Friday, October 21, 2005

A Culture Adrift: What Revealing Reveals

Especially for Parents

News and Commentary by Sharon Secor

October 2005

A Culture Adrift: What Revealing Reveals

We’ve seen the ever-increasing influence of so-called “adult industries” drift into the youth scene, first affecting college culture, then moving firmly into teen culture. Now, thanks, in part, to the international marketing magic of “age compression,” adult sexual culture is settling itself into the realm of little girls throughout the world. These trends and fashions, in my opinion, reveal much more about us adults, as a culture, than they do of the girls themselves.

Jenna Jameson, known primarily for her work in the pornographic film industry, “was stunned while on tour promoting her best-selling memoir, when 13-year-old girls were coming to her to tell her she was their role model,” according to a September 22, 2005, article published on <> that cites Pamela Paul, author of Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families, as the source of the information.

“I found pre-teen girls who were putting pictures of porn stars on their personal web pages and providing links to porn websites,” said Paul, according to an article published on September 18, 2005, in the British Sunday Times <,,2092-1785175,00.html>. “I learnt about them through a porn actress who’d published a bestselling [sic] autobiography and was surprised when pre-teen girls showed up at signings. They said they saw her as a positive icon.”

In a survey of 1000 girls conducted by The Lab <>, a British mobile telephone accessible entertainment site, it was found that 25% of the 15- to 19-year-old respondents “thought being a lap dancer would be a good profession,” as reported by the Manchester Evening News <> on June 6, 2005. The report also noted that a mere “3% picked the teaching profession.”

“Teenagers are witnessing the likes of Abi Titmuss and Jodie Marsh gracing the covers of their favourite magazines every day, so it is hardly surprising that they want to follow in their footsteps,” said Fraser Lewry, a representative of The Lab, according to the Manchester Evening News report. “Taking your clothes off is now more lucrative than ever and teenagers see it as a great way of making money and becoming famous.”

While hardly a scientific study, the Lab survey does offer yet another example of the downward drift of the influence of pornography and other so-called “adult” materials and industries. In today’s overwhelmingly sexualized culture, however, these influences are now reaching beyond teenagers - as if that wasn’t already bad enough - and into the psychological and social landscape of ever younger and younger children.

On Monday August 15, 2005, the Guardian carried an interesting article on just this topic. According to the article, teacher Eleanor Kirwan “saw the Playboy stationery range next to Disney and Winnie the Pooh in WHSmith <> and in her classroom.” WHSmith is retailer of “newspapers, magazines, stationery, books and entertainment products,” according to their website, with more than 500 stores throughout the United Kingdom.

“WHSmith has just jumped on the Playboy bandwagon,” wrote the article’s author, Rachel Bell. “The difference,” continued Bell, “is that, unlike other retailers, it is clearly marketing its products to children, not adults. Its Playboy stationery range which, in my local branch in Wood Green, London, shares a stand with Bratz and Funky Friends, includes pink and glittery pencil cases, pink ring-binders, mini pads, diaries, zip files, gel pens and eraser sets. I know a five-year-old who'd just love the set of cute bunny rubbers (erasers in British English) in a row. Pencil cases are largely used by schoolchildren. Pink and glittery is largely favoured by girls from 0-16 years. By placing the bunny logo on school equipment, underage children are seduced into buying into the pornographic brand - an adult, top-shelf brand that sells women as sexual commodities.”

"Playboy is probably one of the most popular ranges we've ever sold," said Louise Evans, who is head of media relations for WHSmith, according to the Guardian. "It outsells all the other big brands in stationery…by a staggering amount. That should give you an idea of how popular the brand is. We offer customers choice. We're not here to act as a moral censor."

Despite it longstanding association with so-called “adult” entertainment, the Playboy bunny logo seems to make its way into the hands of a lot of children. According to the Guardian report, “earlier this year Mizz magazine, which is aimed at preteens and teens, promoted Playboy stationery on its cover and as a free giveaway inside.”

"The Playboy brand extensions are one of the most popular with our readers - to them it is a cool stationery and clothing brand. They love the colours and the logo which is given added cool by its association with American hip-hop stars,” said Lucie Tobin, editor of Mizz, as reported by the Guardian. Tobin also said the magazine’s readers tended to fall between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Canadian Broadcasting Company has also made note of this trend towards the marketing of adult material to young girls. “Age compression,” explained a January 9, 2005, CDC broadcast titled Buying Into Sexy: The Sexing Up Of ‘Tweens <>, “is a marketing strategy in which adult products and attitude are pushed on younger kids.”

