Wednesday, May 28, 2008

** Author Event - The Lolita Effect**

Recently, I was driving to pick up my daughter from preschool and watched as a group of girls in middle school were walking home. They couldn’t have been more than 13 but they were dressed in outfits more suitable for 20 year olds on a night out clubbing. This all brings in to mind the scandal about Miley Cyrus and her racy Vanity Fair photos. Is it appropriate to photograph a 15 year old girl topless wearing nothing but a bedsheet? The photographer and Vanity Fair editors all contend that these are beautiful artistic pictures. But Miley Cyrus herself admits to being uncomfortable during the shoot and even more so in seeing the end result. While the photographer states that she spoke to Miley about the shoot and that her parents were there and all agreed that it was a great way to take her picture, one cannot help but wonder if anybody thought about the appropriateness of showing an underage girl in such a sexy and risqué pose. Did anyone stop and think, hey, she is only 15! Miley is a role model for millions of girls in this country who faithfully watch her Disney channel show, Hannah Montana. But now, she is another aspect of the sexualized marketing geared towards young girls in this country.

Dr. Gigi Durham has a term for this. She calls it the Lolita Effect and now has a new book out by Overlook Press titled, The Lolita Effect, The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What we can Do About It. To understand what she means by the Lolita Effect, we need to dissect the original Lolita by Nabakov and compare it against the contemporary use of the term. Dr. Durham points out that todays usage of the term Lolita is to define a girl who is a walking taboo, an overly sexualized girl who is by legal definition too young for sex. Thus the term Lolita indicates a “deliberate sexual provocateur.” But the original Lolita was nothing like this. She was an innocent girl who was the powerless victim of her stepfather, who was an adult sexual predator. Quite a different meaning from what has become of the term. And so it is similar to the mainstream corporate media construct of sex and sexuality being pushed onto the mindsets of young girls. These images are out there to “serve their own market needs and profit motives, and they are powerfully alluring, especially to the young girls whose vulnerability they exploit…Rather than offering girls … thoughtful, open-minded, progressive, and ethical understandings about sexuality, our media and our culture have produced a gathering of ‘prostitots’ – hypersexualized girls whose cultural presence has become a matter of heated public controversy. This is the Lolita Effect.”

In her book, Dr. Durham criticizes the media for its sexual representations aimed at the young. She states that studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and other research organizations show that sexual content aimed at children has increased steadily since the 1990s. Think about the rise of MTV, the popularity of Britney Spears and her sex kittenish look, tweens with plenty of disposable income and you can see how this group became a new consumer base for marketers. According to the market research firm Euromonitor, by 2007, 8 to 12 year olds’ consumer spending was $170 billion worldwide.

When asked why she thinks there is so much sexualized marketing towards young girls, Dr. Durham states that it is a growing problem fueled by marketer’s efforts to create cradle-to-grave consumers. She states that “A lot of very sexual products are being marketed to very young kids. I'm criticizing the unhealthy and damaging representations of girls' sexuality, and how the media present girls' sexuality in a way that's tied to their profit motives. The body ideals presented in the media are virtually impossible to attain, but girls don't always realize that, and they'll buy an awful lot of products to try to achieve those bodies. There's endless consumerism built around that."

In her book, she discusses five myths of sexuality perpetuated by mainstream media facing our girls:

1. If you’ve got it, flaunt it – skimpy clothes and the myth that “sexy” means to bare as much skin as they can.
2. Anatomy of a sex goddess – The perfect Barbie body.
3. Pretty babies – tarting up little girls to look sexy.
4. Violence is sexy – the rise of the slasher films and other gratuitous violence against women in media
5. What boys like – the media messages that bombard our girls is all about how to please the boys.

All of these myths are based on media reinforcement of emphasizing the importance of looking sexy and hot. In our media oversaturated environment, how can we combat these myths? Dr. Durham discusses the implications of these myths and offers strategies to help girls analyze and challenge them.

I read Lolita Effect in one sitting, nodding my head in agreement and shaking my head in disgust. It reminds us of all that we have to fear for our daughters but it also provides smart advice and information on what we must do to combat the problem. The time is ripe now for all of us to make a change. We have a responsibility to speak with our daughters, our sons, our grandchildren, with our students and our friends, and talk to them frankly about healthy sexuality. We must do something to combat the harmful messages of the media and corporate marketers. Dr. Durham has sounded a call to arms. We have a responsibility now to educate our girls, debunk these myths and empower them with new, healthy views of themselves. Today Dr. Durham is here to answer your questions. To start it all off, she was kind enough to answer a few of mine first:

Ello: Hi Dr. Durham. Thank you so much for being here today and agreeing to answer questions from our readers. One of the things that really struck me in your book is that you discuss the issue of the Disney cartoon heroines being so scantily clad like the Little Mermaid walking around in a sea shell bra and Pocahontas in a scanty buckskin dress. Comparatively, the male counterpart is always fully dressed. You further state that in general, you can see that Disney princesses all have large breasts, tiny waists and long legs. Just like Barbie dolls. On top of this, I heard in an interview that you mentioned that little girls watching a movie like Cinderella would have lower self esteem after watching it then a movie like Fantasia that had dancing hippos. This is troubling to me. What we are hearing is that it isn’t just the MTV videos and the Bratz dolls but something as classic as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty that can cause self esteem issues. It is easy to point to Britney Spears or the girls in the MTV videos and say why it their clothes are inappropriate. It is less easy to do for a Disney princess. When every little girl wants to be a princess, what can we as parents do to combat the underlying negative message?

Dr. Durham: The best thing we can do as parents is give girls a multidimensional view of girlhood. Because of our culture and the media emphasis on the "princess" model of girlhood, every girl is infatuated with princesses. Rather than make that a taboo, our job is to broaden their horizons so that they realize that girls can be astronauts, forest rangers, and poets, and that princesses belong in fairy-tales. There are wonderful books and movies that explore alternative possibilities, from the fabulous Dora the Explorer to the long-beloved Pippi Longstocking to films like Akeelah and the Bee for older girls. In addition, we can discuss the princess imagery with our girls, asking questions like, "Wouldn't it be hard to ride a horse in a long gown like that?" Or, "Wow, she's so skinny. Could anyone in real life have a waist that small and still breathe?" (My own daughters understand clearly that cartoon bodies are nothing like real-life ones!) Finally, we should compliment girls on things other than their appearance, praising them for their intelligence, artistic abilities, athletic skills, and other aspects of their personalities. It's important to make it clear that the "princess" image is not one that works for real-life girls, and to make them feel really good about their real-world attributes and capabilities.

Ello: What about the boys? A lot of what you say in your book about helping girls understand the exploitation of media and the unrealities of the Barbie body is excellent advice, but as you point out, it is also an important conversation to have with boys. But society has long had a double standard on how boys and girls are treated. Is discussing these issues with boys enough? What can we do change the double standard?

Dr. Durham: Staying in dialogue with kids and sharing your values is the best thing you can do to sensitize both boys and girls to these issues. But talking back to media corporations is a good move, too. Demanding alternatives to violent video games, for example, or challenging the highly gendered imagery in advertising can bring about positive changes, in time. (Game makers are now realizing that nonviolent games like the Nintendo Wii are highly profitable!) Male activists like Jackson Katz and Byron Hurt conduct workshops for teenage boys and young men about confronting harmful concepts of masculinity, and their websites are terrific resources for parents of boys: www.jacksonkatz.com and www.bhurt.com

Ello: In connection with the issue of the double standards of boys and girls, you raise an issue of violence against women that has been rising in recent films and that boys and men are the targeted audience for these slasher films. And you raise a valid point that it isn’t that these films are increasing violence against women, but that it is reinforcing the environment of violence that already exists. What else can we do to help protect our girls?

Dr. Durham: This is a huge issue. As the writer and activist Jackson Katz points out, girls are not causing the violence. He focuses on helping good men take a public stand against violence against women. We can try to raise these issues in schools so that boys are as aware of the problem as girls are. We can develop community-based responses to violence, similar to Neighborhood Watch programs. We can make sure girls take self-defense classes so that they can protect themselves in the event of an attack. We can boycott the "gore-nography" that symbolically brutalizes girls and women. But the problem has social roots that will take a long time to address and change. We all need to be active in this effort.

Ello: Yes I completely agree. In fact I enrolled my girls in tae kwondo classes for this very same reason. I think my last two questions point us really towards a call to arms so to speak. We as a society should rise up together to battle the media conglomerates and big businesses for the sake of our girls and boys. For by helping our girls, we teach our boys to be better men. Do you think it can be done? Do you think we can effect change?

Dr. Durham: I truly do believe this can be done. The first step is recognizing the problem, talking about it publicly, and developing a consciousness that will lead to widespread action. This is how all major social movements have happened: if people hadn't believed in change, there would have been no Civil Rights movement. There would be no polio vaccine. I do believe in the human spirit as a force for change; as the anthropologist Margaret Mead (one of my heroes) said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Thanks Dr. Durham! We are now open for questions. Dr. Durham will start answering and responding to all questions and comments posted today. She will begin in the morning and will take an afternoon break from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm for her class. She will be continue to answer questions through the night so please don’t hold back! And thank you all for coming by today for this very important discussion.

131 comments:

Lisa said...

Ello, thank you for hosting Dr. Durham and Dr.Durham, thank you for taking our questions.

I frequently see girls as young as five, six and seven wearing what I can only describe as very adult clothing, makeup, nail polish and jewelry. They are clearly very aware of and concerned with how they look. Do you have any theories as to why mothers allow this? And I don't know if this is a different topic entirely, but what about mothers who enter children as young as babies into the beauty pageant circuit? What's going on with that?

SzélsőFa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SzélsőFa said...

After having read Ello's brilliant introduction and the first paragraph of your dialugoe -
First of all, thank you Ello and Dr. Durham for the chance to seriously talk about issues like these.
In Hungary, the world (and fake imaginery) of Disney Pictures is awfully popular.
Me and DH as parents instictively did what you suggest: we pointed out that the princesses' body were not appropriate for normal activities, that their breasts are inappropriate to their height and weight and so on.

Parents do have to make effort into seeking alternative ways of entertainment.
We are not supposed to gulp down everything the media suggests. The media is no way to help the normal way of people, it is not there to support us!

These were my first thoughts, I'm back to read the rest of the article.

SzélsőFa said...

Re:violence
I see a definite connection between the rise of violence against women AND their over-sexualisation.

I think the root of the problem is the lack of respect towards women. Giving birth, nurturing the baby both inside the womb and outside, via nursing, getting a womanly shape is no longer a high praised value.
Women are considered articles, and womanhood as a concept has got lost somewhere.

