Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

Last night, like almost every Thursday night due to my tabloid addiction, I crawled in bed to relax with my new issue of Us Weekly. In a photo spread titled “Klum’s Favorite Halloween Costumes,” featuring pics from Heidi Klum’s annual party, I saw this picture of Fergie’s Halloween costume. I, literally, felt nauseated.

If you care at all about the sexualization of  little girls, why would a grown woman dress up as a little girl dressed up as a woman (assuming little girls with their make-up and curled hair aspire to imitate older beauty queens and not Martians.) Talk about blurring boundaries between sexualizing little girls and adults.  I just blogged about the conundrum of Batgirl, and I can barley get my mind around this costume. The bobby socks and the teddy bear? Ugh.

But here’s what Heidi Klum has to say about it: “Accessories can put a costume over the top! Fergie couldn’t have looked any better as a pageant girl.”

Right now, all I can say is GROSS. Bad move, Fergie, Heidi Klum, and Us Weekly.

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The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

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Sugar In My Bowl, an anthology of women writing about sex, edited by Erica Jong, will be released in paperback on June 26.

Critics have called the collection a “fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire…A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.” (Read more reviews here.) My short story, “Light Me Up,” is included in the anthology along with essays and fiction by 28 other writers.

Erica Jong talks to Reel Girl about Sugar In My Bowl:

Why did you create this anthology?

I think women have more diverse responses to sexuality than is usually known. And I wanted the opportunity to show a full range of response.

How did you choose the writers?

Notice that the anthology is almost equally divided between well-known writers and writers who are published for the first time. It was wonderful to find writers, like you, who had not been published before and to pair them with well-known writers like Eve Ensler and Fay Weldon.

When the hardcover came out last summer, in a controversial essay for the New York Times, you wrote that after putting Sugar In My Bowl together, you wondered if younger women wanted to give up sex. You worried that the younger writers in the anthology seemed obsessed with marriage and monogamy. I admit I am obsessed with monogamy! In part because in so much fiction, the woman’s story just stops when she marries.

For women of my generation– I’m 43, Gen X– because of a lot of taboo busting by yours, being single and sleeping around was pretty safe and normal. At least if you lived in New York or San Francisco and carried condoms. It wasn’t radical to be promiscuous, it was expected. But picking just one guy to love and lust for, committing to him, having a baby with him– that is fucking terrifying. And not because it’s a novelty. I think that our generation, and those after us, see marriage more clearly for what it is: high-risk behavior.

We don’t need men to be our breadwinners or to provide social acceptance for us, so why do we still marry? Why do we, literally, put all our eggs in one basket? I think because we’re brave romantics.

Do you think that women can be obsessed with monogamy and sex? Does it have to be an either/ or situation?

I have also been concerned that the women’s story stops with marriage. In our time, the women’s story sometimes stops with divorce. People live much longer today and have many different adventures in their lives. Many of them marry several times. We don’t have women’s books that reflect this yet.

I think we get married to make a statement that this is my person, and we are determined to make things work. That sort of coupling seems essential for both straight and gay people. It’s a way of saying, here I stand. And this is my partner.

Certainly monogamy and sex can go together. For many people, monogamy is far more satisfying than zipless fuck. You have to know another person’s body to really have great sex. That kind of knowing may come with monogamy.

In your NYT Op-Ed you also wrote:

“The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk — unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official. Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.”

I totally agree with this, and it is something I wrote my story about, too. Porn and internet sex are actually the “safest” sex around.

What do you think about the future of sex as far as the promulgation of pornography? How do you talk about its negative effects without being labeled and misunderstood as an anti-sex prude?

Electronic sex is sterilized sex. It offers no risk. It is sanitized. Real sex with a partner is the opposite. Pornography has a very utilitarian function. It is specifically for getting you off, hence its predictability. Sexual literature, on the contrary, is surprising. It doesn’t just show sexual acts, but the feelings behind them. I’m all for sexual literature and kind of bored by strict pornography. What interests me in writing is the human brain revealed. Pornography does not reveal feelings. It is rather a utilitarian form for masturbation.

Author Peggy Orenstein also addresses this flip, when pro-sex is framed as anti-sex and vice versa, in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Here’s what she wrote about the sexualization of girls:

“Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.”

She goes on label this difference sexualizing versus sexuality. What do you think of that distinction?

