Just now someone sent this link to me with the subject line, “this is just obscene.” I had to stop and write something because, indeed, it IS obscene – on many levels!
The worst part of this story is not even the fact the mother of this 7 year old would give her a voucher for a future “boob job” and liposuction, it is the fact that this young girl is already herself begging for these procedures.
Obviously, it is outrageous for a parent – or any adult – to give such a gift to a child, but lets not leave this story at criticizing her mother. Even as indicated in the “objective” coverage of this story, the idea that a female should be evaluated primarily in terms of her physical attractiveness (as defined by a dangerously narrow and unhealthy standard) to men is broadly accepted in society. That is not being indicted by the article. What is being called out is that this 7 year old is just too young to be objectified and surgically modified. I agree, she is too young. But just because a girl grows up into a woman doesn't make objectifying and commodifying her body okay (nor does it make it harmless for her to “choose” to objectify and commodify herself!). And this is what is not being called out in this article, or in most of the discussion these days about the very real and very dangerous phenomenon of sexualizing very young girls.
If we treat women like nothing more than sex objects then how is that NOT going to filter down into the psyches and aspirations of very young girls?
To be clear, sexualizing a 7 year old IS a fucking crime, but lets just step back a second so we don't miss the other crimes this is part of.
If this were a story about some other adult-level interests of a child – a desire to don a firefighter's helmet or their proclamation that someday they want to be president – people's reactions would be very different. All of these are aspirations to do things that they cannot fully understand the significance of. Some of these things are dangerous.
Here we see, it is not the desire to do something outside their “age-bracket” that is so alarming, it is the particularly degrading content of what it means to be female striving to conform to male-supremacist beauty standards in this society today that people are saying recognizing is damaging to a very young girl.
Why do I say “male-supremacist beauty standards”? Because women are still valued in this society largely male-supremacist terms. Ie: either they conform to a very narrow standards of sexual attractiveness and beauty OR they are good mothers and breeders of children (or, if you are a real “milf” you “win points” for doing both!)
Yes, despite all the advances women have made – these two standards, the virgin and the whore, are being forcefully reasserted. Witness the unrelenting and deadly assault on women's right to abortion and even birth control on the one hand... and the sexualization of very young girls (and the florescence of strip clubs, the mainstreaming of increasingly violent and degrading porn, the indiscernability of the words of rapists and of men's magazines, etc.).
Let me be clear. Sexuality is one part of being human. It is essential that women's ability to be sexual and not be shamed or stigmatized or demonized for it be very boldly defended and fought for. But this is just one part of being human (together with being intellectual, political, publicly social and more). The problem with sexualization of women, as well as young girls, is that it strips women of their full humanity and reduces the full human being into a sexual object. Boob jobs and cosmetic surgery is not only bad for very young girls, it is bad for women (save your letters, I am NOT condemning women who get implants after a mastectomy – we all know that is different)! It is NOT the expression of some organic or “natural” urge of women to “beautify themselves” – it is the act of women conforming to a very narrow and brutal societal standard of sexual beauty and a standard that reduces women to that (or at minimum subordinates their larger humanity to their ability to conform to this brutal “beauty standard”).
So Why Are Young Girls Being Increasingly Sexualized?
Finally, an interesting observation I encountered recently when interviewing Gigi Durham
(click and listen to the interview!), the author of “The Lolita Effect”,
about the sexualization of young girls. She observes that, years ago, when the icon of female sexual beauty was Marilyn Monroe, Monroe was 29 or 30 years old. The mass promotion of her image as “the standard” was still objectification of women and had enormous negative effects on the way that men viewed women and the way that women viewed themselves, but its worth noting that Monroe did have
the body of a full grown woman. Gigi contrasted this to Brittany Spears and pointed out that the icons of female objectification have gotten younger and younger and younger.
Today, there is both the sexualization of increasingly young girls (as seen in the above article and in things like Toddlers and Tiaras, stripper poles sold in toy stores for 7 year olds, etc.) AND the infantalization of full grown women (the “hipless” size-zero aesthetic, the all-the-way bare waxing of pubic hair, etc.). Here is the point I am coming to, though. Gigi linked both these phenomenon to a sort of backlash against the advances won by women in the last several decades.
In other words, the more that real, full-grown women demanded to be taken seriously as full human beings, the more that these full grown women fought for equal participation in the public spheres of all kinds (work, politics, etc.), the more that the image of full grown women was rejected by the male-supremacist culture and the image of the child-woman (who was much more demure, less confident, less intellectually developed, less likely to forcefully assert her own desires, more malleable to the desires of men) was elevated instead.
This rings very true. Yes, the media does a lot wrong. And yes, there are parents who really make very bad decisions in how they rear their children. But, to really understand and reject what is behind a culture that is increasingly destroying and dangerously distorting the lives, the ambitions, the sense of self-worth, and the sense of purpose of very young girls we must confront a whole culture that has been in backlash against the assertion of women's liberation in the 60s and 70s.
This forceful reassertion of male-supremacy is what is responsible for the unending bombardment of images and messages that women are only valuable in so far as they conform to narrow beauty and sexual standards and for the way that this dehumanizing notion has increasingly taken aim at – and is daily causing great damage to – very young girls who are being sexualized, who are being taught to act and move like sex objects, long before they know what sex even is.
All this is literally killing and destroying women and girls. It is long past time it be called out and rejected. Join with me in doing so all across the country in the mass marches and mobilizations on March 10 & 11th to mark International Women's Day 2012. Read more about that here: