Transgender actress Laverne Cox poses naked in this month’s Allure, telling the magazine:
“I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again. But I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks. There’s a beauty in the things we think are imperfect. It sounds very cliché, but its true.”
Ideals of female beauty vary over time and geography, but what’s consistent in patriarchal culture, whether the idealized body happens to be Rubenesque or Twiggyish, is that women are shown naked. (For a gallery of images, please see my post Why do men feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons) Cox has has a unique opportunity to publicly redefine what it means to be a woman, and I’m disappointed she’s sexualized here. There’s nothing new or celebratory or original about a woman posing naked.
I don’t get why all of a sudden, if the naked woman is over 50 (like Julia Louis Dreyfus on the cover of Rolling Stone) or plus size, we’re supposed to do a 180 and be grateful for the sexism. Look, she’s 50 and topless! Isn’t that wonderful? People still think she’s pretty, men still want to fuck her, she has value in the world!
Sports Illustrated’s 2015 swimsuit issue cover shows a model pulling down her bikini with a come hither smile on her face. YAY! We get to see this image with our kids while paying for our groceries at Safeway. Yet another drop in the bucket to a mainstream, American culture that tells men they are entitled to women. Think it’s harmless fun?
Last year 22 year old Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree after posting a video on YouTube and writing a manifesto describing his hatred of women, his anger for being rejected by them, his frustration and not being able to get a girlfriend, and his jealousy of sexually active men. All these signs were ignored. After the violence, most of the media cast Rodger as a crazy guy, a glitch in the system when in truth, he’s a product of it. Here were some exceptions:
If the Santa Barbara shooter had been Muslim, and left the same sorts of video screeds and more, our government and media would undoubtedly be labeling this incident as terrorism. Just as an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist sets out to kill American infidels simply because they are “American infidels,” the Santa Barbara shooter set out to kill women simply because they were women. You tell me the difference. To fail to label the latter terrorism suggests a politicized use of the term, one interested in defending Judeo-Christian Americans and values, but not women.
The fact of misogyny America is not an accident. It is as deliberate as the shooting in Santa Barbara Friday night. Those who seek to perpetuate misogyny, to actively further the subjugation and suffering of women, are not just nut-balls but adherents of a very specific and very ugly social and political ideology. And those who take up weapons and kill large numbers of people in furtherance of that ideology? They’re terrorists.
Facebook posts popped up commemorating Rodger. On a page titled “Powerlifters Against Feminism” I read this:
Shoutout to my boy elliot rodger. He did the best thing us men could do. And paid the ultimate price. Let his death be a memorial day in which we hate against the subhuman species called women.
I contacted Facebook, asking them to shutdown the page, and I got this reply:
Monica Lewinsky continues to tell her story, and I am happy she is speaking. From the first time I saw Lewinsky’s face on my TV screen, what upset me most was the repetition of the same old narrative, worldwide, through images and text: a powerful man was being brought down by the sexuality of a young woman. A man I voted for as a woman in my twenties because I thought that he would do good things for women.
It is this narrative and text that Lewinsky is speaking about right now. Finally, she’s taking control of her story.
So many say Lewinsky is just being used, she’s talking now because she’s trying to destroy Hillary’s run for president. Once again, this is Lewinsky’s story, not the Clintons’ narrative. Why don’t you listen to, and talk about, what she is saying instead of why you think she’s speaking?
Here is one of my favorite lines from Lewinsky’s speech: “Let me tell you about being publicly separated from your truth…Being publicly separated from your truth is one of the classic triggers of anxiety, depression, and self loathing. And the greater the distance between the way people want you to be and the you you actually are, the greater will be your anxiety, depression, sense of failure and shame.”
She also says this: “The problem is that I believe in the power of story, in the power of stories to inspire, comfort, educate, and change things for the better, fictional stories, stories from history, and yes, news stories.”
I do too. That’s the reason I started this blog, because I’m tired of the same old story. I want something better for my kids. From what I can tell, Lewinsky does too. Please watch this video.
The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”
I’m reposting a blog I wrote after seeing Jimmy Fallon’s Vanity Fair cover. Look at these images. When will women in America be recognized as human beings equal to men?
Vanity Fair’s sexist Jimmy Fallon profile erases his wife, highlights Victoria Secret models
I’m a huge Jimmy Fallon fan. This is why I bought the new Vanity Fair where he’s on the cover even though it annoyed me that Fallon is shown in a suit while he’s flanked by two nameless women in bathing suits.
There are more pics of Fallon and naked women inside the magazine. Reading the caption, I learned that the women are Victoria Secret models.
There is a third picture of Fallon and the women at what looks like New York’s Natural History museum. Once again, the women are in skimpy bikinis and we get a full view of ass. Fallon is once again pictured in a suit.
Showing important, powerful men fully clothed while women appear as naked accessories underscores the idea that men valued for what they do and think, while women are valued for how they appear. Vanity Fair repetitively resorts to this sexism. There’s a famous photo featuring naked Scarlett Johanssen, Keira Knightly, and Tom Ford. When Rachel McAdams refused to undress, she was asked to leave.
Of course, Vanity Fair is hardly alone in promoting this sexist imagery. Here are five GQ covers that came out simultaneously: four men are shown in suits, one woman is shown naked.
What about Rolling Stone?
There’s Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision” video where he is clothed and the women are naked.
Many claimed Timberlake was copying Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video where he is clothed and the women are naked, a pairing repeated in the infamous Miley Cyrus performance (where Miley was blamed for being a slut.)
“Alternative” musicians resort to the same cliche. Did you see Nick Cave’s latest album cover?
The truth is, we’ve been dealing with the clothed man-naked woman pairing for a long time. Here’s a famous painting by Edouard Manet in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris that would make a perfect Vanity Fair cover.
But here’s what really pissed me off about the Jimmy Fallon article. As I wrote, I’m a fan of the comedian, but part of the reason I bought the magazine is because I wanted to know more about his wife, Nancy Juvonen. She’s a film producer and a business partner of Drew Barrymore. Both Barrymore and Juvonen are interested in making movies where cool women get to have adventures. I wanted to hear the whole story about how Juvonen and Fallon met and fell in love, just the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a Vanity Fair profile right? They recently had a daughter, Winnie, so I assumed Fallon would be asked about being a new father. I’m an avid reader of Us Weekly and People and I often see pictures of their family. Fallon is always cuddling his baby, playing with her, smiling at her, and I was curious about his thoughts on raising a girl in the world. Another thing I wanted to hear about: Fallon is 39 while Juvonen is 46, a rare gap in Hollywood where a woman’s age is measured closer to dog years than man years. Do you see my point here? Fallon married a successful career woman who is 7 years older than him, and this, besides his talent, is part of the reason I admire the guy. But here’s the weird thing: Nancy Juvonen is missing from Fallon’s profile.
Juvonen isn’t mentioned at all until 5 pages into the piece. After writing that Fallon always watched “SNL” alone, the text reads:
His one concession to adulthood is that he now watches the program with his wife, the film producer Nancy Juvonen, and if she is awake his baby daughter, Winnie, born last July.
Can you imagine Vanity Fair doing a profile on a famous woman and not mentioning her big time producer husband or her new baby until page 5? The piece goes on for two more pages and there are just two more brief references to Juvonen. Here’s all the magazine has to say on how they met and why they married.
Though the Fever Pitch experience had a saving grace–it was through the film that he met Juvonen, one of its producers who he would marry in 2007– he considers his LA years kind of a lost period.
Here’s the final reference to Juvonen, about persuading Fallon to become the “Tonight Show” host.
It was Fallon’s wife who persuaded him to go with Michael’s instinct. “Nancy was like, ‘You’ve got to try it. You’ll be one of three human beings who have done it– Letterman, Conan, and you. You have to do it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,’” Fallon said.
That’s it. WTF? All Fallon’s wife gets in a profile is a few sentences in passing coupled with a cover and three photos where he’s shown with naked women? That’s not the Jimmy Fallon I love or wanted to read about.
