Friday, May 14, 2010

I'm an (8 year old) single lady?

I hesitate to even blog about this because I am uncomfortable about embedding this video or linking to it...

First: yeah, "not my daughter." Hell no. I won't even buy her a secondhand knockoff Barbie at the thrift store. Why? Because I want her to have more images of women than the caricatured sexuality that is Barbie to internalize as she grows up.

Beyond that initial parental instinct, though, this video presents a particular fraught and acute version of the dilemma I regularly face as the fem theologian mommy of a precocious daughter: how to separate out the genuinely childlike joy of dress-up, pretend play, movement and dance and song--and the horrible metanarratives our patriarchal--no, let me go further: subtly misogynistic--culture provides for the acting out of those beautiful children's instincts. How can I help my daughter separate out the desire to be beautiful and wear princess dresses from the helpless passivity of all these godforsaken ubiquitous princess narratives she soaks up like a sponge? How can I help her enjoy the gift of her body without learning that she can only enjoy it through the process of making others desire it?

(Further complicating that is the problematic stuff associated with any sort of public high-pressure competition for children, but let's just bracket that for a moment. Those concerns apply equally to children's beauty pageants, dance competitions and national spelling bees...)

So here's how I parse things out. Is it wrong for these girls to be up on stage dancing? Is it wrong for them to enjoy the ways their bodies can move and enjoy being good at moving their bodies? Absolutely not. But let's have a reality check here. Those girls did not choreograph their own dance routine, choose their music, make their own costumes. Some adult(s) in the background made those choices for them, and made them without any consideration (apparently) about what those choices would mean for the girls they were supposedly acting on behalf of. Do these girls have any idea what their skimpy outfits--outfits designed to display the sexual characteristics of female bodies they haven't even developed yet!--or movements like hip thrusts or shimmies are actually communicating, given the cultural context of this performance? Not to mention the awesome lyrics of a song that literally, verbally, reinforces the message that women are property who should be properly marked as owned before they give away their sexual favors. Maybe these girls have some dim idea--which is actually worse than having no idea at all, I would think. But what the adults in control of this situation have done is encourage these talented girls, who surely have developed their talents in dance at least partly out of the sheer joy of movement--to offer themselves as sexualized objects in order to do what they enjoy and are good at. Lesson learned: the only way to be who I am and do what I want is through the mechanism of being an outstanding object of sexual desire, even before I get my boobs.

Oh, that's awesome. Congratulations to everyone on that.

Not to mention, this gem of a video is on youtube, and when these amazing girls grow up and, say, apply to college, and later for jobs, there it will be. Forever archived on the ol' intertubes. That's gonna really help them out later on in life, isn't it.


Becky said...

To me this is a spiritual battle of the highest. As I see the generational struggles of women and having raised two daughters, I am sadden by what this does in the present and future. I am resolved to the fight but even more over joyed by possibilities. Who knows, what if in the future your daughter crosses the paths of one of these precious girls...

By the way, enjoying the blog!

The Sensible Seamstress said...

I'm having the same dilemma you are!

I have a 3 year old daughter who loves to dance, sing, move, twirl, wear only "twirly dresses," and be a "pretty princess."

I loathe the objectification of little girls and all it stands for and all it teaches them and all that it does to them when they are older. So I try to balance my support of her brain and her body ("You worked so hard on learning to spell your name and now you've done it - great!" but also "I like that new dance move you just made up - you've strong!" etc.).

I had actually looked up some dance studios/classes in our city... and then one day I saw that unfortunate video. I don't know what made me more sick - the girls' innocence being overwritten by their own knowing/unknowing booty shaking, or the ADULTS CHEERING THEM ON IN THE BACKGROUND. If I could have been there, I'd have forcibly stopped the music and shouted at the parents to get ahold of themselves.

Anyway, I cancelled all plans to enroll her in a dance class, something I know she would very much enjoy, and now I have her on a waiting list for gymnastics instead, which would be movement without any sexual innuendo built into it.

I'm disappointed that I'm robbing her of the pleasure of dancing! But how do I know that won't send her down a dark road that leads to a youtube video??

Donna Freedman said...

I was appalled by that video when I first saw it a few weeks ago. I keep thinking about all the pedophiles who are watching it. But I also think about all the non-pedophiles who are watching it and thinking it's totally OK.
I first saw it on Facebook, where a (male) friend posted the link and said he was horrified. One of his FEMALE Facebook friends said she thought it was cute.

JJT said...

Has anyone seen the new Huggies commercial for blue-jean diapers yet? I have an aversion to all talking-baby commercials, because it isn't amusing to me to put adult sentiments into the mouths of babes, whether it's about stocks or sub sandwiches, but this is even worse...a 1-YO toddling down the street with sexy butt shots and camera angles and runway music??? Why do people think it's funny to (even facetiously) suggest children as sex objects??

And of course, re the suject of the post, the dance video is not even facetious. It's just straightforward objectification.

Lara said...

You are DEAD ON about this, JTB. I watched my niece grow up on MTV and had the ability to dance like a stripper at the age of 3. I can't help but think that won't come back to haunt her mother at some point.

Women will never cease being objectified until they stop buying into it themselves.