Friday, December 29, 2006

Middle School Girls Gone Wild

Lawrence Downes (post from the NYT below) is right; I've witnessed middle school talent shows which are centered around girls' gyrating to pop music that was clearly intended for an adult audience. In fact, through running programs for girls, I have personally stopped girls rehearsing a version of the dance they thought they would showcase at our program's talent show, running around yelling " We are NOT dancing to Milkshake!" while the refrain"My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard" was blasting. And even with this vigilance, somehow a few bars of Snoop Dogs "Drop it Like it's Hot" still made it on stage. And just like Mr. Downes' experience, parents did shout and applaud at the girls' moves. I was conflicted, at the very least, about all of this.

In no way do I want to teach girls that sexuality is bad, that moving their bodies in any kind of way is inherently bad. There are so few messages for girls that their pleasure is important, and that their sexuality is okay and positive. Stopping their last minute improv to Milkshake (although the right thing to do) becomes problematic for me-- what message did they get from me? What did they learn in that moment?

Girls (and boys) both need to be able to evaluate the media, including the music they listen to and watch, movies, magazines, web, etc, and unfortunately they need to be able to do it at younger and younger ages. Helping young people connect the music industry to larger social justice issues and their own lives is absolutely key. Why are these images/lyrics about women and their bodies still so pervasive? Who's buying them? and why? Who's making the popular music that celebrates women as whole people with accomplishments beyond breasts, bootys, and sexual favors? It's out there.

Girls (and boys) also need the opportunities and outlets to understand that their bodies are good, sexuality is good, and that they have choices around how they express themselves through their clothing, their movement, their selection of dances at the talent show. Part of what is at play here is that there are so many commercial images of women gyrating and men as the center of affection, attention, money, and other symbols of "success" that these are the only options that many middle school aged youth see as ways to express their gendered selves or their sexuality. If they see an alternative at all, the messages they get about their bodies are often the Just Say No or Close Your Legs variety. Caught between these two messages, most young people are going for the shaking and bouncing. I don't blame them.

While boys are not necessarily shaking it on stage in talent shows, I've seen versions of talent shows where boys are in fashion shows, posing in outfits not suitable for middle schoolers, and lavished praise as the center of attention, for how they look. It may be more subtle than what girls do, but it's teaching a role, none the less.

And boys do dance. At the talent show I went to, while the girls were shaking it and the parents were cheering, a three year old younger brother was executing all the moves perfectly.

7 comments:

Joan Kelly said...

Thanks for this post, Patti. I've been thinking about stuff like this even more since my niece was born over a week ago. (I like to plan ahead.) I wonder if some of the Just-Say-No folks feel deep down like I do, and just don't know what else to do with it - I don't want young girls to not-have sex, I just want them to not-get hurt. To that end, I think my energy will best be spent introducing MORE information/experiences to my niece and any other kid I have an influence on, not less. Self defense classes seem to have an impact on the degree of self-possession a person feels. Self-possession also seems to have an impact on how willing a person is to be relegated to possession status for others. My fantasy is to make self defense classes mandatory physical education for kids, starting at any age but by middle school at the latest.

SWright said...

Patti-- It is quite a coincidence that you have this post at this time. It made me think of a piece that I read recently in The New Yorker about the marketing of Bratz dolls to young girls. Although the dirty dancing issue that you write about and the issue addressed in The New Yorker piece are not exactly the same, I see a clear connection between the two. In light of The New Yorker’s examination of the marketing of Bratz dolls, your belief that girls need to be able to evaluate the messages that they are being bombarded with at younger and younger ages is on target. More and more, girls whether they are 6 year-olds or 13-year olds, are being subtly and not so subtly urged to take on identities and engage in behaviors that center around materialism, narcissism, pleasing and pleasuring boys, etc.

Bratz (for those who don’t know) is a line of dolls that is garnering an increasing share of Barbie’s territory. My intention is not to argue in favor of Barbie dolls (I certainly take issue with the body image that Barbie promotes) and I don’t have any problem with girls playing with dolls (I had my share of Barbie dolls as a little girl). However, when I first saw a Bratz doll, there was something about it that bothered me and it was not until recently that I was able to articulate what bothered me about them -- frankly, they look too much like the collagen-injected lip, false-eyelashed, pierced-navel, bling-bling obsessed, self-centered female images that have become a central feature of our popular culture. You can’t turn on the television or open a magazine without seeing it.

