Category Archives: Hannah Montana

New blog … Finally …

So! We managed to choose the worst possible two weeks ever to go on a family holiday. (You’ll be pleased to know we enjoyed the break.)

During that time the government’s Bailey Review was published and across the media there were articles, comment, arguments the whole works, on issues we have talked about for all this time. We were gutted to miss an invitation to appear on Newsnight, but also very chuffed to be mentioned on Question Time. Most importantly though it was great to see debate and a chance for people from a range of perspectives getting involved.

Our thoughts on the review itself? Well, we are pleased that the government has recognised that there are issues here and that they are important. Important enough to warrant a review and to warrant time and effort addressing them. What the review and its findings can hope to really achieve is another matter. After all, this is another review in a long line of reviews which has attempted to make some headway in what is a hugely complex and difficult area to put right. Even defining the problem itself is a challenge to say the least.

We remain sceptical about the impact that this review can really have. We were very clear when we made out submission to Reg Bailey that the sexualisation agenda is in danger of becoming dominated by the obvious padded bra and pole dancing kits, and ignores at its peril the broader and more insidious objectification and commercialisation which is taking place across our high streets and online. We made the point that the beauty industry, in its relentless quest to find new profitable markets, is creating a culture which accepts that children should be wearing make-up, and that ‘naturally by 8 years old, girls need a little enhancement’. (Yes, this was Walmart in the US.)

Necessary?

So yes, let’s tackle the easy things – but they’re easy! Tesco does not sell that pole dancing kit anymore. WH Smith does not stock Playboy pencil cases. And Primark stopped on the padded bra front (didn’t it?). But that’s relatively easy. What we really need is to take a long hard look at the commonly accepted things around us. Disney Store is full of make up kits aimed at age 3 plus. As is Toys R Us. Where does this fit in? Isn’t this sexualisation?

Make-up aimed at ages 3+ in Disney Store

We are not so naive as to think that either of these stores is going to stop selling this stuff. And taking on the might of Walmart, Disney or Toys R Us is not a task two ordinary mums like us can entertain lightly. But I think what’s really hit home with this latest review is that we need to recognise a number of very simple and fundamental points:

1. Big business is very powerful and it runs the show. Money talks. None of these stores care about anything much other than their profit. By creating these new lucrative markets there are boardrooms full of people rubbing their hands together with glee. Let us not forget who profits and who pays.

2. As consumers – well, this is perhaps where we have a modicum of ‘power’. Because it’s our money which pays for all this rubbish. If we stop, if we say NO, if we at least start voicing concern and questioning what these multi-billion dollar companies are doing, then this is when they may start taking notice.

So, yes the government’s intervention at whatever level they can muster, is a good thing. Whether or not legislation is feasible, practical, possible or desirable is another question. It’s certainly not something that this government is proposing. But this needs to go hand-in-hand with ourselves as consumers (hate to use this adjective but it’s the only one that’s meaningful to big business) taking action, and talking with our feet, or our wallets.

Alongside all of this we must continue to press for long term cultural change which means we promote and strive for a vision of our society – societies – which isn’t driven by profit. But what is right and good. Box-ticking by the government is not helpful. While we applaud much of Mumsnet‘s efforts, they are not the only voice of parents and mothers. There are many other voices which need to be heard and which have relevant things to say.

Our campaign is about bringing parents, children and whoever else is interested together and using a collective voice to start doing just that. If that means we define ourselves as consumers and withdraw our cash and demand better from big business then fine. So be it. But we do want to also press for more lasting change which will ultimately mean that big business cares about more than just its bottom line.

And if you don’t believe us, here’s an extract from an email which we received last week from an 11 year old:

“The worse thing about this is that it stops you being your own person and you grow up believing that girls are just for decoration and looking at more than any actual real purpose. A thing that has also come up is boyfriend-girlfriend pairs – it’s like this, if you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend then you’re not popular and if you’re not popular you’re bullied . Girls should not made to feel like they have a price on what they look like or what they have , it’s there personality that counts …”

Georgia, aged 11

OUTRAGED? I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO WASN’T. By Lucy Lawrence

I was not outraged by the audacity of the clothing chain Primark in selling padded bikini tops to girls aged seven this week. Frankly I was not even mildly surprised. Let’s face it, these pink and sparkly fake breasts were quite mild compared to some of the other vile tat that’s been sold to children as good, harmless fun. Pole dancing kits spring to mind.

Anyway, there was enough outrage coming from all sides to render any I might have drummed up, redundant.