I agree with Peggy Orenstein’s wishes for her daughter. I am appalled at the idea that young women give blowjobs without experiencing pleasure themselves. They are servicing men rather than experiencing eroticism themselves. I also agree that women should write their own sexual stories. We are so much more imaginative than men have supposed. We can make our sexuality even more various through our imaginations. My anthology is a first attempt to show how imaginative women can be.

I view the pop princesses as sanitized rather than erotic. Why are we attempting to claim that all women must be princesses? Isn’t that another attempt to sanitize sex?

It seems to me that the best way to combat the dominance of limited expressions of sexuality is for more women to write their own stories.

For thousands of years women have existed in a world dominated by narratives created by men.

I love that you put together an anthology about sex by women writers and mixed fiction with non-fiction. Why did you choose to include both genres?

The line between fiction and non-fiction has blurred in our age. Memoir bleeds into fiction, and fiction bleeds into memoir. What is important about a story is that it moves you. Not what genre you label it.

Do you have plans for more anthologies?

I would love to do another anthology of women’s writing. I was disappointed that I didn’t get more sexual diversity and ethnic diversity. It was not for lack of trying. I would like to do an anthology with more lesbian women’s experiences, and a wider range of ethnicities.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel about Isadora Wing as a grandmother.

Order Sugar In My Bowl here.

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The Lusty Lady, the nation’s only employee-owned, unionized strip club, is in financial trouble and in danger of closing down.

The SF Chronicle reports that the club, which makes an effort to employ “diverse body types and ethnically diverse dancers” has come across hard times due to the recession and internet porn. Now it’s looking for an angel investor who believes the club is a model worth saving:

..the ladies argue they are one of only two privately owned venues left in the city – the rest have gone corporate with strippers that look like Barbie dolls. They don’t serve alcohol (which also allows them to put on a totally nude show). And they made “talk to a live, nude girl” a local catch phrase.

“We’re a San Francisco institution,” said Dolores, a dancer since 2005 who named herself for Mission Dolores Park. “If you can walk into a place, pay a dollar, see a beautiful nude girl and give her a wave, there’s something to be said for that.”

When I graduated from college in the early Nineties, I became aware of a term:  “sex-positive feminism.” The term is obviously problematic because it assumes other feminists are “sex negative,”  a stereotype used to caricature feminists.

The “sex-positive” group includes Susie Bright, Annie Sprinkle, and Carol Queen: feminists who were often sex workers, performers, or pornographers; they were supposed to contrast with anti-pornography activists like Andrea Dworkin, Catherine Makinnon, and Robin Morgan.

At that time in the Nineties, I did think that a lot of porn exploited women. But I also thought that healthy sexuality and sexual expression were key to being a free and healthy human being. Shame is a powerful tool and society uses it to control women just as parents use it to control kids.

When I was a kid, I remember being excited when Vanessa Williams became the first African-American to win the Miss America title. I thought that was great sign for more diversity in perceptions of beauty. But then nude photos of Williams surfaced and she was forced to give up her crown. Even as a kid, I didn’t get the difference between a woman being celebrated for parading around in a bathing suit but then being shunned for posing naked for a photo.

A couple years after the Williams scandal, nude photos of Madonna surfaced. I remember bracing myself for another fall. When Madonna’s response was “Who cares?” I was so surprised and psyched. I started to wonder: what if women refused to let the fear of being shamed hold them back? What could they do? What would they be capable of?

So called “sex-positive” feminism is often portrayed as that exciting, the battle of truth versus hypocrisy; free imagination versus the uptight masses; young versus old.

But is it really?

I remember seeing the movie “The People Versus Larry Flynt,” where Flynt was depicted as a true freedom fighter, a crusader for free speech. But no matter how much I tried to be open-minded, it was clear to me that Flynt was no advocate for women’s free self-expression.

So is stripping empowering for women? It’s certainly become mainstream, showing up in everything from music videos to pole-dancing exercise classes. I suppose most women have experienced moments where it feels intoxicating to control men with their bodies. But it’s a different thing to link up those moments into a profession, to transform them into something that your financial security depends on. That seems like engaging in a losing if not risky battle, both for a dependable income and for establishing a healthy sexuality.

As author Peggy Orenstein explains so well, there is a huge difference between sexualization and sexuality. Sexualization is sexuality as performance and not a healthy, integrated sexuality. Unfortunately, sexualization has become so confused with real sexuality, it’s hard to separate it, to define what real sexuality is. One example of this is how we perceive breasts. Breasts are secondary sex characteristics, existing in part to give women pleasure. But when they are replaced by implants, breasts become homogeneous; visual stimulation for a men and a more numbed experience for women.

