I'm still on vacation, but while I've been gone people have been sending me various outrageous items they've come across that, again and again, illustrate of increasingly sexualized, commodified ideas about femininity being foisted on our daughters at an ever-younger age. To me, some of them are the equivalent of the toddler beauty pageants--they are so out there that they become perversely reassuring: whatever the rest of us may be doing it's not THAT bad. Ultimately, I fear, they discourage us from truly examining mainstream culture, desensitizing us to the less extreme but relentless creep (and I mean that in every sense of the word) of sexualization and consumerism. So to me, while despicable the French company Jours Apres Lune's totally pedo lingerie for 10-year-olds ( see below) that was all over ABC and Time, risks taking our eye off the true problem.
Similarly, the same outlets' alarm over the 10-year-old model, again in France, styled like Pretty Baby in that country's Vogue.
And on our home turf, while one hopes that the company Baby Bangs that is, essentially, selling WIGS FOR YOUR BALD BABY GIRL will never get off the ground, it is also the equivalent of focusing on a brush fire when the forest is burning.
Baby without wig
Okay, I can't resist posting the company's "philosophy":
At Baby Bangs! we believe in the beauty of childhood. Our unique designs are sprinkled with MAGIC! ~inspiring a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments for you and your baby girl to cherish Forever! For she is, and always will be, Your LiTTLe PRINCESS! [boldface and capitalization original]
I'm not saying these things aren't worth our attention. And I still TOTALLY appreciate people sending me emails and facebook updates on what they're seeing out there (more on the diet book for girls another time. Sigh). But the real problem is not any single item but that these products and images are CONSTANT and have created a truly toxic culture for girls.
Meanwhile, girls are commodified in every day, garden-variety, banal ways that we barely even notice. By trusted companies like Disney and Mattel. And trusted retailers like...JC Penney. Take this t-shirt.
Yes, it does indeed say, "Too Pretty to Do Homework, So My Brother has to Do it for Me." And it really is intended for 7-16 year old girls. And the description really does read:
Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out? She'll love this tee that's just as cute and sassy as she is.
Must I comment on this? First I will have to reattach my jaw which hit the floor and then broke through to the next level down. The fact that a TEAM of people had to have okayed this, that they thought it was appropriate, attractive and that parents and girls (who should be INSULTED by it) would dig it is so horrifying I'd say the message was a throw-back to the 50s, but it's not. The propaganda for girls and women back then was about taking pride in housework and child-rearing which, yeah, was a touch limiting. This, however, is arguably worse: taking pride in being a narcissistic, willfully ignorant, spoiled, superficial, self-objectifying, helpless (save for the ability to manipulate) PRINCESS. So not funny.
(thanks to Johanna Cohen for alerting me to this one).
POST SCRIPT: Apparently J.C. Penney got the message and according to today's Daily Beast is pulling the T-shirt. Good going parents!