When Do We Allow Our Girls To Partake in Commercialized Sexualization?

That is a serious question, when do we or when should we allow it? I hope your head and your heart are saying never, but often times that gate opens before we are ready or give our permission. How do you push back a marketing tidal wave? How do you keep your children from breathing toxic air?

The thing is, none of us are raising our children in a vacuum. They live in our homes and grow within our families, but they are also members of the culture at large and try as I might, I have no control over how other people raise their children or what media they decide to consume. I also don’t walk around protecting their ears or covering their eyes.

Case in point, while dropping my kids off at school today we were walking behind a first grade girl wearing this backpack featuring the Winx Club.

Winx backpack seen at school this morning, on the back of a six year old girl.

Winx backpack seen at school this morning, on the back of a six year old girl.

Why would you send your young child to her place of learning with THAT on her back. What messages does that reinforce? Where are the Amelia Earhart and Maya Angelou backpacks? Why is it okay to sell adult sexuality to kids? If the actual six year old were dressed and posed like that on the internet people would be screaming about child pornography but because it is a cartoon, it is okay for the six year old? Folks, I just don’t get it.

Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.

You have to be blind not to see it.

Given what we know about how early sexualization harms young girls,  I cannot understand how parents allow this kind of imagery and media in their homes. Isn’t their some pause at the store, some alarm bell that sounds internally that says, “Ya know, my daughter is six years old and these characters are oozing adult sexuality. I need to tell her no and that we need to make a different pick.”

The problem is that this isn’t happening frequently enough and marketers then argue back to activists like me that they are just giving the people what they want. I mean, it is selling, right? But when sexualization is the only choice so widely available, how much of a choice do we have and can we be successful avoiding it? How much can parents be to blame? And why is it that many times we have to spend two to three times as much money on healthier options?

Our girls are being turned into mini-adult consumers at a fast and furious pace. Where is the respect for girlhood? Why are we in such a rush to grow these girls up? We’ve been talking about this for so long that I am now the second generation of parent to come behind trailblazers like Jean Kilbourne, Susan Linn, Sharon Lamb, Mary Pipher, Lyn Mikel Brown, Deb Tolman, and Diane Levin. I am continuing to carry the torch because over my dead body will my daughter get this as her definition of girlhood and femininity:

Bailey Richards Shoemaker took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

Bailey Richards Shoemaker took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

Things were not this far gone when I was a child. This is why the “But I did ______ and I turned out fine” argument never holds water. Our generation and those younger than us have always been swimming in the waters of objectification and sexualization to the point that they don’t realize when they are soaking wet. (Peggy Orenstein said this to me the other day.)

In fact, this great series of cartoons does an excellent job of pointing out just how much pop culture has changed for our girls, and how raunchy it has become. Please make sure you read the follow up post that goes with it.

So I do everything I can to keep the sexualized garbage away from my kids, but no one can do this with 100% success. And while today it is my almost-eight year old asking me about Monster High, soon it will be the bigger questions that come with raising bigger kids (like the one shared below).

As I parent my kids and respect their right to childhood I will continue to look this slide of sexualized and objectified sludge in the eye, stand toe to toe and say, “Oh HELL no.”

I do not accept this. Not for my kids. And hopefully, not for yours.


PPBB Community Member Question: My daughter is 12 and wanted to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I am against most fashion focused things for all the obvious reasons, so my first reaction was no way is she watching that. She mentioned that she’s recording it, so that got me to thinking this could be a great discussion point for dress and media. Can anyone point me in the direction of the Psychologist who spear headed the exposure of all the ugly sides of marketing? Also any thing else that might help me have a good conversation with her.

Models from the Victoria's Secret 2013 fashion show.

Models from the Victoria’s Secret 2013 fashion show.

Melissa’s answer: I think you are smart to turn it into a conversation starter instead of a stopper by saying “no way”. My first reaction would be “no way” as well, but then we need to dig deeper and allow our kids to learn media literacy skills and resiliency to these messages marketed to them.
Ask her why she wants to watch the show and why it is important to her, maybe it is because Taylor Swift is performing. Not by accident, mind you, because VS desperately wants brand loyalty out of Swift’s young fan base.

I would make a deal with her. She can watch the VS show, but only after she watches Miss Representation or Killing Us Softly by Jean Kilbourne (I think this might be the person you were thinking of) with you.
You can find Miss Rep here: http://film.missrepresentation.org/watch-film
And Killing Us Softly 1-4 here: https://www.youtube.com/results…

If, at 12yo, she is grown up enough to handle one of those documentaries then she is old enough to handle the VS show. I would tell her that your concern with her watching the VS show is that as she reaches puberty and her body starts to look more womanly you don’t want her growing with the idea that there is only one way that women can be beautiful. The ideal height of a Victoria’s Secret Model is 5’9” standing barefoot with body measurements of 34-24-34.
I would expose the ugly side of what the VS models go through to look that way, despite looking glamorous and sexy for cameras. A good, scary read: http://www.stylelist.com/read/the-honest-often-ugly-truth-about-teenage-modeling/

I would Google some of the models names like Jessica Hart or Adriana Lima, then I would Google that name (model + no makeup) to see what they really look like.