Last week, four black feminists participated in a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled: “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The talk– an in depth discussion about the influence of imagery and narrative on our culture and its role in creating our actual reality– went on for almost two hours. Yet, out of all this, the media reduced trenchant analysis into a sound byte, pitting one black woman against another: “Feminist scholar bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist.”
I encourage you to watch the whole talk. I know you probably won’t, because, as I wrote, it’s two hours long. I didn’t intend to sit through it all myself, but I was so excited and fascinated by what these women were saying, I couldn’t stop listening to them.
These 4 women are creating new narratives and images, beyond woman as victim, sex object, slave. The discussion about Beyonce, specifically her Time cover where she’s shown in her underwear (which totally bummed me out as well when I saw it– why, why, why, the issue is about the most influential people and she’s practically naked, do you know how few women make it to the cover of Time?) is a few minutes of a larger, important talk about women, power, and the nature of reality.
Here’s how bell hooks began the discussion:
Part of why I’m so excited and proud to be here today is that I’m up here with black women who are all about redefining and creating a different kind of image, liberating the black female body
Not a fan of “12 Years a Slave,” hooks says:
If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on the screen as long as I live, I’ll be happy.
YES! I could not agree more. I am so sick of watching women get raped. After the talk, someone in the audience challenged hooks, saying she felt conflicted about hooks’ reaction to “12 Years:’
we still need to have those conversations about rape and violence on stage…how can we have those conversations, the role of slavery and colonization on women’s bodies? Can we make space for both?
Here’s how hooks responded:
Because we have been so saturated, I mean, I think one of the big lies that’s going around is, “Oh, we never talked about slavery, oh, we don’t have images of slavery.” We had “Roots” and more “Roots,” and there’ve been all these different books and productions, so that I think of that as a kind of myth building thing when people say, “Oh, we don’t have images.” Notice I didn’t say I don’t want to see anything about slavery. I don’t want to see those same tropes over and over again.
hooks speaks about some narratives that involve slavery she’d like to see, for example, when John Wollman and the Quakers met and decided they could not support slavery and believe in the god they believed in, that in fact, they owed back wages to slaves.
that would be an interesting film for me… more interesting to me as an image, as an idea than the repetitive image of victimhood, and I think that they’re all kinds of images and stories out there that could bring us into a different level of understanding.
hooks was making exactly the same point about Beyonce. She was referring to the repetition of sexualized images of women and how the inundation is an assault on our brains, especially for kids:
I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist, in especially terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major assault of feminism in our society is has come from visual media… The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business…What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why is it we don’t have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but our own sense of: what am I looking like when I am free?
The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business
hooks wants new images. She says:
I would never want my child to see “12 Years a Slave” because it’s the imprint of the black, female body as victimized.
Again, totally agree. Obviously, “12 Years” isn’t a movie for kids, but I see endless books and movies, supposedly feminist ones where girls are mocked for being girls, then they rise above it and prove everyone wrong. Fuck that. I hope in children’s media I never have to read about or watch another girl dressing up as a boy, fighting or cooking “as good as a boy can,” from Mulan to Tamora Pierce to Elena’s Serenade to endless Minority Feisty. The reason this trope is awful for girls– and boys– is because before your child can understand the narrative, she needs to understand sexism. Instead of having Colette in “Ratatouille” give a whole speech about male dominated kitchens, why not make a movie with a female top chef and her best friend is a female talking-cooking rat? Audiences will buy that a rodent can run a three star restaurant but not a female? Like hooks says, we are saturated with this same old, same old. If we weren’t, it would be a different story (ha.) The slavery narrative in all its forms has its place, but we need a break. It’s too dominant. There are many other stories to tell.
By the way, hooks walks her talk. She wrote Happy to be Nappy for kids in 2001, and in this discussion, she says she includes it in her most important, favorite works.
Another speaker on the panel, Shola Lynch, is a filmmaker whose most recent production is a documentary about Angela Davis.
