Sexualized little girls

The video’s been pulled from YouTube, but I can describe it:

Several female dancers wear black and red lingerie-style bikinis with extremely short skirts and black dance shoes with knee socks (with red lace at the top). They are white-skinned with glossy hair, and their bodies are slim. They dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Many of the moves are quite sexually suggestive – gyrating, hip shaking, groin-thrusting, straight-leg bends, faux-self-stroking and shimmies. These are difficult moves, and they exercise them with talent and verve.

They are aged seven to nine.

I’m not sure why this particular video has stirred a controversy. After all, it was fourteen years ago that six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey died with the DNA of an unknown man on her underwear – a man who has never been identified, and is believed by police to be her killer. How did Ramsey’s death fail to convince everyone that putting pre-pubescent children on display as sex objects is a bad idea?

And please: I’m not blaming anyone specific. The parents seem to think this is required for dance competitions, so maybe the people behind dance competitions have some responsibility too, or maybe it’s just what I should expect from a culture that teaches young women blow jobs and boob jobs are empowering. Blame doesn’t interest me. I just want to know what I could say that would help people understand: this performance is a reverberating wink-nudge from our allegedly civilized society to all the predators that hide in plain sight within it. Go right ahead, we’re telling them. Just make sure you don’t hurt anyone important, and take care no one finds out, so we won’t have to deal with it.

And what about the rest of us, who aren’t predators? Tell me when you watch the linked video, honestly: don’t you feel like you’re watching women? Women’s slim thighs, women’s hidden breasts, women’s buttocks? After all, women with curves have been out of style for forty years – little girl bodies have long been the ideal for all of us (which may be a whole other topic). If you’re attracted to women, doesn’t this video give you a creepy little hormonal twitch, probably followed by irrational guilt? Sometimes in reviewing media for Hathor, I try to imagine seeing women through white male eyes – it’s so easy, since I grew up in a culture that taught me to look at my own body to see if I had what men wanted or not. I watch this video, and I see what men want. My brain tells me I’m looking at little girls: my eyes tell me I’m looking at grown women.

Isn’t this society confused enough about consensual sex between adults? Must we really drag girls into the muck, too? And if it’ such an okay idea for girls, where are the little eight-year-old Chippendales? Wouldn’t that be cute?

No, people: it would be disturbing. I’m only suggesting it because, like I said, I’m trying to figure out what I could say that would make the people who find this cute shudder and change their minds. This is all disturbing.

Comments

  1. Jenny Islander says

    My Kindergarten-aged daughter takes ballet at a school that teaches several styles of dance. The ballet teacher was sick one week, so the hip-hop teacher filled in. My daughter later demonstrated the move she had taught the little girls. It was called “dippin’ the chip,” and it involved squatting on one’s haunches while leaning forward and bouncing. And, yes, the hip-hop class did that move during their recital.

    My little girl had no idea what it was about, and neither did her preschool-aged sister. So they are happily “dippin’ the chip” while I bite my tongue. But I can tell you that she is never EVER going to take hip-hop while she is still under my care. If she wants to dip her chip for an audience as a consenting adult, okay.

    I’ve also noticed that the boys in the hip-hop, tap, and jazz classes are allowed to wear loose pants and shirts, while the girls of every age have to wear costumes that show a lot more skin. And, “of course,” the ballerinos have a lot more coverage on top than the ballerinas.

    It gets so stupid. When you have a bunch of kids pretending to be Captain Hook’s cannonballs in nearly identical costumes, why do the little girls have to have mesh inserts around their midriffs and hotpants on their tiny hineys while the little boys have long pants and T-shirts without the insert?

    • Maria says

      I think it’s important to differentiate between little girls being sexualized and sexualized little girls. Like in the hip hop example JI is describing, I’d disagree that it’s the MOVE that’s too sexual. I think it’s the costume. Plus, I really feel like Jen is trying to place the culpability for thinking sexual thoughts about kids on us as adults, not on the kids’ bodies or their movements.

  2. scarlett says

    Something I find really distasteful about the child performer culture is that for so many of them, behind them is an exploitative stage parent living vicariously, usually mum-on-daughter. (Patsy Ramsey’s a famous example; she was a Miss America runner-up.) There’s a lot of mentality that, not only is projection a sexualised image of their girls acceptable, but encouraged. I am not at any point saying that girls imitating adult sex symbols deserved to be viewed as possessing adult sexuality, but I have to wonder what goes through their parents minds that dressing under-ten-year-old girls in skimpy outfits and having them dance suggestively is perfectly acceptable.

    There’s an anecdote in one of Natalie Wood’s biographies about, when she was a child, she was raped by a studio executive and her mum was delighted that a man with so much clout in Hollywood had taken an interest in her. While I realise that this is an extreme example of parental explotation, I have to wonder if there’s a basis in it for the mentality of THESE girls’ parents; if my kid looks sexy enough, maybe the right person will take an interest in her.

  3. Mel says

    And what about the rest of us, who aren’t predators? Tell me when you watch the linked video, honestly: don’t you feel like you’re watching women?

    Not really. I see little girls wearing costumes not so different from a kid’s two-piece swimsuit (I had one of those myself) dancing very well. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of the piece, but I don’t see anything sexual in it at all.

    I was their age about 15 years ago. I had a two-piece swimsuit that I wore to the public pool sometimes. I liked to dance around. I did gymnastics, and we weren’t supposed to wear underwear under our leotards for shows (it would show, which should give you an idea of how gymnastics leotards are cut). I wanted a bra before I even needed one, and I once told my mom I wanted fake breasts for playing dress-up (she laughed at me). I wasn’t being sexual, I was being a kid who liked sports and played dress-up.

