Archive for the ‘body image’ Category

My latest column for Fairfax newspapers is here:

Go ahead and brainwash your baby. There are few enough privileges as a parent, you might as well seize this one. If you want to change the world and make it a less sexist place then this little human sponge of yours is the best chance you’ve got. Because truth is, the world is going to try to brainwash your baby right back. I’m wary of anyone being too prescriptive about either parenting or feminism these days, I’ve made my share of compromises with both, and I’m not much interested in perfectionism. But in case you’re after a starting point with anti-sexist parenting then here’s three general tips from my own experience.

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Vice recently posted a fashion spread today called “Groin Gazing.” It features a series of photos by Claire Milbrath with styling by Mila Franovic, and the photos are framed tight on the clothed junk for your viewing pleasure. The models are identified by the type of guy they depict, such as “The Boyfriend” or “The Artist” or “The Businessman,” and even “The Boy Next Door.” And taken together, they are also exactly the sorts of men, anonymous, real, and imagined that a woman (or man) might lust after..

But what makes it remarkable is that, for a moment, you can indulge what it would actually be like if most of the photographs you saw in advertising or fashion were meant to cater to your desire. Not your desire to be more beautiful, or thinner, or more glamorous, but simply your desire for the opposite sex. This is something men take for granted. This is something women must overlook when watching popular TV shows and movies (*cough*gameofthrones*cough*truedetective*cough) that purport to be for everyone, and then instantly betray that when it’s time to show naked bodies, which are largely female, and which are nearly always and only filmed for an assumed hetero male viewer.

This discussion at Jezebel also made me think about how a big part of feeling desire is about feeling desired. Years ago I read an interview with a feminist stripper and she was asked about the difference between doing lap dances for male and female customers and she said that male customers tipped more. She put that down to men being more able to believe the fantasy that the stripper really, truly desired him. Female customers, she said, enjoyed the lap dance but understood that the stripper was working, that it was her job to pretend. But male customers believed the stripper wanted him and it was exciting and he tipped accordingly. What about when women watch male strippers instead? It’s quite difficult to objectify men. As John Berger (Ways of Seeing) says:

Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves…

.. The surveyor of women in herself is male: the surveyed female … thus she turns herself into an object-and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

Might the patriarchal history of objectifying women mean that, for women, feeling desirable is an especially important part of feeling desire? Women often complain that mainstream images of men aren’t particularly erotic. Maybe it is partly because we don’t see evidence of desire for us in those images of men? Yes, male model, you look hot and you’re making serious bedroom eyes at me in this photo but I see from your crotch that you’re just posing. We know it’s all pretend. We don’t get the kick of excitement that is knowing this person is excited too, and that they’re excited about us.

See below the line for an example of these “groin gazing” photos. (Sorry about the lack of diversity – only slim white guys were used in the VICE fashion spread).

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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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Reader, do you have any advice for this email I received? I keenly await your reply because I still struggle with this with my daughter. Lauca is now eight years old and not only does she still refuse to brush her hair but she now uses my arguments with her about hair maintenance as a way of calling me out for what she sees as feminist hypocrisy. Reader, your thoughts?

You mentioned on your blog that you had trouble getting Lauca to brush her hair. My daughter has lovely thick curly hair which is usually in dreadlocks because she never lets me brush it. How can you convince a girl to let you brush her hair without using beauty as an incentive (eg “it will look so pretty!”). I tried “spiders will start living in it” but I don’t think it’s ideal. I refuse to tell her to do anything just because it will make her look nice!

Do you have any suggestions at all?

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This new documentary, Lucky by journalist, Laura Checkoway about a young, punk, homeless mother called Lucky Torres who is living in New York with her seven year old son looks really amazing. It was selected for New York’s Documentary Festival. I am very excited to see more stories about motherhood on the fringes being told and this one looks particularly engaging, but I must admit to feeling a little apprehensive too. We feel an enormous entitlement to poor people’s lives. We scrutinise the most intimate aspects of their choices and somehow imagine we have great insight to their history and circumstances. Documentaries can do much to highlight our ignorance to us, but they also encourage objectification by their very nature. And so here we are in, what must be said is, a really interesting interview over at ColorLines with the film-maker, talking about Torres’ behaviour at a screening and although the answer was quite good, I would hate to see the discussion around Lucky orientate too much towards this kind of analysis.

Anyway, I will keep an eye out for opportunities to see this film as it hopefully makes its way further afield.

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If you wondered about whatever happened to that cute little baby called Storm who was being raised gender neutral there’s an update here. And Demeter Press, one of the best publishers for parenthood has a book being launched about gender fluid parenting practices which includes an essay by Storm’s mother. The book is available from here.



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Another writer to watch is Glosswitch for the NewStatesman, she writes about parenting and politics from a feminist perspective. Perfect combination, in my humble opinion. Her latest article asks why is it that mothers end up having their lives marketed back to them, piece by piece, as “me time”?

Then it’s “me time”! Yay! Hooray for “me time”! Aren’t you really, really grateful it exists? For this is one of the first rules of motherhood: be pathetically, ostentatiously thankful for any time whatsoever which isn’t spent wiping arses or cleaning behind the fridge. For lo! You have been granted some “me time”! Rejoice! Whether you spend these precious “you” moments drinking a cup of tea or shaving your pubes, never forget to do it with a beatific smile on your face. For you are so, so lucky! All that stuff other people, including fathers, just do — well, for you, it’s now a bit selfish to do it. But go on, we’ll let you. As an extra-special treat.

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Lovely thoughtful piece from my friend, Shawn Taylor in Ebony on what his life-long love of hip-hop brings to his parenting.

From a young age, we were insistent that she knew her artistic lineage—broadly cultural and familial. She is the heir to hip-hop, jazz, blues, reggae, ska, and her grandfather’s guitar, harmonica and drums. We inculcated in her that art was important, and that her life was a continuous work of art. When she was old enough, and I began to really introduce her to hip-hop, some of my parenting became easier. By using the four original elements of hip-hop culture, I’ve been able to paint her world with a much wider brush.

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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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This is an incredible moment in an interview with Dustin Hoffman about his reasons for doing Tootsie and the insights it gave him to misogyny, including his own, when he realised he couldn’t ever be a beautiful woman. Honestly, this is well worth the watch.

Link via @steph_philbrick and The Mary Sue.

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