The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ female and the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

8 Celebrities Who Look Like A Quality Street

This is actually an article in the Huffington Post. I’m not going to link to it since they don’t need the advertising clicks, but this is the world we live in: not only are women body-shamed for having bodies, our clothing is policed for looking like “chocolate wrappers”.

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Celebrity women get trashed in the media for going out in jeans or trackie bottoms, but also shamed for dressing up in designer clothes for events they are required to wear. As women, we need to stop consuming media that shames women for their bodies. We may not be able to stop it but we can certainly cause financial harm to such online media by refusing to click.

25 Disney Girls Gone Bad: Misogyny run rampant

25 Disney Girls Gone Bad rocked up in my Facebook feed. I went through the pictures assuming that it was all of former Disney actresses in their underwear.

It was.

It also included Demi Lovato twice and claimed that Ashley Tisdale is her own best friend making it fairly obvious that research and editing aren’t priorities for this particular site.

I googled Disney Boys Gone Bad to see if I would discover 8 million pics of Zac Efron in his knickers. Oddly, I found none. Instead, I found numerous articles on male Disney stars arrested for violence against women and girls, robbery, and DUI. It’s worth noting that the Disney ‘girls’ who have been arrested were not arrested for crimes of violence. And, a number of the male stars continued to work, either for Disney or in the entertainment industry, despite having criminal convictions for violence.

An article on ListServe lists Edward Furlong as a (dis)honourable mention for “cocaine addiction; arrested drunkenly trying to free lobsters from a tank”. Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears get first and second place respectively for their substance dependency and mental health worries. ListServe neglects to mention Furlong’s multiple convictions for domestic violence. Being female and ill is a reason to label a woman “Top 10 Child Stars Who’ve Gone Bad”. Domestic violence isn’t even worth mentioning.

The Mirror felt it necessary to include Lee Thompson Young in first position in their article “Disney stars’ downfall: Hit and runs, rehab and jail – the teen stars who went wild”. Thompson Young wasn’t convicted in a hit and run, nor did do a stint in rehab. He killed himself aged 29 having suffered with bipolar disorder.  The women in their list were all there for substance use; most of the men for violence.

Rather than holding male Disney stars accountable for the violence they commit, much of these “child stars gone bad” focus on shaming women for trying to survive in an industry where there only asset is classed as their ability to pass the patriarchal fuckability test. There is no recognition of the continuing failure of Disney to support its young actors throughout their career. There is little recognition that domestic violence is an actual crime. Instead, these articles all focus on shaming women and excusing men.

And, Baby Bangs? Just Wtf?

All together Now:

Ugly Baby:

dahliadrop2

 

Cute Baby:

 

dahliadrop 1

 

Ugly Baby & Cute Baby

bb1

Ugly Baby & Cute Baby

bb 2

Ugly Baby & Cute Baby

bb3

At least, I think this is what Baby Bangs is telling us with the production of fake hair for babies. Without fake hair, baby girls are UGLY.

And, seriously, who wants an ugly baby?

Not Baby Bangs, that’s for sure:

Our Philosophy
At Baby Bangs! we believe in the beauty of childhood. Our unique designs are sprinkled with MAGIC!~inspiring a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments for you and your baby girl to cherish Forever! For she is, and always will be, 
Your LiTTLe PRINCESS!

Babies can only live in a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments if they only look like girls. And, aren’t ugly.

Otherwise, their lives will suck.

Or, something.

 

<thank you to Sophia Greene for bringing this to my attention>

 

 

Girlie Glue: Because it’s never too early to be girly.

2

I thought this was a late April Fool’s rocking up in my Twitter feed. But, no. It appears to be an actual product with an actual website so you can glue shit to your babies’ head so they don’t forget they are girls. Granted, I’ve always been under the impression that babies don’t actually know what “girl” is since they do precisely four things: eat, sleep, shit and cry. But, that’s totally irrelevant. Now, you can ensure that your baby and the world around them know you’ve bought into majorly damaging gendered stereotypes and glue ribbons and bows to your kid’s head. Just so no one destroys their identity by mistaking them for a boy.

Because that would fuck them up for life.

Gluing shit to your kids head, on the other hand, is totally normal.

And this does not fill me this confidence:

Girlie Glue is made with Agave nectar and other all natural Ingredients

It’s safe, 100% Honey-Free and washes away easily with water.

I don’t care that it washes out or that it’s “natural” (and let’s be totally realistic here, all sorts of shit you wouldn’t want near your kid are called natural). You are gluing shit to your babies head.

Actually gluing shit to your babies head.

So people know they are a girl.

I can’t even begin to describe how fucked up that is.

You have a baby. Not a dress-up dolly. It doesn’t matter if your baby is bald and someone in Tesco thinks they are a boy. It’s a baby. You need to cuddle them  – not dress them up like freaking Barbie.

Girls have their entire lives to be groomed into passing the patriarchal fuckability test. At least give them a few years before you start gluing shit to their heads. images 2 Unknown 1

 

Lottery Funding for Burlesque Lessons For Teenage Girls?

