Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sexualizing Children

Nature has given us definite cues as to sexual maturity. This child is obviously not there yet. She has a flat little girl chest, short limbs, a look of innocence and asexuality. The signals she sends out are for protection.

This woman obviously is mature. Her body signals that she is fertile, she is desirable, she is ripe. She has breasts, pubic hair, and the lines of her body are longer. Her body sends signals to attract a man so that she can start a family.

This woman is obviously built to pillow grandchildren on her breast. Her fertility is unquestioned, but it is in the past. She is no longer sending out signals to young men. Indeed, the signals she is sending may include the prosperity of her husband or the group.

So what happens when you dress the little girl as a sexual being and the grown woman as a child? You confuse the messages they are sending to the world

This is supremely dangerous. We no longer live in small familiar groups, but in large anonymous populations. Many anthropologists believe that this is the reason for wearing clothes in tropical climates, to reduce the sexual signals that occur when strangers meet. (Nudists do not find the bodies of their family members enticing, only of strangers.) So, adults dress to reduce the signals, and there are cultures where adults dress and children run around naked. No one gets confused about who is sexually mature and who isn't. When children start wearing clothes, usually because of the climate; sometimes because of the size of the society, there is nothing provocative about their clothing. When a girl reaches maturity, the society has ways for her to dress to signal that. It may be a flower behind her ear or pierced ears or low cut dresses or floor length dresses. Whatever it is, it is different than little girls wear. The society is careful to guard little girls against inappropriate sexual interest.

But, what we do is a double whammy. Not only do we sexualize children's clothing, but we then dress sexually mature women in children's clothing, which begins to sexualize the non-sexual clothing of children. We are setting ourselves up for trouble, as this article on No Escaping Sexualization of Young Girls by Rosa Brooks makes clear.
In our hyper-commercialized consumerist society, there's virtually no escaping the relentless sexualization of younger and younger children. My 26-month-old daughter didn't emerge from the womb clamoring for a seashell bikini like Princess Ariel's but now that she's savvy enough to notice who's prancing around on her pull-ups, she wants in on the bikini thing. And my 4-year-old wasn't born demanding lip gloss and nail polish, but when a little girl at nursery school showed up with her Hello Kitty makeup kit, she was hooked.

In a culture in which the sexualization of childhood is big business and — mainstream mega-corporations such as Disney earn billions by marketing sexy products to children too young to understand their significance, is it any wonder that pedophiles feel emboldened to claim that they shouldn't be ostracized for wanting sex with children? On an Internet bulletin board, one self-avowed "girl lover" offered a critique of this week's New York Times series on pedophilia: "They fail, of course, to mention the hypocrisy of Hollywood selling little girls to millions of people in a highly sexualized way." I hate to say it, but the pedophiles have a point here.

There are plenty of good reasons to worry about children and sex. But if we want to get to the heart of the problem, we should obsess a little less about whether the neighbor down the block is a dangerous pedophile — and we should worry a whole lot more about good old-fashioned American capitalism, which is busy serving our children up to pedophiles on a corporate platter.
Yes, they will sell anything. Your health. Your future. Your child.


jay lassiter said...

Granny you and I are on the same wave length. i was just listenting to NPR's 'on the media' and a guest was discussing his analysis of the media's obsession with Jon Benet.

from their website
"After 10 years, a confession in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey has returned her images and story to the media limelight. But what about her story so commands our attention? James Kincaid, a professor at the University of Southern California argues on this week that Ramsey’s story feeds our longstanding fascination with children and sex. He tells Bob that the durability of such cases allows us to simultaneously indulge in and disown a great taboo."

LauraHinNJ said...

I agree that it's a frightening and dangerous thing we do to children.

I'm not sure that I follow how society dresses women in children's clothing? Maybe I just need another visual. ;-)

I don't have kids, but can't imagine ever letting them wear some of the things I see little ones in. Makes we wonder what parents want for their kids these days.

kenju said...


Kate said...

Exactly. The Bratz dolls, & line of clothing & other accessories gives me the shudders -- whore's trappings for the prepubescent set. And we thought bread & circuses was amoral!

Maya's Granny said...

Laura, I obviously didn't know what to Google when I went looking for women in little girl clothes -- I tried about 10 different choices and the best I came up with was this woman in a romper. Rompers used to little girl clothes. Also, I've seen overalls that look like Osh Kosh outfits, but couldn't find an example of that either.

LauraHinNJ said...

Okay - think I follow you. Grown women dressing in big baggy clothes to hide their sexuality.

Not having kids I don't pay much attention to Disney stuff, but now that I think of it I guess you're right. Any Disney would probably be considered safe and tame by today's standards.

Maya's Granny said...

Laura, Baggy clothes can be part of it, but sometimes when women wear little girl clothes they are very sexy. I think that part of what is giiving you trouble is that women have been doing this so long that you may not even think of some of the things they wear as children's clothes. To me, with my perspective of 64 years, it is easier to see that a given garment
used only to be worn by children. Mary Jane or saddle oxford shoes would be in line with that, an outfit that looked like a child's middy blouse and shorts or a jump suit. Heck -- jeans! Once upon a time jeans were worn by some work men and children. When women started wearing them they were little kid clothes. No longer, of course.

The romper, by virtue of being a romper, would still be little girl clothes even if it were very fitted and sexy.

