First of all, I want to acknowledge that it IS tough to be a parent these days. Even worse, try being a kid! I am so glad I grew up at the time that I did where there was a sense of innocence, playing safe, exploring and adventure. Today, it’s mass media, social media and all the dangerous pitfalls that go with it. Access to the Internet means marketers can bypass parents to reach kids exposing them to more and more adult content. Let’s face it. Kids ARE getting older at a younger age!
K.A.G.O.Y is an acronym marketers came up with to describe childhood yearnings “to be like the big kids.” Maureen Palmer, the award-winning director of “Sex’t Up Kids” noted that, “If you’re in grade 5, you idolize the kids in grade 8. So marketers design clothing and toys that appeal to 11 year-olds whose big sisters are 16, who emulate Rihanna, Britney, Beyonce, Paris Hilton and the Kardashian sisters (etc). 11 year-olds wear them, and soon savvy marketers see 9 year olds who want to emulate 11 year-olds, not only in how they dress, but also with their choice of dolls.”
Whatever happened to Barbie, Easy Bake Oven and Cabbage Patch Kids? Back then, if one really wanted to be profane they’d be a collector of the Garbage Pail Kids. But instead we have the Monster Dolls who, as the film producer for Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein, refers to as “Sesame Street Walkers”. “These dolls wear thong underwear that are outrageously sexualized that look like hookers…” she says. “Yet, they are huge sellers.”
And speaking of “sesame street walkers”, yes it’s that time of year again when the Halloween festivities bring, candy, fun and the world of make belief. This cartoon should give you a little chuckle highlighting the sexual divide between male and female “girl’s costume’ and the growing concern around the increasing sexualization of girls’ Halloween costumes.
As the descriptive says for the recently published book, “Sexy so Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood”, authors Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D observes the “risqué Halloween costumes for young girls, the T-shirts that boast “Chick Magnet” for toddler boys. Sexy content on almost every television channel, as well as in movies and video games. Popular culture and technology inundate our boys and girls with an onslaught of graphic sexual messages at earlier ages than ever before. Without the emotional sophistication to understand what they are doing and seeing, kids are getting into increasing trouble emotionally and socially. Parents are left shaking their heads, wondering: How did this happen? What can we do?”
During her research, Ms. Palmer discovered three elements that have converged to create a “perfect storm” for today’s teens and preteens: The first is hyper-sexualisation of representation in the media, which Ms. Ornestein says starts around the age of seven. “Sexualized clothing and messages are being directed at younger and younger children and, though they are exposed to a growing onslaught of graphic sexual content presented via popular culture and technology, children lack the emotional sophistication to understand and process these messages.” [~ Mighty Girl]
“Extreme ease of access to online porn, especially for boys between 10 and 13, that depicts violent sex, extreme oral sex and extreme anal sex. Kids are being exposed to this without a good understanding of what mutual, loving, respectful sex really looks like. Paddy McCallum, a B.B. Film and English teacher who has been working with kids in education for over 30 years, said he noticed a real change in the way boys and girls relate, around seven or eight years ago, when unrestricted online access to porn became the norm. For McCallum, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in teen health education for kids. “It’s a safety issue, it’s a social justice issue and it requires a critical-thinking set of strategies.” He goes on to say, “Porn is the elephant in the room – no one wants to talk about it.”
“Kids are consuming vast amounts of extreme pornography at earlier ages. My concern is about keeping them safe. We need to have a conversation about this…to help kids to understand that porn isn’t fun, that the women aren’t having fun. Girls are starting to express concerns and anxieties, they don’t feel safe. A lot of girls internalize this and live quietly with the stress as they try their best to look and behave like those girls in the porn films. “By the time they are 18, 80% of boys are watching porn online. For our young adults and teens, “Anal is [now] the new oral”. Which begs us to ask the question, “Where’s the line between pop culture and porn?” Don’t you find that the line is getting even more blurry by the day?
Social media and cellphones that give kids the ability to become pornographers themselves. Growing up we had the Polaroid camera if we wanted to take an instant picture – today we have digital cameras, cameras on cell phones and web cams. These devices are fun to use but can be a tool for harmful action. These tools equip teens (preteens/tweens) to become pornographers themselves. With a simple click of a button these images are distributed and damages the reputations and self-esteem of our young girls.
It is becoming more and more evident that the “tween” years have essentially collapsed, and girls are pressured to begin to conform to a sexualized standard before they hit the double digits. At eight years old “princess” clothes are replaced with mini versions of what adult women are wearing, influenced, of course by pop culture – the Beyonce/Katy Perry/Lady Gaga affect. “It goes really quickly from being the prettiest little girl to being the hottest little girl. It’s about defining yourself through externals,” says Orenstein.
