The Sexist

Feminine Performance and Thinking Of The Children

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"Think of the children" is an argument consistently used to justify adult insecurities. Hate gay marriage? Just argue that it erodes a "child's sense of innocence." Disgusted by sex workers walking the streets in "broad daylight"? Argue that a child could see them. Uncomfortable with people openly discussing alternate sexualities? A child could hear them. Explicit rock music? Think of the children.

The concern for kids here is disingenuous—"think of the children" is a convenient way for adults to protest stuff they just don't like. But let's step away from those earmuffs we've got permanently attached to our kids' ears for a moment and think about "thinking of the children." When can thinking of the children help to reveal aspects of adult society that are problematic for people of all ages?

Take, for example, the public reaction to the above video, which shows a group of young girls dancing to Beyonce's song "Single Ladies"—while imitating a very adult version of female sexuality.

Tiger Beatdown contributor Silvana has this to say of the display:

The performance has been roundly criticized, including some commenters saying that it is so bad that the adults in question shouldn’t have even allowed their daughters to participate. The way these little girls move their bodies is a surprisingly good imitation of how adult women who are performing “sexy” dance, and people DO. NOT. LIKE. THIS. Even worse, their outfits are supposedly more scandalous than the dance moves themselves. This is despite the plain that that they’re not particularly revealing and don’t show much more skin than a ballet leotard would. The discomfort isn’t because what the outfits reveal, but what they allude to. The lace, the stockings, the corset lacing on the “bodice” are, it seems, too much like what adult women wear when they are trying to evoke maximum sexiness. Doing this dance and wearing these clothes is, in our cultural estimation, firmly in the territory of not appropriate.

She concludes: "I think it’s pretty telling that when femininity is performed by non-standard actors, we either get really uncomfortable or laugh our asses off."

The general reaction to the above video is that these girls are growing up far too fast. But as Silvana points out—if we can stop thinking exclusively of the children for a moment—they're also growing up into a version of female adulthood that's marked by an absurdly hyperfeminine sexual performance. We know that little girls performing femininity is disturbing. About a decade down the road, though, this type of performance will be absolutely expected of these women, as Beyonce's latest video helps to reveal:

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Kids are our second chances. They give us an opportunity to reassess what is means to be a man or a woman, and to try to change the bad parts before it's too late. It's not fair to focus our cultural insecurities on our kids, but it is easier. Let's take another example: Makeup. Last month, Douglas Quenqua delivered a New York Times trend piece on pre-teen makeup use:

It began for Alyssa Pometta, as these habits so often do, with the soft stuff. We are talking, of course, about lip gloss.

She began wearing it in fourth grade—Bonne Bell’s Lip Smackers, a girl’s rite of passage—after years of wearing ChapStick and pretending it was Revlon. But the thrill of flavored lip gloss was fleeting, and in January, 11-year-old Alyssa asked her mother, Phyllis Pometta, if she could graduate to the hard stuff: lipstick, eyeliner and mascara.

When the piece dropped, Salon's Margaret Eby accused the Gray Lady of "hand-wringing" and alarmism, writing:

The idea that painting your face leads to wanton acts of harlotry is downright Victorian. . . . The most popular birthday party activity for my fifth-grade class was visiting Priscilla's Beauty School, where I would inevitably come out with crimped hair and electric blue eyeshadow, looking like some sort of miniature '80s-inspired clown. Did I then fall down the slippery slope to TV-anchor levels of makeup? Not exactly."

Eby has accused Quenqua of Thinking of the Children in the most disingenuous way.  But if you read Quenqua's piece, he never intimates that experimenting with eyeliner will send girls down the road to olde-tyme prostitution. He doesn't say that Bonne Bell is a gateway drug to whorishness, or even to clownishness. When Eby sarcastically accuses Quenqua of a "slippery slope" argument, she misses the point, which is: When girls start wearing makeup, they will keep wearing makeup-–probably for the rest of their lives.

Of course, young girls don't deserve any extra scrutiny for applying concealers and colors to their faces—most women do this, and tweens don't need more eyes focusing on the way they look. Nevertheless, focusing on the cosmetic industry's point of entry—for American girls, around the tweens—is still a convenient way for us to reassess the expectation that women of all ages paint their faces. When girls stumble into the awkward tween years, they're introduced to a world of extreme body consciousness, vanity, and yes, beauty industry allegiance.

