That Happened: The Princess and the Tramp

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ColumnSociety pushes girls to become sexual objects, then shames them about the length of a hem.

How many times have you heard someone say—usually after the “I don’t care as long as the baby is healthy” comment—that “it would be nice to have a boy, they are so much easier.” Are boys easier biologically, are we programmed to devalue  women and girls, or is our society so hard on women that even feminists think it would be “easier” not to deal with raising a girl in a world filled with thinspiration, mean girls, rape, anti-choice laws and sexed-up Disney princesses?

As someone without kids and no plans to have them, I don’t spend tons of time thinking about whether it would be easier or harder to raise a girl or a boy. But, I was recently talking with a friend about slut-shaming and she mentioned how many people make that comment to her—the mother of an amazing five-year-old girl. While I am sure most mean it as a compliment to her ability to parent a daughter in this messed up world; it’s not. It’s a comment on the value of girls and women. The mixed messages hit kids, and parents, constantly.

The movie Brave was largely celebrated for having a girl as its hero. The message, overall, was good: Stand up for yourself, make your own choices, corsets are stupid. But, since our 16-year-old heroine Merida was officially princessed by Disney, she no longer resembles the athletic, feisty girl we saw in the movie. She looks like she went to the same plastic surgeon who worked on Belle and Ariel.

The message is that girls can’t be girls. They can be comfortable in their skin for a brief period of time and then they become objects of distraction and desire. Society pushes girls to become sexual objects, then we punish them for it by shaming them about the length of a hem or the dip of a neckline.

Jezebel reported on “Generation Fabulous” blogger Vivienne Wagner’s attendance at her 8th grade son’s Academic Awards Ceremony. She wrote that she was shocked to see “exceptionally bright and disciplined” girls pursuing “hoochie-ism.” She posted (and has since removed) photos of these girls on her blog  and labeled them: “Examples of why I’m glad I don’t have daughters.”

Really? When it comes to sexist dress codes, most are in place because certain clothing is deemed “distracting” to the [implied] male students. So, rather than be glad you don’t have to deal with a slutty daughter, why not be pissed off that we live in a world where young people are sexualized to the point that it’s acceptable to call an 8th grade girl a “hoochie” and acceptable to assume that an 8th grade boy can’t control himself around a girl in a tight skirt?

Yes, dress codes serve a purpose in many places. For example, I don’t want to see an ass cheek (male or female) on Casual Friday. But let’s clean up the language we use to talk about guidelines for appropriate attire and understand that it’s not about modesty and protecting women from “boys being boys” (loosely translated to: she asked for it—whatever “it” turns out to be). It’s a tricky question–how to dress expressively but appropriately.

Maybe the answer is a world in which all men and women wear a very similar uniform, one that hides our parts. Once we’re all dressed as equals, we’ll be treated that way, right? I mean, just look at how well that has worked in the military. Only one in five women in the military report receiving unwanted sexual contact! And, it’s not like the recent news about a sergeant filming female soldiers showering is typical or anything…

Clothes aren’t the problem, and they aren’t the solution. Closing the gender gap starts with an attitude adjustment, and if that’s too much to ask, I’ll accept a linguistic adjustment. We can’t control what others think, but we can control how we talk about women.

Making an effort not to sexualize girls—and not to demonize boys and men—is the first step toward a world where a princess can be a girly girl, a tomboy or even a boy, and an 8th grade girl can go to a ceremony wearing something that makes her feel like the smart and powerful girl she is.

Image: Disney/Pixar

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