Category Archives: sexualisation of girls

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

Mind the GAP

Sexualisation is on the political agenda, and has always been on ours. At Pinkstinks we are currently working on our submission to the consultation of the government’s sexualisation taskforce (The Bailey Review), set up in response to the growing discontent amongst parents at the much publicised premature sexualisation of our children.

There have been a number of high profile cases which have been the catalyst for all of this: I’m thinking pole dancing kits in Tesco, playboy pencil cases in WH Smith and of course padded bras for seven year olds in Primark. Pinkstinks however has always taken a broader view as we believe that there are some very blurred lines between what are considered sexualised, and what are overtly ‘gendered’ or pinkified products.

Just today the latest website from the Gap was brought to our attention and deserves some thought.

The girls page features the ‘make a shape’ logo, including a young girl, I’m guessing about 7 or 8, standing on tippy toes – as if in heels although actually in flats – looking behind herself at her own behind. All skinny jeaned and skinny, it’s the ‘shape’ of ‘does my bum look big in this?’, ‘am I pretty enough?,’ ‘am I thin enough?’, ‘how do I look?’.

The 'shape' of things to come

And it’s evidence of the trend to use language (visual language as well as written), to describe young girls in the way that was once the preserve of women’s bodies, and women’s fashion. It creates the whisper of self doubt, the hint of concern, the merest smidging of ‘am I good enough?’, and of course added to all the other messages around her, it quickly becomes part of the cause of the suppression of her self-confidence and the shaping of her as a consumer.

So in some ways, whilst we’re all busy shouting loudly about padded bikinis for seven year olds, this stuff, this steady drip feeding of messages, loaded with double meanings for not only our girls but our boys too, quietly continues to further cement some truly dreadful assumptions about what is important for a girl to think and believe, and likewise, a boy too.

Moving - Not posing.

Incidentally, the ‘shapes’ that the equivalent boy is making on the site, is a sort of dancing, running, active moving kind of pose. It is clearly not, however, ‘posing’.

So this is the sort of messaging that we will be highlighting and challenging in our forthcoming submission.

You too can fill in your own submission at:

http://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1749&external=no&menu=1

Please do share with us your own thoughts and ideas.

Early Learning Emergency – revisited – one year on

It’s a year since we launched our Early Learning Emergency campaign which tackled the gender stereotyping which is evident everywhere you look by the high street giant, the Early Learning Centre. That campaign made every national newspaper in the UK, TV, radio and blogs galore, and ended up in print in 43 countries around the world. Surely the Early Learning Centre must have noticed that we touched on a subject which stirred up a huge amount of emotion and which gathered support from thousands and thousands of parents, teachers and children around the world?

To celebrate the anniversary we thought we’d go back and see if we could detect any changes made by the retailer in terms of products, labeling and the store experience. In other words let’s see if they’ve learned anything over the last year …

ELC report cardSo here’s the Early Learning Centre report card. We’ve used the dressing up clothes pages as a barometer here. These pages are especially powerful in terms of the imagery, language and the products on offer to girls and boys as they define the boundaries between each and plant those all important ideas about what the future might hold for them.

Images

Last year we pointed out the ELC Christmas catalogue was hugely segregated in terms of the way it portrayed girls and boys. Girls were seen in passive roles throughout and were noticeably absent or playing only small parts in any action, adventure and discovery type pages.

In particular we noticed that the dressing up clothes were so outrageously gender specific that girls were pictured only as princesses and fairies (with an old fashioned nurse being the only exception) while boys were pictured as super heroes, a range of professionals and as adventurers. Last year in the spread entitled ‘things people do’, there was one girl (old fashioned nurse) and 7 boys all playing at different professions (police officer, firefighter etc).

This year there has been some significant positive change! Things people do is now called ‘ when I grow up’ and guess what? There are now girls being a police officer, a fire fighter and a vet (blue not pink) alongside the boys.

We are thrilled about this. And it’s a great start as well as clear recognition of the points we made this time last year and most importantly action!

Language

The language used within the catalogue was a real problem last year. Time and time again the word pretty being used to describe girls. Pretty princesses, pretty in front of the mirror, pretty, pretty, pretty. What does this tell a girl about what she’s worth?