The point of entry is also the point when women's makeup use is at its most visible. When girls go from plain-faced to painted, we notice the change. Just as some sexy lingerie on a 7-year-old girl will show you immediately how ridiculous sexy lingerie is, a young girl with a full face of makeup can really make you think about lipstick, and why we put it on. One parent Quenqua interviewed said that makeup makes her daughter "look too old. It immediately ages her." But it's not just that tweens are entering the adult world of makeup application; it's also that they're not terribly good at it yet. They may be inexperienced in matching colors, blending blushes, or applying eyeliner without poking their eyes out. They may, like Eby did, emerge from a slumber party "looking like some sort of miniature '80s-inspired clown."

In short, girls are not very good at doing what adult women are trained expertly to do: Applying makeup, and then immediately obscuring the fact that they are wearing makeup at all. This is where Eby's critique really falls apart. For her, problematic makeup—the kind of makeup parents might really be concerned about—comes down to a question of gaudiness. Teenage makeup use is only a potential problem if it encourages women to perpetually paint their faces like olde-tyme harlots, or clowns, or TV anchors. Actually, the biggest danger of becoming a life-long consumer of the cosmetics industry is that women will learn to hide their beauty industry investment at all costs, to refuse to tip their hand and reveal that it's all an act.

When young women engage in overt feminine performance, we think of the children, but deep down, we're thinking about women, too. As these girls enter into adulthood, how do we deal with our discomfort at the version of womanhood they're taking on? We tell them to keep performing femininity, but by God, to just keep it to themselves. Makeup is to be worn "naturally," never garishly; sex is something to perform for men behind closed doors, never to be spoken aloud; plastic surgery is tacky, unless it's good plastic surgery, which is still better than looking old; extreme diets are to be kept private, in favor of of "I just keep in shape by running after my kids"; and feminine performance is in all cases an entirely personal choice, never a culturally-informed one. When we Think of the Children, we're not disturbed that girls are beginning to adopt feminine performance—we want them to do that. We're disturbed because they've forced us to to notice how ridiculous it is.

Comments

  1. #1

    Its not just girls who do these sort of videos. I've seen videos of young boys doing very sexually suggestive dances, while the females around them encourage them on. Theres a video of a toddler doing the stanky leg on a table, while its relatives or friends cheer it on. I've seen one video of a very effeminate boy imitating a Rihanna dance. I can't help but wonder how these boys gender identity will be formed by the time they reach pubetry, these young girls as well.

  2. Blooming Psycho
    #2

    Children should not be encouraged to dance in a suggestive, adult fashion. The only ones this will appeal to is pedophiles. If someone out there actually thinks this little performance is cute, they need to check themselves. We should be encouraging our children to respect themselves and to protect themselves. This video is not cute, it is dangerous to those children.

  3. #3

    I appreciate your thought process on this, Amanda. It occurred to me in reading this that I almost never wear makeup, except when I am performing (in a more literal sense), yet I own a bag full of makeup that would be inappropriate in those performance settings.

    When I do wear makeup is (a) when I'm literally performing - I also dance - and it's a part of the costume and partially a consequence of the lighting; and (b) when I'm sort-of performing, the two instances I can think of are when I was in a bridal party, and it really did feel like putting on a costume and compensating for lighting. In both cases, I use stage makeup - for the bridal parties, these were large-church weddings with professional photographers, you'll look a little weird in even just regular makeup in those circumstances, especially if you are like me and can end up looking like a porcelain doll with just the flash from a point-and-shoot camera. Yet I have everyday makeup in my closet, that I'm pretty sure has only been used by friends when they ask if they can borrow something (most of it's probably toxically expired by now, maybe I should toss that tonight).

    Likewise, while I have hard nails and they tend to get a little long because, well, if they're not broken I don't feel like cutting them until they get in the way, I never paint them. Yet I have a few bottles of nail polish in my closet.

    But, yeah, my obviously very poor performance of femininity is totally my choice and not socially constructed. Why on earth would one think that someone being compelled to spend money on beauty products they never use is indicative of a societal expectation that we do things a certain way. Thank god I escaped that whole awkward Jr. High makeup performance with the impression that the stuff was too much bother rather than an appreciation of the art of "natural" makeup application!