Part of what makes these things sexy is the forbidden nature of sexualizing the child -- either a child in adult wear or the sexy adult in child wear.

Ronni Bennett said...

Call me old fashioned, but I am still shocked at young professional women who show up at work with three inches of flesh showing between the top of their skirt or pants and the bottom of their blouse. I'm even surprised when I see it on the street and in the supermarket.

It reeks of sexual allure, which has its place, just not in the office. But in addition to the sexualization of children, we seem to have lost any sense of what's appropriate in what circumstances.

donna said...

No, grown women wear baggy clothes because they are comfortable and we don't have to advertise anymore so we can BE comfortable.

And the truly silly part is, men don't care. Sure, their cues are mostly visual, but, if you're willing, they pretty much are anyway. So all this dressing up nonsense is simply that, nonsense.

Great post, and very insightful indeed. I hate the sexualization of children, and find it truly repulsive. Especially with pre-teen children, who are the most vulnerable to predators.

J said...

Some of the clothes out there are crazy. And when we see kids wearing them, Maya wants to know why she can't wear them, too. I just tell her that I think they're inappropriate. That often starts a fight, but it's one I'm willing to have.

Maya's Granny said...

It is so important, when they market with driving a wedge between parents and children as the means to the end of selling this junk, to stand firm. You make me proud by doing so.

Kay Dennison said...

As you know, I am dead set against this sort of thing. Little girls are supposed to look like little girls! And I am appalled at what mothers let their teenagers wear! And our mothers hated our mini-skirts & knee-high boots! sighhhhhhhhhhh

Anonymous said...

I hate reading this I am a teen and I wear appropreate clothes.So why in the world did you write this.It's totally BORING!But I do agree children should wear the right stuff and adults too.You also can't forget teens.

Will it get better or worse?? said...

I definately agree with everything said here. Sometimes I feel like the only one in the world with these feelings so it's nice to see that the whole world has not gone completely mad. It's really sad to me to see children dressed up like little adults. And adults dressing as children...this make me think of the naughty outfits in the undergarmet stores. They sell outfits for women to dressup for their girl outfits with the woman on the cover picture wearing pigtails and her breasts bare. This really goes along with what you are saying. I don't know what can be done at this point as it seems like not many people see a true problem with our culture these days and it will probably only get worse. At this rate...I'm sure one day we will see ads for sexy diapers that make your child look thinner. Sounds nuts, but I could see it happening. I would have rather been a housewife in the 50s than a women today trying to find a man who truly, deep down doesn't think of all women and sometimes even girls as just sexual creatures. I recently was hit on by my 8 year old nephew who told me I was hot. He preceeded to tell me when he has a girlfriend she will dress like the victoria secrets catalog girls. I questioned this....turns out his father shows him these catalogs because he doesn't want his son to turn out gay. I was completely offended by this. I was so angry and ready to accuse him of child abuse. But everyone else in the room just laughed it off like no big deal. No one else feels like this is inappropriate. I can hardly watch TV anymore because it is so offensive. I'm 25 years old. I dont go to church. I listen to hard rock and in highschool I had drug problems. My point is, I'm far from perfect....I'm not conservative at all in my opinion. But I am always so shocked at how far things have gone and how little it upsets people to see a 16 year old girl hit on by 30 year old men. I try to just deal with it as not much I can do and I may as well try to adjust myself because the world wont change for me. But I really don't want to have to raise children in this world. You can only shelter them but so much. Is all hope lost?

KAREN said...

I am from the U.K and we too have the same problem.

I am for-ever having fights with my 14 year old niece (and her mother my sister)about her choice of clothing.

To be quite honset i am glad i still have control over what my nine year old wears.

The many times i have returned an outfit that has been given as a gift to my daughter be some well meaning relative to the shop.

I am quite lucky as my daughter has often commented on some outfits in shops and on other people and she even finds them "wrong" as she calls it even at nine and she has what i think very good taste in clothing.

Well i now find it hard to find what i call adiquate clothing for my daughter and i often refuse to shop in certain stores even if they do have something agreeable as they also sell things that should never of been thought of never mind been made.

I however wa truly shocked the other day on walking into a store that sold thongs for a 4 year olds and red lace ones for 9-10 year olds.

The poor shop assistant and manager didn't know what to say when i challenged them on why they were selling them.

Now i am not a prude as many people say, i just think children are not children for long and it is not ok to dress children in such a provocative way. I have no problem in my 2 year old son and daughter running around in there under wear on the beach, but a little tiny bikini, why are these even made???

I also have noticed the sometimes parents dont know or bother to look as some of the clothing their children are wearing, until it is pointed out to them.
As a very embarrised dad waiting for a bus at the same bus stop as me, found out when he couldn't understand why everone was looking and him and his 7 year old daughter funnly. I them pointed out his daughters bight pink top that said in huge letters "i wont you to pop my cherry". He then rushed of into the nearest shop to buy her another top.
He had no clue what his child was wearing until it was held up in front of his face.

However slogans like this i think are extemly dangerous what if someone who preyed on little girls had seen her un-supervised and decided to act on that invitation.

As a socierty we push and push our children to grow up too quick, and are suffering the aftermath of this now with so many teen pregancies and children often becoming mums and dads as young as 13 without knowing or understanding the responsibilities.