Saturday, February 09, 2008

Reason #6853 why my daughters' mother and I used to joke about putting our girls into convents

Via the new-to-me blog Dante and the Lobster comes this story from the BBC (emphases mine):

Bedroom furniture for young girls with the brand name Lolita has been withdrawn by Woolworths following complaints from parents.


Catherine Hanly, editor of parenting website, was among the parents to complain about the furniture advertised on the Woolworths website.

She said a Woolworths press officer had told her staff running the website "had no idea" of the word's connotations.

"I expect a company like Woolworths to actually know what it means and the connotations and stuff," she told BBC Radio Five Live Breakfast.

"It has become a name that is synonymous with sexual precocity and the fact that it is tied to a girl's bed - it literally couldn't be worse taste."

A Woolworths spokeswoman said: "Now this has been brought to our attention, the product has been removed from sale with immediate effect."


It is not the first time retailers have been criticised for using branding with sexual connotations on goods marketed for children.

In 2005, WH Smiths came under fire for selling youngsters stationery bearing the Playboy bunny - a symbol of the pornography empire.

Prior to that Bhs decided to withdraw its Little Miss Naughty range of padded bras and knickers for pre-teen girls after attracting criticism.

Just this quick observation: Woolworths' official position of corporate ignorance of the very culture and its referents that it markets to is one thing; what is more distressing, if one is in search of Ultimate Causes, are two things 1) Even if Woolworths is/was ignorant, the branders of these products clearly are not; 2) (actually, this is one I'd rather not dwell on too deeply, since it's not yet sunrise as I write this and I prefer to retain a cheerful demeanor this early in the day until I have reason not to) Without at all excusing the actions of pedophiles, one has to wonder about a consumer culture that on the one hand rightly condemns and punishes such actions and yet on the other (and not on fringes of that culture, either, as anyone who has strolled into a children's clothes section can attest) implicitly subscribes to the notion that it's acceptable to for clothes to present prepubescent girls' bodies in sexually-alluring ways. While I would much rather these manufacturers just not make such things, period, I'm smart enough to know that they wouldn't make them, and in such quantity, if a market for them didn't exist.

So, yeah: I'd just as soon not believe we've produced and/or become inured to what is in essence a culture of barely-closeted pedophilia. It's too damned early in the day--and my daughters too close to puberty--to think that.


R. Sherman said...

Your comments about a "market" are spot on. These items are not being sold to little girls but, and yes I know this will sound sexist, to their mothers.

I have too many thoughts for a coherent comment, but I think at some level, mothers are trying to recapture/maintain/immortalize their own youth or perhaps recapture same. In some sense, it's as if these children have become their parents' new Barbies to dress up and display.

I've got to go to work, but I'll be stewing about this one all day.


John B. said...

Your comment is making me re-think my conclusion. "Barely-closeted pedophilia" is too extreme to describe this; it's more like the region between that and the desire to dress our children in attractive, "fashionable" clothes.

Speaking as a father, I find it, um, awkward to acknowledge that my children are inherently sexual beings; I assume the same is true for mothers as well. Given that awkwardness, there's more than a little denial that comes tagging along as well. But for parents to be SO in denial that they are blind to the implicit messages that these products send out, to assume that adult-styled sexual innuendo, whatever one's feelings about its appropriateness for grown-ups, is not only also appropriate but also "cute" when translated into products for children, is--there's no other way to say it--literally and morally unconscionable.

This crap is hard enough for adults to negotiate in their normal lives. To implicitly place children into these dynamics yet feel offended that anyone would think Such Things about them is perverse, it seems to me.

The sun is up, by the way. Dammit.

Medbh said...

I don't think that any good parent looks at their 6 year old as a sexual being. It strikes me as completely delusional to blame mothers for products that are designed to sexualize their daughters.

John B. said...

Welcome, first of all.
I agree with you that good parents don't sexualize their children. That still begs the question, though, of why manufacturers would make products that implicitly do that very thing. Such choices don't just appear ex nihilo.

Jennifer said...

I must say that I agree with Medbh. I wanted to respond to the commentary early this morning when I first read it, but found myself speechless. To shift blame from perpretators to the childrens' mothers under the guise that mothers are are somehow unfulfilled is .... well ... ludicrous? absurd? dangerous? perverse in an of itself? misogynistic? "No" means "no" guys -- the "she was asking for it" or "her mother was asking for it on her behalf" defense doesn't, or, at least, shouldn't work in this day and age.