  4. #4

    I think attacking the mothers of the children would be more useful than using the children to make an anti-social conservative (arent they dieing out?) political statement. As well as that, in all cultures the younger females will mimic the older females and feminism celebrates the open sexual power of the likes of Byonce, it was done here only the other day so the argument here is inconsistant.

    Heres a story about a mother being charged with teaching her 13year old to dance in an adult way.
    http://www.the-spearhead.com/2010/05/14/mom-busted-teaching-her-daughter-to-be-a-ho/

  5. #5

    Children are just that.....children. NOT mini versions of adults. This is absolutely disgusting.

    And I do think we need to only look toward the parents if we are seeking to lay blame or assign responsibility. Its not like these little girls are buying the costumes and paying for the lessons and driving themselves to the pageants or whatever this thing is. The parents are encouraging it and condoning it by bankrolling it.

  6. #6

    THE PARENTS WHO ALLOWED THEIR DAUGHTERS TO DANCE IN THIS MANNER SHOULD BE ADDRESSED AND ASKED WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? HOW INNOCENT IT MAY SEEM TO SOME MAY BE TRIGGERS TO OTHERS! WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    THERE IS A REASON WE HAVE AN ALERT CALLED "AMBER". YOUNG GIRLS IN THIS COUNTRY ARE BEING FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION AT AN ALARMING RATE(SEE L. TAYLOR CASE) I COULD GO ON AND ON. TO HAVE YOUR 9, 10, 11YR OLD DAUGHTER DRESS LIKE SHE IS ABOUT PERFORM A RAIN DANCE, THEN TO ALLOW HER TO ACTUALLY PERFORM SAID RAIN DANCE FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE IS BORDERLINE ENDANGERMENT. SEE VIDEO AFTER 1:40 MARK. THAT IS JUST WRONG.

    I'VE VISIT A FEW STRIP CLUBS AND THOSE MOVES ARE EQUIVALENT TO WHAT CANDY, DIAMOND AND MS. PRECIOUS DID.
    THEY WERE DROPPING DOWN AND GETTING THEIR EAGLE ON, THEY WERE ATTEMPTING ASS CLAPS, ETC. ETC. THAT DANCE INSTRUCTOR OR WHO EVER MADE THAT ROUTINE SHOULD BE BANNED. THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID WHEN WE AS HUMANS SPEND ALMOST A QUARTER OF OUR LIVES WITH OUR PARENTS TO LEARN LIFESKILLS AND THE DO'S AND DONT'S OF THIS WORLD. THAT IS CLASSIFIED AS A DONT!

    THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS BEYONCE WAS WELL INTO HER TWENTY'S WHEN SHE MADE HER VIDEO. THESE ARE YOUNG GIRLS WHO PROBABLY ACCORDING TO TV RATINGS SHOULDNT EVEN BE WATCHING THOSE SORT OF THINGS. THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO PROMOTE SELF ESTEEM IN YOUNG GIRLS BESIDES HAVING THEM BASICALLY AUDITION FOR CLUB TRIPLE X IN ORDER TO WIN A COMPETITION WITH NO LEGIT MEANING! DID THEY WIN? WHERE DID THE ROUTINE PLACE?

    “Think of the children” is an argument consistently used to justify adult insecurities" MS. MANDY YOU ARE SO WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS WITH THAT STATEMENT! IT IS NOT AN ARGUMENT. IT IS AND SHOULD BE WOVEN IN OUR FABRIC THAT IF SOMETHING IS QUESTIONABLE ONE SHOULD THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN BEFORE THEY ACT. AS A FATHER TO AN ELEVEN YR OLD GIRL I DONT USE THAT AS AN ARGUMENT TO JUSTIFY MY INSECURITIES. I USE IT AS A TEACHABLE MOMENT.

  7. #7

    I think that exlamation points aren't needed when you're typing in all caps.

    "Fuck the children!" -George Carlin

  8. #8

    I agree with Silvana that the performance of femininity is more depressing than the sexuality. Because, as one who remembers her childhood, I know that kids can be sexual.

    When girls start wearing makeup, they will keep wearing makeup-–probably for the rest of their lives.