In referring to her film as “a political crime drama with a love story at the center,” she reframes Davis’ narrative. Next, Lynch is making a movie about Harriet Tubman, who she calls an “action heroine.” Can you believe there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman? Lynch says that even though Tubman’s story is true, people don’t “believe” it. The same phenomenon happened with the Davis movie. About selling that film, Lynch says:
So then I have conversations where somebody’s like, “Oh, it’s a great film as a documentary, but the only reason I would support it is I have to know who the main male characters are because it’ll be flipped to be a narrative, women’s stories don’t sell”… Her story is true, but not possible. People don’t believe it. But it’s all true.”
Talking about why she would rather make movies about heroes than victims, Lynch refers to “symbolic annihilation:”
Symbolic annihilation is two things: not seeing yourself, but it’s also seeing yourself only denigrated, victimized etc, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and the places that feed me. I really do think, you talk about children, the more we create our culture, our cultural images– the books you write, the films I make, the alternatives, that these are artifacts that live, and they speak to people whether we’re there or not, bodies of work, and that is critical. I want to give one example. My daughter, she’s 4. She’s never known me not working on the Angela Davis film which took 8 years. She was so excited when I could show her the trailer. ..The trailer is like 2 minutes long and she watched that trailer over and over and over again…She would point out all the characters, she loved going ‘That’s Angela’s mom.” So she created Angela’s family and a sense of community just by watching this thing over and over again. But that’s not what I wanted to share. So she’s a little girl, she wants to be a princess, I’m trying to convince her she wants to be a warrior princess, that’s blonde and poofy and glam. She woke up one morning and her hair was all out, just like, you know, big, out, out, out. Usually it’s like, “Oh mom, my hair is too puffy.” This morning, after watching the trailer over and over again, she said, “I have Angela Davis hair.” So I thought I was making this political crime drama with a love story at the center etcetera, etcetera, etcetra, but I was also making another image for young people to see and to perhaps relate to. And I was blown away, because I can tell her she’s beautiful all day long. I’m her mom, doesn’t count. The more we create the alternative universe which then becomes the universe.
Another panelist, writer Marci Blackman, echoes Lynch’s point:
My characters are the people who I grew up seeing every day who I don’t see, not just in literature, I don’t see them on TV…They weren’t there in the worlds that I was inhabiting when I would sit and go to the library and read, so I decided I wanted to write them, and I wanted to write people like me who I wasn’t seeing in the books either. I wanted to create these characters and put them out there, and I think what you say about self-representation and putting it out there to count as a counteract against these other images.
The journey to freedom has also been so much about the journey of imagination, the capacity to imagine yourself differently, counter-hegemonically, and that’s why the imagination is so important because Shola imagined Angela Davis in a different way from the images we had of her. That imagination of oneself, I would like us to end on that note and people can speak about creativity, because it is striking to me and I didn’t think about this when we were putting the panel together that for each of us, creativity and the uses of imagination have been what led us into the freedom we have. It has been what enhances my life every day. To be able to think and create and leap and jump beyond where I feel like we have been told, theoretically, intellectually that we should go.
Imagination inspires reality inspires imagination in an endless loop. It’s magic. That’s the point bell hooks was making about Beyonce. If you still don’t get it, here’s one last quote from hooks and then watch the video for yourself.
We can gather strength from the diversity of people’s stories, the diversity of people’s imagination.
Feminist scholar bell hooks is all over the media for calling Beyonce a terrorist. But that’s not the shocking part of the New School hosted debate. Writer Marci Blackman was on the panel, and she spoke about being stopped by TSA agents while returning from Florida last week because they couldn’t tell if she was male or female. Gender ambiguity is clearly offensive and dangerous to America, right? The TSA’s discrimination and abuse of power ought to be making headlines today. Here’s Blackman’s story as told to bell hooks (transcribed by me because I couldn’t find it anywhere else.)
After I come out of the body scan, they ask me for my boarding pass again, which they’re not supposed to do. And I give the man my boarding pass, and he waves over a female TSA agent who comes over and pulls me aside for a pat down search, and I asked why. And they wouldn’t say anything to me, and I said, “Look, I need to know why.” And so the first response was: “Well, we always search everybody three times.” And I said, “Well that’s clearly not true, because the ten people before me just walked right on through and got their bags. So why me? What is it about me that made you stop? Did something go off in the scan?” And finally she said, “It’s because we can’t tell if you’re male or female…ma’am.” So now, not only am I not in this box that I can’t find and that I wouldn’t want to get in anyway, but now, I’m a criminal, because I’m not walking or sitting or fitting or squeezing myself into this box that’s defined for me by somebody else.
Watch the video here, Blackman’s story is 23 minutes in.
The Internet spreads all kinds of social ills, from cyberbullying to mainstreaming hardcore pornography, but for me, the good far outweighs the bad, because I’ve “met” people like the excellent and amazing author of Redefining Girly, Melissa Wardy. Melissa’s blog and online community are a truly invaluable resource that support protecting childhood and raising healthy kids. Now, lucky you– she’s written a book.
From author Melissa Wardy: Hi Margot and hello to all of your Reel Girl readers. I’m so thrilled to be making a stop on the Redefining Girly Blog Tour at one of the blogs that I personally really love. I hope all of you enjoy reading Margot’s thoughts on my new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween and at the end of the post find out how you can win one of two Redefine Girly t-shirt gift packs.
Melissa started her children’s clothing company, Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, not long after her daughter was born, because she couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with an airplane. Really not cool, especially when she named her child after Amelia Earhart. On her site, Melissa writes:
Pigtail Pals was born in May 2009 with the mission to Redefine Girly! I believe girls need to see messages in early childhood that show females being smart, daring, and adventurous. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
What I love about Melissa is that she walks her talk. A mom can tell her daughters all day long that pretty isn’t the most important thing about them, but if she’s obsessed with her appearance and dieting, what is she showing her kids about her values? The sad truth of parenting is that actions matter more than words, and kids learn from what they experience, not from what they hear you talk at them. That, in my opinion, is the hardest thing about being a mom: trying not to be a hypocrite. Notice I write trying, which brings me to why I value Melissa’s book and believe it’s essential reading for every parent. She helps me to not be a hypocrite and– this is super important– to be kind as well. I know how to be reactive, to tell the truth and be angry about it (as Gloria Steinem famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.)” I’m not always sure how to effectively handle a sweet teacher who tells my daughter every morning how pretty she is, a “princess party” birthday invitation sent by a best friend, or a proposed “playdate” to the mall.
In 2014, the world our children live in is horribly sexist, a place where teachers, doctors, and family, often the people your children love and respect, indoctrinate them to expect and accept all kinds of gender stereotypes. But thanks to Melissa, you don’t have to cave in or isolate. You actually have choices in how you respond and act. Knowing this is liberating and calming. Melissa helps families transition from victims of gender stereotyping to creative heroes who are redefining a nd restoring childhood for our kids. For example, Melissa teaches you how to redefine girly in your own home, again by showing kids a new way with, for example, a hands on dad in the family who does laundry, by encouraging her son to play with dolls, by being a mom who uses tools and fixes things (along with cooking and cleaning), by eating desert with her kids and enjoying it. She gives advice on what to do if a friend or family member gives you hand me down clothes or toys that don’t fit with your ideal:
We’ll say “Thank you so much for thinking of us” and then politely decline or donate away items that carry messages that don’t fit with our family morals.
Simple, right? Yet, so many of us get tongue tied. Melissa’s book is full of useable, practical advice. With her signature combination of compassion and unflinching directness, Melissa gives tips for how to get friends and family on board. First, she reminds you: what you are doing is important. You are not insane. If you care about redefining girly, have no doubt that people will tell you the sexism that you see hurting children is trivial or doesn’t exist at all. Melissa writes:
Remember that you are not alone or crazy for seeing problems with the emotionally toxic ways our culture treats girls. The Resources section at the end of this book is full of alternatives, information, and the names of experts who can help. Our daughters deserve a girlhood free of harm and limitations.
Melissa lists specific tips on how to deal with criticism of your views:
Have a prepared team response you and your parenting partner will use that lets family know this is an issue you take seriously and that you want to have your wishes respected. My husband and I use “We want Amelia to be healthy and happy and we feel this is the best path to achieve that.” (We use the same message for our son.)
Have fun alternatives ready to suggest to family and friends who bring media into your home that you feel are unhealthy. This way you are not just saying no to their media, you are saying yes to healthier choices.
Have a secret signal for your kids to use so they can communicate to you that they need to ask you a question or talk to you about something later (like a baseball coach signal– helpful when a gift is given or a comment is made that your kids know goes against what you teach in your home.)
Melissa also has great one-liners that come in handy including: colors are for everyone, pretty’s got nothing to do with it, toys are made for kids not genders, there are many ways to be a boy/ girl.
Excellent sections in the book include: Encouraging kids at play– the Diverse Toy Box, Around the Kitchen Table– Fat Talk and Body Image, Using Your Voice and Consumer Power To Fight the Companies Making Major Missteps, and my favorite– Becoming the Media You Want to See.
I can’t recommend this book more. Not only will it help you redefine girly, but it shows you how to have fun and be happy while you’re changing the world. I’ve been trying to blog about this book since it came out in January and I tore through it, but it was too damn hard because I wanted to quote the entire thing. Today, I set myself a time limit and my time is up. (I only got through my notes on the first couple chapters.) So I’ll end with THANK YOU MELISSA. I think you’re about 10 years younger than me, but you’re my role model. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
From author Melissa Wardy: Thank you Margot for those wonderful words about my book. It is an honor to receive accolades from such a well-versed writer in this area but also from a woman and mom whom I highly respect. I would love to hear from your audience now and have them share either something they have learned from Redefining Girly if they have already read it, or have them describe an issue/concern they have currently with their daughter that they are hoping to learn more about when they do read the book. I’ll pick two winners to receive a Redefining Girly t-shirt gift pack (two tees + shipping). Winners will be chosen Friday May 30 at 8pm PST so make sure to get a comment in before then! Okay Reel Girl readers, what are your thoughts on Redefining Girly?”
As the mother of three young daughters, I have some issues with your letter I want to address.
My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim. And yet, I am still seen as just a pretty face. It’s simpler to keep me in a box—and since I am a doll—chances are that’s where I’ll stay.
The problem is that while my daughters, in their short lives, have already seen thousands of women celebrated in magazines for how “beautiful” they look in a bathing suit, they have yet to see a woman grace the cover– or “promotional overlap”– of a magazine for being president of the USA. Of course, that’s because there has never been a female president in this country.
Mars Explorer Barbie® doll launches the first “one-doll” mission to Mars. Ready to add her signature pink splash to the “red planet,” Barbie® doll is outfitted in a stylish space suit with pink reflective accents, helmet, space pack and signature pink space boots.
Do you think “adding a signature pink splash” is the best way to inspire our daughters to become astronauts? Barbie’s professions aren’t defined by much more than what she wears. The emphasis is still on her outfit. The message to girls is that how they look is the most important thing about them.
Next in your letter, you write:
Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit drums up conversation and controversy. Upon the launch of this year’s 50th anniversary issue, there will again be buzz and debate over the validity of the women in the magazine, questioning if posing in it is a blow to female equality and self-image. In 2014, does any woman in the issue seriously need permission to appear there?
A woman doesn’t need permission to be in SI, but you, as the opening sentence of your letter states, are a doll, a doll made “for girls.” So when you’re in a magazine created for adults, and girls see your picture, they’ll think that this magazine is for them. They’ll want to flip through the pages, and if they do, they’ll see picture after picture of mostly naked adult women in sexual poses. When I blogged about Barbie in SI earlier, someone made this comment:
To me this just proves Barbies are NOT really children’s toys at all! Maybe that’s what they are “unapologetic” about? As in “Haha, suckers! You’ve been buying your daughters miniature sex dolls for 50+ years!”