John B. said...

No means No--no one here disputes that. My question (and Randall's as well, I suspect) is simply this: What is a marketer's rationale for naming a children's bed after a child who is an adult man's sexual obsession, or for manufacturing padded bras for pre-teen girls AND naming them "Little Miss Naughty"? If one can make the argument (as many, many people have) that, say, Barbie and Easy-Bake Ovens are somebody's idea about certain assumptions about appearance and social roles appropriate for women in this culture, one can legitimately assume the same is true of children's clothing and the branding given other goods marketed to kids. One can also legitimately argue that Barbies and Easy-Bake Ovens are just harmless toys; but would anyone here care to extend that argument to the display of a child's body? (And just to be clear: I'm speaking of clothing and goods marketed to prepubescent children, whom, I think it safe to say, are not making the financial decisions in a household.)

Perhaps I'm missing something here. I'd like to think, though, that I'm a bit more thoughtful about this than your typical male ogler of women. I am all for hoping that my daughters, and all girls for that matter, will be comfortable with their sexuality and express it as they wish--when they are of an age to make those decisions on their own. To make--or buy--an 8-year-old-girl a micro-miniskirt, I would argue, is to have made a decision on behalf of that girl that she is not ready for. Just for the record, I don't fear the lingering eyes of 8-year-old-boys on this girl I've mentioned. So, I have to ask it again: given that clothes fulfill a need but styles of clothes fulfill a desire, whose desire is being fulfilled by such clothes, and what is the nature of that desire? Parents--usually mothers--are making the decision to purchase them: that's indisputable. But what thinking goes into buying them beyond, "But that's what she picked out"?

Gwynne said...

But what thinking goes into buying them beyond, "But that's what she picked out"?

That is exactly where the problem lies, imho. I place the blame squarely on the parents. Granted, the kids get their ideas about what they want from all over the place, mostly from their friends, who are heavily influenced by pop culture. But when little Suzie cries that she wants thus and such because it's what all the popular kids are wearing and makes a big enough stink about it, Mom or Dad cave. It's a tough battle (I've been there and it stinks), but Mom and Dad still have the final decision. Sadly, not enough parents are willing or able to buck the peer pressure and gently steer their child in a different direction, helping the child understand why that choice is bad and how to make better choices for herself, because ultimately, that's what it will come down to.

I guess my point is that it's not because the parents are trying to sexualize their kids or live out their lost youths (although I don't doubt that happens), and it's not because companies are selling crap to our kids (although they are…because parents are letting kids make the choices), and it's not because Hollywood and the media portrays sexuality as glamour (although it does in a very big way), it's because parents lack the back bone to stand up and BE THE PARENT. In the end, it's the parents who are responsible for raising their kids.

<*/soapbox> 8-}

I say all of this, not from a position of superiority, but as the parent of two teenaged daughters who are not making good choices as adults. I feel very responsible for some of their poor choices because, looking back, there is so much more I could have done to shape them into more responsible adults.

Jennifer said...

We begin "sexualizing" children even before they are born, with painting rooms pink or blue and dressing boys in, for example, miniature baseball uniform pajamas and girls in miniature ballerina or princess outfits. The problem lies in where along the spectrum does the "sexualization" cease to be innocent. I'd like to point out that the Barbie doll you mention, I'm assuming as a sexually benign toy because you mention it in the same sentence as the Easy Bake oven, has been the subject of controversy for years, and recently has actually undergone proportion adjustments making its exaggerated anatomy less accentuated. Why is the Lolita furniture offensive and the Barbie not? One could argue that a significant portion of the population don't even know the Lolita story and thus the naming of the furniture line is meaningless to most, whereas Barbie is obvious -- should we take that off of the market too? The problem is far too complex to suggest that unfulfilled women are it's cause or it's solution.

John B. said...

It so happens that I don't approve of Barbie, precisely for the reasons you list (along with the whole accessorizing thing, a related but separate topic). It also so happens that whether or not my daughters should have Barbies was a discussion with their mother that I lost. Here's where my perversity emerges, I suppose: I took barely-disguised pleasure in those (numerous) moments when the dog would chew off one of the Barbies' arms or legs. I called them Farm-Accident Barbies.