Yet in our increasing digital world we now have yet a new dimension for parents to worry about from digital security and privacy to sexualized and violent video games all the way to the other spectrum: sex robots. Yes. It’s true – sex robots. Now when I hear of new inventions and ideas; drones, bots, robots, AI, nanotechnology, digital implants, bionic limbs, virtual reality -I tend to examine them through a “social filter” or the social consequences of these inventions [positive and negative]. Yes, it’s amazing – does great things, but what are the implications of these new technologies.
In the book, Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications author John Daner (editor Neil McArthurs) provides an example of the social impact iPhone or smart phones in general. When Apple introduced their units back in 2007 it was an impressive piece of technology that almost everybody wanted to have one, in fact it revolutionized the smart phone industry. “Looking back, some of those consequences have been positive: increased connectivity, increased knowledge, and increased day-to-day convenience. But a considerable number of the consequences have been quite negative: the assault on privacy, increased distractability and endless social noise.” Very little thought went into the social implications of these best seller devices, however the “success of the iPhone and subsequent smartphones has given rise to one of the biggest social experiments in human history”. The author goes on to mention that if it were “a revolutionary cancer drug, in that case, we would have insisted upon a decade of trials and experiments, with animal and human subjects before it could be brought to market.
If we are worried about our youths and the overt sexualisation in the media, advertisements and through peers; what do you think the social impacts of a sex robot might be – not only to adults but for the generations after us. If these units are made to order, one would naturally assume that it would be marketed to the “heterosexual male” and what might a heterosexual male be looking for in a made-to -order sex robot in physical looks and in demeanor? Big boobs, a tight ass, beautiful hair, an hour-glass figure and all the stereotypical features and characteristics of the “ideal” woman. “The development and use of the robots sends a negative signal to the society thereby reinforcing a culture of sexism, misogyny and/or sexual objectification.” What are the social impacts for our young girls and women who feel they not only have to compete with each other, now they have to contend with a made-to-order robot [and that will never grow old]? What are the social impacts of a sex robot for our young boys and men? The author continues to make her next point by referring to a television series that tackles some of these dynamics.
“The television series Humans is a provocative and sometimes insightful drama about social robots. It depicts a near-future in which realistic humanoid robots have become commonplace, acting as workers, home helpers, caregivers, and sexual playthings for their human creators. The majority of the robots are less-than-Human in their intelligence and ability, and apparently lack sentience, but the main plot-line concerns a particular group of these robots that has achieved human-level consciousness and intelligence. They struggle for freedom and respect in a world in which their robot brethren are treated with either condescension or contempt.
In one episode, a group of (human) teenagers are having a house party. At the house party there is a robot serving drinks and catering to the attendee’s needs. The robot looks like a human female. Some of the young men hurl abuse at her. One of them switches her off and then tells his mates that he is going to drag her upstairs to have sex with her. He is goaded on. At this point one of the man (human) female characters intervenes, telling her male peers to stop. When asked why, she responds by asking them whether it would be okay for them to “knock-out” a real human female and have sex with her in similar conditions. They reneg on the plan.”
The author mentions that the act itself would have no implications on the robots who are devoid of feelings and emotions, therefore, they’re not moral victims. The disgrace in the act comes from the symbolic meaning: rape. Much of the same symbolic meaning girls and young boys observe and try to emulate when watching pornographic shows and other mediums. Which brings us to the topic of “consent culture”. The pros and cons of sex robots that will allow the user to avoid attaining “consent” when all you have to do is switch it off – you can’t do that with a human being.
“The problem with switching off a robot and having sex with it lies not in the harm it does to the robot, but rather in what it symbolizes – a general disregard and/or contempt for norms of consent in interpersonal sexual relationships – and the potential negative effects of that symbolism – harm to real women and/or harm to the user of the robot. Several contributors to the current sex robot debate have voiced similar objections.”
What can parents do?
“Girls need to understand that “sexuality” is something that comes from within and connects a girl to herself and to her desire, to her needs and her wants and is ultimately empowering as she gets older; whereas “sexualisation” is the performance of all that and it’s a performance of sexual entitlement that actually disconnects them from that stronger external sense of self.”
Although I am not a parent, I still feel the need to weigh in on this topic. During my years of figure modeling I was a strong advocate in promoting body positivity and acceptance, every assignment I had, I strived to display the art of the human form emphasizing sensuality not sexuality. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with photographers who were worried about their children, especially fathers worried about their daughters. Some would express their frustration because they didn’t know how to get through to them. I remember one fella who was particularly concerned with the way his daughter dressed, he’d tell me she’s got wild nails, hair extensions, tight jeans, low-cut tops, micro-mini skirts and no matter how much he tried to tell her that natural beauty is the way to go, even showing some his photography of models who were good examples, she wouldn’t listen. Kids are so impressionable these days and parents are feeling overwhelmed.
