January 26, 2012
Thank Heavens for Little Girls
Since rediscovering Gigi as a teenager, I've found this song somewhat... disturbing.
It is much more so in the movie- the lead up to the song is Maurice Chevalier ogling mature women, younger women, barely pubescent girls, and then a small child. At which point he breaks into this song.
The meaning is pretty clear. Little girls are awesome, because they turn into sex objects.
But where the line is between "little girls get bigger every day" and "I'd like to hit that" gets blurred more and more and more. I write this now, not just because I recently read and very much enjoyed a post about the ridiculous over sexualization of small children by their own parents, but because an old friend of mine posted a video of a group of seven year olds in a dance competition to facebook.
I know, I'm hormonal and pregnant-crazy right now, but this video GENUINELY upset me.
Take a peek.
God, I wish it wouldn't immediately suggest equally disturbing child dance routines.
Let's skip right past the part where we talk about how impressive it is that all of these girls are such good dancers. Because yes, they perform very well. Let's skip past the part where lip-synching to the inappropriate lyrics is the problem we want to talk about. ("Pull me into your arms, say I'm the one you OWN?" Sorry, I said we'd skip that bit...)
Let's just talk about what we're telling these girls about the value of female sexuality. Because that's a puzzler, right there.
On the one hand, this is a song that, don't ask me why, is frequently touted as an anthem of modern feminism. This song is, in fact, about using your sexuality to get back at a man who didn't marry you in order to validate you sexuality. And to a parent that didn't actually bother to actually listen to the song, you might assume that this girl-power kind of mega-hit might be a good thing for your seven year olds to dance to.
But who the hell approved those moves?
I suppose I should just be grateful those girls weren't also in garter belts.
It's one thing to have little girls dressed up in lingerie. I get little girls- for seven year old girls, dress up clothess are pretty much dress up clothes. But that isn't what was happening here. This was something different.
This was putting seven year old children into lingerie, having them bump and grind to lyrics about adult men humping them on the dance floor, and then having them perform those actions in front of a screaming crowd.
That is giving little girls a complete message, intentional or not. And that message is, "You are a sex object."
Not, "When you grow up you will be a sex object."
Not, "Your worth will be tied up in your success as a sex object... when you're a grown up."
Maybe I'm old fashioned. Maybe I'm hyper-protective as a mother of small girls. Maybe those children won't hit high school, determined to be the most risque dancer at the Prom, or obsessed with how many boys want to see them with their clothes off.
So, as I asked before, what are these children learning about the VALUE of their sexuality? Because let's be frank, female sexuality is valuable.
Female sexuality is the basis for conflicts world over. Female sexuality is a constant concern for both women and men here, in the developed world, where women enjoy nearly equal rights with men.
It is something that can be used against women by men, and by other women. It is something that our culture tries very hard to get women to use against each other.
"All the Single Ladies" has always bothered me because it insinuates that the only use for female sexuality is to attract a husband. And I have a huge problem with that. It's the flip side of the problem I have with abstinence only education- it ignores an entire world of sexual experience and empowerment.
What this dance routine teaches the girls about the value of their sexuality is that it only has value if it is displayed, and that it already exists. That, despite being seven years old, those girls are sexual beings. And that their sexuality is something to be constantly shown off- proven.
These children are learning that they hold power over adults, adults who scream and swoon and clap and cheer for them, because they are all sexual beings.
And as horrifying as it is, they DO hold that power over adults, because those adults might actually consider the seven year old girls in lingerie to BE sexual beings.
And no seven year old girl, despite how cute she might find Justin Bieber, should hold that kind of sway over somebody who has achieved conscious sexuality. Those are the lessons that validate every Humbert Humbert, every adult who believes that children lead sexual lives and are capable of consenting to sexual acts.
So in some sick way, this dance routine may have empowered those girls to protect themselves from the pedophiles of the world. To disarm the Humberts and reject them as adults, conscious of the sexual nature of their interactions.
But that's about power, not value. And when somebody uses their sexuality as a weapon, they aren't acting as though they value it.
And how can you value your sexuality as an adult, when from the age of seven you used it for petty gain, and without regard to your own real needs and wants. What happens when they attempt to maintain an emotional relationship that involves sex, and cannot separate sex as an expression of love and sex as an expression of power?
CAN they ever learn to see sex as an expression of love? Are they then doomed to use their sexuality as Beyonce encourages, just to make men jealous of each other so that one will eventually "put a ring on it" and then "own" her?
The two moves in the dance routine that bother me the most come at the beginning and at the end. At the beginning, the girls strut with their hands to their chest, as though pushing forward their completely non-existent breasts. It is an acknowledgement that they just are not physically mature enough to properly represent all of the sexuality of their routine.
At the end of the routine, the girls shake their hips in a humping motion at the very front edge of the stage, with looks of defiance and anger on their faces.
They seem to be actually taunting the imaginary subject of the song- "THIS is what I'm going to give to somebody else, just to get back at you."
What bothers me the most about that moment is how they must have been coached. What their coach MUST have had to say to them to get the results they wanted. How at least one of those girls had to have asked why they needed to make angry faces. What message that tells them about sex.
What it tells me is that you USE sex to punish people. And that is just plain unhealthy for anyone. No matter how old or young.
But this is their induction into the world of sex. This is their framework. When they do start becoming sexual beings, as adolescents or adults, the world of sex will be to them one of a constant battle for power. Of vindictiveness and ulterior motives and above all, a need for attention.
I don't believe in lying to my children. I won't be telling them that sex is something that only mommies and daddies do, or that it's a magical thing that happens when two people love each other. I plan on telling them the truth, that people does it because it feels good, but that it means MORE than that. And that you should never treat your sexuality as a weapon, or as a burden. That your sexuality is simply a part of who you are, and you don't need to show it off to know it's there... but that you can do what YOU WANT to do with it, that nobody else can or should dictate what you do with it. Even if they're just implying, or pressuring you to do something with it. It's yours, it's your private property. And if it is your wish to display it, you must do so respectfully and consentually. That when you use your sexuality as a weapon, it IS an act of aggression against another human being. That there's a difference between games and an attack. And that whenever you use something beautiful to hurt another person, you damage that thing irreparably.
That's a lesson for boys and girls alike. Regardless of sexual orientation.
But the girls in the above dance routine may never understand that. They may never understand that they have power over their OWN bodies, instead of their bodies simply holding power over others.
I am sad for those girls. I am furious at those girls' parents.
I'm sad for women everywhere, who nobody ever taught to honor and respect and treasure what their bodies can do for THEM, to own their sexuality and take pride in it, and VALUE it.
And, for the love of God, not to impose it in this way on children far too young to understand.