    Given the content of the song, I don’t think it’s the best choice for a group of kids to perform. But I don’t see anything sexual about the performance. They’re kids.

  4. audrabelle says

    …don’t you feel like you’re watching women? Women’s slim thighs, women’s hidden breasts, women’s buttocks? After all, women with curves have been out of style for forty years – little girl bodies have long been the ideal for all of us…

    totally completely agree. people who try to rationalise this video as “oh they’re just kids, of course it’s not sexual” are kidding themselves. The kids are doing the moves because they were taught to, shown to and praised for doing the steps right. And there is no doubt they are great dancers, they are!

    But there is a line being crossed when a child’s body is being paraded around in pseudo-lingerie while doing a sexualised dance routinue (a routinue that wouldn’t look odd being performed by the ADULT dance group the pussycat dolls). These children are on that stage because their parents took them to this dance class, dressed them in this costume and put them up in front of everyone. They are sexualizing their little girls way before they are anywhere near mature enough to deal with the consequences. It always blows me away that no one gets angry about that!

    Some people who want to see the world through rose coloured glasses might think this is cute. That in itself is so terribly disturbing to me.

  5. says

    I was horrified when I saw this (I think I actually saw it on TV) and I was even MORE horrified when I saw a clip from an interview with a set of parents who tried to rationalize the costumes as “allowing for movement” or some bull like that. Furthermore, it was clear from the snippet of interview with the girls, that they didn’t understand what they had been asked to do: dress and gyrate like, at the very best, back up dancers for a sexy music video. At the very worst dress and gyrate like strippers.

    I agree with Mel in so far as children don’t understand the ramification of what they’re being asked to do. It was clear to me watching this that the little girls were just doing what they love to do and these little girls like to dance. I don’t think they understand what they were asked to do, they just did it because they love dancing. However, the adult in charge most DEFINITELY knew what s/he was asking these kids to do and THAT is disturbing. Its the ADULTS who are putting these children in provocative clothing and asking them to dance in a manner that mimics the act of sex. Its the ADULTS who should be held accountable.

    I often wonder, in situations such as these, what happens from a parents perspective when a child internalizes the brand of sexuality they’re being taught. How, for example (and I’m just conjecturing here) would the parents interviewed for this little bit of news feel if their daughter at say, the age of 10 or 12 decided she wanted to dress in a stripper-like costume off stage and in school? Or, heaven forbid, if their daughter was raped because, as the OP pointed out, her dance costumes and moves suggested she was sexually available? What then? (I have no idea if that made any sense–it did in my head…)

  6. lilacsigil says

    Or, heaven forbid, if their daughter was raped because, as the OP pointed out, her dance costumes and moves suggested she was sexually available? What then?

    Well, then that would be the fault of the rapist, not of a small child. Blame the perpetrator, not the victim.

    In a culture where women are prominent and valued for their looks and apparent sexual availability to men (but not actual availability!) why is it such a surprise that little girls imitate that, and are encouraged in that imitation by the adults around them? Don’t slam the kids – they’re doing what all children do, which is to imitate what they see.

  7. Onnen says

    I am the parent of two little girls, slightly younger than those in the video. I see this sort of thing all the time, most frustratingly in clothing stores. I am not conservative, and I am not prudish about things sexual, but I do believe that my children have a right to childhood. Both of my girls are now of an age to start dance lessons. They both want to do it, it’s not a matter of me pushing them. I, as their parent, have decided the form of dance they will learn (Irish), because 1) it’s great exercise and form, and 2) the costumes are not inappropriate to their ages. The dance school administrator insists that ALL kids wear t-shirts and shorts for lessons. She is very protective of her girls, and overreaching parents are booted. Sounds like a good system to me…

  8. Raeka says

    I think it’s important to differentiate between little girls being sexualized and sexualized little girls. Like in the hip hop example JI is describing, I’d disagree that it’s the MOVE that’s too sexual. I think it’s the costume. Plus, I really feel like Jen is trying to place the culpability for thinking sexual thoughts about kids on us as adults, not on the kids’ bodies or their movements.

    I would disagree with this. The costume didn’t disturb me nearly as much as the gyrating did, to which I had a VISCERAL reaction. Or perhaps it was the combination of both… I mean, the costumes don’t look any worse than a bathing suit to me. Still inappropriate, but I would allow some slack because it IS a performance, and some slack because girls do want to look like their elders.

    Furthermore, there is something more passive about clothing…I am less disturbed by a girl dressed like a slut but doing normal, non-sexual activities than I am by a girl dressed normally but physically acting sexual. I think it has to do with how adults are expected to interpret these various nonverbal signals -someone dressed provocatively does not (well…should not) signal much of anything. Someone ACTING provocatively is sending out an active signal. Perhaps not at you, specifically, but they are taking a much more proactive role in the nonverbal communication.

    …this is getting long, but in summary: given that these girls are not truly aware of the signals they are sending, I am more disturbed by the active, proactive signals given by their dance moves (and the implication that they actually know what the mean) than I am by the more passive signals given by their dress.

    I guess I can see what you’re saying about how the fault for the inappropriate thoughts should be equally shared between adults and the minors…but it makes me extremely uncomfortable because ‘fault’ seems to cut way too close to victim-blaming :( Also because I think the responsibility for the inappropriate thoughts is wholly on the adults –to some extent on those thinking them, but to a much larger extent on whoever chose the clothes and choreographed the dance and who didn’t scream at those other adults to fix it when they could have.