 

At least, that is the impression given by the I will if you will website run by Bury Council.  This is the tagline for the website:

‘I Will If You Will’ is a movement to get us ladies of Bury moving. It’s about getting together, trying something new and having a laugh while we do it. So how about it? Join in online and get all the latest news and gossip, as well as keeping up to date with what’s going on near you and how to get involved.

Who could argue with a safe space for women to exercise without worrying about harassment from men? Obviously, they offer the standard exercise classes like swimming, aerobics, dance and basketball but I have concerns about burlesque being classed as an appropriate class for teenage girls. I will if you will defines burlesque as such:

Burlesque is a fun way to express your body through dance. I loved learning a new dance routine to a great music track!

Burlesque is not a dance class and it’s incredibly harmful to construct it as such. We already raise our children in a culture which sexualises them from birth with offensive baby-gros like “All Daddy wanted was a blowjob” and “Future Porn Star” for three year olds. Suggesting that burlesque, which is about the objectification of women’s bodies for the male gaze, is a normal form of exercise for teenagers is telling them that they are nothing more than fucktoys for men.

Pole dancing classes for children already exist so I’m not exactly surprised by burlesque for teenagers. There will always be parents who think their daughter’s worth is measured in her sexuality sending them to school at 6 in high heels and preventing them from playing sports by dressing them in clothes which they can’t walk in but pole dancing and burlesque lessons for kids are a step too far. There are lots of forms of street dance, hip hop, breakdancing which don’t require teenage girls to participate in an activity whose original purpose was the removal of women’s clothing for the titillation of men.

I’m even more concerned that these classes are being offered in venues funded by local council money, lottery and Sports England:

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I would like to know if public money has been used to pay for these classes and whether or not the community funds of £750, which  are available to local groups and organisations in Bury, are given to groups offering burlesque classes. The guidelines of the venue do not include statements about which activities are deemed appropriate for children. Burlesque is never an appropriate class for girls and public funding should not be used  to fund these classes.

 

Vagenda’s New Book & The Problem of Marketing Feminist Books

Feminist magazine Vagenda have a new book out which is brilliant because there can never be enough feminist books published. I am, however, concerned about the cover. It simply reinforces the “women as object” motif, particularly since this is a woman’s body without head.

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This isn’t uncommon for the publication of feminist books but it worries me. I doubt very much Vagenda had a choice in the cover but it does bother me that feminist texts are being published using pornified images of women’s bodies. Do publishers genuinely believe that people will only buy Vagenda’s book if the image is  ‘sexy’ because I have to say, I think that’s rather insulting to Vagenda’s audience. If the only way a marketing team can think to run book by a popular feminist website is with this cover, then they simply aren’t creative enough.

Vagenda’s book would have sold well without this cover. It’s just unnecessary.

 

Natasha Walter’s Living  Dolls:

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Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs

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So, Playboy, Definitely Art. And, other Dubious Statements

Hugh Hefner’s 21 year old second son from his second marriage is apparently lining up to take over the company. When he finishes school. Obviously. This rather creepy article in the Independent, which is attempting to pass for news, would like everyone to know that Hef Jr definitely thinks Playboy is art and not pornography. 

I’d like to believe the article’s other claim that the Playboy is only a “marginal” brand now but, let’s be honest, they aren’t making their money from the magazine. Instead, they have been capitalising on ole’ Hugh’s penchant for sexual violence in reality TV programs like The Girls Next Door. The Playboy Club TV program may have been cancelled in its first season but the Playboy clubs are coming back [and are the focus of some brilliant feminist activism]. Sales of Playboy Magazine itself are falling but Playboy brand merchandising is everywhere. For reasons I genuinely don’t get, parents are buying their children Playboy branded duvet covers and notebooks. Playboy merchandise is flaming everywhere and that’s without getting into the “sexy” Playboy dress-up clothes.

Ranting about Playboy merchandising on children aside [and I judge parents who buy 6 year olds jeans with Playboy bunnies on their arse or t-shirts which say ‘Future Porn Star’. It’s not funny or clever. It’s just creepy], Cooper Hefner’s attempts to rewrite Playboy’s past and label their magazines ‘art’ rather than porn demonstrates some serious cognitive dissonance. Or, nincompoopery. Probably both. Whatever it is, Cooper is just not the brightest of sparks when he’s comparing nude art with Playboy centerfolds insofar as he misses the whole freaking debate. Because, there is feminist debate about this and there is recognition that much of the art we admire is of questionable value morally and ethically. Hell, there’s a whole lot of recognition that some of the artists whose work we admire are nothing more than sexual predators. Pretending that Playboy is ‘art’ isn’t participating in that debate. It’s the intellectual equivalent of running about with Darth Vader helmet back to front on one’s head.

As for Cooper’s discussion on the Bunny Girls and “empowerment”, well, it’s nice he’s giving us permission to decide for ourselves but, really, when is Cooper going to participate in an activity which “empowers” him? Because, I’d really like to hear someone use that word on an activity men are required to participate in to be considered valuable.