Stephen Parrish said...

I too would like to thank Ello and Dr. D for taking time to do this. I have a twelve-year-old daughter and my ear is to the ground, so to speak. My question is, what is the ultimate cause of the problem?

When Mattel launched Barbie, were they influencing culture, or merely reacting to it? Did Britney say, "This will work," or did she say, "I'm going to make my mark on little girls."

Madonna's day is probably over, but her influence was profound. In fact, you can go all the way back to Mata Hari (an exotic dancer by profession) to document "media" influences on girls. Are they the cause or were they just caught up in it too?

My daughter is very well balanced, for which I feel lucky. But I wince at some of the clothes her friends wear. Are the clothes an attempt by designers to manipulate culture, or are the designers merely responding to market demand?

And if the latter, does capitalism and a free market excuse their behavior?

Sorry to be long-winded, but I've been looking forward to this post.

JaneyV said...

I've been staring at this cursor flashing in front of me for ages now trying to organise my thoughts into something coherent.

First of thank you so much Ello for hosting this discussion and to you Dr Durham for bringing this debate into focus for us

We've all, as parents, walked into a clothes store and seen totally inappropriate clothing for girls as young as 6 or 7. Panties with slogans written on them like Lush or Who Needs Credit Cards.... I've even heard (though I haven't seen any) that they make thongs for 7 year-olds. Cut-off tops and teeny-tiny mini-skirts round off the most deeply depressing fashion trend ever. A blogger I visit said she was out clubbing one evening and she saw girls as young as 14 out in tiny tight tops and skirts so short she could actually see bare bottoms. This woman is thirty (which I think is still very young) and she said she wanted to give those silly little girls a big hug, wrap them up in a wooly cardigan and tell them a few home truths about the kind of men who would be attracted to young girls dressed up like that. But she was wary of the reception she'd get so she didn't.

So my question is if young girls think that this is what boys like ..... is this also what our young boys are being told they should like? It seems to me the body ideal has changed so staggeringly over the last 20 years that the fashion industry and marketing people must also be influencing the expectations of what makes a woman beautiful, in young men too. I have a teenage boy and an almost 11-year-old girl. I want to make sure my son grows up with realistic ideas of women and to be respectful of us and I've realised that's what I want for my daughter too. I feel they are being swamped by negative imagery. I am horrified by Pop-videos showing sleezy men with practically naked women gyrating around them. It makes me so angry. I need to ask WHY do these young girls think this is a career choice??? And why do very young girls feel attracted to these images of women at all. When I was growing up I would have judged these women very harshly. What has changed culturally to make this mainstream and acceptable?

It's a very emotional topic. I have no doubt as the discussion moves on more issues will be raised.

laughingwolf said...

while i agree, one must not forget the exploitation of boys, as well

not only by sexual predators, but also the same media manipulators

so-called 'music' [rap, etc] where misogyny still runs rampant, for the most part, and video games, now producing greater profits than the film/tv/music industries combined

my son and daughters were born in the 80s, all were greatly influenced by what has been said

thank you ello and dr.durham....

The Quoibler said...

Ello and Dr. Durham:

This is fascinating material, and I think a certain blogger (that would be ME) will be buying a copy of the book asap!

One problem I've noticed is that contemporary fashion designers offer very few attractive AND modest outfits for young girls, adolescent gals and even women. It drives me absolutely crazy to walk into a store and have to decide whether I want to look like a streetwalker or a prude.

Do you think this is likely to change in the future? Or will we all be resigned to haunting vintage fashion shops where the clothing tends to be better made and less revealing?

Angelique

Anonymous said...

Such an important topic, thanks to you both.

Let's hit exploiters where it hurts, in the wallet. Whenever I take my daughters shopping and find, say, leopard print bikini underpants for 6-year-olds or Playboy Bunny t-shirts for tweens, I gather all of the merchandise and bring it to the manager. I tell him (so far, it's always been a man), that unless these items are removed from the floor, I will no longer shop the store and I will tell all of my friends no to either. My children learn from watching that they have a voice and are encouraged to use it.

What do you suggest, other than talking to our children, Dr. Durham, that we as parents should do to combat the sexualization of our children?

Amy

The Quoibler said...

Ello:

FYI -- I'm going to give this post a shout out on my eating disorders blog, Breaking the Mirror (www.breakingthemirror.com). Hopefully, that will attract some new visitors and make the discussion even more pertinent!

Angelique

Bernita said...

All I can say is a hearfelt thank you and amen, Ello and Dr.
My daughters are grown.
One thing we also emphasized to them was the difference between a harmless fad and a dangerous one, and always explained our reasons behind refusing to allow them the latest.

Ello said...

I think these are fascinating questions and look forward to the discussion on this. Laughingwolf said let's not forget the boys. AMEN! We have to educate our boys also. They are part of the equation, painted with the same media brush - bombarded with the message tht girls are only good for one thing and how sexy a girl looks is more important then any other aspect of their personality. I commend those parents who make a deliberate attempt to show boys the danger of this message but in many cases we still have the double standard of boys thinking that some girls are marrying girls and some are just to fool around with.

Mary Witzl said...

I am so glad to know that there is a book like this out. Several years ago my husband and I went to a local bookstore to try and find a book like this one. We looked everywhere but could find nothing that showed how girls were exploited and degraded by the media and pop culture.

When our daughters were still very young, my husband and I read Dr Mary Pipher's 'Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.' We were both very impressed by this book and worried about the pressure our girls might feel when they were older, given the power of the media. Because of this -- and for other reasons too -- we decided to get rid of our t.v., keeping to only DVDs and videos of our choosing. We don't forbid our kids from watching t.v. at their friends' houses, but we do encourage them to talk to us about what they see -- and to look and think critically about it. We want to think this has worked: they are both independent-minded and reject most of the fashions that make us cringe. They are often as repelled by the kind of clothes you have mentioned here that sexualize underage girls.

My question is, what do you think of limiting t.v. or getting rid of it altogether? We have come under so much criticism from friends and family members who feel that we are making things socially difficult for our girls by 'denying' them t.v. They are now 17 and 13 and have both seen movies with a fair amount of sex and violence, but we always watch movies WITH them and make sure to discuss them afterwards. Have there been any studies done that support our decision not to have a t.v., or are we as out-of-it as our families seem to think? We have noticed that none of us understand a lot of pop references that everyone else gets. Miley Cyrus, for instance -- I had to google her...

jason evans said...

Thanks Ello and Dr. Durham for such a vital discussion! We have two young girls, so we are currently moving into this stage and it's issues.

Although hitting the issue of female sexualization head on is a necessary beginning point, I am concerned about the deeper issues. Men are bombarded with purported rules of attraction also. But beyond that, I think about the why. Why are these sexualized images so effective in our culture? Why do they sell so many products? Why are we even having this conversation?

I believe that American culture suffers from a deep repression of sexuality. We want things privately, but pretend not to want them publicly. In a group, we poo-poo things that we would grasp onto in private. That kind of pervasive tension can't hold. The pressure bursts out in tangential, and destructive ways. Perhaps if honest, natural sexuality and attraction were accepted publicly, we won't need Brittany Spears (in her pre-train wreck incarnation). Really, when you step back and look objectively, Brittany Spears is a caricature, a cartoon. When people look at the mutated images, it sparks those dark secrets we don't want to admit. The confusion boils out into a conflicted and polarized culture.

I guess my bottom line is that children should be allowed to developed into their sexual maturity in due course. However, we, as adults, are ill equipped to lead them. We haven't reached our sexual maturity either.

Rick said...

Gosh, you mean corporations would cynically exploit girls in order to hustle merchandise?

The layers, though, are complicated. I am totally cynical about Miley Cyrus suddenly discovering she was "uncomfortable." Dollars to donuts that to Miley it was all just another day on the job. She's an actress. One day the director tells to strike a teaselicious pose, she strikes one, looking as teaselicious as she can. Next day the director hands her a script about how she's offended, she reads it as convincingly as she can.

Everyone came out a winner. Does anyone doubt that this issue of Vanity Fair (how appropriate!) sold like hotcakes? Disney - with its long history of bringing up young actresses from its farm system who have more than the usual teething troubles when they hit the majors - gets a twofer. They get to play shocked and offended, trotting out Miley to read their script. But hey, this middle aged male now knows exactly who Miley Cyrus is.

I don't know whether Miley Cyrus comes out of it ahead or not. Her career got a big SRB booster whomp, 3.5 million pounds of thrust to boot her into the stratosphere; if she can get second stage ignition she is go for orbit. As a girl? Lindsay Lohan is kind of burning up on re-entry, but kids can be resilient, and maybe Miley will have better luck.

Fore sure, though, the American hypocrisy machine, in all its various flavors, gets to toot the calliope. For our whole culture this is a twofer - we get to ogle a pretty teenager, then feel smug about it afterwards instead of vaguely embarrassed.

Rant mode, sorry, but I really think this is deep rooted in the culture, the Cyrus kerfuffle being an all too typical illustration. The Borg even assimilates Dr. Durham, because if I were corporate America, I'd feel as if her book, with that provocative cover, was an inadvertent addition to my marketing campaign. Controversy!

March to the Sea said...

well my daugher..a big fan of Hannah is also a fan of dancing w/the stars. She LOVES it..and those are some pretty..ummm..interesting outfits.

Ello said...

Rick - great rant! ANd I would agree with you except that Miley is only 15 and so how she feels about what she was doing before the event had to be guided by the people she looks up to. At 15 we do alot of stupid things and we look to our parents and other adult figures to steer us the right way. But here no one remembered her age and you are absolutely right in that everyone profited - possibly even Miley in the long run careerwise - but in the process they have let all her young fans down and done girls all over the world a great disservice.

Robyn said...

Ello, thank you for bringing up this wonderful book, and I'm going to link to you on my blog today.

Society is always going to push, but I feel as a parent it's my job to push back. Since I hold the purse strings, it's up to me to JUST SAY NO. I wonder how many of these girls in the tween sex worker clothes have mothers who are afraid to say no to their little darlings.

Ello said...

I understand the need for activism - but when does activism become censorship? AMericans especially are a very puritannical lot. Right wing conservatives would love to send our country back into the dark ages of chastity belts and locking girls up in ivory towers. We can't censor expression no matter how unseemly we might think it is.

Ello said...

I meant to say that was a devil's advocate point!

Ello said...

Robyn, you bring up an excellent point! Parents do have control, but are they becoming too indulgent or do they really think these clothes appropriate? I wonder about this!

Trish Ryan said...