If you’re coming out a sex doll, that’s Mattel’s choice, but the rest of the company’s advertising should reflect a consistent message. Stop trying to appeal to children, because that’s confusing, and confusing kids and sex is dangerous: one out five girls is sexually abused. When a culture is accustomed to seeing girls sexualized, we stay apathetic towards identifying it and taking action towards stopping this epidemic. In case you’re not familiar with sexualization, it’s different that healthy sexuality. Sexualization is when girls understand sexuality as performance, when its not connected to real feelings or desire. Sexualization happens when girls are exposed to adult sexuality too early. Here’s the definition of sexualization from the the American Psychological Association:
There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when
a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.
In your letter, you go on to defend models as more than pretty faces, claiming you want them to be recognized for their other achievements as authors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. But if you want more recognition for these professions, why showcase Barbie in her bathing suit?
Models choosing to pose in a bikini aren’t the problem.
How much “choice” is really involved when modeling is one of the only professions where women outearn men? How much choice is involved when ever since women were girls, they’ve seen women repeatedly celebrated on the cover of magazines– not so much for being authors, entrepreneurs or philanthropists– but for how they look in bathing suits? When female writers are relegated to chicklit, when the female CEO of General Motors earns half of her male predecessor’s salary, and when women hold 1% of the world’s wealth, making the “choice” to be a model may seem like the best way to success among such limited, sexist options.
There’s nothing innovative about Barbie in Sports Illustrated. This magazine has let a woman on the cover of a non-swimsuit issue only 66 times. That’s about once a year. These pictures are the same old, same old except for one thing: Barbie is taking the sexualizing of girlhood to an offensive and dangerous new low.
On animator Dave Pressler’s blog, he writes about his biggest pet peeve: being asked by male and female execs to put a bow or long eyelashes on his female characters.
Any boy / man character can be a lump, a ball, or a bucket. The second it’s a girl we must feminize and give sexuality to the character…That’s how we know she’s a female. Even when we were making Robot and Monster an executive wanted me to make J.D. more slim and “Sexy”.
Along with male artists Marc Crilley and David Bolk, I’m thrilled Pressler is writing about this sexism, but here’s my issue with his blog:
This is Hank, he is outgoing and a real story teller. Phil is Hanks other friend. Phil is a glass half empty kind of guy, but always there when you need him. Then there’s Julie, the cutest girl in town. She sees the good in everyone. These would be my initial rough ideas for the characters.
While urging artists to “Make Interesting Choices when you are designing, Illustrating etc. And don’t fall into this unimaginative trap” why is Julie described as the hot girl? And how much hope do we have of not defining her physically as “sexy” when she doesn’t get to be a described as something interesting or funny like a “storyteller” or “a glass half empty gal”?
Defending his female monster, Pressler writes. “She already is the sexiest monster in the show, exactly how she is.” While I appreciate this monster is beautiful as she is, without a bow or eyelashes, why must we be concerned with her beauty? Isn’t that the larger issue? I’m not familiar enough with Pressler’s work, but from this blog, it seems as if he is focused on changing the stereotypical look without changing the stereotypical narrative. Altering the look is no small feat, especially for our kids who are subjected to this kind of sexism constantly. In animation, female characters from Anna in Frozen to Kim Possible would be so much cooler if they weren’t shown super skinny with giant eyes or bare midriffs. But the goal has to be much bigger than changing the character’s appearance. The narrative for a female characters has to involve them being funny or cynical, encompassing a whole range of characteristics not typically understood as feminine, and also playing at least half the characters or getting to exist in the majority as well, or getting to be the protagonist way more often, like half the time.
What about making two female best friends, one an “outgoing storyteller,” the other a “glass half empty gal,” and then a male who is the cutest guy in town and always sees the good in everyone? If the narrative changes, it could unlock physical stereotypes as well. Otherwise, kidworld will be stuck with toys and media that look like this.