Among the products discussed in the program were the tiny size 30AA padded push-up bras sold at two shopping mall chain stores, Miss Teen, which markets to preteens, and La Senza Girl <>. Another was a Bratz doll companion book, Superstyling Funktivity Book. According to the report, it “reads like a Cosmo magazine - only it’s geared towards six year olds.” This book, marketed to girls in first and second grade, “covers such topics as “luscious lip tips,” “design your own sexy skirt,” “is your crush real?,” “tips on being an irresistible flirt,” and “are your friends jealous of the amount of attention you get from boys?””

On March 12, 2005, the Boston Globe <> published a story on “the disappearing tween years.” In addition to sexualized clothes and dolls, young girls consume adult media as well. According to Globe staff writer Bella English, “in a recent survey, the steamy adult series ''Desperate Housewives" ranked as the most popular network television show among kids ages 9 to 12.”

''The idea of girlhood as being a time of playfulness seems to have gone away," said Jill Taylor, a women's studies teacher at Simmons College, according the the Globe report.

''We've really lost what used to be called middle school years," said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist who works with adolescent girls. Steiner-Adair commented on the trend of marketing the same clothing that is sold to 18-year-olds to 12-year-olds, ''It's turning girls into sexualized objects at an earlier age. Who does it serve? It serves the patriarchal culture and the consumer-driven market. As a culture, we're selling sex to girls at a younger and younger age."

''The attention that young girls get, a la Lolita, for walking around in these kinds of clothes and these kinds of makeup is phenomenal. The thing is, they're not old enough to even understand how dangerous this can be," said Penina Adelman, a scholar in residence at Brandeis University who runs a group for girls preparing for their bat mitzvahs, according to the Globe.

''If a girl back when I was in high school wore the clothes these girls are wearing today. . . . But these girls see it all the time -- they think it's normal, the shirts with the belly showing, the low-cut neck," said a mother of three girls quoted by staff writer English for the Globe piece. And, that mother is right. Many girls do think it’s normal; and having grown up in this sexualized era, they have no idea that not too long ago such clothing for young ladies would be unthinkable.

As an adult, a woman and a parent, it does sicken me to see ‘the bunny’ marketed to kids, and to hear the same old tired lines trotted out in defense of the sales, as if those those who are placing products bearin

“I feel powerless,” said the father of an 11-year-old in the CBC broadcast of Buying Into Sexy, who said his some of his daughter’s clothes were “trashy” and that her shoes made her “look like a stripper.” “Because my daughter sees it. She sees it on mannequins, she sees it in the videos, she sees it on people on the buses, on the street, and she says ‘Daddy I want a skirt like that, I want shoes like that, I want a top like that.’ All I can say is ‘Okay sweetie, we’ll go buy it.’”

And that’s the basic story everywhere, it seems. Parents all over appear to have abdicated their responsibilities. It would be nice if there weren’t profit hungry marketers stalking our little girls, and parents and others should make complaints to merchants, the media and the appropriate government agencies (e.g., the FTC and FCC). But the bottom line is this - it’s parents, not retailers and lawmakers, who bear the primary responsibility for raising our kids.

I speak from the trenches - my girls are 4 and 6 - and when it comes to what my girls play with, wear, read, listen to or watch, I am in charge. My girls know that. We’ve discussed, in age appropriate terms, the Bratz dolls and why we will not purchase them now or in the foreseeable future. There is no whining, nagging, or begging because they know it will not work. Ever. And, because I’m the parent, there will be no “stripper shoes” and no “trashy” clothes when they reach the tweens and teens, regardless of whether it is my money or their money that is being spent. I hear almost constantly parents complaining about the amount of sex, violence and advertising their children watch on TV, as if it is something out of their control. It’s been a little more than three years since I put my television out on the curb to be collected with the rest of that week’s trash. Problem solved.

And, how have my children fared under such deprivation? Well, they have attention spans that are amazing, and they can focus on things that interest them for hours. They read in both Spanish and English, write their own short stories and poetry, do math for the fun of it, love to draw and paint, and sculpt with kid’s clay. They play board games and use their imaginations as they play with their dolls, dollhouses, toy tool sets and construction equipment. They are never bored.

Best of all, they have yet to pick up that insolent manner of speaking that so many TV sitcom children display, and they have acquired none of the overtly sexualized postures that so many little girls pick up from watching TV. They are polite, well behaved and pleasant to be around.

Each underdressed, sexualized little girl reveals a culture adrift, one in which something has gone terribly wrong. It would be nice if we had the legislative support that would make our parenting responsibility easier. However, the fact is that we don’t. We need to accept that fact, and take control of our own children’s lives. Then, those whose profits depend on our purchasing choices will fall in line or face the fiscal consequences.




Vice Chairman of Voter Education

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