On Miley, Race, and Listening

This is my final post about the Miley/Thicke VMA circus. This post is about race and listening. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary yesterday of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, let’s take some time to listen to what is being said in this post I am about to share with you.

This is something you may need to bookmark for later because it is an important read, and if you are distracted by kids or work you will not be able to take it all in.

Since writing my post Tuesday titled “Miley, Robin, Race, Raunch and Kids” on how to talk about the VMA performance with your kids, I have been called racist for talking about the cultural appropriation and history of twerking and ratchet culture. Talking about race does not make one racist. Not everyone saw the racist component to Miley’s individual performance. I’m not going to retort to be called a racist, except to say that the reason that focus was in my piece is everything this post is about.

Playing the desirability of black female bodies as a “wink-wink” joke is a way of lifting up our deviant sexuality without lifting up black women as equally desirable to white women. Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself  while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact.  It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.  -Tressie McMillan Cottom

Please continue to read Tressie’s post in its entirety here:
http://tressiemc.com/2013/08/27/when-your-brown-body-is-a-white-wonderland/

 

There is a movement on twitter right now called #solidarityisforwhitewomen, essentially asking white feminists to listen to what their browned skinned sisters are saying and feeling. The work we do here has a lot of intersectionality with feminism and race, and because we are a thoughtful community committed to breaking down stereotypes I ask that you give this post some time to settle in.

It is okay if you don’t know what to say, if some of it leaves you speechless or angers you. It should anger you, actually, but you might not have the words to express that anger. And the point is, you don’t need to have the words, because this time, it is okay to be silent.

This time, it is okay to respond with “I’m listening and learning.”

Did You Just Call My Daughter A Prostitute?

Whore-friendly panties. If ever three words made my head explode, they were it, considering they were said about panties belonging to ten year old girls. Ten year old girls, 4th graders, cannot be whores.

Please repeat after me: A prostitute is a woman who trades sex for money. Whores, sluts, skanks, and tramps are judgements, not people. It is important to recognize that our sexily dressed little girls are not whores, they most likely have no sexual history at all. They are little girls being allowed to wear sexualized clothing by the parents who should be looking out for them.

Wal-Mart's 2007 #pantyfail

I think what LZ Granderson meant was the innuendo of sex for money/gifts that a pair of panties that reads “Who needs credit cards?” gives, suggesting the use of the anatomy the panties cover would garner the wearer the same end result as would the purchasing power of a credit card. The problem, of course, is the way Mr. Granderson worded it, the statement came off sounded like the slut-shaming of a girl too young to understand the message her panties send; a girl certainly not deserving of stigmatized and controlling views of her sexuality. Mr. Granderson has no right to call any female a whore.

Clothing, or lack of clothing, does not make someone a prostitute. When we are cavalier about the degrading terms we use for our girls, we belittle their inherent worth, and desensitize ourselves to what it really means to be a prostitute. From what I hear, it isn’t a great lifestyle. The proximity I had with it as an investigator revealed it to be brutal, lonely, and dangerous. Our culture sends mixed messages to young women to be hot and sexy and available at all times, and then as soon as these women or girls become sexual agents and act on their desires they face the repressive push-back from society and are branded sluts and whores. Confused? So am I.

When we see a girl dressed in an outfit sexy beyond her years, as a concerned parent like Mr. Granderson, we raise our eye brows, catch our breath, worry about what messages she is growing up with. As cited in the original CNN post, the 2007 watershed studyby the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls revealed that early sexualization harbors danger for our growing daughters: low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance abuse, poor body image, early promiscuity.

Do I think “Juicy” in glittery silk-screened paint across the bum of a child is inappropriate? Yes I do. Let’ s just put our cards on the table, although the Juicy brand actually has an interesting history of two entrepreneurial women behind it…..when someone is bent over and their ass says “Juicy”, that means exactly what you think it means, especially to heterosexual men ages 16-92 years old.

I loved and hated Mr. Granderson’s CNN piece. Loved it because yes, parents are not meant to be their child’s friend and we need to step up and say “NO” to a lot of what is being marketed to our kids. The money to buy this garbage is coming from somewhere, as Granderson says, “I guess I’ve been out-of-the-loop and didn’t realize there’s been an ongoing stampede of 10-year-old girls driving to the mall with their tiny fists full of cash demanding sexier apparel. What’s that you say? Ten-year-olds can’t drive? They don’t have money, either?”

Mr. Granderson misses two things, maybe because he doesn’t have a daughter – first, tween/teen girls usually shop in packs sans parents are become their own consumer-at-large in a marketplace ripe with sexualization at every turn. I made boodles of money as a teen from babysitting, and bought my own clothes with my friends. Second – everything is a battle for parents these days. Yes, LL Bean has nice, appropriate choices, but I did not shop at LL Bean when I was 14, did you? It is unfair to put the onus entirely on parents because the marketing of this crap is relentless. Relentless.

I hated Granderson’s piece because no man, certainly not a father, has the right to call someone else’s child a slut, whore, skank, bitch, cunt, stripper, prostitute, tramp or hooker. It hurts all women to speak that way, but to use those terms towards a young girl is particularly distasteful, and I will not stand for it. Nor will I stand for girls and women to be ashamed of their sexuality or sexual history.

The prefered term, should you know someone whose daughter actually is a prostitute or dancer (stripper), is sex worker. They work in the sex trade industry. 

Mr. Granderson, not raising a daughter, was perhaps not aware of his transgression as there are no words to the equivalent for his son, that morning the boy tried to wear his pants hanging off his bum.

I absolutely think parents need to turn this ship around, send strong messages to marketers and corporations, and teach our daughters how to dress themselves with respect. But we need to do this with grace towards other families. Not all parents are aware of this issue yet, or some are but have no idea what to do about it.

I adore this comment from Emily, a mama from the Pigtail Pals facebook page:

The bitter irony in using sexual terms to describe a girl who is wearing sexualized clothing is that the observer, in making that judgment, becomes a complicit participant in the sexualization. If we want to stop the sexualization of our children, we can stop by filtering them through a lens of adult-directed judgement. Just because they are wearing clothing we are used to seeing (and likely judging) on adults, doesn’t make them little adults anymore than putting a tutu on my cat makes her a ballerina.

How each family determines what is appropriate dress or not is going to depend on the family and the age of the girl. Generally speaking, there are some garments in cultural perspective that carry fetishized meanings with them – knee high boots, fishnets, mini skits, lace thigh highs, candy red high heels….I would say those are no-no’s for the under 18 set. And yes, I agree shorty short shorts and low cut tops are advertising body parts of young girls. You’ll have to decide where you draw your line. And yes, much of the girls departments offer clothing that turns girls into mini-adults and I’m not a fan of that trend. But no piece of clothing turns a girl into a tramp.

So what do we take away from the this week’s hullabaloo about kids, sex, gender, and childhood?

One – we can open a larger conversation about slut-shaming and stop assuming  and judging a person’s sexual history and sexual availability based on their outfit.

Two – we can see that there is no black/white to this issue. It isn’t just parents at fault, it isn’t just companies/marketers at fault. We need, as a culture, a fundamental shift in how we view our children, and how we value childhood. When our culture’s preoccupation with sex creeps down into middle school, grade school, and holy hell – preschool – we’ve got MUCH bigger problems than trashy panties with sexual innuendo and push-up bras for breasts that haven’t developed yet. Those are just symptoms of the problem.

If any media outlets are ready to talk about the real issues, I offer myself as a delightful guest. As long as we continue to focus on the symptoms, we only give lip service to the “too sexy, too soon” generation.

*Photo from Scared Monkeys blog, with post linked above, and again here.