  9. says

    To me, the dancing isn’t the bad part. Didn’t we recently have two kids making their own Ke$ha video here? The bad part also isn’t the clothes. I’m unnerved by the fact that there were people *directing* these kids to wear that, to dance that way. It’s not “kids will be kids” but, “let’s make my pre-teen daughter look and dance like a sexy woman”. Which already is a big problem for me with all those beauty contests and talent shows and whatnot. I can imagine the parents or their trainer during practice going, “no, more hips! Thrust your pelvis!” And that’s not a nice image, I can assure you.

  10. says

    Apropos of nothing much, a friend was recently telling me about an 11-year old girl she babysits who recently switched from gymnastics to dance as her main hobby. For her first dance recital, every (pre-teen) girl in the troop was REQUIRED to get a fake tan. No fake tan, no make up, no overtly sexy costume? You’re not getting on that stage, missy.

    I don’t really know what it says about dance, or about society, or wnything like that, but for some reason it shocked me much more to find out about that fake tan than it did to see this video. Maybe because when you hear something like that you can’t pretend that it’s the little girls who want to do this to themselves because they find it grown-up and “empowering”.

  11. Eileen says

    “Or, heaven forbid, if their daughter was raped because, as the OP pointed out, her dance costumes and moves suggested she was sexually available?”

    That’s not why rape occurs. Rape is perpetrated by rapists, regardless of clothing. A person who perpetrates a sexual crime against a child is doing it for lots of reasons, but the clothing is never anything more than an excuse to shift the blame onto the blameless.

  12. says

    I realize now I wrote this article with an assumption perhaps not everyone shares: I doubt the girls came up with the costume ideas, or the moves, themselves. I was assuming a great deal of adult input into that. I think the girls would be just as happy dancing traditional jazz in less revealing costumes, or whatever. They just seem to love dance.

    (And, Raeka, I fixed your HTML.)

    Also, what bothers me about the costumes isn’t just the skin – as others have pointed out, we see kids in bikinis at the beach, and it’s not sexual. What bothered me is the lingerie lace. There is a reason it’s actually called “stripper lace.” Every Baby Boomer who grew up on TV westerns knows a woman wearing lace like that is peddling sex or erotic dance in some fashion. It’s what we’re supposed to think.

    I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of the piece, but I don’t see anything sexual in it at all.

    If you saw those same moves at an erotic dance club, would you see anything sexual in them there? Because they ARE sexual moves – they’re coded that way in this society, and the proof is that they appear in erotic dance routines.

    I agree with Mel in so far as children don’t understand the ramification of what they’re being asked to do.

    I agree with that, too, but it’s not about what the girls understand. If it was, Child Services would already have taken them, you know? It’s about what the adults who planned this dance routine are trying to convey to the world, and what they’re REALLY conveying.

    Because while I also firmly agree with lilacsigil and Eileen that rape is always the fault of rapists, I think this kind of act contributes to a rape CULTURE, defined as a culture in which predators, without the benefit of insanity, can sensibly infer that their society is okay with them preying on people, so long as they don’t prey on really important people. That doesn’t shift blame away from rapists, but it hardly provides them a motive to stop being rapists. That’s a very important larger issue to understand when discussing what actually might reduce incidences of rape. And getting back to this dance act: when we talk about child molesters like they’re the worst people on earth, then put our kids out there in a way that reminds us of the most vulnerable women available to predators (sex workers), how do you think that plays to someone who already believes everyone wants to screw kids just like he does, and it’s just that few people have the guts to go through with it?

    MarinaS, fake tan? Well, I guess we know the racial breakdown of THAT troupe. /eye-roll And ITA with all the rest of your points.

  13. Robin says

    I think the worst part for me is: “They are aged seven to nine.”

    I don’t know how much things have changed in the last fifteen years, but when I was doing dance competitions in the late 90s as a teenager, the younger girls weren’t doing sexy routines. (At least, not at my dance school.) They were doing cute, high energy stuff appropriate to their maturity levels. I think the youngest girls doing anything that could be perceived as sexual were at least 13 or 14, and even then it was much tamer than what these little kids in the video were asked to do.

    The girls are undoubtedly talented. I just wish they had been given a routine more suited to their ages.

    ——

    Sort of unrelated, but I have to quibble with the last quote from the ABC News article: “People have always admired young ballerinas in scanty costumes,” says Friedman, “but those performances weren’t explicitly sexual…”

    Ballerinas in 19th century Paris (and elsewhere, I’m sure) were horribly exploited by their employers. “Chorus girls” in their teens were pimped out to make more money for the company and gain continued support from wealthy patrons. Their onstage performances may not have been explicitly sexual, but their costumes definitely served a secondary purpose of allowing prospective buyers to effectively inspect the goods. It’s by no means right, but it ain’t nothin’ new.

  14. Scarlett says

    Thing is, the girls looked like they had a fair amount of talent. And no, I don’t believe they had anything to do with the costumes, although I couold believe they chose the song. And if they HAD chosen the costumes and routine, I could have bought it as a bunch of young girls imitating adult sex symbols without actually realising what they were imitating.