Firstly, I want to stress that I did not, under any circumstances, consider it to be a ‘good thing’ for this product to be in shops. I am glad they have gone. It is a good move for Primark and it is a good move for parents who already have a hard enough job keeping daughters dressed appropriately for their age rather than their preferred future career.

It is not, however, a victory for The Sun newspaper which reported its own ‘outrage’ on Wednesday that these ‘paedo bikinis’ were on sale, encouraging paedophiles everywhere (to do what?). Hours later when, after caving in to all the negative publicity Primark pulled the offending items off its shelves and offered to donate any profits from their sales to charity, this was hailed by the newspaper as ‘The Sun wot won it’ or some other ‘amusing’ headline.

The rank hypocrisy of this tabloid beggars belief. Condemning ‘sexy’ products for the under-10s on one page, while encouraging teenage girls, not even a decade older, to ‘get them out for the lads’ on Page 3. This is a national newspaper that makes its money out of objectifying young women and turning them into sex objects. And yet it never questions that this ‘in yer face’, and on the breakfast table, socially acceptable sexuality might arouse the curiosity of, and a desire to emulate, in pre-pubescent girls.

The Sun makes money by pedalling soft porn and fantasy femininity and then attempts to take the moral high ground against another, equally cynical, business venture which is trying to hook these girls in younger and younger. Who gave The Sun’s editor the moral compass?

I reserve scorn too for the politicians – all of them. As expected, all three major political parties claimed to be outraged by these bikinis. But still, even in the 21st century, all of these politicians are so busy trying to be popular with Britain’s biggest selling tabloid, that they would never dare risk its wrath by condemning Page 3. None are willing to take a stand and demand soft porn mags like Nuts and Zoo be placed on the top shelf, nor are any prepared to admit that there just might be a connection between the images girls and women are exposed to in the media and the ever increasing numbers of breast augmentations et al. being carried out year on year in the UK. It used to be an insult to call somebody plastic. Now our girls aspire to it.

And finally there is the outrage coming from the Left. There seemed to be a backlash against parents for objecting to the sexualisation of children.

One blogger wrote: “The pubescent padded bra has been hijacked by the faux-feminist family values brigade as a symbol of moral decline. There is a distinct class element to this puritan agenda.” She continues by arguing that middle-class mums are ganging-up on Primark because working class mums shop there? Really? Wouldn’t middle class mums gang-up on Sainsbury’s if it were selling sexist clothes for children?  Oh, I did.

So, in a world where, judging by Channel 4 news’s vox pop on this issue, we are becoming immune to these things – most Primark shoppers hadn’t even registered this garment was on sale, let alone judged it inappropriate – in a world where nearly 9,000 British women a year have breast augmentation, in a world where children have internet access to porn before they’ve even reached puberty, in a world where 46% of girls aged 11 to 16 would consider cosmetic surgery and that girls start finding fault with their appearance as early as 10 or 11* and in a world where girls are not encouraged to play dressing-up like their mums but encouraged to play dressing up like highly-sexed pop stars, it’s my argument that we should stand back and take a look at where things are going and then imagine where we want them to be.

Girls don’t want padded bikinis so they’re not teased by the boys at school – for heaven’s sake, they’re hardly going to be wearing them under their polo shirts. They want these bikinis so they look like Hannah Montana, Cheryl Cole and Jordan. Three decent role models? I leave that up to you.

But when I go on holiday with my four-year-old son this summer, the last thing I want is for him to experience a beach  awash with seven-year-old girls playing at being teenagers in push-up bikinis. Girls will always be girls – but they don’t always have to be sex objects.

* A study by the Girl Guides

Disney Moppets, Dead Mothers, Post-Modern Consumer Hell and Me – A Review of Hannah Montana: The Movie

By May Carolan

It’s been confirmed, officially: when it comes to our brains, we women are doing a whole lot better than our male counterparts. This month the Higher Education Policy Institute published its findings on women in higher education and we have reason to celebrate, because it is very good news all round.

Within Britain’s university system, women now outnumber and importantly outrank and outperform men at every stage.  Female students are surpassing their male associates in terms of attendance numbers and academic achievements and now it’s not just at the low status universities either, where women have traditionally faired well (though let’s not sell ourselves short, the stats show we’re superior in those too).  Importantly though, at virtually every one of Britain’s highest ranked universities, including almost all members of the elite ‘Russell Group’ the assemblage that represents the top research institutions in the UK, women are doing better than men.

