“At my 21st, I want people to say “Here comes one hot chick!”
So declared a 14-year-old schoolgirl in a class discussion a few years ago.
My job at the time was to explore the topic of self-worth and “relationships” with a large group of private school girls. I proposed that we visualise ourselves seven years hence, and this was the first answer.
Then it hit me like a pole-dancer’s kick. That despite her tender age, this girl’s dumbed down, sexed-up aspirations were a set-piece, not only of her generation, but of her mother’s and even of the primary-aged girls, posing their Bratz dolls and rocking to raunchy Beyonce videos at slumber parties.
I said “Really! So you DON’T want your friends to say: ‘there is my friend who re-watered the outback ... or found the cure for breast cancer … or is simply such a great friend?’ You want them to think you are a piece of take-away meat?”
Somewhere on the way from Emily Pankhurst and even Germaine Greer, the feminist revolution had hung a dismally sharp U-turn.
There have been a few acute and savage exposés of this cultural underbelly for women in recent years. Wendy Shalit’s Return to Modesty, Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth and Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs are notable for their analysis of the pervasive “raunch” culture underlying American colleges, workplaces and the “image industry”.
In Australia, there is a tide of anxiety rising in parents, teachers and health professionals who care about young girls and teenagers. It is clear to them that the sleaze culture has a taste for ever younger tidbits. But the anxiety is coupled with a sense of powerlessness and a frazzle of political and moral uncertainty. Is more sexual freedom and “information” the solution? Does “artistic” expression extend to the recruitment of the playground? How can we resist without sounding like prudes?
Already in its second printing after its September release, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex, Melbourne 2009) comes (at last) an incisive, eloquent and original collection of essays which are a formidable social force coming together from a surprising range of professional and philosophical positions in one publication.
Melinda Tankard Reist, women’s advocate and writer, is the guiding force, editor and a key contributor to this collaboration, which she calls a “collective shout” against the “pornification of childhood”.
In our discussion recently, I suggested to her that the book was important, because it connected some of the causational dots between so many troubling issues: from corporate greed, shock jock artists, unregulated advertising, child eating disorders, internet and telephone porn, cyber-bullying and the increasing accounts of child-on- child sexual assault and violence.
She said she was pleased with the readiness of each contributor, whether activist or academic to join the project. Getting Real consists of 15 essays, with writing by actress Noni Hazlehurst; the comedian turned activist Julie Gale; feminist academics Renate Klein and Abigail Bray; public intellectual Clive Hamilton and author of Corporate Paedophilia, published by the Australia institute, Emma Rush; psychologists and psychotherapists Louise Newman, and Betty McLellan; US anti-trafficking activist Melissa Farley; parenting expert Steve Biddulph and other contributors. It comes with strong endorsements from an equally diverse range of prominent figures.
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