Archive for the ‘bratz hatred/pornification/sexualising children’ Category

I have a co-written article with the very clever Lori Day in the Huffington Post today about the four reasons why parents buy into the culture of gender stereotyping.


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Deborah: Tell us a bit about your book that’s coming out next fall, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years (Source Books, 2014). Is there any way in which you think girls can be active agents in princess play? In what ways do you hope your book will steer popular debate? And what do you most want to change?

Rebecca: Thanks for asking. The Princess Problem is really a handbook for parents to raise media-literate daughters–girls who are able to think critically about marketing, the beauty ideal, gender stereotypes, and race representation. This is an important task for 21st-century parents: We must coach our children, guiding them to become critical viewers of media culture in general. And yet media literacy is not something that’s a mainstream concept yet in the U.S.; many other countries include media literacy in their K-12 curricula, but that’s not the case here. I’d like that to change.

I focus in my book on princess culture in particular because “princess” is so pervasive–it’s THE defining pop culture phenomenon in early girlhood. And it’s the perfect example to use in a text on raising media literate girls because the issues we need to discuss with our daughters so often differ from than the issues we would discuss with our sons. (For example, body image issues are a very different beast when it comes to girls and boys.) But the principles I teach in The Princess Problem could easily be extrapolated to raising media-literate sons, too.

And yes, I absolutely believe girls can be active agents in princess play. Kids are not passive victims of media and toys; they’re active consumers who regularly defy our assumptions. That’s a position I’ve espoused in some of my earlier work–for example, my study of girls and Bratz dolls.

It’s important to note, then, that in The Princess Problem, my goal is not to persuade girls that princesses are bad or to “de-princess” them; rather, it is to help parents help their girls reason become critical viewers who can see that there are many, many ways to be a girl.

From Girl w/ Pen! with Deborah Siegel interviewing Rebecca Hains in “Girls, Boys, Feminism, Toys”.

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I have a new article up at Daily Life commenting on a piece by Jane Pratt about taking your child to a sex shop and why combining breezy nonchalance towards sexuality with breezy nonchalance towards motherhood might be more difficult than Pratt imagined.

As happens sometimes with publishing, the article ended up being published some weeks after the piece it was commenting on was published. When this occurs there is a sudden need to re-jig an article and make it more general and less specific. In this case, I think the decision to take away all that context makes it difficult to actually decipher my thinking from the article. But then, writers are supposed to disagree with their editors, aren’t they, because we get so attached to our words, even the out-of-date ones, actually, especially the out-of-date ones. Anyway, I love editors and the very hard work they do to make this publishing thing work, and there is a new article of mine out there.

There was a time when simply visiting a sex shop would have made for bad mother confessional fodder, but my generation is beyond all that. Our sexuality is, in some ways, part of our public identity – its intimacy somewhat neutralised by close ties with fashion and even health.

Some women, such as Pratt, may see their sexuality as requiring little more privacy than discussions of their exercise regime.

On occasion, I am one of those women. But a breezy nonchalance towards sexuality is difficult to combine with a breezy nonchalance towards motherhood, though both are now individually celebrated.

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I have a new article in Essential Kid discussing the four biggest problems I see with the conversation around the sexualisation of young girls. And I almost never say this about an article I have written but you can read the comments.

Not so long ago there was controversy over child models being photographed in French Vogue mimicking sultry adult poses and being dressed in women’s clothing and makeup. Everyone agreed that it was little girls looking like adults but some people still wondered what the fuss was about. Even some feminists view the concern about the sexualisation of children as really being a sneaky resurrection of female purity obsessions. To my mind, there’s nothing bad about little girls playing dress-up, or even playing with sexy dress-up ideas, if they’re genuinely choosing this play idea from a range of gender-diverse options. Shaming girls about femininity, even artificial constructs of it, is a big mistake. But the Vogue photos weren’t pictures of little girls playing – they were adults playing dress-up with little girls. That’s an important difference and we should pay attention, particularly when it is for commercial purposes. What was the magazine selling? Notably, little boys are not typically used to represent miniature versions of sexy adult men, why is that? It could be that this collapsing of sexiness and materialism into displays of girlhood is part of a wider trend in sexually objectifying women.