I do not have children, but as the aunt to a 5 year-old girl, I am increasingly aware of and concerned about the images that surround her and are being directed toward her. The Bratz dolls’ image is not the invention of the dolls’ creators. The images presented by Bratz dolls are a reflection of issues present within our larger society and corporate marketing techniques aimed at younger and younger segments of the population underscore the need for increased discussion and deeper understanding among girls (and boys) about the varied avenues available to them for self-expression.

Thank you for opening up this discussion.

Dana Stangel-Plowe said...

Unfortunately, these days, girls as young as 6 are encouraged to think of themselves as sex objects. The media and marketing industries are targetting girls with things that are "sassy," which is really just a code word for "sexy." It's the slutty Bratz dolls, the makeovers, the inappropriate clothes and music -- all aimed at children -- or, I could say, "tweens," which is really just a marketing concept to sell sexiness to kids. (I discuss this on my blog, Toward a Sassfree Childhood.)

As I wrote there, I toyed with unplugging my girls -- trying to prevent their exposure to media -- but have become convinced that the media is so pervasive that trying to ban it will do no good. It is our job to teach them how to cope with the media, to give them the tools to analyze the stereotypical and sexy things targetted at them. No small task. But the more of us talking about these issues, the better for our kids.

Dana Stangel-Plowe said...

Unfortunately, these days, girls as young as 6 are encouraged to think of themselves as sex objects. The media and marketing industries are targetting girls with things that are "sassy," which is really just a code word for "sexy." It's the slutty Bratz dolls, the makeovers, the inappropriate clothes and music -- all aimed at children -- or, I could say, "tweens," which is really just a marketing concept to sell sexiness to kids. (I discuss this on my blog, Toward a Sassfree Childhood.)

As I wrote there, I toyed with unplugging my girls -- trying to prevent their exposure to media -- but have become convinced that the media is so pervasive that trying to ban it will do no good. It is our job to teach them how to cope with the media, to give them the tools to analyze the stereotypical and sexy things targetted at them. No small task. But the more of us talking about these issues, the better for our kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mother of twin 4 year old girls. I am careful with which clothes I buy my girls because some are just "too grown" looking.

There would be no way on God's green earth I would have allowed my daughters to participate in such a spectacle at the middle school. My sister and I talk about the lack of boundries parents seem to have for their children.

Children need boundries and boundries do not mean you are inhibiting a girl's self esteem or future sexual confidence.

I mean, sure your teachers went into a tizzy with the grinding, but you learned what was appropriate, right?

Let's not over think this. If grinding and dancing a pole is done by an 11 year old, why permit that? Grinding = fucking, and pole = strippers. Real simple.

So how is it fine for that middle school to allow that?

Ru Freeman said...

Patti -

Like you, I was not surprised that Lawrence Downes was horrified by the spectacle of young teens gyrating to sexually explicit lyrics on a school stage. As a mother of three daughters, and a progressive-minded activist with all the relevant facts and figures at the tips of my keyboard-fingers, if not always on paper, I’m pretty up-to-date on my shots with regard to pop culture. But even I have often felt overwhelmed by the task of raising daughters in a hydra-headed universe of negative consumerism that encourages them to abdicate the responsibility of being confident, independent, thinking human beings in favor of being a party girls whose purpose in life is to accessorize well, up their sex appeal and snag boyfriends. I have been heartened by a recent release, Packaging Girlhood (St. Martins Press, July, 2006), by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D (The Secret Lives of Girls, What Good Girls Really Do – Sex, Aggression and their Guilt), and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. (Girlfighting, and Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls’ Development). Lamb and Brown do a comprehensive analysis of the various areas in which our girls are targetted ( what they wear, what they hear, what they watch, what they read, or what they play at/ with) through research with girls between the ages of 3-18. More importantly, they have excellent guidelines on how to cope with the monster! Thanks to them I can see my own three daughters riding safely off into the sunset, comfortable in their skin and clothes. And, hopefully, walking beside them will be male friends who respect and love them for the beauty of their talents, the grace of their spirits and the inspiration of their achievements.

Lesly said...

Hello! Your blog is rather interesting. I have nothing positive to say about Girls Gone Wild. I have always been against such types of sites. But when I saw it on www.pisedconsumer.com I was astonished. The thing is that it has so many customers! Unbeliveble! And even they are dissatisfied taking into consideration the amount of negative reports posted by the customers.