    But I think it was adults behind the routine and costumes, and THAT’S what I find creepy. I don’t think it’s normal for a parent to want their under-ten child dress in an ultra-sexy costume performing a suggestive dance routine. Cute, sure. Glamourous, maybe, but sexy? Hell, I’m 27, and my mum would STILL rather I be cute than sexy :p I don’t think it’s normal for a parent to want to see their younger child sexualised, and that’s what mad me think of the Natalie Wood mentality of ‘awesome! a power studio exec has a sexual interest in my daughter!’ – uh, no, that’s not awesome. That’s beyond distasteful.

  15. Jenny Islander says

    This debate reminds me of when I learned the truth about American child beauty pageants. I thought that they were excuses for grown-ups to dress their kids in cute costumes and film them doing adorable things. I envisioned a hall filled with little kids in made-to-order Shirley Temple replica costumes or frilly upper-class Victorian children’s clothes a la Alice in Wonderland, with the occasional Little Lord Fauntleroy or Indiana Jones. The parents of these kids would look down on the second tier, who bought their kids’ pageant outfits used or tried to alter ordinary clothes to get the right look. These parents in turn would snicker at the clueless newbies who dressed their kids in regular children’s formalwear or (snicker) Halloween costumes, or even (guffaw) leotards and fairy wings. Everyone would hope that their little cutie had successfully copied last year’s winning talent segment and lisped “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” adorably enough to win the judges’ hearts. They would sneer at the little pianists–why didn’t they just enter a recital?–and the tiny soldiers doing rifle drill–they all look the saaaaaame. And as for that one kid who did a Jedi lightsaber routine–psssssh, how could the judges even decide whether it was any good or not? Lightsabers are imaginary.

    Meanwhile, the judges would be discussing whether this year was going to be the year they rebelled against the endless parade of Shirleys and Alices, whose parents insisted that only they were the authentic contestants; after all, the losing parents would jump down their throats no matter who won. If they had their druthers, they would go with the cute little fairy or the little boy in the tux who played a Brahms etude with his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth and a scowl worthy of Beethoven.

    One judge observes wearily that nobody seems to have noticed that the “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” kid from last year won because unlike most of the contestants, she didn’t sing flat. Someone else floats the idea of awarding the little Jedi at least third place, because that routine was jaw-dropping–she has a future in gymnastics for sure. But, someone else points out, she was wearing a lot of makeup, and we don’t want that kind of thing to take hold.

    Hey, says a third judge, did Swimsuit Mom write another letter this year? Yeah, actually, says somebody else, there were four of them this time. As if we would let them put their kids in bikinis and Speedos. Don’t they realize that their kids are allowed to be kids? Swimsuit competitions have no place here and they never will.

    Basically, I imagined another kooky American subculture. Then I saw pictures of JonBenet Ramsey all dolled up to compete and literally felt sick. Hey, pageant parents. If you really want to have your flesh and blood shimmying for the judge or posing in a Speedo, do it yourself! Or keep your daydreams inside your heads where they belong.

  16. Scarlett says

    Jenny, I did a lot of reading about the JonBenet Ramsey case, which stemmed to an ongoing interest in the welfare of child performers, and what I found is that a lot of the parents (as I said, usually mother-on-daughter) behind child performers are living vicariously; they didn’t achieve what they wanted from their careers, so they’ll push their kids (usually daughters) to achieve what they couldn’t in their place.

    Patsy Ramsey was a Miss USA runner-up. Maybe she wanted JB to be Lil Miss USA in her stead? She wouldn’t have been the first failed dreamer to push her dreams onto her kid. The mentality of stage parents is often skewered. Some parents genuinely want what is best for their kids (Ginger Rogers, Jodi Foster and Kirsten Dundst often cite their mums as their heros) and others… have something to prove via their kids.

  17. Maria says

    @Raeka — But I’m not saying the fault should be equally shared. What I said was that we AS ADULTS are responsible for our feelings/responses towards the kids, and the context in which their bodies/movements are placed. They’re dancing. They have kids’ bodies. Socially, we’ve been trained to interpret bodies looking like THAT and moving like THAT to be sexually available, but that’s a sign that we have unlearning to do. Their bodies and movements aren’t to blame, it’s that the context has been sexualized.

    Also, I just want to point out… any free torso movement or hip movement by a woman/girl is seen as a sign of sexual availability. It’s one of the legacies of the corset, and it’s one of the reason bellydance was so radical for white, Western women in the 1970s…. which is one of those historical moments where dance history, race formations, and social movements get all wonky together, since one of the reasons bellydance was seen as being radical, feminine, and freeing is because of the movement vocab and its associations with the Other. I’m bringing this up because I’m noticing that there’s a kind of unacknowledged racializations of dance moves and music in this conversation that’s really troubling me. What’s especially weird about it to me is that it’s also a historically specific thing too, since now it’s like omg LITTLE GIRLS LEARNING HIP HOP they should do IRISH DANCE, when the Brits used to censure Irish social and performance dancing because it was seen as omg too sexual.

  18. says

    If you’re attracted to women, doesn’t this video give you a creepy little hormonal twitch, probably followed by irrational guilt?

    Yes, it does. I felt dirty after I watched this (the video is on Huffington post, now).

    Mel, I’m flat out calling shenanigans. If you don’t think the movements in that video were overtly sexual, you have never watched a stripper. And the costuming is not the same as a swimsuit, or even a dance/gymnastic leotard.

    Everything about that video–the lingerie outfits, the suggestive movements, even the music–suggested sex. The only thing that didn’t was the children themselves. Completely naked children would have produces no sexual feelings at all…yet that would be child pornography, and this somehow isn’t.

  19. says

    Socially, we’ve been trained to interpret bodies looking like THAT and moving like THAT to be sexually available, but that’s a sign that we have unlearning to do. Their bodies and movements aren’t to blame, it’s that the context has been sexualized.