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From Rachel Cooke in The Guardian with “The idea of ‘ethical art’ is nonsense. We have to separate art from life”.

Last Friday morning, I stood in front of this cartoon, a cup of tea in my hand, and I thought yet again about the fraught line between a man’s life and his work. Moments before, I’d read that the Tate had removed from its online collection 34 prints by Graham Ovenden, the artist who was last week found guilty at Truro crown court of six charges of indecency with a child and one count of indecent assault. And while I didn’t disapprove of this decision one little bit (the gallery, quite properly, is seeking information about whether any of these images of children portray Ovenden’s victims), I could feel an old anxiety creeping over me.

Where, I wonder, will this investigation end? According to what I read, the Tate is also considering the “wider ethics” of showing work by Ovenden, and until this review is complete, these 34 prints “will not be available to view by appointment”. Wider ethics. What does this mean, exactly? It sounds a touch North Korean. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the images in question do not portray Ovenden’s victims. What then? Will the Tate return them to the public view? Surely it must, for if it is unethical to show work by a paedophile, what are they going to do about all the other artists who had dubious sex lives? Unless, of course, this rule only applies to perverts who are living.

It’s baffling to me, the belief that art must be “ethical”, as if it were so much fair trade chocolate. It’s so much more complicated than that. The laughable idea that it can pass or fail some kind of tick-box test! What was art in March must surely be art in April. You can’t un-art art, though Hitler had a go, when he decided that what was modern was also degenerate and set about destroying it and, far worse, those who made it.

There are those who will say that Ovenden’s images of children are now revealed to be porn rather than art, but that argument crumbles to dust in this case, since the subjects of many of the Tate’s images aren’t even naked. Just to be clear, though – even if the children were naked, I wouldn’t feel any differently. The qualities that won them a place in the Tate’s collection can’t be extinguished – rubbed out, like chalk on a board – by the perversions of the man who created them. If those qualities now make you feel uncomfortable as you look on, well, that is a part of their power. Live with it.

I disagree with much of this.

You know, I haven’t ever seen child porn (thank god) but I would bet that some of it is quite beautiful. By that I mean, some of the photographs and films are probably artfully composed and professionally shot with very pretty children as their subjects. It is still child porn though, and producing it involved the same amount of pain, abuse, degradation and manipulation as any amateur child porn image.

The measure for whether something is ethical for us to consume or display is not beauty or artistic merit (and nor is it the degree of nudity), it is about something bigger than that.

Sure, you can’t un-art art, but being art doesn’t over-ride problems of exploitation, particularly when it involves children. I don’t want to be limited to only consuming art, music and literature produced by those who lived admirable lives and nor do I want to be limited to only seeing art which doesn’t disturb me, but given art affords a certain level of power to the artist and the audience at the expense of the muse, contrary to Rachel Cooke’s view, it is always worth considering the ethics of that power.

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I Blame the Patriarchy being an adorable feminist aunt to her nieces.

The nieces Finn and Ro-Tel, ages 7 and 9, were here for a sleepover. Like all little girls, they are horse crazy. It is not enough that they have unlimited access to actual horses while they are here. In the bunkhouse they like to amuse themselves with toy horses as well. Ever the doting aunt, I maintain a supply of these future objets de landfill in a special cabinet.*