And, honestly, how do you even unpack the following twaddle:

“There are many domestic issues in the US that bother me, such as gay rights or fighting for the legalisation of marijuana. But as we go global we need to stand for more important issues internationally. Women’s rights in the Middle East and internet censorship in China are two things we can stand for and have an influence in, especially when we’re coming into these emerging markets like India and we’re faced with the challenge of opening up Playboy clubs where the bunnies can’t even wear bunny outfits. You have these countries which are in a very similar place sexually – especially when it comes to gender roles – where the US was when my dad first started.”

“Faced with the challenge” of opening in markets where women aren’t allowed to wear Bunny outfits? I genuinely don’t what to stay except that’s a whole load of  nincompoopery which is seriously missing the point, not to mention just a teensy bit of orientalist discourse. That’s without mentioning the whole issue of women’s rights currently being destroyed in the US with access to abortion being curtailed everywhere and gang-rapes like that in Steubenville being a whole lot more common than many would like to believe. Or, that internet censorship isn’t only in China. Why is it important for women in other countries to have the right to dress in Bunny outfits when American women wearing Bunny outfits are slut-shamed? How is expanding the Playboy empire going to help women? What has the legalisation of marijuana got to do with large swathes of the planet not having basic human rights like access to clean water? 

Being raised in the Playboy mansion [and the house next door where his mother lived] can’t have been a healthy place for two young boys to grow up. I don’t think its all that surprising that Cooper’s brother Marston has a recent conviction for domestic violence. Whatever your opinion of porn, it isn’t ever appropriate for children and the two boys would have been exposed during Playboy “parties”, photo shoots and the filming of the Girls Next Door. These would not have been simply nude women. The Playboy empire is built on porn.

Christie Hefner, Cooper’s older sister, ran the company until 2009 when she stepped down. She oversaw the expansion of the empire out of the magazine industry and she put an end to some of Hugh’s more egregious behaviours, at least ones financially supported by the company. Cooper may not want to wear his father’s pyjamas but neither he nor his brother Marsten come across as well-rounded men with a respect for women and women’s sexuality. I don’t agree with many of Christie Hefner’s expansion policies, and I certainly find the show Girls Next Door deeply creepy, but I’m quite certain that Christie Hefner wanted to run a business. I’m not sure that’s what Cooper or Marston are looking for.

Playboy goes Artistic.


At least, that’s what they claim to be doing by having some “leading contemporary artists”,  a list which includes Tracey Emin, “explore the female body as a work of art”. Normally, I’d be willing discuss the issue of the female body as art and whether or not it could be anything other than the objectification of women’s bodies, but this is Playboy.

Playboy. 

They aren’t interested in art. They are interested in making money by the sexual degradation and objectification of women’s bodies. This is just another desperate ploy to differentiate them from ‘bad’ pornographers. In many ways, Playboy’s mainstreaming of pornography has been far more detrimental to women’s rights than the more violent pornography now available online.

I would rant further but Exiled Stardust has deconstructed this far more eloquently here.

So, Every Women Wants to be Objectified?

I probably would have ignored this story if it hadn’t been for this article in the Huffington Post. Cameron Diaz’s comment to the Sunday Times suggesting that its healthy for women to want to be objectified is, well, stupid and arrogant. But, we all say stupid and arrogant things from time to time, so, whilst her comment pissed me off, I was going to let it slide. Diaz clearly does not speak for most women; even those who’ve bought into the “empowerfulising” discourse [here’s a hint: if a man doesn’t have to do it to be empowered, it’s misogynistic bollocks]. These kinds of comments just reinforce Patriarchal constructions of women’s sexuality and are best ignored.

As I said, I would have ignored it if it weren’t for the daft article in the Huffington Post which ends with this:

The comments are sure to raise some eyebrows — just as her recent interaction with Robert Pattinson raised a few. 

Earlier this month, it was reported that the actress was spotted flirting with the 26-year-old “Twilight” star, who recently reconciled with his girlfriend, Kristen Stewart. 

“She was pretty obvious,” a source told Us Weekly. “Cam was seated next to Rob at dinner. She was touching his arm, doing her big Cameron laugh at everything he said and trying really hard. He was polite, but not having it.”

I’m struggling to work out what the link is between Diaz spouting some dire “choice” feminism twaddle and her possibly flirting with a man who may or may not be in a relationship. I’m not googling to find out because I genuinely don’t care if he is in a relationship or not. What I do care about is the constant reinforcement of slut-shaming in our rape culture. The Huffington Post piece pretends to be impressed with Diaz being confident in her own sexuality, whilst snidely swiping at those who object to Diaz’s statement, and then it slaps Diaz back into place. The hypocrisy in one piece is breath-taking.

God forbid a woman find a man sexually attractive. And, tell him so. I am so fucking over this slut-shaming arsehattery.

Yeah, I think Diaz’s comments were stupid and arrogant but I’m angry with what she said; not because she may like having sex. Or, may have decided to hit on some guy. It’s not relevant and it has nothing to do with the story except as a silencing technique.

Oddly, The Huffington Post posted an article by Nico Lang in defence of Kristen Stewart and the serious slut-shaming she faced after kissing someone who was not Robert Pattinson back in September. I think there a few people who need to revisit that article.