    YES, THIS.

    I’m bringing this up because I’m noticing that there’s a kind of unacknowledged racializations of dance moves and music in this conversation that’s really troubling me.

    That’s a very good point, and one I utterly failed to consider in this context. I was limiting my context to simply “these moves are coded as indicating sexual availability” which is absolutely true, but there is some race politics playing into what gets coded that way and what doesn’t, and I just left it out. I’m glad you’re bringing it up.

    Completely naked children would have produces no sexual feelings at all…yet that would be child pornography, and this somehow isn’t.

    That’s a very interesting and disturbing point.

  20. Izzy says

    Yeesh.

    But also:

    [i] Furthermore, there is something more passive about clothing…I am less disturbed by a girl dressed like a slut but doing normal, non-sexual activities than I am by a girl dressed normally but physically acting sexual. [/i]

    Can you not use “slut” in that context, please? It’s a word that gets applied negatively and judgmentally toward grown women’s consensual desires and pursuits, and I have a real problem with that. Something like “dressed in an inappropriately sexual fashion for her age” would cover the same ground, while not implying derogatory things about post-pubescent women’s manner of dress.

  21. Jenny Islander says

    A local bellydance troupe used to accept child students. They were taught to move their heads, hands, and feet, not their hips and chests, because they were children and children should not be expected to act sexy. I saw one of these child dancers perform–she was incredibly cute (swathed in violet silks over a leotard, with her hair up in a braided topknot) and got lots of awwwws and applause. And she was learning grace and strength.

    Why couldn’t the hip-hop teacher show the girls some footwork, some hand and arm movements, or how to keep the beat? Why did it seem okay to her to teach a room full of five- and six-year-olds to mimic a woman riding the penis of a reclining man while also angling themselves so that the audience could see their crotches in silhouette and get the best possible view of their nonexistent cleavage?

    Sometimes current popular culture reminds me of that Gorey picture book that is one long setup for a Deflowering the Virgin erotic novel. The designated virgin is okay as one character after another is introduced with a wink and a nudge (the notably-well-set-up young vicar, mine host’s twin “maiden” aunts, the accomplished dog)–until on the last page we discover that even the frickin’ couch is slated to get into the action, and she snaps and screams and screams. Does everything have to be presented with a coy glance and a suggestive murmur?

  22. Patrick says

    The online debate regarding this video reminds me of when I first ran across the use of the term “rape culture” and arguments surrounding it. I looked up definitions of rape culture online, and what disturbed me most was not how well it describes our culture, but how many people keep arguing that it doesn’t.

  23. Karakuri says

    This reminds me of back in high school, when we took phys. ed. and all the boys got to do archery while the girls had to dance to Britney Spears and the like. It’s the only class I deliberately failed.

  24. says

    @Jennifer #14:

    MarinaS, fake tan? Well, I guess we know the racial breakdown of THAT troupe. /eye-roll

    Well, we do live in a small, lower middle class, suburban/sleeper town in the south of England, so in fairness if their racial breakdown was less than 90% white I’d be very surprised. =)

  25. Maria says

    Jenny Islander —

    I feel like you’re engaging in some slut shaming, you’re not acknowledging the race/class aspects in what you’re saying, and you’re fetishizing innocence in a totally odd way. You’re totally not interacting with my points re: body movements and the hip and torso, and I’m feeling INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATED about this right now, particularly since I’ve spent the majority of today getting subjected to street harassment because my body (which is just a body!!) is interpreted as sexual no matter what I do or how I move because of my age, race, and gender.

    Seriously? Today’s bus adventures climaxed in some douche bag craning his head out of the bus as I was adjusting my socks to take a picture of my tits, then when I jerked back in startlement, taking a second one and telling me to fucking smile. The reason I bring this in is because who gets sexualized and who gets to CHOOSE when they’re sexualized is such a reflection of larger power dynamics. Little girls get sexualized and can’t choose to be because they’re powerless. Adults can and do control and frame their bodies, to the point that people flip out and are like OMG CRAZY when a girl expresses age appropriate feelings and desires and then flip out when little girls re-positioned as performing INappropriate feelings and desires. Black women’s bodies get a similar treatment! You’re sexualized whether you want to be or not, and are DEsexualized whether you want to be or not.

    Plus, what’s also making me twitchy about this conversation is that years ago, it’d’ve been the fox trot. Or the twist. Or the waltz. Or the cha cha. Or the lambada. Or frikkin’ contra. There’s a reason that we’re talking about Beyonce and hip hop, vs Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus.

  26. says

    Jenny, I totally sympathize with your frustration, but Maria’s point is really important, too. What’s coded as sexualized in our society gets decided by white men of means, and where they see available sex also depends on the race of the dancer and how they choose to view that. What she’s trying to point out to you is that while “dippin’ the chip” looks so suggestive to you and me both right now, at one point Irish dancing was seen as too sexual by the British and, what a coincidence, the British looked down on the Irish as an uncivilized bunch of pagans. That’s the common theme: the group looked down upon is presumed to be a bunch of immoral bottom feeders by the group looking down, so everything they do is suspected of “excess” sexuality. There is no absolute standard for which bodily movements are viewed as sexual (as Maria said, any hip movement could be viewed that way, and yet some are and some aren’t) since it’s a subjective judgment call. But the subjective criteria we’ve been conditioned with at this particular time and place in history has a lot of race politics built in.

