Here’s an interesting example of the triumph of ideology over simple fact. Fia K. sent in a link to a costume sold at Amazon titled “Tiny Boy’s Costume.” The costume is a green pterodactyl. There is no equivalent Tiny Girl’s Costume. When I search for that phrase, the search engine deletes the word “girl” and sends me back to here.
This is more than just an instance of associating boys with dinosaurs and excluding girls, although that would be problematic enough. No, the costume is called “Tiny” because it’s associated with a cartoon character with that name from the show Dinosaur Train.
Funny thing is, Tiny is female (note the eyelashes, you can always tell by the eyelashes).
This is evidence of how powerful gender ideology can be. Tiny’s actual fictional femaleness is less powerful than the ideological association of boys and dinosaurs. Hence, a Tiny Boy’s Costume.
Lindy West for the win at Jezebel, asks what’s so sexualizing about calling a child’s costume “naughty.” The costume below was widely criticized for sexualizing little girls, but West nicely observes that there is a non-sexual, child-related meaning to the word naughty. You know, being bad. The non-sexual version of bad. Doing something you’re not supposed to do. A non-sexual thing. You know what I mean! West writes:
Sure, naughty has had sexual connotations as far back as the mid-19th century, but it’s been used to describe disobedient kids since the goddamn 1600s. So why did we let hornay college chicks hijack the word in all its forms? Why can’t children be naughty anymore?
Nevertheless, West is right. The biggest problem with this costume’s title is that it includes the word “leopard.” Because that’s just false advertising. It doesn’t say sexy leopard and the dress — I’ll stop calling it a costume now — is not particularly sexualizing.
West calls for change:
Why don’t we send “naughty” back from whence it came—into the realm of wedgies and spitballs and pies cooling on the windowsill with bites taken out of them!? It’s time, people. You know it is. Take Back the Naughty. For the children.
And for the grown ups, too, who are tired of the idea that being a sexual person makes us bad, bad girls and boys.
The partial U.S. map below shows the proportion of the population that was identified as enslaved in the 1860 census. County by county, it reveals where the economy was most dominated by slavery.
A new paper by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen has discovered that the proportion of enslaved residents in 1860 — 153 years ago — predicts race-related beliefs today. As the percent of the population in a county accounted for by the enslaved increases, there is a decreased likelihood that contemporary white residents will identify as a Democrat and support affirmative action, and an increased chance that they will express negative beliefs about black people.
Avidit and colleagues don’t stop there. They try to figure out why. They consider a range of possibilities, including contemporary demographics and the possibility of “racial threat” (the idea that high numbers of black people make whites uneasy), urban-rural differences, the destruction and disintegration caused by the Civil War, and more. Controlling for all these things, the authors conclude that the results are still partly explained by a simple phenomenon: parents teaching their children. The bias of Southern whites during slavery has been passed down intergenerationally.
My Christmas present to my mom one year was time off from childcare. For several days while I was back home, I took over all of her usual duties regarding her grandkids; as she tries to support two daughters who are divorced with kids and struggling to get by, taking care of grandkids had expanded to take up most of her non-working life. She was incredibly excited to have the free time to finally go to the dentist and do other basic errands for herself.
The data come from a national sample of 1,008 grandparents over age 45. A caution: the survey was conducted online, though they say the sample was weighted to be representative of the full population, not just the online population.
On average, grandparents have 4 grandkids:
Thirteen percent of the sample reported caring for their grandchildren on a regular basis. Of those, a third watch the grandkids at least 5 days per week, while over 40% babysit less often, and 15% are raising their grandchildren:
Most grandparents reported that one of the reasons they watch their grandchildren is because they enjoy it, but their answers also make clear that grandparents are playing a key role in filling the gap in care during periods when parents are at work but kids aren’t in school:
Grandparents also serve as a form of economic safety net. It’s not surprising that grandparents buy stuff for their grandkids; we often depict grandparents as spoiling their grandkids with lots of toys and luxuries. But grandparents also provide more direct support. Of this sample, 62% had provided financial assistance in the past 5 years, and of those, 43% said they are providing more help than they used to because of the economic crisis. These graphs show the amount and type over the past 5 years:
And the money isn’t just going for toys and fun stuff. Clothing, general financial help, and educational expenses are the most common types of assistance, though the biggest average levels of giving are for investments, followed by educational expenses and helping buy a home:
A third (34%) said they continue to provide financial assistance even though they think it’s going to cause problems for their own financial futures.