Finally, I would review with her the findings of the APA Task Force: http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx

And if, after all this, she still wants to watch the show I’d let her. I guarantee you she’ll no longer enjoy it because you’ll have shifted the way she sees those things forever.







Brave Girls Want Dolls That Do Not Originate In or Reflect Porn Culture – NSFW

A guest post by Charlotte Kugler

*Editor’s Note: Given a contentious facebook discussion this morning, I want to make it clear that myself, Charlotte, and much of the PPBB community understands there are boys and men who enjoy MLP and are great, non-pervy guys. This post isn’t about them.

As a student at Mount Holyoke, a women’s liberal arts college in western Massachusetts, I’ve done a lot of thinking in recent years about feminism and the evolving role of women and girls in American society. A lot of my friends are involved in geek subculture, which is made up of people who are passionate about a variety of hobbies and interests such as anime, books, comics, cosplaying, tabletop roleplaying, and fantasy and science fiction franchises. The term for the fans of any particular fictional work is  “fandom,” and as happens in mainstream culture as well, girls and women in fandom subcultures are often marginalized.

A popular television show among college-aged geeks these days is My Little Pony, which was initially marketed towards young girls with positive messages about friendship and kindness. People my age sometimes re-watch favorite TV series from their childhoods (or other children’s shows that they haven’t seen before) as a way to relax or because they find it fun. However, the adult fandom for My Little Pony is largely composed of men who call themselves “bronies” and who watch the show to mock it, or in worse cases, to actively oppose its female-centric messages and to corrupt its wholesomeness. Some bronies make pornographic art of the characters, called fan art, and write pornographic stories featuring them, called fan fiction. Not all fan art and fan fiction is necessarily pornographic in nature; in fact, much of it isn’t, especially within the fandoms of children’s shows. But when adults deliberately pornify children’s products and media for their own consumption, not only does this severely detract from the purpose of the show— in the case of My Little Pony, to teach young girls about how to be good people—but it also sets up an inappropriate and sometimes dangerous situation on the Internet. How many mothers know that if their daughters or sons do a Google search for the character names in My Little Pony, they may inadvertently stumble upon pornographic pictures? Yes, there is Pinkie Pie porn, in keeping with Rule 34.

What does this porn look like? Take a guess! The recently-launched line of toys called Equestria Girls feature humanized versions of the pony characters. These figures are highly sexualized and are designed to appeal to the media-engendered desire of many girls these days to look and act more grown up than they are. These dolls bear a striking resemblance to some of the pornography drawn by male adult fans of My Little Pony in which the ponies are humanized in order to be able to perform sexually. Little girls are playing with dolls that through coincidence or design now look like actual pornography on the Internet, with clothing and attitudes that may later turn up on the Internet as well, in Facebook selfies. These dots bear connecting. Toy companies succeed in increasingly blurring the line between childhood and adulthood, and contribute to the overall mainstreaming of porn culture.

Girls deserve to grow up free from the stereotyped and sexualized versions of girlhood and female gender roles marketed by corporations like the one behind Equestria Girls…and Monster High, and Winx Club, et cetera. They deserve to be encouraged to explore all of the interests and opportunities that boys are able to investigate as children without limitation based on their gender. They also deserve to enter adolescence not suffering already from low self-esteem, poor body image and eating disorders, and unhealthy views of sexuality, which can all result when society pushes young girls to define themselves according to what boys and men expect of them.

I’m so happy to see that my mother (Lori Day) and Melissa Wardy and so many other adults care about this issue and have even formed an organization to directly address it called Brave Girls Alliance (www.bravegirlswant.com). I know what brave girls want. They want dolls that do not originate in or reflect porn culture!


Charlotte Kugler

Charlotte Kugler is a 21-year-old senior at Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts. She is double-majoring in English and Anthropology and will be applying to graduate schools this fall in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Communications. Charlotte is the contributing author to the upcoming book Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, written with her mother, Lori Day.


Melissa’s notes:

The parallels that Charlotte draws in her post from porn culture to children’s media is something that greatly concerns me as a parent. I want you to view these images and look for similarities in apparel, shoes, posts, hair, facial expressions, body shape, etc. The line between porn and childhood is very blurred indeed.

Here is a fun game to play: Put Hugh Hefner in the line up of any of these “toys” ensembles. Does he look out of place? Does that sentence alone make your head explode? If Hugh Hefner doesn’t look out of place standing in line with children’s toys, what does that say about children’s toys?

These images are from the Playboy Mansion, Monster High, Esquestria Girls, strip club billboards in Los Angeles and London, Winx Club, and a Halloween costume superstore website. The fact they could all be layered on top of each other and not look dissimilar should have you thinking critically about the media and products being sold to our children, and the overall message being given about the value and worth of the female body.

Want to be part of making change? Support the fundraising campaign of the Brave Girls Alliance, where we are taking these messages about healthier media and products for girls to the heart of Times Square: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/brave-girls-invade-times-square/x/3977451

We are nearly 70% funded and have only a week left! We want to take YOUR voices to the billboards of Times Square and work together to say ENOUGH!