    So yeah, I’m sympathetic to your idea that maybe kids should be taught dance movements that don’t involve hips, or something. But when you ask why the hip hop teacher thought it was okay, as if she(?) was being unbelievably irresponsible, I keep thinking: couldn’t this move also be described as like riding a horse? Of course, that’s another activity that was once considered so disgustingly sexual for women and girls that the whites of means among us were forced to ride side saddle, which is dangerous and killed more than a few of us. Not that our lives have ever mattered as much as our virtue.

    And MAYBE the real point here is that our society looks at almost EVERYTHING a woman does for indications of her sexual availability to men, and maybe if society got the hell over that, what the girls in this act did would simply be cute.

  27. Jenny Islander says

    #I feel like you’re engaging in some slut shaming,

    Of whom, precisely?

    #you’re not acknowledging the race/class aspects in what you’re saying,

    Because hip-hop was invented by people who were not white and were not economically powerful? What does that have to do with the teacher choosing, as their very first hip-hop move, to teach a bunch of little kids to mimic a sex act? Is it essential to hip-hop to be mimicking sex at all times? Does it detract from the character of this dance style to keep the sex out of it for little kids? I don’t believe that. And if that is what kids have to do in hip-hop class at our local dance school, then my daughter is not taking hip-hop. If another teacher comes to town and my daughter expresses an interest, I will reassess based on what that teacher thinks is okay.

    #and you’re fetishizing innocence in a totally odd way.

    I am not talking about innocence. I am talking about power. It is wrong to teach a child to titillate at an age when he or she has no idea of what he or she is even saying and is, excuse the pun, not fucking ready to deal with the subject. It is okay for children to venture into the fringes of the adult world, but NEVER on demand, NEVER to entertain. It is wrong to teach a child to mimic sex acts.

    As for Irish dancing, there is a difference between “They are showing much more leg than is proper and hopping about quite a lot, eww, they’re bouncing, stop it you dirty peasant” and “That child is pretending to have sex, whether or not he or she realizes it.” Whether or not it is taught as “dippin’ the chip,” it began as adult women doing a sexy move, and it is not for children. I can put up with my child being put into a costume with a keyhole back or a decollete neckline and being told not to wear panties under her costume because they might show. I can put up with the culture demanding lip gloss and body glitter even for the little ballerinas. I will never allow my daughter to be instructed to “ride” an invisible man (and no, you do not squat on a horse!) on stage. That’s not even getting into the crotch stroking and hip pumping in the video.

  28. sbg says

    It is wrong to teach a child to titillate at an age when he or she has no idea of what he or she is even saying and is, excuse the pun, not fucking ready to deal with the subject.

    But the child isn’t being taught to titillate. She’s being taught to dance and is dancing, no more, no less.

    People (adults) are sexualizing her. That is on them, not her.

  29. Maria says

    Re: slut shaming: Not only is the teacher a bad teacher, you’re implying that she’s a bad PERSON, and encouraging kids to be immoral… whatever that even means in this context.

    Jenny, are you reading my whole comment(s)? Where I’m highlighting that what dances are considered overly sexual is a historically contingent thing? I’m mentioning that because of the way you’re describing the move with a series of value-laden descriptors (TBH right now, I THINK you’re describing this http://www.spike.com/video/learn-how-to-hip-hop/2943602 but honestly can’t tell) as opposed to giving a breakdown of the body movements associated with it. You’re not describing what they’re doing. You’re describing what you THINK they’re doing, which is going back to Jenn’s original point — we’re cued to sexualize the movements of young girls, particularly when those movements involve moving parts of the body “nice (white, corset wearing) girls” don’t. The move that I THINK you’re describing (and I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of any hip/pelvis related chip/dip moves!) doesn’t necessarily signify having sex. It’s a series of sharper staccato hip thrusts forward, where you’re using your pelvis to (I guess) scoop some dip. Your knees are probably bent, and yeah, your crotch is out. You can see from this clip from Rize http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LRe9wpLKGw that depending on the speed and the attitude of the dancer it can look almost like a war dance, to kinda like swaggering, to, yes, like having sex. A couple of girls (the one at 1:50 and the one at 2:14) will go through all 3 of those while performing.

    What’s nuts to me about this conversation is that when girls dance, no matter how, they get sexualized, and that sexualization draws on class, race, and heteronormativity to make itself go. That’s why it’s so important Jenn used “sexualized” instead of sexy or sexual. She’s highlighting the process by which girls’ bodies become sexual commodities. All I’m saying is that there’s a racist component to that. Moreover, it’s fucked up to not acknowledge that particular movements, regardless of whether or not they’re sexual, become sexualized when “nice girls” aren’t seen as moving like that.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vprdbH91Oew&feature=related

    For example, I don’t see this as being innately sexual. But because she’s a girl, because she’s showing her tummy, because she’s moving her hips, she’s SEXUALIZED.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy0liWLfUeQ

    Much in the same way these girls aren’t being innately sexual. But because they’re girls, because they’re moving in ways women “don’t move,” because their bodies are presumed to be always available for consumption, they’re SEXUALIZED.

    I’m not at all defending the video. Please let me be clear on that. What I’m criticizing is the attitude behind a comment that would praise a dance teacher for NOT teaching a dancer to move a part of their body they’re going to have their entire life, as though that body part is contaminated. Hips are hips! Rock them.

  30. says

    Because hip-hop was invented by people who were not white and were not economically powerful? What does that have to do with the teacher choosing, as their very first hip-hop move, to teach a bunch of little kids to mimic a sex act?