Wow, what a fabulous book...thank you Ello and thank you Dr. Durham!

I'd also be curious to read your thoughts on why parents allow their children to dress like this?

debra said...

Thanks for an important and necessary discussion.
My daughters are 16 and almost 20. They are both athletes, the younger a swimmer and the older an equestrian.
We've always discussed the issues you have addressed with our girls and have taken every opportunity to examine them. When #1 daughter was about 13, she asked if her muscular thighs were fat. So we began a discussion about strong, muscular bodies, and the importance of caring for ourselves. She was always aware to whom the cereal, for example, was being marketed.
Over sexualizing children is a huge problem, and finding appropriate clothing for young girls must be especially challenging. Countering media messages requires constant vigilance.
I am so glad that you have given voice to the concerns of many parents.

cindy said...

thank you ello and dr. durham, what a fascinating and very important topic for all of us to consider and discuss.

i do believe that the trend has gone toward sexier and younger for girls. you can see it even at prom time, when they are doing much more grown up things such as going in to get their hair / makeup / nails done like it's their wedding.

what about the my sweet sixteen parties (i've seen the commercials on mtv and saw one episode--that party was more elaborate than my own wedding!) which just seemed too extravagant for someone so young.

as a parent, you see from toddler age how parents want to give give and give or how they cannot say no. perhaps this leads to a "every other girl is wearing it, so why not, it's harmless" mentality.

i grew up with the likes of debbie gibson and tiffany. they wore mommy jeans and plaid shirts. how things have changed within two decades time--madonna or not!

i'm just hoping that parents will come to realize this is an important issue that they need to be made aware. our children need our guidance and we need to help set boundaries.

Rick said...

Jason - yep, this is 'Murrica. Are we sexually "immature" as a culture, though, or is this just the way we are? Asking us to be more like the French is a nonstarter. (It hasn't even worked for Canadians, except the ones who were French to begin with.)

Cultures can and do change, but on their own terms. You're never going to desexualize American girls, or convince American men not to ogle 'em, but it can play out in ways that put more or less pressure on girls.

Some of the things pushed on women and girls, though, have nothing to do with male tastes - anexoric thinness comes to mind. The American male's fantasy image may not realistic, but we have a significant bias toward women who actually do have physical bodies.

Ello - I would love to think that someone Miley Cyrus loves and trusts sat her down and said more gently what I did - that both the photo shoot and the uproar are a PR game, that she has the right to feel however she wants, including mixed feelings, and that neither the pictures nor the lines Disney tells her to say are her. Maybe she's a smart kid who has figured it out on her own.

The uproar, though, did more damage than the pictures - without the uproar, most of us would never have known about them, and tween girls are not the Vanity Fair demographic. Of course, the uproar was surely the point of the whole exercise. Prettier women show more skin in every issue.

Erica Orloff said...

Ello:
I don't allow my tween to dress like that, but your devil's advocate position is actually where I stand on this. I don't have to buy the merchandise. I don't have to watch crap on TV. there is an off button. My tween LOVES DeGrassi. Guess what? She doesn't get to watch it. My kids are not allowed to use the Internet except in my office (I work from home) while I am there. They have AIM to write to their friends, but they know I can come up at ANY time and ask the person they are speaking with. Parents need to be parents. That said, I don't feel demanding CDs and mechandise conform to MY family is appropriate. Because once you start down that slippery slope, you have book burners and record burners. You end up with people uncomfortable with sexuality, which is part of our human makeup, deciding what is "appropriate." We live in a capitalist world. Use your wallet. But be a parent.

E

Precie said...

Ello--Thank you so much for hosting this.

Dr. Durham--Thank you so much for such a timely, articulate and much needed book!! Like ello, I found myself nodding constantly as I read...nodding in both shared recognition and frustration. I hope many, many parents and educators and marketing professionals and corporations read your book and take to heart your observations. It seems sadly inevitable that the sexual objectification of women in our image-driven society trickles down to younger and younger audiences.

Your responses to ello include an excellent point about how non-violent Wii games can sell well. So here's a question. While parents are certainly critical to the healthy development of children (female and male), what can we do outside the home to counteract these dangerous and pervasive myths?

(I sort of love Amy's comment about how she brings offensive children's clothing to the manager and explains that she won't shop there unless such material is removed. What a great public stand!)

Sarah Hina said...

The "Princess" and "Bratz" phenomena seem to survive because parents and advertisers see them as "safe" outlets for sexuality. Of course, they're skewed, and destructive, representations of femininity when girls start idealizing them, and trying to copy them. But the Disney princesses, especially, are packaged in mind-numbing abstractions about "following your dreams" and "girls can be heroines, too!" It's confusing, I think, for parents, and purposefully so.

These "girl-power" messages often manipulate parents and kids into thinking that these cartoon women are role models. And the platitudes can be vaguely empowering. But are we, and our kids, really to take them seriously when they're spoken by such flawless, starry-eyed creatures? There's little struggle for understanding on either end, and too much mindless acceptance. The message is frequently hollow.

I think it's fine to allow our kids to embrace the playthings that their friends love, too, as long as we are tenacious about pointing out the inconsistencies in their images and how much more powerful "real-life" bodies are. As for clothing, age-appropriate is the best choice, and still very possible to find and buy.

Thanks for the discussion, Dr. Durham and Ello! It's proving to be very enlightening.

M. Gigi Durham said...

Hi, everyone! First, let me say that I am so impressed by the passionate and thoughtful responses to Ellen's blog. Thank you all for writing!
There are so many issues being brought up here, I don't know where to start. But let me address a question that a couple of you have asked, which is, "What's up with parents? Why are they letting their girls dress and act like this?" The answer in general is that many parents have also bought into the media's constructions of ideal femininity and sexuality. They don't have any critical distance from these representations; they have "gulped down" (as Szélsőfa smartly put it) the media rhetoric that these versions of femininity are empowering, and they want that for their daughters. They don't have a way to recognize how disempowering the pursuit of this version of female sexuality is, especially for little girls. So what's needed is a more widespread emphasis on media literacy education, for parents and kids -- a social consciousness-raising, which is what I'm trying to do in my book.

I'd also like to address Stephen Parrish's point about the media simply responding to consumer demands. In truth, that's the furthest thing from what they do, although they want us to believe they are simply reflecting and responding to the market. Little girls don't emerge from the womb wanting to wear sequined hot-pants and lace camisoles. Who knows what they would wear, left to their own imaginations? Probably something comfortable and fun. But in the contemporary media and marketing industries, the prevailing strategy is to create consumer needs for the products they want to sell. And along with creating these needs, they sell ideologies -- of gender, of consumerism, and so on. For example, take a product like spray-on tanning lotion. If you think about it, no one really needs a tan. But the marketers have pushed a cultural ideal of beauty that includes a supposedly "perfect" skin color that can only be safely attained by consuming certain products. In the same way, they are pushing certain concepts of femininity and fashion on consumers; they are convincing youn girls that these are desirable ways of presenting themselves. These constructed versions of female sexuality are tied to the well-being of multi-billion dollar fashion, cosmetics, and diet industries, not to the well-being of girls.

M. Gigi Durham said...

Oops, sorry for the typo -- should have been "young girls" in that last paragraph!

Patti said...

wow, i have been hollering about this for years. as a gal who grew up with a pack of boys i have seen this issue with different eyes. every chance i get i talk to girls about what it means to buy into what others thrust upon them. i talk to them about thinking critically about the images that are prevalent in our society and what it would mean to them and those behind them to reject a reality someone else wants for them.

thanks ello. great post.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, already a lot of great questions and discussion here. I'll hold off asking a question until I hear the answers to these. One point in the comments that particularly made me take notice was how the manufactures seem to offer only the extremes for clothing, either very unmodest or prudish. It shows how interrelated the issue is with every fact of life.

One point, it actually seems to me that slasher flicks are somewhat on the decline from the 80s and early 90s, and that what we are seeing more strongly is the rise of the "kick-ass" heroine, like with movies such as Resident Evil and Laura Croft, and the new Bionic woman and Sarah Conner Chronicles TV shows. I wonder what effect this will have.

Ello said...

Thanks Dr. Durham, That is enlightening because one never thinks of it in that light.

But at the same time, parents have to be to blame also. Lisa mentioned beauty pageants. No one is driving these parents to enter the pageant circuit and yet they do so.

And why are these parents buying into the ideologies these corporate businesses are selling. Is it because people are that sheeplike and easily manipulated?

silken said...

what a great and timely discussion. there is so much to say that I don't know where to even begin. a few years ago I brought home a t-shirt for my daughter that I bought at wal-mart. I thought it would just be a cute little shirt to play in. when she put it on, even my son said "take that back!" it was fashioned to draw attention to the breast area (never mind she was too young to have breasts!) but that is the way it was designed and even my young son knew it! sad!!

I am wondering what folks have to say that are for these kinds of clothes, trends, etc. I mean, there have to be some if so much money is made off of it. do they find it innocent, cute, or just no big deal...?

personally I think the earlier we teach our girls better the easier it will be for them to avoid and fight against these things when they are older. and I think it is vital to include our boys in these teachings as well.

last summer I did an informal interview of teen boys at our church for a bible class that was being done. I asked them "what do you think of girls in bikinis?" I got quiet a response, they all wanted to let me know! very interesting.

I am hoping to get my hands on this book soon as I think it will be such a great asset to me as a parent and will be a great tool in my husband's ministry.

thanks so much for sharing this with us and taking time to discuss such an issue.

Ello said...

Don't worry everyone! She'll be back! She is checking periodically through the day and into the night.

M. Gigi Durham said...

One of the questions I'm seeing here is "What can we do about all this?" Of course, the most important thing is to stay in dialogue with your kids, help them to think critically about the media, and share your values and ideals. In the research I've done with girls, the ones who were the most clear-eyed, comfortable with themselves, and focused on things like going to college or volunteering in their communities, always gave their parents (or other caring adults) credit for helping them to put things in perspective. So, even if you don't think they're listening, they are! We are their most important influences, in the long run.

But there are lots of other things we can do. Talking back to media corporations is always an option, especially if we can do it en masse, as in a petition. We can also vote with our wallets and refuse to buy the sleazy, junky clothes they're touting so relentlessly. We can write to them about sexism in advertising and marketing. We can encourage girls to create their own media, which is something they love to do. (My own daughter recently wrote and shot a short film using our video camera.) I have a lot of concrete strategies for resistance in my book!

Mary Witzl asks if we should ban media altogether. While I do think parents have a responsibility to monitor kids' media use and set limits, I don't think it helps to keep kids in a bubble. Sooner or later they are going to have to deal with all this. So the best response is to give them the tools to control their media environment and develop healthy, balanced and analytical approaches to these messages.

