Thursday, 11 April 2013
I hope you read my blogs yesterday, I hope you've read this whole series. They work best in sequence. This is a big issue, far too much for a few soundbytes.
Yesterday I got a very good comment, and I responded with a bit of a spoiler for today's point, which is about the messages we send. I'm sure you are aware that what we say and what we do are all messages, albeit often quite different to how the words or actions might appear. We say one thing and mean another, and I'm not talking about pragmatics here.
In the example from the comment yesterday, I suggested that depending on how we cover our naked children, the message we send can be quite a disturbing one. This is of course a controversial assertion, as you may say that your intent was not that at all, and I'm sure it wasn't, but intent here is irrelevant.
When you take a small child, and dress her in a bikini, you are saying that she has something to hide. Specifically you are saying that certain parts of her body are singled out as different, and these must be hidden. Ultimately you are saying that these parts are sexual.
This is a child. There is nothing sexual about a child. They have not reached an age where it is relevant. A female child's chest looks the same as a male child's chest, and therefore covering it in a bikini top is a choice based on the future, on something that doesn't exist yet. We'll leave aside whether adult female breasts need to be covered for now, the fact is that a child has none. If you cover her AND her brother in a t-shirt, to keep the sun off, it's a totally different issue. I'm talking about the deliberate choice to cover only specific parts of her chest in a garment that was designed for adults, in a society that just so happens to require adult female breasts to be covered.
Why do it? Well, the argument put forward yesterday was to stop snooping perverts with cameras etc. Obviously this is a matter of some importance. These people are repulsive, and we have a natural desire to protect our children from them. But by dressing them in adult clothing, to cover body parts they don't have, we are sending a message that "yes, you're correct, my child is sexual".
Told you this would be controversial. Bet you've been enjoying all this series and now you are going "WOAH Melanie, you've gone too far now". Hear me out.
You are saying this loud and clear. In addition you are saying "Now you have to guess what's under the bikini top", and the pervert, in his warped little world of fantasy, goes "SLURP". You have just played right into his hands.
Before I go any further, it appears that I am biased towards the European view, and you'd be right. When I offered, non-judgementally, two views towards the nakedness of children yesterday, it was because both parents intentions are good. No harm is meant by letting children run naked on the beach, and I'm quite certain no harm is meant by dressing little girls in bikinis. It seems the natural thing to do, based on the prevailing culture, fashion, and so on. No harm is meant, the intention is good, because we are USED to this culture. You've heard the media talk about Rape Culture? Well, this is where it begins. Until we stop and think, it will continue.
Obviously the issue is more complex when it comes to covering the lower half of her body. Here, both genders are covered, and for that reason, it really isn't such a big deal. It is still sexualizing children, and we could argue that it's wrong and unnatural, and sends a bad message, but there's a difference here that's crucial, and I'll come back to it.
So is it really such a bad thing sending out a message to the world that "Yes, I acknowledge my daughter is potentially a sexual creature"? Yes, it is, but it's not the worst message. The worst message is the one sent to the child. The worst message is "YOU are a sexual creature".
We discussed a couple of weeks ago that until a certain age, somewhere around puberty at the earliest, girls are not ready for sexuality either physically or mentally. If there is anyone who thinks that a pre-pubescent child has any need for sexuality they may need to seek help. Certainly some of them are curious, which is natural, but that is another matter altogether.
Which brings me to the first problem. How do we answer questions they may have while retaining their innocence? It's a fine balance. Most parents, if they have any sense, answer questions promptly, without showing embarrasment, and keep it very simple. They don't have to be kept away from the realities of creating life, and they certainly should not be lied to. Children raised on a farm tend to have less questions about the mechanics of procreation, I assure you. But there is more to sex than copulation, and what we are really concerned with is sexuality, or their understanding of it.
They should absolutely NOT learn about sexuality from daytime soaps, chat shows, and other TV shows or movies that were not intended for their age group. These send out more wrong messages than I could list if this blog was a full size book.
Possibly the worst influence is music videos. Because this is the same as the bikini issue. Not just how it objectifies women, but in society's complete disregard for how this happens. A child will be dragged away from watching two dogs having sex, but allowed to watch as many Lady Gaga videos as she wants.
Even the lyrics have potential to cause problems. I invite you to read this blog:
I am not blaming Lady Gaga, or you, for this. It's all part of the culture. We're used to it. We don't see the harm. In fact, as modern women we say that we have a right to this, and didn't you just say Melanie, that what we wear is not the problem?
It depends whose mind you are concerned with. You can not affect the male mind one way or the other, that's his domain. He will undress you in his imagination, whether you dress like a prostitute or a Mennonite. You may "advertise" readiness, but for every man who finds readiness appealling, there's another one who find chastity erotic....and you better believe it. No, what you wear isn't the problem when it comes to male attitudes.
What you wear is all about your attitude, how you feel about yourself. It may be deliberately provocative, it may be all about comfort, it may be carefully chosen to hide the parts you think need hiding. But it is governed both by how you think you should present yourself, AND how you feel about yourself. In other words, your attitude affects your choice of clothing, and your choice of clothing affects your attitude. When you are dressing yourself, these are mostly (within your cultural framework) free choices. Your body, your decisions, your clothes. As an adult you know how to deal with a sexual aspect of it. One hopes.
A child doesn't. She is learning, watching. She is picking up clues, becoming encultured. She's getting those messages thick and fast, and it's very confusing. There are people telling her that sex is for grown-ups, and then buying her the same clothes that some women wear to deliberately attract men. They are teaching her about "stanger danger", and then buying her a bra, before she has anything to put in it, that has "Feeling Lucky" written on it. The most confusing and dangerous thing we ever do to anyone is send mixed messages, and it's stupid. When we do it to children, it's utterly reprehensible.
How do we teach our children the realities of life, to keep them safe from sexual predators, without damaging their innocence? It's not easy, and there are no guarantees. Just when we think we've got it covered, the scheming predators will find a gap. But what we certainly don't want to do is teach our daughters that they are legitimate prey.
Nope, still not finished.