    Nothing. But it has a lot to do with your framing the choice as between Irish dance and hip-hop dance, with the white dance as the obviously less sexual and more appropriate choice. I get why you think it’s so obvious, but it’s not. You think the sex-looking move is more dirty than showing skin. But I have known people who wouldn’t recognize a move that mimics WOMAN ON TOP because that doesn’t happen in their tiny little missionary style world, so they’d be far more upset by skin showing than by the move you’re describing. Which they would utterly fail to get any sexual implications out of. And don’t come back with “I’m sure if they saw *this* they’d get it” because I assure you, they would not.

    and no, you do not squat on a horse!

    You’ve obviously never watched a horse race. You’ve just missed the Kentucky Derby, but the Belmont’s on June 5th. Check out how the jockeys move their lower bodies in the slow-mo coverage. There’s a reason there’s a sexual position called “Reverse Cowgirl.”

  31. Christine says

    I saw a brief clip of this video on the news and had to change the channel immediately because it just upset me too much. Can’t believe some people are trying to defend it or claim it’s just innocent good fun.

    I find this whole thing disturbing beyond belief. I mean it sickens me that we live in this kind of world where it’s just becoming more and more difficult for children to have a childhood/not grow up too fast, and not have to worry about being exploited/abused.

    I can’t find the words, really. I guess the main thing I wanted to say is that I agree that there’s nothing inherently wrong with shaking your hips (or moving whatever other body part) …I mean, little kids roll their hips around when they’re playing with a hula hoop, for instance, and nobody would find that sexual (unless they’re already a sick person with a dirty mind who sees sex in *everything*, I suppose.) Ditto with a child in a swimsuit/leotard, etc.

    So yeah, we’ve been taught that certain moves/clothes in certain contexts mean certain things. I agree with the poster who said that when you get to the root of the problem, it’s the fact that adults who *know* that these specific dance moves are understood by most of us nowadays to mean “stripper/sexually available” – are deliberately directing/teaching the little girls to do these moves. These adults (parents and teachers) should be doing their best to protect the children in their care, not exploiting them or making them targets for sexual predators. It’s an incredibly irresponsible betrayal of trust. These very young children *trust* the adults in charge to know what’s best for them and look out for them… god, it’s so depressing.

    As was also said above, this sort of thing encourages rapists…lets them know it’s “okay” to see children as sex objects. No it’s not okay…no matter how they may dress or dance. But it still sends that message, and I agree with Jennifer that some would-be rapists would stop if they were more afraid of the consequences…if our culture didn’t seem to condone the sexploitation of girls. I mean, it’s a sad commentary on human nature, but if crimes *aren’t* committed, most of the time it’s only because of the fear of punishment. Not because of some inner moral conscience. :(

    I’ve never felt like I belong in this era – I mean, even as a kid, I wanted to live in the past and preferred older books/movies, etc. I realize I’m old-fashioned in many ways and maybe naive. But I still wish I could go back to a “more innocent time”, even though I know the world was never perfect, and there’s always been sexism, racism, people hurting other people… But things are getting worse, right? Or is it just me? I can’t help but feel like our society’s become more selfish, with this “don’t judge me no matter what horrible thing I do” mentality. (Don’t judge these parents for letting their kids be exploited!) Anything goes. Nothing is “wrong” by a generally accepted moral standard. Morals are silly and outdated! I’m not saying people should be shamed for things that society used to frown on, like, I dunno, having a child out of wedlock or whatever (yeah I’m using that old expression because we all find it ridiculous now). But isn’t this extreme reaction the opposite way, just as bad? If people aren’t ashamed of *anything* or afraid of negative repercussions… well, goes back to that whole preventing-crimes-through-fear-of-punishment-thing.

    And (to get back on-topic) it seems like fewer people are able to recognize, or willing to speak out against, the inappropiate sexualization of little girls. If our society won’t say it’s wrong…won’t admit it’s even happening… that’s really scary. And things will never improve.

  32. says

    Christine, while I think some things in society have improved, I agree that we’re getting more selfish. And there’s always been a troubling conflation of consensual adult sex and rape. Because of that conflation, the very sensible lifting of social bans against healthy, consensual, adult sex has somehow enhanced the rape culture atmosphere, which it shouldn’t have. Because rape is like sex in the same way that being thrown into a river with concrete bricks to weigh you down is like swimming. Two very, very different things that might possibly look similar at a glance out of context.

    Additionally, Susan Faludi talks in her intro to a new edition of Backlash about how, since her book first came out, the conservative right-wing very smartly dropped the backlash and instead co-opted third wave feminism. They’re where the “boob enhancement and blow jobs gives you ‘pussy power’, ladies” voice of alleged “feminism” in the 90s came from. That attitude treats sex as a commodity women should trade to get what they want from men, and celebrate it as power, when it’s in fact a very dangerous myth for women (all men have to do, and they are 100% capable of it, is decide the “bitch” is taking them for a ride they don’t want to go on, and they can get sex somewhere else, and boom, she’s without any power at all).

    By encouraging the view that women should trade sex for stuff from men instead of trading work or cleverness for resources directly, we encourage the idea that every human experience is a commodities trade, and men who want women or kids or animals or whatever to “pay” them in sex are just behaving naturally.

    But I do think things can improve when more and more people speak out. Even a small minority can get people listening, can influence the way things go.

  33. Jenny Islander says

    I’ve been mulling over this discussion for the past few days. In the meanwhile, Christine at #34 said pretty much everything I wanted to say, only in a much more articulate and better organized way, and then Jennifer Kesler at #35 filled in the rest.