Significantly, it’s not only middle class white women either.  Of those children who were entitled to free meals at school, it’s the girls who are going on to higher education in the greatest numbers.  In just about every ethnic group, including Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, more girls than boys are heading to university after leaving school.

It seems logical then that enriching the minds of our girls, those daughters who will go on to make up our next generation of women, is highly important and filled with timely significance. However, if Hannah Montana: The Movie were anything to go by, you wouldn’t think girls actually needed to use their brains at all.

Linking the gender composition of educational establishments in the UK with a shrewdly created all-American, Disney ‘pop princess’ may seem somewhat tenuous, but hang in there, the connection is more potent and imperative than you may think.

The young women who are taking their exams this month will do better than their fellow male students.  In September they will head off to more prestigious universities and they will outnumber men on courses like Law and Medicine.  In a few years time they will enter our hospitals and law courts armed with degrees of a higher grade than their male colleagues.  Why then, when this fantastic intellectual achievement by women is taking place all over the country, does the media continue to unreservedly and unequivocally tell our girls that the important things in life are shoes, make-up, boys and becoming a pop star?

Women are on the cusp of taking a monumental step forward and yet it is evident that television companies and film studios are utterly intent on driving the youngest members of our gender backwards into a vapid world of material excess and an empty obsession with ‘celebrity’.

So how does Hannah Montana fit in to all this and just who is she?  Anyone without a daughter under the age of 14 may be somewhat unfamiliar with the mega money making media empire that is Hannah Montana, alas experience tells me that not many people have been able to escape without some kind of cursory experience of her.

The premise of Hannah Montana is that ‘normal’ schoolgirl Miley Stewart (played by real life teenager Miley Cyrus) has a secret pop star alter ego, ‘Hannah Montana’.  By assuming her covert ‘Hannah’ identity (which consists of a blonde wig, high heels and a short skirt) clumsy, unassuming Miley Stewart is able to ‘live the dream’ as a glamorous pop star, without losing her ‘normal life’ as an ordinary girl who lives with her older brother and widowed father.

To say that Miley Cyrus’ various Hannah Montana outputs are popular is an immense understatement with potentially critical consequences.  The film version of the hit TV show was the biggest Easter Weekend opener ever in the US, her 3D ‘Best of Both Worlds Tour” has broken box office records and now she’s over here…

UK merchandise sales of ‘Hannah Montana’ toys, t-shirts, shoes, underwear, hair accessories, computer games, board games, DVDs, books, CDs, furniture, duvet covers, party plates, sweets, cakes, make-up, mobile phone cases, roller skates and stationary to name but a few, is huge and as the rapidly increasing Hannah Montana section of the Argos catalogue proves, her ever escalating pervasiveness is beginning to feel damn near omnipresent!

What’s most disturbing about the film of Hannah Montana is that it is decidedly watchable.  The ostensibly wholesome façade exudes what feels like brilliant and positive life-lessons to the tween girl, even I was momentarily caught up in the colourful charade.  However, seeing a tiny girl of about 4 years old, perched on a booster seat across the aisle from me, cleared the sequin-induced haze that had momentarily blind sighted me.  This little girl was dressed from pink Stetson to flashing LCD shoes, in Hannah Montana gear.  She wriggled and gyrated in her seat and sang along to song and dance sequences, she squealed in wondrous short-attention-spanned glee.  But rather than being happy for her, I wanted more for her and so I watched with a far more reasoned eye.

When her increasingly brattish ‘Hannah’ persona begins to take over, Miley’s father (who in a confusing post-modern nightmare is played by Cyrus’ real-life country singer father, Billy Ray Cyrus) takes matters into his own hands and sends his wayward daughter back to their small home town of Crowley, Tennessee to learn the true value of family and friendship.

You see, that sounds Ok doesn’t it? And seeing as the build up to this banishment was Miley forgetting her best friend’s birthday, skipping her brother’s send-off to university in order to go shopping and a cringe-worthy catfight with America’s next Top Model Tyra Banks, over some shoes that look like they belong on a hooker, so far so good.  But again, once you stop staring aghast at the razzmatazz of it all, the hideous ‘moral backbone’ becomes all too clear.
The problem is that Miley never makes any decisions of her own.  From being tricked into going ‘home’ (which to all intents and purposes was a kidnapping, albeit it on a private jet) or deciding to ‘voluntarily’ give-up her Hannah façade (which had more to do with exhaustion and trying to get a boyfriend than anything else) Miley doesn’t have to think for one minute.