So, no--I kinda don't like Barbie. But have my children grown to become vacuous, self-loathing, accessorized-out-the-wazzou wanna-be sex pots as a result? No: but that's because my girls were and are fortunate to have a mother close by (and a father available to them via the phone) who have on the whole, in our collective judgment, made good age-appropriate decisions for our daughters about the clothes they wear, the forms of entertainment they're exposed to, etc.

None of this excuses Barbie's existence, though. My only point, waaay up there somewhere, remains this: people who manufacture and brand products for young children bear enormous responsibility for what they produce. But so long as parents are the ones making decisions on behalf of their children regarding their clothes, toys, etc., they are the ones ultimately responsible for those choices. It's more than fair to enquire as to why they make those choices. Even if they don't ask it of themselves, you can bet your bottom dollar that the makers of kids' stuff are asking.

Oh: We painted the girls' room off-white. They wore dresses, sure, but they also wore overalls. And no pastels--they just looked bad in them. My younger daughter, though, has decided (on her own--whatever that means in the chicken-and-egg dynamic that culture is) that she likes pink.

Kári said...

Did you happen to read that piece by Mark Greif in n+1 Vol. 4 (Spring 2006) called "Afternoon of the Sex Children"? It was also reprinted, in a fairly substantially cut, and in my opinion, differently weighted version in Harper's (Jan 2007). Your library might have it. It was fairly perceptive, as I recall, although it was some time ago.

Kári said...

So wait, how come my name's all lower-case over here?

Doc said...

"To make--or buy--an 8-year-old-girl a micro-miniskirt, I would argue, is to have made a decision on behalf of that girl that she is not ready for..."

8? It starts earlier than that: I have to shop like crazy to find underwear for my 4 year old that is NOT cut along a Victoria's Secret line.

"...that still begs the question, though, of why manufacturers would make products that implicitly do that very thing. Such choices don't just appear ex nihilo."

What you assume is ex nihilo; the post-modernism that devolved out of the late 80s has a lot to answer for - recursive, self-ironic references as one offs where you wink but don't laugh play well in some venues (at least they do in films) should, to my mind, come adrift in the cold light of day. Yet it's almost as if Woolworth's was waiting for someone to applaud and tell them how clever they were..."See what we've done here? We've unanchored a moral touchstone from its once negative connotations, spun it 180 and re-represented it as a defiant step forward in a young girl's life? We've ended a nightmare!".

Odin help them, they might actually believe it.

However, just as religion and bigotry are diseases of the mind, so are pedophilia, misogyny and pornography.

I am in more of a cold rage than I was last night when I read this on MEDBH's site, but I still firmly believe that you ruthlessly cull the disease when and where you find it.

Bob-kat said...

I couldn't agree more with most of the points made here. I totally agree with Gwynne. It is the parents responsibility to stand up to their children and not realise every ill conceived whim they have just because their best friend has one. It is the parents role to make decisions that their chilren are not mature enough to make. And I so hope that pre-pubescent children are not mature enough to make decisions based around sexuality. I don't even want to think about it.

I have a friend with a four year old daughter. For her birthday she was bought make-up specifically sold for children which was bought by the friends mothers who did not even check that my friend didn't mind and would find it appropriate. I think when we stop asking those questions in society, we have a problem.

David said...

i am the parent, with years of experience and hopefully some wisdom.
The daughter is a child, who needas to be nurtured, protected and taught.
some parents don't know these simple things, and then wonder, "what went wrong, we gave them everything" (hands wringing)

thanks for stirring the pot, John
and Randall

PI said...

There was a period when little girls
were used as models for adult and very expensive jewelry - totally unsuitable for any child and I had the same misgivings. Fortunately it seems to have died the death but I think it is insidious and one should remain vigilant.

Amy said...

Every Halloween I like to get on my high horse about the French maid costumes sold in sizes as small as children's 6. My daughter had a classmate who dressed as a French maid for Halloween in seventh grade. Knowing this girl and her parental situation, I believe they just thought it was "cute."

See: here and here and here Adult versions leave little doubt it's a costume that is all about sexy. At least they don't have a children's version of this book.

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