*Names in this story have been changed.
This correspondence comes from a member of our PPBB Community and her story launched a big discussion on our page. This is the follow up to that story.
While attending a birthday party for a friend’s daughter, our PPBB Community member endured a sexist comic bit by the magician hired to entertain the children, and then watched as the man referred to her six year old child as sexy.
Thankfully, this mom didn’t let it slide and she stood up for her daughter’s right to a childhood free of sexualization. She did so in a way that hopefully educates this performer and encourages him to change his upsetting ways.
My daughter and I attended a friend’s daughter’s birthday party last week with my child where we saw your very engaging performance. Generally, I found it to be very enjoyable. However, some aspects of it troubled me.
My main concern is that you referenced my six year old daughter as “sexy.” My daughter had no idea what that word meant; there is no reason she should. Six year olds are not sexy. How does a parent explain “sexy” to a young child in an age-appropriate manner? I thought the actual meanings of the word would be troubling to her, as they were to me in this context.
1. concerned predominantly or excessively with sexual intercourse;
2. sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality.
I will give you the benefit of the doubt, that you did not truly mean you found a six year old girl sexually exciting, nor that you thought she was concerned excessively with sexual intercourse. I believe that you thought it was just a joke; that it was funny. Sexualizing children is never funny. You never should have made such a joke at the expense of my daughter’s innocence.
Similarly, it was inappropriate when you put the fake lips to the birthday girl’s mouth and usurped her voice, pretending that she was talking about boyfriends and kissing boys. Again, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and that you did not realize you were sexualizing a five year old. Yet, that is precisely what you did. I can assure you, that like most children her age, this girl is focussed on things like colouring, bike riding, and even doing magic trick with her friends – including the boys.
My other concerns about your show also relate to your depiction of women and girls. When you rallied the children into a screaming frenzy, you then said something to the effect of, “Stop! You sound like my girlfriend!” and the second time, “Stop! You sound like my wife!” This unfairly characterizes women in a very negative way, as shrill and screaming. Again, how do I explain that you thought it was funny to have both a girlfriend and a wife?
At this particular party, only two of the children were boys. You made them wait for a balloon until all of the girls had a balloon. Some of the girls had even had repairs made to their balloons before you would make balloons for the boys, who sat patiently waiting. You set their expectations: you singled the boys out and told them that they would have to go last as the girls should go first. And then you told the boys to blame that situation, YOUR decision, blame it on the girls. What message does that send to the boys? What message does it send to the girls? The boys were also offered different choices than the girls. Why was that necessary? When you limit children, you limit children.
You had a lot of fun material in your act. I was disappointed when you stooped to these levels for the hope of a laugh. You must have performed for close to an hour and all of these inappropriate “jokes” (with the exception of the boys waiting for their balloons) probably totalled less than two minutes of your act. I ask that you change your approach in the future. Don’t sexualize little children. Don’t perpetuate negative stereotypes. Don’t scapegoat others for your choices. Don’t limit children based on their gender.
Reply from Magician:
“Hi Laney and thank you for your concerns. I’ve been performing my children’s show for over 20 years and have never had any of the complaints that you have made. I am, however, going to run your concerns by some of my magician friends and by some of my non-magician friends, as well, to get their input on this matter.
Your complaint about the boys ‘going last for balloons’ does have me puzzled though, as I have many parents praise me for letting girls go first. As for the different (birthday party) balloon options, I always go flowers or puppies on a leash for girls and swords, space guns or puppies on a leash for boys. Boys do not usually want a flower, just as most girls do not want swords or space guns.
I don’t know which surprises me more; that you have been calling little girls sexy for 20 years, that no one has ever told you it is inappropriate, or that having had it pointed out, you are not convinced there is anything wrong with it.
While I don’t appreciate my opinion as a parent and potential customer being marginalized, I do hope that your friends and colleagues are more educated and enlightened that you seem to be.
I have asked some of my friends and colleagues for their input as well. While you apparently don’t consider my opinion valid, perhaps you will consider it more seriously if you hear it from more than one person in your customer base.
As far as the balloons, it is simple sexual discrimination. I am sure, in the past, there were people who thanked restaurants for having different seating areas for people of color. That doesn’t make it right. When you treat people preferentially based on their race, it is racial discrimination; when you treat people preferentially based on their sex, it is sexual discrimination.
It’s beside the point, but did you notice how many girls actually chose flowers? Zero. My daughter’s all-time favorite balloons have been a sword, a bow and arrow and a mermaid. By not offering the boys a flower, you sent them a message that flowers are not for boys. By not offering the girls a space gun, you sent the message that those toys are not for girls. Are you the first person to send this message? No. But that doesn’t mean you are correct, sir. Again, when you limit children, you limit children.
A few days later Laney Smith email me this:
“I know of at least half a dozen people who have emailed the magician to let him know that calling children sexy is not OK. I have not heard back from him again.
After much deliberation, I also talked further to my daughter about sexy. As with a lot of words that she is unfamiliar with, she didn’t really take note of it at the time. She had no idea what word he had used; she just remembered he was being silly. I wanted to give her the knowledge to understand that what he had said was not OK. I explained that he had called her sexy and asked if she knew what that meant. She didn’t. I explained that it is a word that grown-ups use to describe someone they like a lot and feel like they might like to spend a lot of time kissing them. She said, “my friends would think that’s gross and so do I!” She understood it’s not a word that makes sense to use for children and said, “But, mom, he was just being silly.” I told her that, yes, I think that was his goal, but there were other ways for him to be silly that didn’t involve using a very grown-up word for her.
I wanted her to know that I didn’t think he actually wanted to spend a lot of time kissing her, but rather he didn’t really think about what he was saying and what his words meant. I told her that I have been explaining it to him, so that he doesn’t keep calling other children sexy. I also reminded her that when someone, anyone, uses inappropriate words with her, it’s not HER fault.
If someone uses words like that with her again, I want her to recognize that they are not OK. I want her to be able to say to that person, “You shouldn’t be saying that to me; that’s not OK.”
I also want her to know that I will have her back. Always.”