Which brings me back the Lusty Lady. This club boasts diverse bodies. Real breasts. So is that empowering?

I suppose it’s a question that only dancers can answers for themselves. When I interviewed Jillian Lauren, author of the book Some Girls about her sex work in Brunei, I asked her about it. Here’s what she said:

I really came into the feminist movement with a very particular viewpoint. And in the early nineties, when I was coming of age, there was this sex-positive explosion in the feminist movement. There was Susie Bright and Carol Queen and a bunch of bright, incredible women who were very vocal about being sex positive. Now I’m friends with a lot of these women. I do absolutely consider myself part of that camp. However, Its not simply about, “Sex work is so empowering, hooray.” Because that’s not how I feel anymore, now that I’m out of it and have lived with the consequences for 20 years. Sex work affected my relationship with my body, with my sexuality.It still has a ripple effect in my life. Taking your clothes off for money is a valid choice. For some women, maybe it’s the only choice. Certainly decriminalizing prostitution and having health care available for sex workers would help. But I don’t think it’s the greatest thing women can do for our souls, for the most part.

Maybe asking if the Lusty Lady is a feminist model or a sex positive one is the wrong question. Sex workers are workers. Like all workers, they should to be fairly paid and free of discrimination for age, gender, size, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. That’s a business model that every worker should be fighting for.

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Last week, I found myself in Golden Gate Park with an hour of time to kill, and I wandered into the de Young. The current show is about Jean Paul Gaultier, and though the subject didn’t interest me, I so rarely get to museums these days that I bought a ticket.

Going to this exhibition was like entering another world. I lost track of time, space, and reality. The exhibition is a visual, sensory, heady experience that blew my mind.

When you enter the show, the lighting is dimmed. You are surrounded by mannequins lit up and looming over you. My perspective was immediately altered. As I tried to get my bearings, I realized that the mannequins lips and eyes were moving. One looked down and smiled shyly at me. Then he started to sing in French. Was he real? I looked down at his naked torso which was clearly plastic. Turning around, I surveyed the other mannequins. They were everywhere, twitching lips, bursting into toothy grins, and talking. It was like being in a room full of zombies. And there was room after room after room of them.

Finally, I noticed the clothing: layers of sequins, lace, and feathers. As I looked at the fashion, I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was seeing/ experiencing clothing as art. It occurred me that Jean Paul Gaultier is not an evil man who wants to keep women down by creating expensive dresses for anorexics. His intention, though the effects are not so great, isn’t bad. Women’s bodies are his canvases.

That’s not such a great position for women, of course. And the notion goes back to John Berger’s great book about art, Ways of Seeing, where he writes: “Men watch. Women watch themselves being watched.” That analysis applies not only to visual art but literature as well, where women mostly exist mostly through men’s eyes. This has happened to women for so long that it has become how we think about ourselves as well: from a male perspective. I’ve blogged about this a lot: men aren’t bad, they’re just self-centered like all humans are. That’s why we need more women artists to tell their own stories. The problem is that all art is derivative, so at this point, I don’t think its possible to tell a story without it being influenced by the thousands of years of that male perspective.

I escaped the zombie rooms for a few minutes, walking into an area with a giant, pink, quilted cube in the center. On each face of the cube was an open window with garments on faceless mannequins. I realized I was looking at the bustier Madonna wore in her Blonde Ambition tour. She is quoted:

“Gaultier’s corsets are very sexy looking, and I consider wearing them a form of personal expression. The practice is oppressive only if it is forced, and women today can choose to wear them or not; it is up to them. Plus I wore those corsets as garments–-on the outside–not as underwear hidden beneath my other clothes, the complete opposite of the way they were traditionally worn in order to achieve a certain shape. I think that inversion of the concept of the corset is what turns it into a symbol of feminine power and sexual freedom.”

I don’t agree that women have the free choice to wear what they want. Figuring out what we want can be like walking through a labyrinth. I sound like Freud here, but with so many images marketed to us and because when you look a certain way you are more easily rewarded with success and power, how can we really choose freely? Even if we choose not to “fall into that trap” is that really what we want? Rebellion adheres to the same rules as conformity if you are systematically breaking all the rules that you would otherwise be following. That’s not “free choice” either. Which brought me full circle: because we don’t really know and can’t possibly tell what free choice is given our culture and how we all internalize it, I appreciate Madonna playing with the images. Madonna’s performance– and Gaultier’s– makes you think, makes you see fashion, physical bodies, and gender in a different way. That’s pretty cool.

