girls are speaking the lines of prostitutes and boys are swaggering like pimps.
You think I’m exaggerating and overreacting? I wish it were so. Welcome to The Rape Culture, now showing on screens inside children’s bedrooms next door to you.
I’m not a wowser, I’m not a prude. I’m not a moraliser. I’m not even particularly interested in being sentimental about ‘natural’ or ‘simple’ childhood. But negotiating gender roles and boundaries and learning to adhere to these or in fact to blur and change them; developing awareness of sexuality, consent, attraction, pleasure, orientation; exploring the edges of the adult world in a to-and-fro dance between the sandpit and the grown-up sphere — these are all things which take time. These are things which children should be free to do on their own terms and within the safe boundaries of their family and community values.
Sexual commerce has no place in childhood. Objectification of women and the promotion of sexual violence as titillating is bad enough without adding younger and younger girls into the mix. When we remove the boundaries of child/adult, when an eight year old wears a padded bra and a t-shirt that says I put out for shoes, we have a problem. Fuckability should never be sold to kids because kids aren’t available to be fucked. End of.
So what are we going to do about it?
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a meeting about this issue, organised by Barefoot Magazine. It was inspiring as well as depressing: Melinda Tankard Reist and Julie Gale of KidsFree2BKids have both made great progress in battling retailers and advertisers. But there is more work to be done, and I couldn’t help but notice the hundred or so people sitting around me were not exactly a diverse bunch. Most of us were mothers (a good portion came with breastfeeding or homebirthing parenting groups) and presumably, most of us were feminists or sympathetic to feminist causes. Most of us were white. And the number of men who came along? Exactly two.
The attendees of last night’s function are probably not a an accurate reflection of the people in the community who are concerned – or could potentially be concerned – about the sexualisation of children and young girls in particular. (Being a Barefoot magazine event held in a relatively affluent suburb is obviously heavily self-selecting). But even so, it is clear that when academics and social justice advocates (and feminist bloggers) address this issue they/we are largely preaching to the choir.
So we’ve got to make the choir bigger, and a whole lot louder. One way to do that is to support organisations like Collective Shout, who are
a new grassroots campaigns movement mobilising and equipping individuals and groups to target corporations, advertisers, marketers and media which objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services.
Collective Shout exposes corporations, advertisers, marketers and media engaging in practices which are offensive and harmful especially to women and girls, but also to men and boys.
Collective Shout is for anyone concerned about the increasing pornification of culture and the way its messages have become entrenched in mainstream society, presenting distorted and dishonest ideas about women and girls, sexuality and relationships.
I urge you to sign up – they will help you be an activist from your own keyboard.
And the other thing we can do is simply that – shout. I’m using my voice quite literally here (and figuratively at home when I am choosing what I buy for my daughter and what media she sees). How will you use your voice?