My heart went out to this guy and so I asked for her age. She just turned 15. My first thought, well he should stop buying those clothes for her or providing the money to buy it herself – I didn’t say that, instead I said, “Well she’s just beginning to mature and won’t find that place within herself to feel comfortable with her natural beauty until she’s probably in her mid-late twenties.” Sorry to say this, it but it’s true, especially in his case after hearing some of his stories. Kids mature at different paces and it sounded as if she needed a couple of hard-knocks in life before she “gets it”. I hope I was wrong…for his sake (and hers, I guess).
My Nortel friend when he came across my model website he told me that after viewing my work, it gave him the courage to sit his 11 year old son down to talk about “girls”, nudity, sex and all that. He liked my work because it showed the female form in a positive light and if his son were to look at pictures of women, he’d rather it be of images that are similar to what he saw in my portfolio. There’s a difference between nudity and pornography. And this is what you have to teach your children. Why is one form of nude considered art and another considered pornography? Where’s the line? If you [parents] don’t talk to your kids, somebody else will (or the internet)!
Yes, parents are now urged to add porn to the discussion about sexual health and relationships, to explain to kids what porn is, and that many adults aren’t comfortable kids viewing porn. Why? Well, it’s not realistic because pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling. Parents, talk to your children, listen to your children, keep an open dialogue and whatever you do – DO NOT judge them!
I love hanging with kids, preteens especially, they’re young, full of possibility and still (somewhat) innocent, they’re curious and super smart too! I can’t tell you how many times I’m in the company of preteens and as soon as we get some “alone time” from the adults, I’m hit with a barrage of questions; they tell me their insecurities, their worries, who’s in trouble at school, what school mate is pregnant and wants to keep the baby but the school mate’s parents want her to abort it etc. etc. (Huh?! Pregnant?! Abortion?! At that age?!) “Shhh…But don’t say anything, it’s a secret!” I am told and despite being shocked out of my skin – they are looking to me for direction or just to talk and get it out of their system, when all I want to do is hang out, be silly and playful remembering what it was like being a kid. You see, these days kids see so many things and it’s not just pornography, how about domestic violence – parental abuse, but that’s another topic.
Yet there are times when kids do not feel comfortable speaking to their parents about sexual issues and that’s normal. Hey, you wouldn’t catch me talking to my Dad about “the birds and the bees…” NO WAY! But there are people out there that parents can consider to be their “allies”. These allies could be, a teacher, neighbor, aunt/uncle, a sibling, your best friend, who seems to get along with your child – really, it could be anyone.
Allies, are people you want to align yourself with, to know and understand what your child maybe feeling but uncomfortable to talk directly to you about it. If you align yourself with these allies you will not alienate yourself from the “goings-on” in your child’s life. Don’t feel jealous of the connection, work with it and make sure your allies are on the same page as you and listen to them even if your opinion may be different – they are only telling you what your child is uncomfortable to tell you.
But There’s Hope
In an essay entitled “Fat and Fabulous: Resisting Constructions of Female Body Ideals” author Kathleen LeBesco provides a commentary of cultural ideas about beauty and makes the argument to resist mainstream notions of the ideal body for a woman. She specifically encourages plus size women not to buy into the shame and rhetoric that fat women deserves to be treated poorly and insists that women should live comfortably in their bodies regardless of shape or size. Although she is speaking directly to overweight women her had advice is applicable to anyone who suffers issues of poor self-esteem and body image, especially our young girls.
We only have to take a mere look at our popular culture which encourages consumers to desire and emulate movie stars and TV personalities, no wonder overweight women or even “plain-Jane” women report feeling some level of guilt and shame because they cannot get their bodies to look the same way. Not only do we have to contend with hyper-sexualization in the media, LeBesco also points to diet and fitness industries; how they prey upon and profit from insecure women who feel a certain amount of body shame because they do not fit the idealized vision of a fit body. Electronic and print media are the biggest perpetrators of such shaming.
So in speaking about the idealized body types, LeBesco encourages us take responsibility in discussions that centers on whether fat people should be treated respectfully. She compares being fat to the lesbian body, the Black body, the disable body noting that all these body types are marked as ‘different’ from what culture idealizes as the perfect body. “We are not meant to fit in. We’re meant to stand out.” says author Sarah Ban Breathnach. And that’s what I love about campaigns meant to empower young girls, campaign such as Dove Real Beauty and Self Esteem project and the intellectual and politically minded, Daughters of the Vote, it’s an initiative to encourage women and young girls to invest in their minds, their goals and aspirations. To be positive role models, for younger generations in a world that stresses sexuality, that begins with a transformation from within and radiates out.
Fairy tales were about romance – pure and simple. The trials and persecution the couple has to go through in order to come together as one. Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Snow White, Rapunzel – actually coming to think of it – it’s the girls who goes through all the crap and the guy, “the prince” usually comes just in the nick-of-time. You lazy bastard!
Point is that while these teens and preteens are looking at pornography, which [I repeat] emphasizes sensation without feeling, they forget about the romance and that’s what most young girls yearn for. Not necessarily the act of sex itself – it’s the romance and intimacy that romance brings to a relationship.
Let’s help them to remember that.