Under another corset, Madonna is pretty much quoted as saying just that. She explains her goal in asking Gaultier to redo the velvet cone bras for her “Vogue” video: “Playing with the idea of gender and what is masculine and feminine, and giving it a theatrical, humorous twist–it was a kind of political statement.”

I highly recommend this show but it has adult themes so don’t bring kids.

Reel Girl rates Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk ***H***

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To anyone who thinks this S & M-M & M is outdated because it’s from a few years back:

Here is Ms. Brown on back cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue:

To anyone who thinks that I just have a dirty mind and there’s nothing sexualized about M & Ms for God’s sake, here is how Sports Illustrated promotes the ad on its own Facebook page:  Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: “Did you see the sexy Ms. Brown made the cover of the Swimsuit issue again!? Welllll, the back cover; Check her out.”

Keep in mind that Ms. Brown is the new female, that before her debut on TV during this year’s Superbowl, even Time Magazine called the animated M & M characters “male-centric.” Ms. Brown has since been called the feminist M & M (as opposed to the boy-crazy Ms. Green.) Brown wears glasses (that means she’s smart!) and tweets empowering messages about women’s issues.

So why is our token feminist character peeking out the window with kissy-lips waving a towel (implying she’d naked, I guess?) on the back cover of SI, so in full view of any kid whose parents have this magazine at home?

Why does M & Ms have to sexualize its female cartoon characters? Before Ms. Brown, there was only one female out of five; now there are 2 out of 6, and this is what M & Ms does to them? These cartoon characters appear in toys, games, and in full size at CVS and Party City stores.

Why are we allowing these stereotypes to sell sexism to kids  in any available blank space? If M & Ms promoted racial stereotypes, there would outrage. Parents, this is not OK.

Please go to M & Ms Facebook page and tell the company to stop sexualizing females. As I posted earlier, the M &Ms marketing strategy is just as sick as using a cartoon camel to sell cigarettes to kids.

Read more about gendering food marketed to kids.

Read about the difference between sexualizing (bad) and sexuality (good)

Update: I am getting comments that the M & M pictured above is actually Ms. Green, that green thing she’s waving? It’s her shell which she has stripped off and is waving to show that she’s naked. I have seriously lost my appetite for M & Ms. Gross. Thoughts?

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Last week, I went to a reading by Peggy Orenstein from her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, now out in paperback. I’m such a huge Orenstein fan and I’ve written so much about her on this blog, that I wondered if after I saw her read, I would have anything left to blog about.

Guess what? I do!

Mostly, I’ve written about Orenstein’s research on the princess culture and how it affects little girls. But at the reading, Orenstein spoke a lot about older girls and also the potential, deep, long-term effects of relentlessly teaching girls through play and media to focus on their appearance.

I blog a lot about how girls get trained early (through toys about dressing dolls, roles in movies and TV, incessant compliments for their dresses, shoes, hair etc) that they get attention for and an actual identity from how they look. Orenstein spoke about how this emphasis can set girls in a pattern that puts them at risk. For what? Eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter traces how the real life Disney stars/ girl princesses (i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus etc) attempt to make their transitions from girl-princesses into adult ones; or more crassly, from virgin to whore. Orenstein writes it’s impossible to commodify one end of the spectrum and not the other, and there are so few models of healthy female sexuality out there.

Our daughters may not be faced with the decision of whether to strip for Maxim, but they will have to figure out how to become sexual beings without being objectified or stigmatized.

All that early training for girls to focus incessantly on their appearance lasts a lifetime. What happens when these girls try to grow up? Orenstein writes that girls learn: “Look sexy, but don’t feel sexual, to provoke desire in others without experiencing it themselves.” How does this emphasis on dressing up and attention for appearance affect kids as they grow? In CAMD, Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw from his book The Triple Bind:

“Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.

In short: sexualization is performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. Sexuality is understanding and connecting to your own desire.

At the reading, Orenstein shared this passage from Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.

This distinction between sexuality and sexualization is not made often enough. If you’re against the sexualization of girls, it’s often concluded that you’re somehow anti-sex, on the same team with Phyllis Schlafly or a fan of “traditional family values.”  The political agenda to promote healthy sexuality is actually the opposite and must include access to contraception for all women, sex education in schools, and full reproductive rights.

The sexualization of girls has nothing to do with real sexuality.

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To the various commenters upset about previous “slut-shaming” in my critiques of kids’ media, I think adults should express their sexuality how they please. (I have written more about the what I think about the issue of short skirts and their empowering potential here.)