New interest in the virgjinesha inspires us to re-post our coverage from 2012.
Rigid gender roles often inspire creative solutions. Families in Afghanistan, for example, when they have all girls, often pick a daughter to pretend to be a boy until puberty. The child can then run errands, get a job, and chaperone “his” sisters in public (all things girls aren’t allowed to do). The transition is sudden and doesn’t involve relocation, so the entire community knows that the child is a girl. They just pretend nothing at all strange is going on. In fact, it’s not strange. It happens quite routinely.
A similar phenomenon emerged in Albania in the 1400s. Inter-group warfare had left a dearth of men in many communities. Since rights and responsibilities were strongly sex-typed, some families needed a “man” to accomplish certain things like buy land and pass down wealth.
In response, some girls became “virgjinesha,” or sworn virgins. A sworn virgin was a socially-recognized man for the rest of “his” life (so long as the oath was kept). Many girls would take the oath after their father died.
There are only about forty sworn virgins left; as women were granted more and more rights, fewer and fewer girls felt the need to adopt a male identity for themselves or their families.
Some of the remaining virgjinesha were featured in a New York Times slideshow. Two of the images, by photographer Johan Spanner, are reproduced here.
After becoming a man, Qamile Stema [below] said she could leave the house and chop wood with other men. She also carried a gun. At wedding parties, she sat with men. When she talked to women, she recalled, they recoiled in shyness.
Qamile Stema said she would die a virgin. Had she married, she joked, it would have been to a traditional Albanian woman. “I guess you could say I was partly a woman and partly a man, but of course I never did everything a man does,” she said. “I liked my life as a man. I have no regrets.”
The sexualization of girls and the infantilization of adult women are two sides of the same coin. They both tell us that we should find youth, inexperience, and naivete sexy in women, but not in men. This reinforces a power and status difference between men and women, where vulnerability, weakness, and dependency and their opposites are gendered traits: desirable in one sex but not the other.
Now, thanks to @BonneZ, I know that this has something interesting to do with Mickey Mouse.
The original Mouse, Stephen Jay Gould has observed, was a kind of nasty character. But, as he has evolved into the “cute and inoffensive host to a magic kingdom,” he has appeared increasingly childlike. This six figures below indicate Mickey’s evolution over time:
Childlike features, Gould argues, inspire a need to nurture: “When we see a living creature with babyish features,” he writes, “we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness.” Allison Guy observes that we see a similar trend in recent toy makeovers – larger eyes, bigger heads, fatter stumpier limbs — but we see this primarily in toys aimed at infants and girls, not boys:
Guy interprets this trend as the “result of a cultural imperative for women to embody both the cute and the sexual.” So, women don “cute” clothes with colorful patterns associated with children and wear “flippy skirts” and “baby doll” t-shirts. They wear eyeliner to give the illusion of the large eyes of childhood, foundation to hide the marks of aging on the face, and pink on their cheeks to mimic the blush of youth. They are taught these imperatives from an early age.
What does it mean that feminine beauty is conflated with youthfulness, but masculine beauty is not – that we want women to be both cute and sexual? It means that we feel comfortable with women who seem helpless and require taking care of, perhaps we even encourage or demand these traits from women. Perhaps these childlike characteristics are most comforting in women who are, in fact, the least needy; I submit that we are more accepting of powerful women when they perform girlish beauty. When they don’t, they are often perceived as threatening or unlikable.
So, yes, the sexualization of girls is interesting — and no doubt it’s no good for girls and likely contributes to older men’s sexual interest in young women — but it’s not just about sexualizing kids early. It’s about infantilizing adult women, too, as a way to remind women of their prescribed social position relative to men.