Erica Orloff said...

Silken:
Can you clarify your point? Is there something inherently WRONG with a girl wearing a bikini? This is where I start to be concerned. When we become reactionary, somehow, and then what is an innocent swimsuit is invoked with immorality.

Stephen Parrish said...

The American male's fantasy image may not realistic, but we have a significant bias toward women who actually do have physical bodies.

Rick is making some good points here. Mattel expanded Barbie's waste in response to consumer input. Thanks Dr. D for responding directly to my question. I'm not suggesting the clothing manufacturers survey their clientele and design accordingly, I'm questioning whether the problem is that cultural icons serve as role models the clothing designers can't afford to ignore.

Robyn said...

Thank you for answering, Dr. Durham!

Ello, I also have to wonder how many moms are caught up in the "I must look sexy and perfect even while grocery shopping and so must spend thousands of dollars on surgery and botox" mindset, and so pass it on to their daughters.

Stephen Parrish said...

Sorry, they expanded her waist, not her waste.

Merry Monteleone said...

First, thank you Ello, for pointing me to the book, it'll be on my list at my next book buying excursion. Second, thank you, Dr. Durham, for taking the time to be here today.

Okay, thanks to a very thoughtful anonymous commenter, my own blog announcing this discussion turned to talk of censorship... I have to take the opposing view, it's not up to me to choose for anyone else or limit anyone else. I think our line in dealing with these issues is in raising our sons and daughters well and keeping the discussion open and constant among our friends and families. Once you start lobbying to have things taken off shelves or have media outlets remove programming, you're not solving the problem, you're hiding it. This is a whole issue onto it's own, though I'd love to see anyone else's take, I really had a few other things I wanted to talk about here.

First - the term Lolita. I think this is a primary example of how pervasive our social mindset is, and how unthinking we are in furthering the wrong images. Lolita in today's vernacular, as Ello pointed out, is a term for a young girl who is sexually precocious. It implies that the girl is the aggressor. In the book by Nabokov, that is the exact sentiment - OF THE PEDOPHILE!!! The consciensious reader knows the difference between fact and Humbert Humbert's vantage point. But by using the term in this way, society is once again putting the blame on the girl, the victim.

Just as a lot of people want to blame Miley Cyrus - she's 15. I don't care what her mindset is, she can't be held liable and doing so says more about the judgers than the judged.

If we want to stop violence against women, the first thing we have to do is stop attacking the victims.

Disney movies - I understand everyone's concern with the way these princesses are drawn, but I'm much more concerned with the messages in the stories than the way the characters actually look. Take Little Mermaid. I loved the movie, but look at the message: If you give up everything you have and all that you are, you too can have true love... Come on! What did Prince Eric give up? Bupkiss, that's what - it's not exactly promoting the idea of equality in relationships, is it?

Most fairy tales and good deal of straight romance have these issues front and center. I think the biggest thing I want to get across to my daughter is not, real people don't look like that, but real people don't act like that. And, don't wait around on the sidelines until prince charming comes to rescue you - Learn to save yourself and then you'll be ready to be someone's equal - never their underling.

I can go on about the responsibility in raising boys too, but I think this comment has probably been long enough.

Ello said...

Stephen - yes you are right but isn't there a chicken before the egg problem inherent here? Aren't the role models created by the media in the first place?

Ello said...

Merry - excellent point and I think one that Dr. Durham makes in her book as well. Clearly we have to expand the dimensions of our girls beyond the preconceived notions of sexpot and housewife. One of her chapters talks exactly about multi-dimensionality and applauding it in our girls. I do think that is the correct response to handling the media circus and their pushing down our throats the wrong role models.

Erica Orloff said...

ello:

"created by the media" . . . .

I think, again, it's dangerous to go down a slippery slope here in looking at this. We need to draw a distinction between MARKETING (such as the wonderful people who make cigarettes seem glamorous and focus ad campaigns), and the media.

Marketers create ad campaigns. The media can create a frenzy . . . but again, you have to not see the "media" as this cohesive unit acting in accord. They aren't all in a room saying, "Let's create sexualized images of girls and promote them to the downfall of civilization and the sale of our magazine." If no one ever bought another STAR magazine, never logged onto Perez Hilton, etc., it would go away. The media is a lot more amorphous, with looser boundaries. WE are part of the equation, and it goes hand in hand. We feed off them, they feed off us.

And the distinction with marketing is an important one.

E

jason evans said...

Dr. Durham, you say: But in the contemporary media and marketing industries, the prevailing strategy is to create consumer needs for the products they want to sell. And along with creating these needs, they sell ideologies -- of gender, of consumerism, and so on. But isn't the marketing world littered with failed attempts to convince the buying public of what they should want rather than what they do want? I'm afraid I see the roots of the problem deep in our culture, male and female, not in the manipulations of a shadowy media empire. The media is us, after all. We should be capable of policing ourselves.

Rick, I appreciate your point about the depth of the problem and how it looks like our culture simply can't let go of it's conflicted, Puritanical foundations. Unfortunately, "can't" and "never" aren't in my vocabulary, no matter how intransigent the problem. To borrow a line (sort of) from Forrest Gump: neurotic is as neurotic does.

Erica Orloff said...

Jason:
The "New" Coke was a zillion-dollar failure.

I agree.
E

Ello said...

But Erica - I do think media and marketers go hand in hand. The media needs the marketer's advertising money and sponsorship. Which is why you have tv shows that are formed solely from commercial items, like the Geico Caveman tv show and the Barbie movies. I am lumping media as everything, tv, print, radio, internet. And aside from PBS and NPR who try not to be sponsor driven (although with the number of commercials popping up there these days, it is becoming a fine line) how can we say that the media thinks independently of their advertising revenue? Sometimes it works - but not always.

And Jason, I totally agree with you that the problem does have its genesis in our culture. It is still a male dominated society. Like Dr. Durham says in her book, slasher films aren't causing more violence, if anything it is just exploiting the violence already in our society. That is why she is advocating change through education and activism.

Merry Monteleone said...

Erica,

"WE are part of the equation, and it goes hand in hand. We feed off them, they feed off us."

You've hit it on the head. This is why I get so skittish when people start talking about taking things off of shelves or boycotting... it's a short jump to censoring and burning books. I can't decide what anyone else wants to see, read, or wear. I can decide what I want to support with my purchasing power.

The thing here is, there's a point where 'protecting' others becomes tyranny... and it's slightly insulting to the masses when the moral superior start telling them how to live.

Erica Orloff said...

ello:
I have no doubt they share a relationship. Magazines don't have to take the ads from cigarette manufacturers. Or, for my personal belief system, Vogue doesn't have to show fur coats. But again, I see it as much more amorphous, as being amoeba-like with permeable barriers. WE are part of the equation. And creating this "THEM," this giant "THE MEDIA" like some shadowy conspiracy is too easy a cop-out to this issue. The media isn't any ONE thing. It is many things.

E

Stephen Parrish said...

They aren't all in a room saying, "Let's create sexualized images of girls and promote them to the downfall of civilization and the sale of our magazine."

Exactly. They are caught in the loop too.

I'm afraid I see the roots of the problem deep in our culture, male and female, not in the manipulations of a shadowy media empire.

Well stated. I still want to know the cause. Maybe Ellen's chicken-and-egg analogy is the best we can do.

Anonymous said...

In another discussion group on this point, the discussion turned to censorship and laws that are now being passed to arrest people for artistic depictions of children. This is the backlash of censorship. Look forget the media! It's the stupid parents to blame who allow their kids to run around like little whores. It's the parents that have to give some grounding and moral backing to their children. Don't blame the media because your kid turned into a whore! Don't blame the education system that tried to educate your kids on sex and you got all riled up and protested and now your kid's pregnant at 13 because she thought if she had her period she couldn't get pregnant. Blame the only people you can. The parents!

Stephen Parrish said...

It's the stupid parents to blame who allow their kids to run around like little whores.

You might be right. But I'm guessing you're not a parent. Because what you say is easier to say than abide by. The pressure a young girl faces to conform to the way her peers dress and act is powerful enough to override many a household rule. Rather than blame millions of parents because millions of girls are dressing provocatively, I suggest we lobby cultural icons to take a higher road.

cindy said...

annon, i don't think it's so black and white. yes, i do believe parents have a responsibility to guide their children (refer to my first post), but one would be remiss to think that culture, society, mores and media does not affect a child.

are we meant to home school, lock them in their rooms and forbid televion and movies?

and do you really think that parents want to raise "whores" as you so nicely put it? there is always more to the equation then just [insret whatever] is to blame.

Erica Orloff said...

anonymous:
Yes, very often parents make bad decisions, but laying full "blame" on parents for the outcome of their children's lives is ludicrous. There are wonderful parents whose children end up drug addicts, or make bad choices because children are human beings not robots we can wind up and make perform like monkeys and do whatever we demand them to do. There are parents across the country who send their children off to schools that are no better than war zones. There is pervasive sexual abuse in this country. There are all sorts of reasons why young girls get pregnant or why children make mistakes. And parents are PART of the equation, but they are not the whole of the equation.
E

Anonymous said...

I am not disputing that the media doesn't have some involvement. But I object to the blame casting that our society seems to constantly hunger for. It's always somebody else's fault. I'm just saying parents have to take a good long hard look at themselves and the choices they are making for their children.

Merry Monteleone said...

"It's the stupid parents to blame who allow their kids to run around like little whores."

Regardless of who we want to 'blame' here, maybe we should be looking more at the sentiment of statements like this. When did it become acceptable to take a person's appearance and label them as a 'whore'?

Maybe the message we should be looking at is deeper than why girls are dressing too provacatively... maybe it's got more to do with our gleeful quickness to judge them.

And anon, I don't care if a thirteen year old walked by you in a bikini and stilletto's on the city sidewalk - if you're calling her a whore, you've got bigger problems than she does.

Ello said...

I don't think anyone of us wants censorship. But what we want is some interest and concern from the media and marketers to consider that instead of harm, they can actually do alot of good. Instead of negative stereotypes of women, we can promote the positive. Someone mentioned that we are seeing more female superhero type programs on tv. That's good. But more needs to be done. And I agree. The labels are what's so disturbing. Either you are a whore or a good girl? Come on. Let's move past labels.

Rick said...

Erica - Is there something inherently WRONG with a girl wearing a bikini?

Exactamundo. Heavy breathing about girls wearing bikinis at the beach just ramps up the titillation factor. We're back to good old sex & sin, and as a society we love it because it gets us all hot and bothered.