As far as media or toys geared towards little kids, I am totally against any of it including sexualized females. I think it’s horrible that one of the few female characters in the new animated movie for kids, “The Pirates: band of Misfits,” is a “sexy” pirate. I don’t think that’s just in bad taste. I think it’s dangerous. Sexualized females are so predominant in kids movies, TV, ads, and toys that boundaries blur, contributing to the epidemic of sexual abuse of kids and also widespread child pornography. And it is all widespread.

When a girl sees Salma Hayek’ character dressed as a “sexy” pirate in a movie, is that the costume she’d going to pick if she wants to be a pirate for Halloween? Do we want little girls dressing up as sexy pirates?

Can you tell the difference between a picture of Ariel smiling coyly in her bikini top and an ad for a strip show? I can’t.

Peggy Orenstein wrote in Cinderella Ate My Daughter that when girls learn about sexuality this way, they learn sexuality as performance, instead of being agents seeking their own desire/ pleasure. Sexualizing girls does not lead to healthy, self-expressive sexuality. It leads to numbness; it helps to separate minds from bodies.

One of the best books I have ever read about grown up sexuality: Can Love Last: The Fate of Romance Over Time, Stephen Mitchell writes this:

One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of  safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.

It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes. But as adults, we gradually learn how managed was that cocoon-like space our caregivers were able to provide. Thus the kind of certainty and control inherent in the secure attachment that children feel for there parents is partially an illusion, and it is crucial that that spell not be suddenly broken.

Protect your kids imagination. Fight for that.

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I’m not into college football. I’ve never snapped towels in the shower. But I continue to be blown away by the distorted reality of this subculture.

The email McQueary sent to a friend — obtained by the Associated Press, reads as follows:

“You are the first person I have told this … and I don’t know you extremely well … and I have been told bye (sic) officials to not say anything ….”

“I did stop it, not physically … but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room … I did have discussions with the official at the university in charge of police … no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds…trust me.”

“Do with this what you want … but I am getting hammered for handling this the right way … or what I thought at the time was right … I had to make tough impacting quick decisions.”

What is “tough” in the decision to stop the rape of a child and report the crime to police? Am I missing something?

Sandusky went on national TV with Bob Costas. The Washington Post reports:

On Monday night, Sandusky said in an NBC television interview that he showered with and “horsed around” with boys but was innocent of criminal charges, a statement that has stunned legal observers. Sandusky’s comments, they said, could be used by prosecutors trying to convict him of child sex-abuse charges.

“Mr. Sandusky goes on worldwide television and admits he did everything the prosecution claims he did, except for the ultimate act of rape or sodomy? If I were a prosecutor, I’d be stunned,” said Lynne Abraham, the former district attorney of Philadelphia. “I was stunned, and then I was revolted.”

“I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact,” Sandusky told Bob Costas. “I am innocent of those charges.”

When Costas asked him whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys, Sandusky replied: “Sexually attracted, no. I enjoy young people, I love to be around them, but, no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”…

“What was especially astonishing about Sandusky’s interview is — and this will be the big moment in court — is when he stumbled over the question about whether he was sexually attracted to children,” said crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall, who runs a Washington consulting firm. “That may not be legal proof that he’s guilty, but it is certainly not helpful, to struggle with the question.”

As with Paterno’s offensive and shocking retirement statement, none of these men seem to have much of a clue about right and wrong.

Strategies on how parents can help to prevent child abuse here. The basic message is talk to your kids.

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What if every time sex abuse was discovered it got reported to police? What if people stopped reacting to it as a “private” matter? What if that reaction included other sex crimes, rape and domestic abuse? How much progress could be made towards actually making a dent in stopping these secret crimes?

On Saturday, the acclaimed military school the Citadel disclosed that it failed to report to police allegations of sex abuse against a summer camp counselor in 2007. Last month, the accused man was arrested on separate charges of abusing five other boys.

CBS News reports that Citadel President John Rosa now says that the school is bringing in an outside company to review the procedures in handling such situations with an eye toward making improvements.

“We regret we did not pursue this matter further,” Rosa said.

So the Citadel publicly discloses sex abuse charges and then takes action to make change. This is good and why the silence at Penn State was so egregious. Keeping quiet gives others permission to keep quiet; going public gives others permission to go public.

