teens

It's not just old men at barbecues who are sexualising our daughters. It's us, too.

My daughter’s sexy-dancing at seven and I don’t know who to blame.

I could blame music videos, although she barely sees them.

I could blame those bump-and-grind dance classes, but she doesn’t go to them.

I could blame her friends, but when I see them together, they are much more likely to be running and swimming and climbing stuff than gyrating.

I’m sure it’s someone’s fault.

“Where did she get that from?” is a question every parent likes to ask, loudly, when their kid does something they’re not comfortable with. Swearing. Talking back. Saying they’d like to punch Donald Trump. Swinging their bum around like a seasoned pole dancer.

Watching my girl dancing solo around the living room, having the time of her life, I am tormented by one of my most tedious companions – feminist parenting angst. Like a million other mothers, I worry about my daughter becoming “sexualised” too soon.

I don’t want her to be taught that “hotness” is a woman’s most-valuable currency. I don’t want her to be preoccupied with being a recipient of an approving male gaze when she should be focusing on pulling up that maths performance and, you know, learning to tie her shoes.

But hey, maybe that’s just how she dances. Wiggling your bum feels great, right?

While our children are small, we parents love to think we can control everything they do and say and wear and think. We are hyper-aware of them being exposed to any stuff that doesn’t fit with our view of the world, anything that clashes with our “values”.

Tracey Spicer voiced many, many mothers frustrations about this yesterday in a Fairfax column called Why Do Men Think It’s Okay to Comment On My Pre-Teen Daughter’s Looks?  In it, Spicer recounted a conversation between herself, her 10-year-old daughter and an acquaintance at a barbecue.

Listen: Mia Freedman discusses the sexualisation of young girls with author of ‘Girls and Sex’, Peggy Orenstein, on No Filter.

“My, how you’ve grown,” The Guy said to her daughter, Gracie. “You’re a pretty little thing. All the men will be looking at you instead of your mother!”

I think I speak for many mothers of daughters when I say: Yuck.

Barbecue Guy probably didn’t mean to be creepy, but there is no doubt that’s a dick thing to say for about 14 reasons. Let’s count out a few:

  • 10-year-old girls just love being told “you’ve grown”, don’t they?;
  • Gracie is definitely not A Thing;
  • Why does a 10-year-old need to be contemplating “men looking” at her? Which men? Why?;
  • Is this the moment a little girl is meant to realise her mother, who has always been her nurturer, protector and champion is, in actual fact, her competition?

Reactions to Spicer’s piece have varied from fist pumps to cries of “chill out”. If it makes anyone think differently about the language they use in front of female children then it’s job done.

ADVERTISEMENT
We need to think about the language we use to describe young girls.

But often, in our cries of "Where did she get that from?" we need to look closer to home than the creepy guy at the barbecue.

We need to look at the way we talk about our kids online.  We only post flattering pictures. We praise and comment on their appearance constantly:

"What a heartbreaker".

"Watch out [insert name of father here] this one's going to cause you a lot of trouble in a few years"

"Dreading those teenage years"

"Uh Oh. She's not even 13."

We whack on Snapchat filters that add lipgloss and sunglasses and elongate faces to eliminate puppy fat. "Uh-oh, got a glimpse of what's coming."

We share images of our little girls doing 'adult' things - painting their nails, strutting with a handbag, drinking juice from a wine glass, walking in high-heels - with our ever-present catch cry #minime

Are we just as guilty of rushing them towards adulthood too quickly, even as we rail against T-shirts with sexy slogans and lipgloss at ballet? Certainly, we are full of mixed messages.

Are we rushing them towards adulthood? (Image via iStock.)
ADVERTISEMENT

I have a friend whose young daughter is extremely beautiful. Yes, yes, I know, all children are beautiful, but this little girl looks like a nine-year-old Ukrainian supermodel. Everywhere she goes, people exclaim about her appearance, complimenting her on it, and then commiserating with her mother and father about the complications of having a gorgeous daughter.

My friend sent out a request to all her social circle, asking us to stop doing that. "By telling Ava that she is pretty, all the time, we are telling her that's all that matters. We are telling her she is special for no reason other than her own genetic soup."

Of course, we are good friends and so we obeyed, but it was extremely difficult to do. Being in awe of beautiful people is ingrained in our culture. Being afraid of what the world might do to beautiful women is part of our folklore.

But even for the non-supermodel among us, there's a moment in every little girl's life when it's signalled to her that her body is not just her own. It's something that's up for grabs (literally, often), ripe for judgement, and the source of angst for pretty much everyone around her ("Put some clothes on before you go out looking like that!").

Listen: Mum Angela Mollard discusses finding a sext on her daughter's phone in an episode of This Glorious Mess.

And now, we're back to the sexy dancing.

"Oh my gosh, Look at her BUTT," my girl sings at the top of her voice. She receives a telling off. I receive an eye-roll. "It's from Sing, the movie, Muuuum". Of the 90-or-so minutes of that mostly adorable film, it's the line she and her little brother repeat most often.

I start to dance, too, just to annoy her. How do I dance? I wave my hands in the air like I just don't care, circa 1986. I shoulder-shimmy. And I wiggle my bum.

Where DID she get that from?

00:00 / ???