Stephen - I'm questioning whether the problem is that cultural icons serve as role models the clothing designers can't afford to ignore.

Also agree. Marketing is successful precisely when it catches a wave already forming.

From what I see, living in a beach town near a college town, girls are by no means limited to slutty v frumpy. Most of them dress either for comfort or to look good in a non tarty way.

ChrisEldin said...

Ello and Dr. Durham, Thank you for discussing the many aspects of such a highly-charged (and multi-layered!) topic.

I've been reading all of the comments, and am struck by the intensity of emotion. It's obvious we all agree there is a problem.

I have two boys, and I think some of the issues are the same (younger one is constantly checking the mirror--NOT something we do in the house!)

Anon, I object to the term 'whore,' but perhaps that's another discussion.

M. Gigi Durham said...

Great conversation, and some very important points are being raised.

It's true that the media are one factor among many -- but they are significant in our media-saturated society. We do need to be aware of the economic connections between the for-profit media industries and the advertisers who are their chief sources of revenue; there are ties and influences there that need to be considered. It's not a conspiracy, but the connections are real and need to be considered.

At the same time, we can look more broadly at the culture and recognize that multiple factors are at work in repressing healthy, progressive notions of girls' sexuality and promoting objectified, restrictive concepts. How complicit are we in this? What other aspects of social life are contributing to the sexualization of little girls? All of it needs to be addressed.

But calling girls "whores" and denigrating their parents is not helpful, in my view. I want to emphasize that sexuality is a normal, natural and good part of the human experience, one that children need to grow into safely and strongly. In addition, bodies are nothing to be ashamed of: one of my goals is to promote a positive body image for all girls. We need to help them find safe spaces for sexual development, not demean or shame them.

Anonymous said...

Who was it that said I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it. Why is it that you object to labels when it is by definition something that sticks to a person by their own actions? If you are dressed like a police officer, I will treat you like a police officer. If you dress like a professional business person, I will treat you accordingly. And if you dress in outfits befitting of the oldest profession in the world, why can't you expect to be treated accordingly? If you are 13 or 33, how you dress helps define how you are viewed. You can't tell me differently.

Erica Orloff said...

Ello:
Not to be disagreeable. ;-) But I really think you have to look at it practically. It isn't the media's ROLE or marketing's ROLE to do that. Companies, in the way our society is set up, have their primary obligation to the shareholder. We Americans buy what's sleek and sexy. You don't see Cadillac ads (which are not products for kids) being driven by ugly, fat people on the commericals, to be blunt. This is how marketing works.

It's also too simple to paint this with a wide brush. Look at the DOVE ads. REAL women of real sizes. Look at Nike women athletes. Even Bratz, for girls, which has been vilified a bit . . . I see MULTICULTURAL dolls of all sorts of ethnicities on the shelves side by side. So you can look at it another way, too.

Like I keep saying, it's not the media's job. People magazine, STAR, US Weekly don't come into my house. I don't buy the "Kirstie Alley is a Big Fat Whale" issues of these magazines that are so harsh. I don't buy those clothes. I just also don't expect the media to change unless they see their bottom line impacted. Until then, shareholders rule.

Travis Erwin said...

Wow, What a great discussion both in the original post and the comments. I'll confess that as a father of only boys I haven't given this topic as much thought as I should have but I have cringed at certain elements of our society and I always hate to see any child, male or female forced into growing up too fast. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Ello said...

Thanks Dr. Durham! And I know you have to run off to class right now so I will try to keep the flames burning over here and look forward to seeing you back after your class!

Anon - I heard a comedian go through this very same routine. I do hear you. And that is why this book is important. However, a young girl may not know the ramifications of dressing a certain way and so it becomes inappropriate to brandish labels on them.

Erica - you are never disagreeable and I do agree with you. But the examples you bring up do point out that we can make a change if we change the viewpoint of society in general and then the media and marketers should, theoretically respond accordingly. I love the Dove ads and I love Nike for the very fact that they celebrate women athletes.

Merry Monteleone said...

"Who was it that said I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it. Why is it that you object to labels when it is by definition something that sticks to a person by their own actions? If you are dressed like a police officer, I will treat you like a police officer. If you dress like a professional business person, I will treat you accordingly. And if you dress in outfits befitting of the oldest profession in the world, why can't you expect to be treated accordingly? If you are 13 or 33, how you dress helps define how you are viewed. You can't tell me differently."

Okaaaay... and if you take this line of thinking in a different way, you can paint all of one ethnicity with the same brush, too. It's still prejudice.

I would stipulate that it's a person's thoughts and ideas that are paramount, not their appearance. Which may say a great deal about why this commenter keeps posting anonymously.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Ello:
Exactly. I will ALWAYS choose a DOVE product over a rival brand because of their ad campaign, and I have written to the company thanking them for the ads, because I want them to know consumers take notice. I will NEVER bring a General Mills product into my pantry for numerous consumer reasons having nothing to do with this topic. But you get the idea . . . they WILL respond if the public gets behind it.

BTW, when I heard back from Dove, they said not all the mail was positive. That some women objected to "fat" women being shown as beautiful, that some women didn't like "real" women being used because we should have "ideals." So there are some pretty pervasive ideas out there that are hard for people to let go of.

E

Aine said...

Thanks for hosting such an important and interesting discussion, Ello!

I find the question of "why" to be the most fascinating aspect of this issue. Why is this sexualization of little girls happening in our culture? Is it the sexual immaturity of Americans, as Jason says? Is it an issue with parenting? And if so, why?

I think that parenting is more confusing now than it ever had been. Many parents are so stressed and exhausted that the job of parenting is dropping on their priority list (moms are juggling too many roles and many parents are fighting to maintain or protect marriages in a world that is not always "family friendly"). Americans tend to push their kids to be independent at a younger and younger age. Infants are placed in carriers and containers for the convenience of mom (for more hours per day in America than in any other culture in the world). Six year olds are expected to dress themselves, do homework, participate in team sports, and manage their feelings so that they won't inconvenience others (we medicate them if they can't sit still and scold them for having a tantrum after ignoring their needs...) Parents seem to be in a rush for their children to grow up. My daughter's 2nd grade friends talk to boys on their cell phones after school (and we are not in an affluent school!). It's no wonder that many parents don't raise their eyebrows when their 9 year old starts wearing makeup.

I'm probably swaying a bit off topic, so I'll stop. But I agree with the others who have said that WE should be the focus of study to understand the roots of this problem, not the media. How is our view of male/female roles, childhood, and sexuality playing a part in this problem?

Ello said...

Merry - labels are prejudice! EXactly!

And Erica - that just kills me that people have bought into the prejudice that ordinary people are not beautiful. It goes hand in hand with what Jason and Aine are saying. Yes we need to look at our culture and our society and analyze our own belief systems because that is where the problem lies.

Thanks to all for commenting. What a rich discussion we are having.

One issue I want to keep talking about is the boys! So many parents here have boys and might like Travis, have not given thought to this issue before reading about it today. It is a timely one for them because the discussion must include the boys.

ORION said...

I wish I could have had the parents of my high school students read this book...The girls dressed like they were streetwalkers and had no clue about what was appropriate. My husband has even had to counsel new employees and these are people in their 20's. The media tells them to dress provocatively and they obey...

Whirlochre said...

When you're young, you want to be grown up and when you're old, you want to be a kid. I'm guessing this has been true since we began making spears. So — kids will dress up in their mum's clothes and play all sorts of make believe games, some of which may have a sexual content because all of us are sexual beings.

The problem arises as a result of CHOICE and prom parents to admen to media to marketers, we're all complicit in the growth of CHOICE — yet helpless before the lash of its multiplying polyps.

As adults, we can examine where our wants gestate and realise the power of our consent, up to and including saying NO.

Kids — learning to be — can't do this so well (apart from at bedtime) and when wants sprout from seeming nowhere, we're obliged as parents to ask: why do you think this? Where is your evidence to demonstrate this is true?

If I'm duplicating a previously aired point — apols. Just dropping by.

Erica Orloff said...

Ello:
I have two of each. My older son is a teen. He has a sister he loves and one he tolerates. ;-) And he knows that he just cannot disrespect women---this goes in dating, in terms for women and their body parts--my kids all use the "real" names for everything. It's all about respect.

That said, the flip side of the "Lolita" thing is what makes a man? If you want to raise respectful men, I think some of what that means comes into play. You want to see the difference? A teacher who has sex with a thirteen year old girl is a pedophile. Make it a female teacher and a 14 year old boy and there is a wink-wink nudge-nudge thing with radio DJs and people who think "what a great induction into being a man, making it with a hot teacher." Boys who don't play traditional sports are often picked on. We want them to "man up" without, for most people, having the FOGGIEST notion of what that means. For me, as a Buddhist, it means wanting to raise a compassionate man. Period. But there's most definitely a flip side to this cultural mess. I feel for boys, too. I really do.

E

ORION said...

okay maybe the "media" doesn't "tell" them but it is a powerful message being give all the same...

Conduit said...

First, congratulations to the author on a timely and necessary book, and also to the publisher for bringing it to the public.

I'm not a parent, so I can't speak from that perspective. One image always comes to mind when this discussion comes up, and that was of a young girl I saw in a local shopping centre last year. She can't have been more than eleven years old, but was dressed not only like an adult, but as an adult going to a nightclub, with more makeup than even a grown woman would look anything but cheap in. I remember being shocked to my core. Here was a child made up as a caricature of adult sexuality - IN THE COMPANY OF HER MOTHER AT A SHOPPING MALL!

It's that last bit that bothered me the most.

In regards to the chicken and the egg situation - I feel the media and marketers are exploiting and exaggerating some aspects of kids in that age group, rather than creating them. Isn't this kind of sexualised clothing an extension of kids playing dress-up? When I was a kid I wanted clothes like my dad's, and my sisters would often put on my mum's high heels and lipstick. Have marketers honed in on that natural play-acting, and perverted it to create a revenue stream? Also, it's natural for kids on the cusp of puberty to have the beginnings of sexual awareness. But again, are the marketers deliberately targeting that, distorting it, and turning it into cash? Whatever the motive, the result is no less disturbing.

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks Ello and Dr. Durham! This is a very important topic to me personally, even though I don't have children---yet, I really feel strongly about this issue.

Before the children can be taught anything, the adults need to get it together first. My mom is a teacher, and some of the parents (mostly moms) of the kids are dressed in really "revealing" outfits. They come to the school to have a conference about how the kid dresses, but they aren't much of an example themselves. There are grown women who don't know what it is to be a woman, so how can they teach their daughters. It's scary.

