January 18, 2011

An Open Letter to TLC: Cancel Toddlers & Tiaras

Originally written for Pigtail Pals- Redefine Girly by Melissa Wardy. Cross-posted with permission.
Recent beauty pageant contestant. She is two years old.

Dear Producers of Toddlers & Tiaras, TLC, and Discovery Communications LLC:

It is an extremely thin veil that hides the atrocious “Toddlers & Tiaras” as a documentary-style show for your network. For the past four seasons the show has done a good job, not so much with teaching, but of giving viewers a voyeuristic peek into the children’s beauty pageant world. We don’t need to see anymore. As Season 5 reaches its midpoint, the show now continues to do little more than become complicit in the exploitation of the little girls at its center. At best, it is now a mockumentary of the visibly unbalanced mothers (and a few fathers) who force their children to spend long and uncomfortable hours participating in these expensive pageants. Many of these children are too young to say whether or not they want to participate. When these children act out and demonstrate they do not enjoy what is happening, or do not want it to happen any longer, they are still made to participate by their pageant moms. Let us be clear from the outset that after this season it is time to cancel the show.

I’m sure inside your producer heads you think this is crazy, especially as the show has received some buzz-worthy, controversial attention recently and continues to pull in advertisers and an average of 1.3 million viewers each week….but as your mission statements goes, it is the job of the Discovery channel family to satisfy curiosity. TLC has done its job with this show, as almost everyone who has been exposed to the program finds it distasteful and widely condemns the child beauty pageant circuit. Our curiosity has been satisfied – as demonstrated with the several thousands of negative and disapproving comments left in the last couple of weeks alone. We’ve seen it. We don’t like it. We’re over it.

The idea of two year old girls strutting around with cones protruding out of her bustier and five year olds who sit trembling and screaming in a chair at a salon as she is enticed into a painful beauty treatment will tend to leave a bad taste in our mouth. It leaves us less interested in the pageants themselves, but more interested in gawking at and judging the deranged mothers who subject their poor daugthers to this twisted world of judged fake beauty. That might make for good ratings, but it doesn’t make for a happy and healthy childhood of the young girls who hold the title of this show. Just like their overbearing mothers, you exploit these children. A shameful act on both parts.

The duration of this show has coincided with a large effort by a small group of dedicated experts to raise awareness to the general public about the sexualization of girls. The parents we have reached now understand the emotional, psychological, and physical harm a young girl is exposed to when she is sexualized.  As the 2007 American Psychological Association’s task force report showed us, early sexualization can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, and early promiscuity.

Contestant on the children’s beauty pageant circuit.

“Toddlers & Tiaras” is a petri dish of sexualization. Little girls are taught, often times forced by their domineering mothers, to act coquettishly, learn suggestive dance routines, wear sexualized costumes and bathing suits, endure hours of hair and make-up, and are even put on restrictive diets in order to lose weight for competition. This is perverse. While TLC continues to air “Toddlers & Tiaras”, the network becomes an agent of this sexualization.


September 27, 2010

Scholastic Books Encourages Girls to Seek Glamour and Boys to Seek Adventure

What year is this? 1880? 1922? 1957? 1963? 1978? 1982? 1997? 2010?

Well, according to the titles, it could be any of those years because not much has changed. Gender socialization is alive and well, folks. My former student, Jessie, wrote this after coming across more of the same:

As I was browsing Costco’s book section, I came upon the following: The Boys’ Book of Adventure: Are You Ready To Face The Challenge? & The Boys’ Book of Greatness: Even More Ways To Be The Best at Everything followed by The Girls’ Book of Glamour: A Guide To Being a Goddess & The Girls’ Book of Friendship: How To Be The Best Friend Ever.

Isn’t it lovely how Scholastic Books is publishing books that enforce gender-segregation (complete with “girl” and “boy” colors) which essentially maintain: little girls should be solely concerned with physical appearance and maintaining a relationships. Is adventure and greatness not suitable for little girls? I flipped through each of the books and found sections on “How to dress like a celebrity even if you’re not one” and “How to tie knots”. Guess which one was for little girls.

We often begin projecting socially constructed gender expectations on children before they’re even born, decorating the nursery in a specific color scheme. As soon as that child enters the world, the color codes, pierced ears, head bands on nearly bald heads and other clothing items designed for infants erect the gendered foundation that will provide the template for much of their lives. Add in toys, books, cartoons and video games and that foundation sprouts a framework for their identity, their relationships with others and  their world view. Throughout this process of gender socialization, beauty (with a disturbing increasing emphasis on “sexiness“) and relationships are emphasized for girls while independence and adventure are emphasized for boys.This trend continues well into adulthood through various agents of socialization, primarily the mass media which advertises normative masculinity and femininity.

Boys and men could learn a thing or two about cultivating and nurturing relationships. Enough with the lone adventurer- lets raise sensitive, strong and emotionally attuned boys and men. Simultaneously, beauty and relationships aren’t enough for girls and women. We need to redfine girly, offering our girls intellectual and physical challenges beyond the vanity and devalued emotional work.

We have much to gain from offering a full range of choices to boys and girls and valuing them equally.

For a fantastic video that re-imagines the Bronte sisters, see Step Aside Princesses, Here Come the Boomerang-Throwing Bronte Sisters.

Photograph courtesy of Jessie T.

August 28, 2010

Step Aside Princesses, Here Come the Bommerang Book Throwing Brontë Sisters

This kick-ass fake commercial for “Super X-treme Mega History Heroes” latest set of powerhouse action dolls brings us the Bronte sisters, Victorian authors ready to do some damage to get their books into print at a time when women were rarely, if ever, published.

The Bronte’s pretend to be men by sporting fake “super-disguise mustaches,” use their boomerang book throwing capabilities to take down the “sexist pig” publisher and use their extraordinary feminist vision to break gender barriers.

The commercial ends with “remember kids, use your brain and you could make history!”

Isn’t that a fabulous alternative to the pink think of gender socialization that focuses on the  narcissistic world of the princess?