Last week, of the Penn state scandal, I blogged:

The events at Penn State– the hubris, the network “brotherhood” of powerful men who covered up, the vulnerable kids in the ‘charitable’ organization Sandusky founded– should be examined to deeply understand how conditions that allow sexual abuse are created, supported, and institutionalized. The Penn State bubble was finally punctured at least for the Trustees last night, but look what it took: an arrest, a public scandal, and the threat of losing millions. And still Paterno and the Penn State students who are rallying and rioting for him fail to prioritize the victims.

Statistics show that 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before age 18. Where do these “bubbles” exist right now that we’re not all talking about? If we don’t start working harder to stop the sexual abuse of kids, if we don’t make that a higher priority, it will continue at these high rates.

Obviously, another bubble is the Citadel which shares conditions listed above. Rosa is disclosing the sexual abuse now for the same reasons he chose to keep kept it secret before: to protect his job and the reputation of the institution. This reflects an important shift. Now Rosa knows that to go public is better for him in the long run and for the institution he runs. Hopefully, he also understands that he needs to take action in order to protect victims and potential victims.

The horrible events at Penn State provide a national platform to acknowledge and change the way we react to sex abuse. Sexual predators won’t stop on their own and kids need someone to protect them. Sex abuse is widespread. Typically, a kid has to tell multiple adults he was abused before one helps him. Those are the kids who actually tell. Until more adults stand up and protect these kids, take the risk– sadly and remarkably it is a risk– to say that sex abuse is happening and is wrong,  we give it permission to go on.

Here are some ways you can help to prevent child sex abuse. These recommendations are from Family Services. Similar lists are all over the internet, the basic message being the first step is don’t ignore that sex abuse happens; talk to your kids.

Talk openly with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse. Include molestation or secret touching in a discussion of safety issues in general such as answering the phone, fires, injuries, getting lost.
Praise and give your child affection and develop the kind of relationship that would allow your child to come to you for help or support for any kind of problem they might need help with, for themselves or a friend.
Tell your children that touching other people’s private parts is not ok for children to do or for adults to do with children. Tell them that you do not want them to do secret touching with other people but that you will not be mad at them if they tell you it has happened.
Instruct your children to tell you or another supportive adult if anyone touches or tries to see their private parts, tries to get them to touch or look at another person’s private parts, shows them pictures of or tries to take pictures of their private parts, talks to them about sex, walks in on them in the bathroom, or does anything provocative that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Help your children understand that it is possible that they may know or meet someone with a touching problem who will try to make secret touching look accidental. Encourage your children to tell you even if it might have been an accident.
Tell your children that touching problems are wrong, like stealing or lying, and that the people who have those kinds of problems need special help.
Let your children know that molesters try to get children to keep the abuse a secret by giving them candy, money or special privileges or by making threats or making the children feel bad.
Help identify and encourage your children to have support people they can talk to at home, at school, in their extended family, neighborhood or church. Have them pick out three people and tell you who they are. Put the phone numbers next to your phone and let them know that, if for any reason, they cannot talk to you that they should call or go see one of these people.
Don’t let young male children go into a men’s public restroom by themselves.
Be cautious about who you allow to baby-sit or spend time alone with your children. Try to bathe and dress your children before you leave. Routinely quiz your children about what happens while you are gone. Ask questions like,”What did you do that was fun?” Was there anything that happened while I was gone that worried you or that I should know about? Don’t always tell your children to mind the babysitter.
Get to know the people and homes where your children play.
Periodically check on your children, especially when they are playing with other kids in your home. If you know that one of your children’s friends has been sexually abused, be more attentive to their playtime.
Know your neighbors.
Supervise all Internet activities closely. Consider subscribing to an ISP that screens for obscenity and pornography. Instruct your children to never give out their phone number, address or school name to anyone they meet over the Internet. Periodically, ask your children to see the kinds of chat room conversations that take place.
Demonstrate loving, respectful intimate relationships in your home. Children should not observe direct sexual contact or any type of pornography.
Be aware that forms of sexual play or experimentation are normal and developmentally appropriate in young children; but if your child engages in any type of sexually inappropriate behavior, especially with a younger, smaller or less mature child, get professional help right away. Try to overcome denial and defensiveness. If your child does have a problem that goes untreated, it may become worse and create many more problems for your child, family, school and community. This includes date rape or sexual assault between preteens and teenagers. Boys who sexually assault girls frequently grow up to molest their own children or engage in domestic violence.
If another child engages your child in sexually inappropriate behavior or talk, tell their parents what happened so that they can get help. If you do not think that the family is seeking professional help, contact your local child abuse hotline.

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