Look at this cute ad from the 1950s. Mom is so satisfied as she watches her three children husband and two kids discover the Swift’s Premium bacon she just cooked up. We should wax nostalgic because that kind of feminine domesticity and helpless husbandry just isn’t expected in marriage any more. Right?
Wrong! Enjoy this dizzying ad from Maple Leaf in which a woman finally gets her three children husband and two kids to be decent human beings by feeding them, you guessed it, bacon:
Thanks to Tom Megginson, The Ethical Adman, for both of these examples and the title of this post.
by Sayantani DasGupta MD MPH, Jul 30, 2013, at 12:00 pm
The reproductive health police are at it again, and this time they’ve got the gender and sexuality cops with them. Despite the CDC reporting a decline in teen pregnancy across ethnic groups, public health and privately funded campaigns are popping up across the U.S. aimed at chastising, shaming, and blaming teenage mothers.
Ok, I get it. The campaign was designed to communicate the fact that most teen pregnancies are, yes, unexpected, and that teen fathers should bear an equal responsibility for said pregnancies. But as someone working at the interstices of narrative, health, and social justice, I am less concerned with wondering if teen pregnancy is ‘bad’, or even if shame and/or shock are effective motivators for behavior change (which I would argue they are not, check out Brené Brown’s eloquent argument). What concerns me is what other work such images are doing. In other words, what additional cultural stories is this campaign telling, and are those narratives socially just or unjust?
As this fantastic take-off from the Media Literacy Project shows, the primary problem with the Chicago campaign is its deeply trans-phobic narrative:
In the frame of the advertisers, the pregnant bellies in the ads are solely female while the rest of the body is solely male. The contrast is supposed to cause discord in the viewer, yielding feelings that the image is “disturbing” or “unexpected,” as the ads say. However, sex and gender are much more complicated than the advertisers understand. Transgender boys and men can become pregnant. Calling their bodies disturbing perpetuates a culture of ignorance, prejudice, and violence against transgender people.
The truth is, bodies which do not look traditionally ‘female gendered’ can and do become pregnant (consider the much publicized story of Thomas Beattie, for instance, a transgender man who bore three children) while bodies which do look traditionally ‘female gendered’ sometimes can or do not.
Philosopher Judith Butler asserted that gender is nothing more than a series of repetitive performances; behaviors which, in cis-gendered (not transgendered) people, are often so subconscious as to feel ‘natural.’ But simply consider that the gender-coding of many such behaviors have changed over time. Hairstyles, clothing, and work-home-balance are all easy examples. Requiring at the very least a working uterus, pregnancy is one type of public ‘performance’ that still appears ‘naturally female.’ Therefore, ‘male pregnancy’ can be a subversive act, as with the work of cyber-artists Virgil Wong and Lee Mingwei, where, as feminist science scholar Donna Haraway would say, one ‘queers what counts as nature.’
But that’s not what is going on here. As with the broadly comic absurdness of male pregnancy in films like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior,this anachronistic Chicago campaign actually reinforces a traditional gender binary while essentializing pregnancy as a function of only cis-gendered female bodies. In doing so, the campaign defeats its own stated purpose. By looking at these posters, cis-gendered boys won’t feel like pregnancy can happen to them. Rather, they will scoff, or laugh at the ‘absurdness’ of male pregnancy, reassured that their (utterly and fixedly ‘masculine’) bodies are ‘safe’ from such conditions. More devastatingly, the cis-gendered general public looking at these images will have their own prejudices and expectations about male pregnancy reinforced: as something ‘unexpected,’ shocking, and ‘unnatural.’
Additionally, like other individual-level ‘shaming and blaming’/’shocking’ campaigns, this Chicago anti-teen pregnancy series deflects attention from more systemic understandings and structural changes: from finding funding for affordable and accessible reproductive health care, to anti-poverty work, to programs which support LGBTQ youth. While they may satisfy the need for a ‘moral panic’ among us middle-aged people as we ‘clutch the pearls and think of the children,’ what such anti-teenage pregnancy campaigns don’t do is actually increase the well being of our young people – be they male or female, cis- or trans-gendered.