March 31, 2008

Beck Being Smart: or, more on dressing daughters

I keep writing these quick little posts on all these complicated issues. O, how their incompletion irks me. Brevity is the soul of blog posts, but it's super irritating.

Anyway, from Beck today:

I will do things, The Boy's clothing predicts, possibly unwise things but whatever - an exciting future awaits, needing sturdy pants and cars that go places, skateboards that will hurtle through the air. The future that we offer our daughters promises less, a cheap disposable sexuality and a world where there are no adults. Look at me.


Which I think is a great summary of how we teach boys to be agents and girls to be objects, and how very sad it is.

I will add to Beck's articulation, however, that it is not only what she calls the "pre-teen tartwear" that objectifies our daughters. I think a lot of very conservative "girly" clothes do the same thing. Is it doing more of a deservice to daughters when we dress them in tartwear than when we dress them in frilly, facile clothes that impede their movement, require their cleanliness, and locate their value in their "innocence" of everything--action, sexuality, anger, outspokenness, intensity--that is equated with being powerful in the world? What to think of the white antique linen dresses hanging in my closet, waiting to dress the daughters I don't even have? How much worse for girls are bratz than barbies, anyway?

Which is all to say that sexualization is stylistically intertwined with but not fully reducible to the larger question of the ways little girls' appearance matters in the world, and the different ways it matters than the appearances of little boys.

And in both areas--objectification in general, and sexual objectification in particular--we raise the question of the degree to which being an object can actually be interesting or, in a weird way, powerful. I suspect every woman who reads this has had some experiences in which their appearance, and the sense of being looked at or desired, made them feel powerful, and some in which being reduced to your appearance was incredibly incredibly frustrating and even demeaning.

As a feminist and a woman and a mother, I have lots of thoughts about this. But let me for the moment answer my own question, above, with a pragmatic and unfortunate: yes. Yes, sexualized objectification is, in some ways, more dangerous. I'm rather sad to say it. But girls get pregnant, and are more at risk of a whole series of diseases, and are more liable to be punished socially for their sexuality, and more likely to be physically endangered by their sexuality.

It's like children's wear learned the wrong lesson from the sexual revolution. It's unfair to expect girls or women to be sexual in the way that men are, not only for whatever biological reasons you think exist, but because sexuality, for women, is still profoundly unsafe. Until that changes, sexualizing young girls is not just tasteless or crude or morally questionable. It's physically dangerous as well.

5 comments:

Beck said...

Ooooh, interesting.
I'm probably MUCH closer to dressing my girls like Laura Ingalls than anything (although they DON'T - The Girl has her preteen jeans and sweater uniform that she sticks to pragmatically.) and I have a lot of very conservative religious friends who dress their daughters in sensible dresses all the time. I don't have a problem with my daughters being recognizably female - I don't view androgeny as being in any way desirable - but I don't want them to have a debased femininity, something that lowers them to the sum of their body parts of (as you wrote) something that strips them of their power and their intelligence.

Beck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy E said...

I think as long as men continue to produce a million sperm per day, women will continue to be objectified, regardless of clothing choices for children and/or adults.

sarah said...

heh. amy, you are as astute as ever.

sheree said...

Insightful. But its missing something. Marketing aside, its the parents who dress the kids and generally buy the clothes through the teen years. Apparently we have a whole nation of mothers who choose to objectify their girls, or at the least enable it.
Did you see this article a few weeks back: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/fashion/28Skin.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=girls+makeup&st=nyt&oref=slogin

And of course, I assume you saw the STD rate is 25% among young women. This data is missing historical reference since the numbers haven't been tracked. It's also hard to pinpoint the cause. Despite the supposed slide in the nations morality over the last century, the sexual practices have actually remained constant http://www.publichealthreports.org/userfiles/122_1/12_PHR122-1_73-78.pdf. This suggests that the sexualization of pop culture has had little effect on sexual practices and therefore little effect on the high rates of disease and early pregnancy than the lack of proper [safe] sex ed.