SmartlikeStreetcar said...

I've never been one for censorship, and I strongly believe in changing the world every time you open your wallet (by choosing to buy responsibly). Of course, that only works if you tell the manufacturers that you won't be buying their products — unless they change their ways.

I have long thought that media literacy should be a mandatory class that every junior and senior high school student should take. We might not be able to control the images that our children see, but we can teach them to look at the images critically, to see how the media subtly (and overtly) manipulates and distorts our sensibilities.

I actually tried to launch such a program in Nova Scotia in the 1990s when smoking rates among teenagers were rising dramatically — before illness knocked me sideways. The most effective anti-smoking programs for teenagers were all about media literacy... about changing perceptions. Teaching kids that smoking wasn't an act of rebellion; it's actually about being hoodwinked by The Man.

I am heartened by the awareness and passion I see here. Together, we are mighty!

My partner and I have been studying this issue for some months (we also recommend Mary Piper's book, and Lisa Machoian's The Disappearing Girl) because my niece is battling major depression. She is a beautiful, kind, thoughtful, talented, athletic young woman... who can barely make it though the day.

Teenage depression is three times as likely to affect girls as boys. I'm convinced that The Lolita Effect is a major reason why.

I want to change the world for her.

Thanks, Ellen and Dr Durham!

Merry Monteleone said...

Since you asked about boys, I do have a story:

When my daughter was in third grade, a boy in her class had a crush on one of her friends... we'll call her Tina. Now, he had said he liked Tina since kindergarten, all innocent mind you, just kid play.

The boy's mom is great. Very dedicated, she plays football with her boys, helps out at school, takes them to church. She rarely wears any make up and is not what you'd ever refer to as self involved with her looks.

In third grade, her son decided he didn't like Tina anymore because she 'put on a little weight'. His mom was mortified that that was the kind of thing her son would think and say, and I can damn near guarantee it didn't come from his raising.

This little episode picked up the dialogue about proper image in her household - but what if she hadn't heard him say it?

Just a few weeks ago, my daughter came home upset because a boy called her fat - she's actually a little thin for her height, so why did a 10 year old think to call her 'fat' as an insult. Worse, she was really upset about it. When I said, why would that upset you, you're not fat... if anything you're a bit on the thin side" she actually beamed.

I had to sit her down and have a talk about being healthy as opposed to skinny. I think it'll be a regular talk, and I have to say I'm at least partially to blame. I'm not what anyone would consider heavy, but I've said more than once that I need to lose a few pounds - so how does that register to my daughter?

J. L. Krueger said...

First, thanks to Ell and Dr. Durham for this excellent discussion.

Because what you say is easier to say than abide by. The pressure a young girl faces to conform to the way her peers dress and act is powerful enough to override many a household rule.

Concur wholeheartedly! As a dad of three girls I have battled this very problem. Take it one step further. My daughters have left the house dressed one way, but have on occasion switched to something more provocative once they think they are “out of sight”. It really takes a community effort by lots of parents who are willing to let each other know when they see or hear of the girls dressing that way.

My oldest daughter never really got too caught up in it. Second daughter was briefly snared, but quickly moved out of it. Youngest daughter has bought into the “gotta be sexy all the time” mantra hook, line and sinker. She’s showing flashes of “coming out of the trance”, but damn is it hard given all the peer pressure.

And Anon, let me tell you that teenage daughters generally think their parents are, “like so totally lame! They don’t know anything!” So it's not like they will always listen to parental advice anyway. We try to steer them into associations with "good" kids who might have a little more influence.

Maybe there is some hope at our house. My youngest is finally figuring out that dad can really tell if Da Boyfriend is a worthless creep at first glance. I’m hoping that she will also figure out that dad is right that emphasizing the provocative and “sexy” seems to bring on the creepiest letches.

Back to my Pashto lesson.

Precie said...

I just want to thank you all for this multivalent discussion. It's such an important and complex subject. It absolutely deserves this kind of close attention and examination.

blogless troll said...

What a great discussion. Thank you Ello and Dr. Durham.

I completely agree with Smartlikestreetcar:

I have long thought that media literacy should be a mandatory class that every junior and senior high school student should take. We might not be able to control the images that our children see, but we can teach them to look at the images critically, to see how the media subtly (and overtly) manipulates and distorts our sensibilities.

Once you are able to think critically about what the media is saying and pushing, it's message is clearly ridiculous. Teaching this to children is obviously a difficult task, but all the more so because so many adults don't know how to think critically either. Demon Hunter brought up the point about moms in revealing outfits. The number of boob jobs on revealing display at my kids' school is incredible. What chance do the kids have when their parents are too self-involved to realize they're under the media spell themselves?

How do you change a culture that worships the celebrities who peddle this crap? I don't know, but I don't think asking the celebrities to change (as someone suggested) is gonna do the trick. In our house, we mock them instead. I realize that's not a viable long-term solution, but it's great entertainment.

Mary Witzl said...

I like what Conduit says about marketers manipulating the quite normal desire all kids have to mimic adults. It's one thing to put on Mom's spangly dress, high heels and lipstick and another to have your very own. Likewise, kids have their own natural curiosity about sex, but adults have no business exploiting this and marketing children as sexual commodities.

I also agree that while parents have a great responsibility to say no to their kids, it is nonsense to argue that they alone can control and mold their children. Society in general, the media, school, kids' peers -- all of these have a hand in influencing kids whether parents like it or not.

I love the idea of a media literacy class and wish this were a reality. Kids have no idea how they are targeted by advertising -- what a lucrative marketing opportunity they represent. When people in western countries started to quit smoking in large numbers, the big tobacco companies got scared and started targeting young women in Asia. Back in 1979, you hardly ever saw young women in Japan and Korea who smoked. Now they are depressingly common.

Erica, I wrote to Dove too. I had my daughters sit with me and watch their commercials. They loved the one about the girl who could find dozens of things wrong with her appearance -- and her boy admirer who couldn't even think of one.

Erica Orloff said...

Demon and Troll:

I'm really not sure I draw a correlation with such clear-cut intensity as to what people WEAR and who they ARE. I mean, have we come to that? A mother wears a revealing outfit and she "doesn't know how to be a woman"? Maybe because I come from Manhattan, and I grew up going to clubs, but I don't see people so cut and dried like you all seem to. Is a woman who wears all black and dyes her hair suddenly, as a "goth" mom, unfit somehow? What about the mom with a tattoo? I mean, we can come up with a thousand examples of clothes that fall out of the mainstream. Who is the arbitrator of taste???? I look at someone like Betsy Johnson (fashion designer) who looks like an explosion of confetti, frankly, but is brilliantly creative--and who wears mini-minis when I am sure she is in her 60s, and just admire her as a creative person. We're talking stereotypes and rushes to judgment based on clothes--with women vilified. And it's not that I would dress that way. But I also wouldn't see a mom in a mini and a low-cut top and think she was automatically a crappy example for her kid.
E

Ello said...

Everyone thank you for this excellent discussion! So many important issues have been raised on so many levels. I would love to see more discussion on the flip side of the Lolita equation and hear from parents of boys what they think of medias effect on boys.

I thank Richard for raising the issue of depression - a great and weighty issue facing so many young girls these days. Merry's point about girls being called fat - is one major part of the problem - leading not only to depression but to eating disorders as Angelique mentioned earlier.

And JLK - you are absolutely right! How do you guide teens who don't want to hear their parents on anything?

So many levels of discussion. Dr. Durham is back after 4. I can't wait to see where she guides us next!

Shauna Roberts said...

I don't have anything to add to the great discussion so far. Just wanted to say thanks to Ello for sponsoring it and to Dr. Durham for visiting here today.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Fascinating discussion!

blogless troll said...

Erica, you're absolutely right. I only mention the revealing outfits as a function of showcasing all the plastic surgery. I've talked to some of these moms and trust me, they're not doing it because they're brilliantly creative. It's almost like a contest, like they're trying to one-up each other, to the point where, after surgery, the person who just got up-sized pulls other moms to the side and gives them a quick flash of the doc's handiwork.

Maybe this is an anomaly and occurs nowhere else on the planet. I dunno, but my only point was: when the mother is so completely obsessed with her appearance and attaining the "sexy ideal" what chance to their children have of growing up with a different attitude?

Erica Orloff said...

Blog:
No argument there. We can't just TELL our daughters these pieces of wisdom, we must MODEL them. Absolutely a great point.

But I also know that, as Merry was saying before, it can be a fast downhill slope to "this is what's acceptable" and censorship.
E

cindy said...

yes, i do think open discussion with your children is key. i had a friend in junior high (when i wasn't allowed to wear make up and she wasn't either) who had it in her backpack and would put it on before classes start.

don't think that just because a parent says something, the child abides by it. perhaps the exact opposite in some cases.

we do NOT live in bubbles.

Carleen Brice said...

Very important subject! I often wonder what is going through the parents' minds when they let their girls dress that way. Not because I'm old-fashioned and out of it (though I am), but I wonder about the consciousness of those girls in all ways. What are they thinking about themselves and their value as human beings??

Sherri said...

Great discussion. I'm wondering where the divorce rate figures in here, since there is often more sexualized behavior in girls without a loving male role model in the house.

Whirlochre said...

Who is the arbitrator of taste????

We are.

Who else is there around?

We stand or fall by virtue of all our arbitrarily determined nonsense — so our yays and nays matter.

Good question, Ericka.

Either way, the world's too big for us all to agree and too small for us all to fall out.

How does lipstick smacked on twelve year old girls get us any futher forward with solving this conundrum?

For whatever 'reason'?

pacatrue said...

As Erica particularly mentions in the comment trail, it's important to distinguish the person from the appearance. To use the terms from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, written in 1943, it's important to distinguish Chastity from Propriety. He's writing as a Christian apologist and says that Chastity is the important Christian behavior. Propriety is a fluctuation of society and deals with mannerisms and how people dress and the like. A topless Pacific Islander (this is his example, remember) might be equally chaste or unchaste as the head-to-toe covered Victorian lady. Rules of propriety change all the time, and older people should not assume anything about the morality of a younger person because of the way they dress or language they use.

Now, we don't have to believe in Chastity the way that Lewis argues for, but if you take Chastity to represent healthy sexual behavior, it's clearly distinguishable from appearances of propriety. It's fully possible for someone to wear a Playboy t-shirt and have a very healthy attitude towards their own sexuality and for another to wear a plain blue T with a nice flower print and think of themselves as almost an object of sexual desire.

It's not easy to see the person behind the appearance of course and people use their appearance to project who they want to be. But still the better signs of a healthy and growing girl are likely to be self-confidence, an ability to deny peer pressure, independent goals and interests, etc., than the length of their skirt.

