Yesterday I ran a post, Girls Sexuality Exploited by Culture and I got a little flack. In 2008, I used the same photograph to juxtapose what real girls are wearing for Halloween versus the marketing for Halloween costumes, Empowering Girls Halloween Costume Contest. In 2007, I ran a post with the same photograph, Pornification of Halloween. In every year I was outraged at the sexualization of girls in marketing.
This year I looked at the same photograph and I thought, What is it, really that bothers me about this photograph?
Would I let my 9-year-old daughter Ainsley wear this dress?
Yes, it has sleeves. The skirt comes down to mid-thigh and there is no dramatic cleavage. This dress meets all the house rules about dresses.
The same is true for this dress.
And this one. A modest pink striped dress with cute belt.
This one has a bare midriff. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t let her wear this type of skirt, but she would have to find another Pirate top. House rules.
Would I let her wear these leggings and shoes?
Well, I probably wouldn’t let her wear the blue thigh tights unless they went all the way up. But bare legs with combat boots – sure. Black tights or leggings? She wears them practically every day.
Is it the accessories then?
Pink handcuff bracelets? Yeah, I think I’d let her wear them. She wears jewelry and the kids had two weeks recently of being obsessed with a pair of handcuffs left over by a neighbor kid. And they DO make those in pink, our old town had a lady cop who carried pink handcuffs.
Is it the hair and make-up?
No, my daughter can wear her hair in all of those ways, down and with ponytails. She can wear hats. I don’t like that choker on the maid, but, I might let it slide for Halloween or know that it will be annoying and she’ll take if off. And make-up. It’s Halloween and its the one time a year she gets to wear make-up out of the house, I wouldn’t deny her that.
What is left? The girls. Little girls playing dress-up. Is that what is sexualized?
But there’s one other thing in this photograph that we’re missing when we look at it.
It’s the lens through which we’re looking. In all forms of art and communication the receiver of information interprets and applies what they know from previous experiences and previous imagery to what they are seeing. They use that knowledge to make a judgement.
Our lens in America has changed drastically from when we were growing up and wearing similar costumes.
Women dress up like little girls in similar costumes in pornography. Child pornography exists. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. If not the pornography itself, then you’ve likely seen the news reports and the talk shows about it, the cop shows, read the books or stumbled across things you wish you hadn’t seen online.
That is scary. It’s terrifying. Our culture seems to have a growing attraction to the taboo of sex with young girls. Which stems from the fact that at least 60% of the population has looked or does look at pornography of infantalized women or adultified girls.
You don’t have to “look like a slut” for people to have these images in their heads. The imagery leans toward the innocent. Innocence is the appeal, the stripping away of innocence actually.
Which has the effect that sometimes I look at my daughter in a knee socks or a plaid skirt – perfectly normal attire – and I feel a little afraid. Because I’ve seen knee socks and plaid skirts used in pornography and I don’t want my little girl connected with that. Sometimes I do a double take at her pigtails and braids – major props when infantalizing women in pornography so they look more “little girl-like.”
It feels like this is happening:
They make porn about various parts of women and girls – “sexualize” them, if you will. And then we surrender little parts of ourselves to try to avoid this kind of depravity being attached to us.
You made porn about Boobs? Okay, we’ll cover them up more.
You made porn about Booty? Okay, we’ll be more discrete about that.
Our vaginas, our mouths, our bums, our feet, our make up, our clothes . . .
There’s not a single part of a woman’s anatomy that this hasn’t happened to. Little lines we don’t cross so as not to appear too “sexualized,” so no one gets the wrong idea about us.
But, now that pornography is looking more and more childlike and media and marketing are catching that notion and using it in regular ads . . .
You made porn about Catholic School Girls . . .Okay, we’ll surrender plaid skirts, knee socks and neck ties.
You made porn about Cheerleaders . . . Okay, I won’t allow my daughter to be a cheerleader or play with pom poms.
You made porn with Pigtails and Braids . . .
You made porn with swimwear, soccer gear and stuffed animals . . .
You made porn with Halloween Costumes and Dress Up . . .
Slowly by slowly, girls and women are walking a tighter and tighter line in their dress, in their play, in their lives. (Here, I was hoping my daughter would have more freedom to be herself and express her authentic femininity than I had.)
Little by little, we’re surrendering innocent and beautiful parts of ourselves, little bits of our femininity, and handing that jurisdiction over to pornographers and marketers. . . .
Until. . .
Well, they’ll never stop taking over little pieces of femininity or little pieces of innocence. They are Takers by nature. They would love to have jurisdiction over all images of femininity and childhood for their perversions. They would love to have jurisdiction over femininity and childhood itself.
What, then, will be left of us and our little girls if we don’t stop surrendering our jurisdiction?