    Really? I doubt it. People's ideas about what is "cool" or "attractive" changes as they get older. Either they buy into traditional femininity - in which case they would have worn make-up anyways. Or they don't, in which case they may or may not wear make-up, because what a woman puts on her face is her own business.

    @ Blooming Psycho

    Children should not be encouraged to dance in a suggestive, adult fashion. The only ones this will appeal to is pedophiles.

    What if kids want to? What if kids acknowledge that they are sexual beings? It's not the kid's fault for being sexual, or the caregiver's fault for acknowledging that the child is a full human being. It's the fault of the people who think it's okay, or expected, that some will take sexual advantage of kids.

    @ Tasha

    Children are just that…..children. NOT mini versions of adults.

    This notion of children is actually quite new to human society.

  9. #9

    MissaA

    All cultures have rite of passage, a time when sex is explained and the young adults get to wear the symbols of sexuality and perhaps take part in the adults dance.

    In our culture, some mothers, like the mothers of those children are giving rite of passage symbols of fertility ans sexuality to children long before they are equiped to cope.

  10. #10

    @MissaA--

    "What if kids want to? What if kids acknowledge that they are sexual beings? It’s not the kid’s fault for being sexual, or the caregiver’s fault for acknowledging that the child is a full human being. It’s the fault of the people who think it’s okay, or expected, that some will take sexual advantage of kids"

    WTF??? What if kids want to? Too effing bad...it's a parents JOB to ensure that their children behave appropriately according to their cultural norms and individual familial values. I recognize that yes, 7 year olds do have sexual feelings and urges, they surely do...but as parents, it is our JOB to make sure they aren't sitting at the dinner table masturbating, or inappropriately touching their younger siblings. A caregiver can acknowledge and normalize a young child's sexual feelings and not make them feel like a freak without being so permissive that the child becomes hypersexualized

    "This notion of children is actually quite new to human society."

    There have been at least THREE generations wherein the modern concept of children and childhood have been the norm...you are throwing red herrings

    @Eo--

    "All cultures have rite of passage, a time when sex is explained and the young adults get to wear the symbols of sexuality and perhaps take part in the adults dance.

    In our culture, some mothers, like the mothers of those children are giving rite of passage symbols of fertility ans sexuality to children long before they are equiped to cope."

    Yes...exactly

  11. #11

    I love how quick some people are to "blame the mothers" here. Really?! Like these girls don't also have fathers? Or are only mothers to blame for ALL things that children do? While I believe there are definitely extreme mothers out there, I think we as a society, particularly people who have never been the primary caregiver to a child, are eager to blame mothers for things that SOCIETY itself smothers and drowns us with. Let's stop pretending that the media isn't saturated with messages about beauty standards which target younger and younger audiences every year. Let's stop pretending that makeup isn't ACTIVELY marketed to children. And let's stop pretending that children don't take ACTIVE roles in constructing their environments. Children are incredibly susceptible to these messages and they're constantly reinforced through modeling and peer groups. Peer culture in pre and early adolescence is POWERFUL... and some research has begun to suggest that media is a type of "super peer."

    We, as a society, are just reaping what we've sown (or allowed to have sown?).

  12. #12

    Children mimic adults. They "play" grown ups all the time. And dance is and always has been about acting, about playing a role. Even the most traditional, classic, pompous dancing generally focuses on a romantic role play, where the dancers play the part of two lovers.

    Children in dance are doing what children and dancers have always done. It's not "inappropriate sexuality", it's play acting and performance.

  13. #13

    I should also note that, as a dancer, this performance is totally inappropriate for the age group represented. These girls are clearly very talented dancers as evidenced by a number of the moves they perform, but some DANCE TEACHERS, unrestrained by the PARENTS feel the need to participate in these overly sexualized dances in order to garner attention. I wore and wear costumes like they are wearing in dance performances, starting no earlier than AT LEAST 15. I'm a terrible tap dancer, but it was part of my "holistic" dance "rotation requirement" in high school, so I ended up training with a group of 13-14 year olds. Our costumes were leotards with mid-length skirts...totally appropriate for the majority of the students' age range. My studio teaches moves like some of those in this video to students...ADULT STUDENTS.