Precie said...

But then there has to be some middle ground between social responsibility and censorship.

As others have said, it's not just parents teaching their children or modeling appropriate behavior/attire/values for their kids. It's not just girls having to make themselves media savvy.

As bt and others (including ello in previous posts) have pointed out, grown women are and have long been subject to sexual objectification. I'm a media-savvy feminist who abhors plastic surgery (as opposed to medically appropriate reconstructive surgery)...and yet I look at my post-baby belly with disgust. I cringe when I look in the mirror and see my Sz 14 body. I look at cute, hip clothes in stores and wish I could fit into them and not feel like a cow.

Why? I should know better, right? And I do. But we're talking about decades...centuries of cultural conditioning. And it's only getting worse. When I reached adulthood, I looked back on my implausibly waisted Barbies with disgust...and was thrilled when her body was made more "realistic"...and when the "Math is hard" talking Barbie was removed from store shelves.

But today's commercial environment takes sexuality and materialism even further. Bratz dolls in skimpy outfits with bling bling bling? Thongs for preschoolers? That's not progress. And that's not just the fault of irresponsible parents.

It's practically a natural extension of the objectification of women...trickling down younger and younger. It's part of a much bigger social problem.

M. Gigi Durham said...

I really appreciate this conversation, which is bringing to the surface the complexity of these issues. There are no simple answers to any of it, unfortunately. But I would like to suggest that clothing does convey meaning; we know, for example, that beach attire wouldn't be appropriate at a black-tie event, and grimy shorts wouldn't win points at a job interview. Clothing is interpreted according to cultural contexts and mores.

So, it's important to talk with girls about what their clothing might convey in a social situation, and whether they are sending messages they want to send. Kids do want to flirt with adulthood, and in many cases, as a society, we've determined that they need to be old enough to deal with the risks and responsibilites of certain actions we've deemed adult, like driving a car or consuming alcohol. Sex carries with it similar risks and responsibilities, and as adults we need to be very pro-active in providing children with guidance so that they are fully informed about sexuality and its representation, through clothing or otherwise.

But clothing is a tricky issue, and it's one that needs to be worked out thoughtfully. The point is that we need to talk about these things openly -- and not harshly or judgmentally -- with our girls. And we also need to make it very clear that what someone is wearing is never a reason for violence against that person. Girls need to be physically and emotionally safe all the time, and our society is far from guaranteeing them that basic right. That would be the kind of social change I want to spark by writng "The Lolita Effect!" It's a utopian goal, I know, but we can start with small steps!

Erica Orloff said...

Dr. Durham:
I'm sorry, and with all due respect, you sound like you are treading dangerously close, I feel, to the days when what a woman wore meant she "asked for it." What it "conveys" can mean she likes how she looks (I am talking teen girls not tweens here). And as the mother of an 18-year-old girl with a Playboy bunny kind of body, I can tell you that flat-chested girls can wear the same shirt she does and be perceived one way--and she can wear the shirt and be perceived another. When in reality, what it conveys is she has a figure and she likes the damn shirt. Adolescence is a time to figure out who you are. And while you seem to back off that in your last bit about violence . . . the bottom line is any girl should feel free to explore her sexuality through her clothing and makeup. What about LGTB teens? Clothing and makeup also help them sort through their sexuality. If a guy wants to wear eyeliner when he's 14, it's not the end of the universe. Discussion is great . . . and yeah, my kids wouldn't be wearing some of the clothing items I think we are talking about, but there's a lot more to this issue than clothes.

E

Whirlochre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
silken said...

in response to erica:

no, that was not the point, calling girls in bikinis "sinners"-sorry. we shared the responses w/ girls so they could be aware of what the boys think/say and they can start making their own decisions and not doing this because "it's what boys want"/so the boys will like them, (which is what many of the girls said), or what everyone expects them to wear, etc.

many others here have said it so much better than I can. being told "this is what you should like, this is how you should dress, this is how you are accepted, etc."

I am aware that kids will change when they go out of the house, I am aware that sometimes household rules cause them to go the opposite direction. we did not imply that boys see a girl in a bikini will automatically think sexual thoughts, but we gave the girls all the comments the boys made. they were not all sexual or crude comments... anyway, I agree w/ so many of the comments here and it is hard to tie it up. very good discussion going on....

Erica Orloff said...

Silken:
Thanks for clarifying. But I guess my next question is . . . should girls CHANGE their swimsuits because a hormonally revved-up teen boy thinks she looks sexy or a certain way? Should, when she goes to her closet to choose her outfit, she start to mimic some puritannical belief that showing skin is bad? Or "Oooh, I love this suit but a boy might think THIS of me"? I.e., and going back to what Dr. Durham just said, it would be GREAT if people just chose clothes because they LIKE it and worried less about others. Maybe a pipe dream but . . . .

E

Whirlochre said...

Biologically, there's a time when pubic hair snags on knicker hems — or, with boys, that moment when they bawl downstairs (and to all available neighbourhoods) 'hey, Dad, I can't get my pants either up or down.'

Reflection on all of this takes a lifetime to muster.

The brute fact of our suddenly wayward anatomy — with its sproutings, gurglings and unexpected bumps in the night, can never (never) be percieved as anything other than what it is unless someone else describes it for us first.

So who's to tell?

We must marshall our kids through the ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiing of 6 billion souls like bloody-minded saints. With the occasional knob joke.

Sorry to be flippant — it's late.

M. Gigi Durham said...

Hi, Erica,

I meant quite the opposite! I want to emphasize that what a girl (or anyone else) wears is NEVER a reason for violence. No one is ever "asking for it," no matter what he or she might wear. And I do sympathize with your daughter, whose body itself is construed as sexual in ways that she can't control. One huge problem there is that we are so negative about girls' sexuality -- we really need to develop positive and progressive attitudes to girls' bodies and sexualities.

But it is important to recognize that clothing has social meaning, and we need to talk about that. Clearly, many people are perturbed by young girls dressed in clothing that is regarded as sexually objectifying. A point I make in the book is that much of this clothing is associated with sex work, that is, sex performed by adults for profit. It's not a good idea for children's bodies to be symbolically linked with this realm.

I'd like to see understandings of sex and sexuality that are more diverse, more body-positive, more supportive and straightforward. I don't think girls should be punished for being sexual -- everyone is sexual, and we need to accept that. But I do think that adults have a responsibility to help girls to understand these issues as deeply and completely as possible. At the same time, we all need to work to ensure that the world is a place in which girls can express and understand their sexual selves, as well as their other characteristics and attribtutes, openly and safely.

I'm sorry if there was a misunderstanding of my position!

pjd said...

Hearty "thank you" to everyone, from Ello to the anonymous commenters. Fascinating.

Some thoughts:
1. It is important to remember that "the media" and "marketers" are people. Generally they are people who have been distanced from the consequences of their actions. Their actions are driven by the idea that certain ends (profits and market share) are more important than other ends (say, female self esteem and growth). It's no coincidence that Avon has taken off since its CEO changed its mission from "sell cosmetics" to "empower women."

2. I am curious if, Dr. Durham, your book refers to any examples of societies that are not dysfunctional? I doubt you would argue that a burqa is a better alternative than a miniskirt, but surely there must be cultures that can provide a model for us to use as inspiration as we struggle through the growing pains of the internet generation.

3. I love the concept of Media Literacy. I make it a point to help my boys understand how marketing affects people, and my 8-year-old often makes a point of trying (often incorrectly) to identify the motives and techniques in advertising. This should be made a standard part of middle school curriculum. Why wait until high school?

4. Even enlightened, educated people can be oblivious sometimes. My wife is perfectly healthy and sometimes counts calories while in the same breath telling my skinny son to eat more. I never thought of it as creating gender biases in my son until reading this thread. The focus in both cases is health, but he likely can't make the distinction at his age.

Thanks again. Fascinating discussion.

Robin S. said...

Hi ello and Dr. Durham and WO and others,

I'm the parent of two daughters- ages 20 and 16. My younger daughter has just been through what I think of as the three of four toughest years kids go through - and her body image has suffered the pangs accordingly.

She's 5'9, eats whatever she wants, and weighs maybe 120 (genetics from her dad's Scandinavian background). She has had a pretty large modeling contract, and STILL, she worries and worries about everything from her chest being too small (hell, what's too small? who said? I say to her) to her legs being too long (that's not possible, I say - there's no such thing as 'too' long or 'too' short, etc.)

Having an older daughter - I know this is gonna go on for another year or so before it tapers off. I DO think it's hugely exacerbated by TV- Entertainment Network kinds of crap, etc.

I wish the girls liked themselves through these years- but I really don't think they do. I think of it as a craving for false flawlessness - and it's a winless situation.

I do think talking about this with them, without blaming or proselytizing, alleviates the bad feelings somewhat - but they don't magically 'go away'.

It's such a waste of time, isn't it?

I'll be back soon - I'm driving her to an art class.

Glad you're here at ello's!

M. Gigi Durham said...

In response to PJD, I would say both burqas and miniskirts could be just fine, as long as the wearers have made fully informed, conscious, intentional decisions about their clothing, and have been neither coerced nor manipulated into wearing them.

Regarding media literacy, my position is that it should be mandatory in K-12 classrooms. In today's hypermediated environment, media literacy is as necessary as math or reading. I started talking to my kids about the media when they were toddlers. Children understand a lot, even when you are very young, and it opens the way for more complex discussions when they are older. But not all children have access to these perspectives at home, so developing media literacy curricula for schools would be a great step forward. A challenge, I know, but something to consider.

Finally, a quick word about the impact of all this on boys. Boys are getting the same messages as girls. On the one hand, pop culture imagery tells them that girls are not much more than eye candy and sexual targets. They're also getting a very one-dimensional notion of masculinity, a notion that's based on a predatory kind of voyeurism. Obviously, most men and boys are neither predators nor voyeurs; they are thoughtful, critical, and keenly sympathetic once these issues are raised; and they have sisters, daughters, girlfriends, spouses, and female friends whom they care about. Boys as well as girls need to learn to see gender relations in ethical ways. Again, it's crucial for adults to get involved in helping kids navigate this terrain, through interactions with our children and through an increased consciousness of our own behaviors and attitudes.

Lana Gramlich said...

Great interview & such a worthy topic! The media sexualization of girls actually began in the 80's, as I recall. Madonna got that ball rolling in a large way.

M. Gigi Durham said...

Sorry, I'm typing too fast. Should have been "when they are very young" in the media literacy discussion!

Josephine Damian said...