All Miley’s moral quandaries and personal dilemmas are induced, shaped and resolved in relation to a male role model.  Even her poor dead mother (of course she’s dead! They’re always dead!) doesn’t get a look in.  When Miley’s new home-town cowboy boyfriend tells her that her songs are rubbish and don’t truly come from her heart (how rude, what does he know!?) she writes a song about what a great Dad she has and how he taught her that she could live her dreams if she only tried hard enough.

And that is what is at the crux of Hannah Montana: The Movie and what makes it so perilous: it instructs children to spend most of their time dreaming and then it constructs what those dreams should be in order to squeeze more money out of their unwitting parents.  The dreams are wrapped up in a pretty neo-conservative casing that gives the impression of advocating individuality and feistiness, but which actually does the opposite.  The dream it endorses is one which seeks to create a merchandise demanding, money eating pre-teen automaton with unrealistic expectations for a life very few people will ever get (or should want) to lead, inducing dissatisfaction and frustration, which we are told can be appeased by better purchasing power.

This doesn’t even begin to mention the giant guilt complex most girls will acquire if (nay, when) they can’t live up to the hideous ‘wholesome’ image Disney has assembled for poor young Miley Cyrus.  She’s like a car crash waiting to happen.  Despite it all, Cyrus is a talented actress with excellent comic timing and a refreshingly un-perfect face. I wish her the best of luck and godspeed into non-raunchy adult roles away from the heavy corporate paw of the Disney dynasty.

You may think well, if girls are thriving academically then what does it matter if they watch Hannah Montana?  This is where the danger lies; the women who are currently entering into and graduating from our universities didn’t have the Disney puppet Miley Cyrus and her Hannah Montana Jekyll and Hyde personas preaching to them. I’m not wholly convinced they had anything you could point your finger at and categorically say “well this was better”, but they certainly didn’t have something so scheming, calculated or obviously commodity based thrust upon them from every avenue.

It’s worth noting here that Hannah Montana was produced by Al Gough and Miles Millar, two television executives who gave the world Smallville.  A contemporary prequel to the Superman story, Smallville features a young Clark Kent growing up in his mid-west hometown, before his superhero adulthood.  It’s interesting that Hannah Montana has a remarkably similar premise to Superman, mostly the shared secret identities which are apparently go unnoticed due to unfeasibly convincing disguises of different hair-dos.  It’s true that both of these shows are silly and unrealistic, but it’s such a shame that when a boy has a clandestine identity, he gets to have super human powers and save the world.  When a girl has one, she becomes pop star with nothing much but an awesome shoe collection to show for it.

Now I’m not suggesting that our daughters should only be allowed to watch junior versions of programming for the Open University, but does what’s on offer have to be so vacantly manipulative, consumer obsessed and filled with intentionally unrealistic expectations? Because judging by their current achievements within the university system, girls are capable of so much more and this can and should be reflected and celebrated on our television and cinema screens.

Mylie Cyrus lays the critics to waste

Having been lucky enough to be on holiday in the Caribbean this last week, it’s been interesting doing some people watching and seeing how body conscious women are these days when it comes to the dreaded bikini. I wouldn’t exclude myself from this. The anguish of getting you body out in public – and if you’ve had kids, then it’s even worse – or you’ve got a flat chest (yes – that’s me), or you’ve got cellulite (isn’t that everyone?), or if you have hair (GOD FORBID).

But having just read in The Times about how Mylie Cyrus has been lambasted online for being “fat” while wearing her bikini. Good God! She looks fantastic. But there have been internet chatrooms full of people bitching and sniping about her and about how she is fat! FAT??! No one is safe from this horrendous pressure. Someone said on one of these chatrooms: “Miley is a blubber-but”. What a sad, sad indication of how the celebrity skinny obsession is now so deeply ingrained and normalised in our culture. Why are people so interested in her weight? What about her acheivements? What about how hard she works? What about anything other than what she looks like in her bikini.

We all suffer from it one way or another. I have decided that on this holiday my baby belly is out and proud. And just a quick thank you to Mylie for reacting in a positive and brave way. Whatever you think of her and the Disney machine which surrounds her, she was quick and forceful with her response, which as a mother of a seven year old daughter who LOVES her was great to hear. Mylie is UP in my estimations, big time.

PS, my husband just read this post and said “so who the hell is Mylie Cyrus?!” I mentioned Hannah Montana and suddenly he knew more than he thought he did. A very interesting case study to say the least.