Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Two articles I’ve read in the past month have me thinking.

Gail Dine’s “The Stepford Sluts”( -thanks to Joni McGary for posting it on Facebook!- and Jon Caramanica’s “Girl Pop’s Lady Gaga Makeover” ( As a once-not–terribly-well-known-but-earnest-and-appreciated-in-some-critical-circles 1990’s singer-songwriter, and as a mother of daughters whose first CD requests were for Brittany Spears and Christina Aguilera, I pause to consider the culture they’ve been navigating, and still, at 17 and nearly 20, struggle to define themselves within. I breathe deep and keep my head down and wish for the passing of the current craze and hope the girls I love will hold strong to what is true for them and makes them strong in this world. I watch for things that help them find their power and I gently but firmly point them in those directions.

According the afore-mentioned articles, the move away from the interior, unadorned, lyric-driven nature of the original Lilith Fair performance roster to a “New Feminism” embodied in a line up of performers who wear their skin like costumes, bras with machine guns attached, and all but literally explode their sex aggressively over their audiences, suggests something sinister about what’s happening now, particularly for our young girls and women in search of identity. The “power” (for women and girls) implied from sex depicted in this way becomes a disturbing commonplace cultural image. It crowds out alternative ways of being female, as Gail Dines writes. The media eats it up and fuels the fire. This says something sinister for everyone--our young men as well. If we were to put together a group of parents of young women and young men to talk about the dynamics of the modern-day “grinding party”, we’d surely generate some deeply-held gender biases on both sides.

My house is littered with Cosmopolitan magazines, Elle, Vogue, and I’ve long-ago given up on policing my young women’s television viewing choices. I have an excellent sense of the images and articles they are bombarded and fascinated with. I’m equally fascinated by my daughters’ moderation and discernment when it comes to buying in to the whole hyper-sex scene. They appear to be pretty “earthy” in their choice of clothing and external adornment. Still, I don’t know what’s really going on inside of them as they navigate their sexual world(s). This, I say, is theirs to navigate. It’s private. But I worry about how they…and younger girls and boys whose brains are also still absorbing the prevailing cultural messages of these times are doing with it.

In her piece, Gail Dines writes: “Thanks to feminist historians, we now know that women in the 1950s conformed to the Stepford Wife image because they had few choices. Why, then, when we see girls and young women conform to the Stepford Slut image, do we celebrate this as free choice? For girls to have real choices, they need access to a broad range of images, especially those that subvert the dominant ideas of what it means to be feminine. Now that would be empowering!”

So. What are the alternatives? What's the antidote? While Dan and I were never very good at or interested in “banning” the culture from our lives: we did not disallow TV, or choose homeschooling, etc., we managed to figure out ways of “broadening” perspectives in our household and for what it’s worth, here are a few options: if you can, add some other media to the mix in your house The Sun Magazine, Sierra Club, New Moon Magazine, Ode Magazine, Smithsonian, (there are so many more!). Leave instruments and notebooks and pens and paints strewn about in abundance, lots of pictures from mags that you’re going to recycle for collage, movie/video-making technology available if you’ve got the stuff to do this with. Go camping with them when they’re young…or do anything outside. Tolerate a certain amount of mess. Encourage them to get involved in a sport or arts activity or in community volunteerism or whatever unique interest they seem to gravitate to.

Investigate wild places with them when they’re ready to leave home for the first time. Some of these wild places are not outdoors, but are wildly artistic spaces where “wild mind” is celebrated and explored. Theater camps, writing camps, singing camps or make these things happen in your own home and with friends! Do these things in single sex and co-ed settings that support teamwork, mutual respect, higher principles of community consciousness and healthy relations.

Let’s give the children we love a place and a voice to explore what the REAL and the pretend are their lives so they know the difference and can eventually make choices about preferred realms, modes, styles of living. Truly clever art-making…the anti-real, which may well be what Lady Gaga is going for, springs, I contend from having explored the deeply real at some point. She was, after all, an earnest piano bar player for a while way back when.

Links to some of the best I know. I know there are more, but these are the ones I know best. You are free to add to this list in your comments:

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