Ello, you are rockin' the blogosphere today!

Great discussion.

I say a lot of this stems from the celebrity culture we live in - being famous for having done little or nothing to earn it - the "Paris Hilton effect."

Girls (with or without their moms enabling them) want to get tarted up so they'll get noticed, even "discovered" - maybe even get on TV - I think part of this propensity to sexualize these girls is a desire for fame and easy money, JMO.

Ello said...

Wow! I couldn't have asked for a livelier discussion!

What an excellent point Erica brings up about her daughter wearing the same shirt another girl could wear and have a totally different reaction from a viewer!

Sherry brought up an interesting question about how the skyrocketing divorce rates might have affected this issue.

Paca raises an issue of the difference between chastity in the Christian sense and propriety - either way, isn't it saying that society has set forth the social norms of what is acceptable?

Whirl - point very well taken! But at the point that control of one's body becomes difficult, teaching the young to control their minds becomes key.

ANd Robin S - Dr. Durham talks exactly about this phenomenon of the Sex goddess body and unattainable beauty that girls strive for. And it is so hard to combat the false flawlessness in a society that celebrates plastic surgery as the perfect solution and when girls watch America's Top Model and other modeling shows and hear pretty girls with nice bodies being told they need to lose weight. This is what we have to fight.

Erica Orloff said...

Dr. Durham:
Thank you very much for clarifying. And thank you so much for this discussion.

And I agree with you, in principle. But I guess I am quite cautious in that there can be a tremendous backlash--i.e., again, who is the arbitrator of taste? Of what's "sexy" and beautiful . . . and what crosses the line to "sex worker." And you obviously must know that line is different for say, an extremely religious parent and family and a conservative church . . . and a family of artists (speaking purely in generalizations, and speaking as someone in the arts). Talk, talk, talk to your kids. But I feel like the societal issue is less clear, sometimes for precisely the point I raise.
E

Ello said...

Yep Josie - and don't get me started on Girls Gone Wild video franchise! Everytime I see the ads for it I feel physically sick to my stomach. Why do girls do this to themselves? Why? If anyone has any thoughts I'd love to hear it. It is really upsetting to me.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm fortunate that my kids seem to have good sense (9 and 6 years old). My daughter won't have anything to do with cute or girly (she sensed at an early age that no one takes you seriously if you're called cute). She gets actually offended. Then they feel affronted, and I explain about the no-one-takes-cute-seriously and some of them get it and some of them don't.

The other day my son asked me why I was trying to lose some weight. "You're not fat, Mom. Not like when you were pregnant." (Leave it to a nine-year-old to say it like it is.)

So we had a conversation about being HEALTHY. There IS a weight epidemic in this country, and the fatter people get, the more exotic and beautiful ultra-skinny becomes. That's the reality kids (and parents) are dealing with. And actually, reasonably thin (not skinny-minny, but less fat) is much healthier.

We should talk to our kiddos about certain messages. But the main thing we can do is point our kids in the direction of something they can DO that makes them feel worthy. My son plays the drums and snowboards. My daughter rides horses and skis. They wear a lot of clothes to do all those activities (well, the drums pretty well cover up the kid) so sexuality never enters into their little lives (so far). By the time it does, hopefully they'll have lots of "who they are" to largely ignore "how they look."

M. Gigi Durham said...

Why do girls buy into the "Girls Gone Wild" constructions of sexuality? In part, I think, because we have virtually no other representations or expressions of female sexuality in our culture. I analyzed a lot of media for my book, and the mainstream media in general really are saturated with a version of sexuality that's all about objectification, flaunting Barbie bodies, and attracting the male gaze; we basically don't have representations of female sexuality that are ethical, relational, and pro-woman, so many girls feel as though "Girls Gone Wild" is the only way to express themselves as sexually desirable, or desiring. We have to figure out a broader range of options -- options that offer concepts of sexuality that are more progressive and less plainly sexist!

Whirlochre said...

Whirl - point very well taken! But at the point that control of one's body becomes difficult, teaching the young to control their minds becomes key.

For 'biologically' read 'physiologically' - I wasn't suggesting a mind/body split.

Good post, Ello. You've kept me up till one in the morning — a point beyond which I have reasoned all discussion becomes folly.

Whirlochre said...

Forgot to say goodnight.

Goodnight.

Now — why do I say that?

Because I want to.

So why might I, as a teenage girl, slap lipstick round my chops?

Same.

Because I want to.

Because lipstick cannot teleport.

As I stumble in the direction of my duvet, I'm thinking this discussion is all about how to want.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Erica Orloff said...

Dr. Durham:
Hate to be devil's advocate here, but you say there are no powerful, ethical versions of female sexuality. Well, guess what? I think that the media is a SMALLER part of it, and you know what? I think mainstream religion is a BIGGER part of that, a government that advocates abstinence only education, parents who are in denial about sexuality. The AIDS crisis was out of control as you couldn't breathe the word "condom" in high school health classes. I think we definitely need to find a way to accept sexuality, accept the RESPONSIBILITY of sexuality . . . and not bury our heads in the sand societally.
E

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Lots of interesting material here. I wish I had time to join in the discussion in a substantive way.

I will say that I think the use of "Lolita" is telling in more than one way. The sexuality that girls are being taught to emulate is actually deeply linked to sexual abuse. In imitating sex symbols -- many of whom have been sexually abused themselves (from Marilyn Monroe to a vast number of prostitutes) -- they are unwittingly mimicking a damaged sexuality born of abuse.

Amie Stuart said...

Sherri....I heard a writer (and long-time high school teacher) recently say that children of divorce are now the rule not the exception. I can only think of ONE of my children's friends who have married parents.

As the mother of two boys, I'm with those who ask where the parents are, as a former teenaged girl, I know what happens after we leave the house. As parents I know many of us do the best we can, and sometimes with a deck that's stacked against us!

One thing I've tried to do is be open-minded and keep an open dialog with my boys on everything from sex to slasher movies to THE MAN, to why they have to do chores *g*

Sometimes I think that's all we can do and we don't/won't know for years if we succeeded or failed.

Larramie said...

To be honest, I know a lot of Mothers simply give in to allowing playing "dress up" -- complete with makeup -- to carry over into the public arena. So, isn't this also about a parent saying, "No?!"

M. Gigi Durham said...

Once again, I'm with you, Erica! In the book, one of my key points is that because we don't provide kids with good factual information about sex, and because as a society we see tend to see sex as a taboo subject, the media are the place where kids get their information. The research bears this out: a number of studies show that kids get their sexual information from the media, more than from their peers or their parents or even their schools. This is probably because there is a raging vacuum in American society as far as this issue is concerned: we have "abstinence-only" and "Girls Gone Wild," but very little in between.

The fast-paced and intense discussion on this blog today underscores how much we need to have these conversations and bring sexuality out of the shadows-- as well as out of the hands of corporate conglomerates.

laughingwolf said...

thank you, both genders do indeed need 'educating'... peer pressure, too, is a lot to overcome, even in their 20s

Robin S. said...

It's not that simple. It never is that simple. It's a societal issue - no one wants their child to be the test case for ridicule - although there can be limits and talking with our girls - making sure they know, as they grow, that this is a silly thing these 'other girls" are playing - and that that's too bad.

Robin S. said...

I agree with the sex talking- my girls and I are VERY open with one another about this.

I tell them sex is a part of life- an important part- too important in its natural state to allow it to be manipulated by other people.

Ello said...

The one thing I definitely get from all this back and forth is the point that having the frank talk about sexuality with our girls is very important so that we can counterbalance the negativity of the outside forces. And we have to be clear that we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend this is not happening. We can't go back in time and become puritans again. Talking to our girls is very important.

BUT ALSO - I really believe in empowering our girls and also giving them the tools to protect themselves the best they can. Self protection classes and self defense classes. Teaching girls to be smart and teaching girls the specific but life saving moves to help them in the even that their lives are in peril. We can't protect them from everything but I truly believe that any parent of daughters would be well served to sign them up for a self defense class.

Robin S. said...

I agree, El. But my girls actually made fun of me when they each hit about 12 - for trying to instill what they called "girl power".

they'd say - literally- yeah mom, we know. Girl Power.

But it still took- interestingly. they actuallu HAVE it - the older one is showing it now.

Ello said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and contributing to this fascinating and lively debate. Now that you have heard all the arguments, I hope you all will pick up a copy of Dr. Durham's book and continue the discussion in your own homes.

And a very big thank you to Dr. Gigi Durham who has been so gracious in giving of her time and energy to speak with all of us today. Thank you for being so instrumental in this movement, for writing a wonderful book and for participating today.

Peace,

Ellen

M. Gigi Durham said...

This has been an amazing discussion. Ello, thank you so much for hosting it. But, I am afraid I need to say good-night to everyone now. It's been really wonderful to be part of this exchange of ideas. I hope this is just the beginning of many conversations on these topics across the country. Thanks to everyone who participated today!

Lisa said...

Thank you Ello and Dr. Durham. It was a great discussion and I have to say I've never seen anything quite like it on the blogosphere. Kudos!

ChrisEldin said...

Thanks for hosting this discussion, Ello!

Demon Hunter said...

Erica,

I agree with you that people should not be judged on what they dress like, their ethnicity, sexual preference, etc., but it's human nature to do it, even when we try not to. :*)

I was not making a direct correlation between dressing a certain way and not knowing how to be a woman. The statement about some females not knowing how to be a woman just came from women who "acted" a certain way or what have you.

As far as the parent who came to the school dressed like she was going to the club, was inappropriate for a school meeting to talk about the way her young daughter dressed. If she was going to the club, fine, but it was not appropriate for that venue like Dr. Durham stated.

bluesugarpoet said...

Fantastic discussion, Ello - thanks for hosting! Wish I could have joined in the conversation - the body image branch of the discussion particularly interests me (especially the idea of "fat" and how that correlates to the body image satisfaction quotient). Thank you too, Dr. Durham for discussing such an important issue and sharing your thoughts with us here.

Melissa Marsh said...

I just finished reading through this entire comments section and I'm so glad that this discussion has occurred. Thank you, Ell, and Dr. Durham, for a great conversation.

Mom In Scrubs said...

I am so bummed that i had to miss out on all this yesterday. This was a rollicking discussion and it's amazing to see so many perspectives on the same topic from folks who all seem to have the same goal for the children of today's society.

Having a young boy (6) AND a young girl (4), this gives me a lot of material to digest and try to regurgitate in a constructive manner for them. Thanks Ello and Dr Durham!

Sustenance Scout said...

Just had to add my two cents: WOW, what a great discussion, Ello! A lot to read and consider. K.