Well this year, again there has been an effort to move away from this adjective. While there is still an abundance of pink princess dresses and sparkles the language in the catalogue has changed. I struggled to find the word pretty this time. Instead, the wording is very carefully gender neutral – even in the most pink pages – it’s your child and not your daughter who is being encouraged to play and make believe.

So again, a good effort but still more to do and further to go.

Products

The product lines still have a way to go. We are very disturbed by the vanity mirrors which are sold as toys for three years and older. Placing a three year old child in front of a mirror is nothing short of sexualisation of girls. We have to see it as this and we need to remove this from catalogues and stores across the retail world.

Sadly as well, the in-store experience remains a highly gendered segregated affair. In my local store I was hid hard by the prominence of these so called vanity mirrors – of which I counted at least three different models – stacked high and in prominent position.

So, in summary we are really pleased that the Early Learning Centre has taken on board some of our concerns and have made a really good start in making their catalogue more inclusive and more positive for girls and boys.

So we are awarding them a C+ this time round.

“Good effort ELC. You still have a long way to go but we are pleased that you are listening the concerns of parents and taking positive steps forward.”

Today’s papers were full of the news that the Government is launching an inquiry tomorrow which will examine whether new rules need are needed to prevent retailers stocking inappropriate items to pre-teens. So this is just the start. We think that ELC along with all other retailers need to take responsibility and live up to these responsibilities. We’ll be following these developments closely and look forward to being a part of that process.

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

GIRLATION – YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! By Lucy Lawrence

What is wrong with this picture? A young girl (age indeterminable – but under 18) steps out on to the red carpet. As the flashbulbs of the waiting paparazzi fire up into a strobe-like frenzy, this little girl, short-skirted, glittering and fully made-up, totters up the steps to the event entrance in the ill-fitting skyscraper heels bought especially for this moment. She smiles coyly and waves at the photographers before disappearing inside. “So this is what it’s like to be famous,” she thinks.

So is there anything wrong with this picture? I think so. Because this girl is not famous. She is not Miley Cyrus or Rihanna at an award ceremony or charity gala. She is not an actress or musician or writer or scientist or sportswoman. She is just a girl who thinks it would be cool to be famous. A girl who knows nothing of the reality of becoming famous, of the work it takes to get there and the talent that is (or certainly used to be) required.

This little girl could be, for example, a visitor to an event being run by a set-up called U4U (www.u4uk.co.uk) at London’s NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, appropriately and ridiculously called GIRLATION. The good people at U4U say this seemingly pointless and shallow event is a ‘funky, fun & interactive conference for young ladies’. Girlation will ‘educate, inform and inspire’ and here’s how…

STAR TREATMENT – Your 11-18 year olds will be EDUCATED in the mysterious ways of the red carpet. Er, they will be faced with imitation paparazzi and a hot pink (natch) carpet at the entrance

FREE PAMPERING – The girls will INFORMED about the necessity to look good at all times by being able to experience massages, manicures and, of course, the ubiquitous makeovers

TEMPTING INDULGENCES – Your daughters can then be INSPIRED to spend their money in booths stuffed full of cupcakes and chocolates. Those watching their figures can splash the cash at the branded fashion concessions.

And we are promised EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES. What might these be? Er, a high heel boot camp? Apparently it explores positive development. Come again? Is aspiring to be able to walk in high heels a positive thing? Should it even be an aspiration at all? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND ARE THEY MAD?!

Well according to the website, which it has to be said is very light on detail, U4U ‘supports young ladies in becoming good citizens today and positive leaders tomorrow through weekly meetings, activities, mentoring, professional coaching & small business projects’.

Sadly there is no more information on who these people are, where these meetings are held and/or what qualifications they have to be running youth groups – if indeed they are.

Suspicious? Yes, a tad. Especially as their unvalidated and outrageous claims continue:

* society values the attributes of U4U members

* university admissions will recognise them as assets to their programs

* employers will have confidence in their leadership, resourcefulness & professional skills

* government organisations will recognise & reward U4U members as positive contributors

* parents discover a solution that meets their daughters [sic] needs: offering support they might not be able to give; helping their daughters navigate through the difficult teenage years; connecting their daughter with good friends & facilitating good choices

Er, never heard of them. Sorry. No words in English are more brilliantly self-explanatory than synonyms for lack of meaning and substance. When I visit the U4U website and read about all the ‘wonderfulness’ that GIRLATION will offer, these are the words which run through my mind. I find myself thinking of gems such as absurdity; inanity and gibberish. Balderdash; tommyrot and drivel. What about blether; blather and blah-blah, not forgetting flapdoodle; flimflam and poppycock. But the claims being made about this event are far more than simple twaddle. It is insidious and cynical; exploitative and dishonest. Shame on the Natural History Museum. Shame on U4U.