    While I think your main point still stands, Amanda, in a culture where parents will buy their kids miniskirts and thongs before they reach Jr. High, we really shouldn't be surprised by this performance. The teacher should have expressed good judgment, let them dance to that song, knocked off the sexual moves, and moderated the costumes. Leotards and skirts with a little lace, and less "humping" moves could have still made them happy with the song choice and displayed their obviously enormous dance talents.

  14. #14

    "a time when sex is explained"

    Actually, the idea of concealing "the facts of life" from children is something that is also comparatively recent. It could only arise in an industrialized, modern society, where people don't live with farm animals and are able to afford houses with more than one room. Kids who are raised around domestic animals know all about sex waaaay before puberty.

  15. #15

    What I love about this explanation by Amanda is that it's so convoluted and circumlocutious. Only someone drawing from years of academic post-modern nonsense could draw such a conclusion when a much simpler explanation can be posited. Well done. Occam is rolling in his grave.

  16. #16

    @squirrely girl
    Don't be surprised - Eo has revealed his serious mommy issues before.

  17. #17

    @squrrelygirl---

    "I love how quick some people are to “blame the mothers” here. Really?! Like these girls don’t also have fathers? Or are only mothers to blame for ALL things that children do? While I believe there are definitely extreme mothers out there, I think we as a society, particularly people who have never been the primary caregiver to a child, are eager to blame mothers for things that SOCIETY itself smothers and drowns us with."

    --Well I think mothers is the natural, generalized assumption in that its usually the mothers who deal with the dance classes and recitals and pageant-y type activities (tho yes some dads do too); to the point where there's even a term "pageant mom"
    --And really lets not go off on the whole media thing in an effort to try and relieve the parents of any responsibility here...the parents saw the dance moves and the costumes before this performance and obviously condoned them both. Regardless of what media says, its a parents job to say 'no' when something is inappropriate

    @Mrs D--

    I have to agree with you there about the dance teachers, wtf was this one thinking with this routine for that age group?

  18. #18

    K

    you said

    "a time when sex is explained”

    Actually, the idea of concealing “the facts of life” from children is something that is also comparatively recent. It could only arise in an industrialized, modern society, where people don’t live with farm animals and are able to afford houses with more than one room. Kids who are raised around domestic animals know all about sex waaaay before puberty".

    Rite of passage is 100s of 1000s of years old and found in every culture.

    @squirrly girl, female children dont look to their fathers as role models, they look to their mothers and its usually the mothers behind the beauty pageants and so on, I doubt very much that many fathers are there in that audience encouraging their children to dance and dress like byonce.

  19. #19

    "Occam is rolling in his grave."

    You mean William Seach. Or, more probably, William Hamilton. Or any number of ancients. Also, you don't know what Ockham's razor signifies, quite obviously.

  20. #20

    I wonder what, or if any input the fathers of these children had in these types of dances. Or if they're in the picture at all. I've noticed that with the Maury Show, you never see the fathers of young girls who act wild, or want to have babies at early ages. Maybe there’s a correlation.

  21. #21

    Please don't tell me you use The Maury Show as the basis for forming opinions about parenting. That show is obviously self-selected from amongst people who are not completely sane.

  22. #22

    Mike

    You can rest assured there is little or no imput from the fathers when it comes to the beauty padgaent/sexualising of young girls phenomenon.

    Squirrly girl, by working to protect these mothers from critisim and blame, you are empowering them.

  23. #23

    @squirrely girl
    My point about the Maury show is you have young girls, of all ethnicities, racial, and class backgrounds being promiscuous, and or wanting to get pregnant. You never see their fathers. I'm simply wondering is there a correlation with young children, boys as well as girls, who perform promiscuous dances, who grow up to be promiscuous, and if they have a male influence in their lives or not? When young ladies come on the show to find out the paternity results, the young men are accompanied by their mothers. Was there a male influence in these men’s lives, it doesn’t seem so. If there was, would the influence have prevented their sons from being promiscuous? To classify these people as insane is simply ignoring the problem, and elitist. They may not be pretty, but these people represent a large portion of our society, acroos all strata. For all you know, some of these girls could be on the Maury show in 8, or 9 years wanting to get pregnant, or trying to find out who their baby daddy is.

  24. #24

    This is also why Toddlers & Tiaras is such a compelling and dark show. Forces us to see how ridiculous this pantomime of femininity is.

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