I’d bought a new addition to the plastic herd since the nieces’ last visit: an eventer set with Breyer horse, saddle, bridle, and rider doll complete. The doll was dressed, inexplicably, in a track suit. I’d selected it specifically because of the weird track suit, actually. It’s baggy and sort of sex-neutral, sending, I hoped in my ceaseless naivete, the message that this girl cares more about keeping her eyes on the prize than looking like a dudefantasy. But when we extracted the doll from the excessive packaging — a gaudy box showcasing the tracksuited doll and her mount against a breathtaking rolling green backdrop untouched by global warming — my lobe began to pulsate. Under its unisex duds, the doll was a proper mutant. That’s right, I’m talkin’ straight up Barbie syndrome. Gazongas like missiles, wasp waist, toothpick legs about 17 times as long as they ought to be, microscopic noselet, insipid smile with Porn2K-compliant parted lips. The face, with its giant dead mascara eyes, recalls the toddler beauty queen prosti-tot, while the bullet-boobs are pure Penthouse, and the blank expression is vaguely suggestive of both compliance and hardening cheese dip.**.

I grasp that Barbie syndrome isn’t breaking news, but that’s no reason to ignore that it’s still standard practice in 2013, and that it’s still flippin’ icky.

Once apprised of my mistake, I naturally wanted to remove the doll from the niecely midst, but this was a no-go; they’d formed an instantaneous and unbreakable bond.

“My ceaseless naivete”. She has a great turn of phrase and I do love feminist parenting stories from the trenches.

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I have mixed feelings about this trailer for the documentary, Sexy Baby – a film about developing your sexuality in the digital age – but as I have not yet seen the film it would be unfair to comment too much.

I don’t want us to be overly anxious as parents about teenagers. For instance,  the problem with sexting isn’t about new technology or the (incautious) joy of sharing naked photos, it’s really about slut-shaming, which isn’t new, it’s a problem older than the hills. Perhaps a reflection of how young my own children are, of more concern to me is the accessibility of hardcore porn on the Internet, which is also covered in this documentary.

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Parenting expert, Steve Biddulph, who I am not a fan of for various reasons, is best known for his book, Raising Boys. Now Biddulph has begun calling attention to the plight of girls with the launch of his new book, Raising Girls. That’s nice, except man oh man, does this guy do some fabulous mansplaining.

Check out these examples from this Sydney Morning Herald article:

“I’m about to retire [but] I want to light a fire under the girl question,” Biddulph said. “People are waking up to this around the world. There is a movement to save girls.”

That movement would be feminism, right? But further on in the piece you get the picture that Biddulph thinks he might be inventing the movement.

Now he quotes alarming statistics to emphasise his point – anxiety and depression has doubled among girls, self-harm has increased 60 per cent, and 13 per cent suffer an eating disorder. One-fifth of girls are now having their first sexual experience at 14, and in the last year girls overtook boys in the binge-drinking stakes.

One of these statistics is not like the other one because one of them might be about girls’ pleasure. Exactly what concerns Biddulph about girl sexuality? Because sexually active teenage girls don’t trouble me, but sexually active teenagers with significantly older partners do, and sexually active teenagers who do not feel in control of the decision to be sexually active trouble me greatly, and sexually active teenagers who are not enjoying the activity concern me a huge amount. So, I’d like to see statistics for those kinds of questions rather than one simply examining whether some fourteen year old girls are having sex, which seems a rather patriarchal preoccupation to me.

Biddulph said aunts need to become more involved in their nieces’ lives as confidantes, and mothers should model positive behaviours like healthy body image.

Except, perhaps Biddulph should ask some mothers about their body image? He might find this problem of misogyny, where women are raised to hate their bodies and to feel pressure to fit into an incredibly narrow definition of beauty, predates his own awareness of the problem and his decision to write a book about it.

“I want to start a more active feminism, to help girls see what their options are,” Biddulph said, noting the original feminist mantra of ”girls can do anything” has been reduced to a choice between supermodel, movie star or pop singer.

Thanks Steve, can’t wait for you to “start” our feminism for us.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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Later, when her 12-year-old son asks her, “Why do girls want to dress like sluts?” Fondas replies with a rant against pop culture: “Girls see it everywhere: on TV, in stores, magazines, movies, online. That’s why they think it’s the definition of ‘pretty’!” Her son is unconvinced..