    The point I want to reiterate, probably because it’s at the heart of why this kind of thing squicks me out, is that childhood is powerless. A line of children who are rocking their hips on a stage will probably set off some perv no matter what they are wearing; that can’t be changed. But what the kids are saying, in their powerlessness, can be changed. It isn’t the hip motion I object to. It’s the difference between rocking your hips in a crocodile costume to make your tail swing (which was the awww-inspiring show-stealer for the 4-year-old Rhythm and Movement class at my daughter’s recital–they were portraying the Clock-Eating Crocodile’s little croclets) and dancing in a combination of Catholic schoolgirl socks and lingerie to “Single Ladies.” It’s the difference between “Aren’t I cute (and a child, who is understood to be powerless)” and “Aren’t I sexy (and a child, who is understood to be powerless).”

    My daughter already has boundaries and a sense of bodily integrity. She flat-out refused to go without panties for the recital because she felt naked under her costume, so my husband and I made sure that she had panties that wouldn’t show and praised her for letting us know how she felt instead of trying to stuff it down. But she’s six years old. It’s our responsibility to protect her from the boundary transgressions she hasn’t yet learned to recognize as long as she does not have the power to protect herself. All adults should do this for children who are under their care, even for an hour a week in a dance class.

  34. photondancer says

    I am not so sure that the fake tan is meant to be a racial reference (to whom, incidentally?). I recall a friend who did jazz dance having to put on fake tan for her performance. If you think fake tan today is orange, you should have seen it back in 1980. She looked like nothing on earth. Bodybuilders also slather themselves in the stuff for their competitions. It could just be an expression of the general belief that any tan looks better than lily-white skin.

    I’ve read some similar articles like this and often they will quote the parents (usually the mother) as being uneasy but not to the point where they will withdraw the daughter from the class, explaining why. They’re afraid of making a scene, or appearing to be prudish, or disappointing their daughter. I was reflecting earlier today on how much harder it is to hang onto your moral standards when everybody around you is ‘doing it’ (whatever it may be). We can see that operating here, I think, where the parents are so bamboozled by the zeitgeist’s unending ‘be hot, be sexy’ messages that they falter, uncertain whether they even have the right to be upset by such dance moves. After all, isn’t it supposed to be cute when children imitate their elders? Nobody else is complaining. Maybe it’s just me. And so the rationalisation begins. But I do wonder what is going through the dance teachers’ minds. Are they just so used to teaching these moves, with concomitant dress and makeup, to adults they fail to switch off when it comes to children? Or are they also uneasy but thinking this is what the judges want?

  35. says

    I am not so sure that the fake tan is meant to be a racial reference (to whom, incidentally?).

    It’s not a reference, no – it’s just something that only applies to lighter-skinned people, and thereby excludes darker-skinned individuals, or at least lets them know it’s never crossed the mind of the white folks behind the dance troupe that someone who’s naturally darker than a white person with a fake tan could show up, and therefore, who knows how that person will be received?

    They’re afraid of making a scene, or appearing to be prudish, or disappointing their daughter.

    Interestingly, those are all classic traps for women. We’re conditioned to worry so much about causing a scene that we often submit to abuse to avoid it; worry so much about seeming prudish that we deny ourselves the right to stand up for what we believe; worry so much about disappointing people that we let situations deteriorate to the point of real damage and difficulty.

  36. Christine says

    I just want to say I really appreciate the kind response to my comment. I love reading this website and have been in awe of your enlightening debates and the wisdom expressed here. I was a bit nervous about participating, (but this issue upset me so much I had to say something) so thanks for making me feel welcome. :)

    Jenny Islander – I think *you* said everything *I* wanted to say in a more articulate and concise way. :) When talking about a betrayal of trust, I was missing something (which seems so obvious now) – It’s the fact that children are powerless and adults shouldn’t be abusing their power over them. You’re right, power is at the heart of this. It’s nice to hear that some parents, like you, know how to balance protecting their children, and allowing them some power to make decisions too. :) (Personally I think most people aren’t qualified to be parents and there should be some sort of training course you have to pass before entrusted with the awesome responsibility of raising another human being – I’m only half-serious, since I know it would be hell to enforce or even decide on the Good Parenting criteria – and like all systems, ripe for abuse and corruption.)

    Jennifer, that “sex as a commodity” so-called feminism has been upsetting me for awhile. I sensed that it was a manipulative tactic to trick women into believing we have power, while really maintaining the status quo/patriarchy, but you really helped me put my uneasy feeling about it into words – and it’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone/imagining it (this website often has that reassuring effect!)

    I wish more women could see through it, but it’s no wonder… we all feel pressure to conform to gender role expectations, plus that whole afraid-to-be-seen-as-prudish-or-“difficult” factor, which photondancer mentioned. Now I almost feel sorry for the parents and dance teachers who let little girls be sexualized! Jennifer and photodancer’s posts remind me of possible reasons for their decisions. If they’ve been pressured and brainwashed, I guess I should feel sorry for them too… but I still feel sorrier for the kids because they’re powerless and don’t have the benefit of experience/ability to analyze the situation, which the adults *should* have!

  37. JMS says

    My issue with “dippin’ the chip” as the name of a dance move to be taught to little girls is that it is actually a slang term for woman-on-top sexual intercourse. Not crazy about equating “vulva” with “chip” so much either in the context of a children’s dance class.

    The move itself wouldn’t squick me as much as the name.

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