Lucy Lawrence

I dreamed a dream?

It’s an exciting day for us tomorrow, as we’re going to be meeting with other winners of Unltd awards for social entrepreneurs. We’ll be networking and attending workshops, and also I think be feeling very proud of our achievements.

PinkStinks was conceived almost a year ago, and in that year we’ve probably learnt more than we expected, met and spoken with many, many more people than we expected and maybe enjoyed ourselves in the meantime a bit more than we expected too.

Someone we’re definitely looking forward to meeting is Ruth Rogers from Body Gossip, a former winner of the award, and a project that is going from strength to strength. It just goes to show how there really is a movement at the moment of people that really have had enough of the marketing, image obsessed, celebrity culture that we are all immersed in, and we hope that together, all the different projects out there, and journalists and writers who are challenging it, well … maybe we can start to make a difference.

It’s fitting really, on the week that Susan Boyle shot to fame on ‘Britain’s Got Talent‘, where the three judges sneered down their noses in derision at her, as if she’d crawled from under some slimy rock. Where we were treated to shots of the audience rolling their eyes  and laughing with distaste. Where one judge said ‘everyone was laughing at you’ (that was Piers); and another said ‘everyone was against you … but now they’re not’ (that was Amanda) after she’d sung her amazing rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserable .

HOLD ON A BLOODY MINUTE!

‘Everyone’?  I think not Piers and Amanda!  I wasn’t laughing at her. I wasn’t against her! Why were we against her again?  Was it because she was too old, or too fat? Or not preened and manufactured and slutty and plastic enough to have talent!?  Good God, what an insult. An insult to her, an insult to us … it was vile to watch. I’m not for a minute saying that seeing Susan didn’t challenge any of us, ourselves included. To see a woman look the way she does on national prime time TV … but it’s because all we do see, particularly when it comes to entertainment, is the preened, plastic, slutty variety. No wonder even the most open minded amongst us is still in mild shock. But doesn’t it show how far we have to go, to break these dangerous stereotypes, to really judge people, women in particular, on talents not tits.

There are some female bands and singers out there  attempting to do just that. So let’s encourage them, blog about them, buy them, tell our daughters about them. Let’s get the girls guitars and drums. Let’s get the girls making the music, not just gyrating to it with next to nothing on.

We really hope that we can start to showcase some great women entertainers and musicians for girls with our new project cooltobe.me, in fact we know we can. So, thank you for the support in the last year, stay tuned and we’ll let you know how we get on tomorrow.

So cute, so adorable, so … grotesesque

Just a quickie today because I was made aware of these rather ‘lovely’ wigs for babies which someone in the US thinks are ‘sprinkled with magic’ and will provide: ‘mystical, magical, memorable moments for you and your baby girl to cherish forever’. I was nearly physically ill when I looked at this website. What would ever possess a parent to want one of these things stuck on their beautiful baby’s head!? If you take a look at stage 6 of the how to fit the wig to baby’s head, you are told that a light covering of hairspray will do the trick! I’m almost choking just writing this. Take a look at the picture showing you how it’s done. (No babies were harmed in the making of this demonstration … only a plastic dolly.)

It then struck me that coupled up with some rather fetching high heels for babies … absolutely heeeeelarious … and perhaps a baby bikini (how Fresh, Sassy, Funky and always FUN) well then you’ve got the complete set really. And it’s all so innocent. So much fun. So HORRIBLE. So WRONG.

There are some real issues here which I know we and many others have covered many times before, but I really do despair that people – especially mothers (and I only say this because I am one so can’t speak entirely for fathers – and in all three of these cases it’s mothers who have come up with these ‘brilliant’ ideas) – can’t see what is so blindingly obvious. This is nothing short of sexualisation of little girls … and now babies! To make them seem older, to make us make sure that we know they are girls, for cutesy adorable fun?? It’s blatantly sexualising them. And it really is quite, quite hideous.