.. I can’t help thinking that a much better answer to the question, “Why do girls want to dress like sluts?” is “What’s so bad about being a slut?” Girls who play up their sexuality via their clothing choices—and girls who explore their sexuality with more than one partner—are people, too; putting on a tube top does not mean forfeiting one’s dignity. Fondas’ approach, though obviously well-intentioned, plays into the notion that a woman’s appearance is of paramount importance. And I fear her answer to her son’s question conveys the message that it’s OK to pity or disrespect girls who dress a certain way, since, according to her worldview, they’re just helpless dupes. But if we really want to prevent girls from being victimized, perhaps we should teach boys to spend less time judging what girls wear and more time listening to what girls say.

OMG yes to this!

From “Why do teenage girls dress like sluts? Because they’re teenagers” in Slate by L. V. Anderson. (My use of bold in the above). (Because what if in response to sexual assault we limited men’s freedom the way we limit women’s freedom?)

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Image: Autumn Leaves Lottie and Biscuit the Beagle Dog Accessories in our garden.

I turn down almost all offers to review products on this blog because I generally hate that stuff but when British toy company, Arklu approached me with a fashion doll that they hoped would appeal more to feminist mothers, like me, I decided to give it a shot.

Lottie is a quintessentially British creation – so much so that the range includes English Country Garden Lottie and Picnic Set Accessories – and it is set to compete against Barbie and Bratz. I’m not a fan of either of those dolls so I’m interested in toy companies that recognise the problematic aspects of both Barbie and Bratz.

So, after the introduction, having now had the doll for two weeks, what are mine and my seven year old daughter, Lauca’s thoughts?

Some initial observations – Lottie is no radical feminist creation. There isn’t huge diversity here – while Festival Lottie is black everyone else in the range is white and all dolls have distinctly Anglo features, like little button noses and straight hair. And on the topic of diversity, in all her versions she looks consistently middle to upper-middle class (eg. Pony Flag Race Lottie), and her accessories do not include wearing glasses or using a wheelchair or anything revolutionary like that. She’s also skinny and though her body has been designed to be more ‘childlike’, she still has that fashion doll’s over-sized head thing going on.  The makers are not exactly breaking out of stereotypical girly images either with Lottie (eg. Ballet Lottie), but then there is a good argument to be made here that fashion dolls appeal to children who want to play with girly looking dolls and I would agree with that.

Here are some things I really liked about Lottie. The Autumn Leaves Lottie, which was sent to Lauca for review, isn’t dressed in pink. By happy accident Lauca’s favourite colours are currently purple and green so this doll was a hit and we both thought it was refreshing to see a fashion doll not carried away with pink. All the Lottie dolls also wear flat shoes – in fact, the Autumn Lottie is in boots, which I love – and because there are no high heels they can stand up unassisted during play. Fashion is individual but I find their clothing seriously cute and not unlike clothing I would buy for Lauca – hello stripey tights. The Lottie we received is also dressed in an outfit that suggests a life of play rather than performance for this character, which we both appreciated. And the range also includes a Snow Queen Lottie, something that charms me because I like the idea of queens better than princesses given that queens tend to have actual power and are not celebrated exclusively for their looks. Arklu have also intentionally set out to avoid making their dolls overly sexualised or consumerist as young girl characters, and I think they’ve succeeded at this. Lottie doesn’t wear make-up, for instance, and none of her packaging is about ‘going shopping’. The packaging is also attractive and sturdy enough that the box may be re-used for carrying the doll about. Finally, Lauca really likes her Lottie doll and though at seven years old she is towards the upper end of their target market – 3-8 year olds – she has so far stayed interested in the toy which is obviously an important part of the review and she was very keen for it and Biscuit the Beagle Dog to receive a positive review from us.

In accordance with standard disclosure guideline, please note that a free product was supplied to me for review and that I was not paid for this review and nor did the company see my comments prior to posting it here. For more information about Lottie check out their website.

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