Friday, 8 May 2009

Sex, marketing and children

I'm not a prude and don't wish to preach morals to anybody, but I would like to explore this trend of sexualizing young girls to sell products.

The marketing of certain brands puts a lot of pressure on young impressionable girls who are still forming their views of the world around them. The pressure starts by targeting them when they're younger. Bratz, Barbie, make-over kits and numerous toys associated with TV stars find their way into the toy chests of girls aged six, seven and younger.

Children love to copy older siblings, cousins and adults around them. They play house, wear mom's clothes and shoes, love lipstick, nail varnish and a lot of glitter. That's normal.

But the aggressive marketing of unsuitable toys and other paraphernalia must put a lot of pressure on parents who don't wish to see their little girls grow up too fast.

Younger girls are not immune to Candie's marketing strategies. Having been primed by the bratz and the barbies, they are all too receptive to the glitter surrounding the pretty celebrities used in sexy ads aimed at the slightly older age group.

Candie's Foundation states that there's nothing wrong with being sexy, but you don't have to have sex. Young girls can look like they're ready and willing to have sex, but shouldn't actually do it.

Let's have a look at nature and the sexual behaviour of species less evolved than ours. There are mechanisms to indicate sexual maturity and readiness in the lower species. Outside certain times and in the absence of certain signs, sex simply doesn't happen.

Humans lack these clear indicators. They do exist, but are more subtle and not talked about outside science. So we have conventions, rules and taboos. They probably evolved through observation. Perhaps early humans didn't have certain taboos that exist today, but noticed that engaging in certain behaviours was not a good idea. It was noticed that the offspring of closely related people were weaker, prone to disease, etc. So incest became a no-no. Menstruation was a good guide to sexual maturity, so any girls too young to menstruate were left alone.

I'm just speculating, but I don't think I'm too far from the truth. In earlier civilized societies, it was the norm for girls to be married and bear children soon after their first period. We don't have to go too far back in time to observe this. People's life expectancy was lower, mother and infant mortality much higher than today, so the window of opportunity for reproduction was narrower.

As societies became more sophisticated and complex, so did the rules. Until not very long ago, women in Western societies were not educated. Depending on their social class, they were instructed in the gentle art of social intercourse and a few hobbies, and that was that. When they were ready for breeding, they were married into a suitable family, all in keeping with the social trends of the time. Women from the lower classes just worked and reproduced without higher aspirations.

Now, thanks to science, we live longer. Women of all classes fought long and hard to receive an education. In the second half of the last century, things started moving very fast in every respect. Technology moves forward faster than we can comprehend, there's a lot more social mobility, travel to far flung places became possible, the world changed.

We're still adapting and will have to continue to adapt to this changing world at a much accelerated pace.

Capitalism is a relatively new thing. It only came about during the Industrial Revolution. What a revolution it was! Things could be mass produced, a larger number of people had access to more and more goodies.

Of course, as technology advanced and competition escalated, marketing the goods became more aggressive. Social changes, such as the sexual revolution of the 60's, destroyed some barriers and today we have a marketing free-for-all.

Which brings us back to Candie's. We're not about to revert to marrying our daughters at the age of thirteen, but the manufacturers of teen products see nothing wrong in presenting this age group as sexual beings, with all the trappings of sexual readiness and availability. So they establish a foundation that states that it's OK to send out all the wrong signals, as long as the young sexily clad girls say "no".

Young men are not immune to these marketing campaigns either. But are they supposed to be stimulated by this barrage of images and then not act on any of their impulses?

Adolescence is confusing enough without all these mixed messages.

Throw religion into the mix, saying that sex is wrong, thererefore contraception is wrong, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Candie's chose to promote abstinence to redeem themselves for their marketing strategies. They couldn't promote proper sex education because they would have to admit that they see young girls as nothing more than sex objects.

As long as they say "Look but don't touch" they're in the clear. If they really had any interest in helping to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, they would be fighting for comprehensive, honest sex education, in which case they would have to stop using sex to sell their products.

The many toys, clothes and make-up manufacturers that target our children by using sexy images in their relentless pursuit of higher profits are robbing our children of the best years of their lives. They blur the lines of what is age appropriate to swell their coffers.

What they do is not cute, not harmless and not honest. Our children and young people deserve some respect. They're not a "market", they are our future.



Anonymous said...

When my girls were little, I could not find flats for them to wear. I wrote letters & made phone calls to shoe sellers & manufacturers, imploring them to please respect our little girls. High heel shoes not only sexualize our children, but also are a danger (they twist their ankles & fall). There is simply no excuse. I finally found one brand of (expensive) shoes that had no heel. It is a disgrace how difficult it is to avoid sexually laden shoes, clothes, toys, movies. They will be adults for the rest of their lives. Girlhood is precious & fleeting.

Anonymous said...

Very powerful post, Regina! What a terrifying video. Our children are not toys or accessories to be paraded about in such a manner. Let children be children. It goes by all too soon.

Lilybart said...

My daughter knows that Bratz dolls do not come into our house! Thank goodness she loves Littlest Pet Shop.

I am a Liberal and guess what Media? I hate all this little-girls-as-hookers thing and most Americans claim to be Christians, so I don't know who is buying the millions and billions of dollars worth of this crap for little girls, but it's not me, the heathen, atheist, Buddhist!!

Dianne said...


Excellent and very telling post about what our girls are bombarded with. From the first very sexual commercial I saw for artificial nails for young girls many years ago until the latest Barbie with the "tramp stamp" tattoo, it just continues to get worse. The video really dramatizes the twisted thinking of females in our culture and that they (we) aren't allowed to accept ourselves as we are. You're nothing if you aren't sexy and beautiful. The way this culture makes young girls think of themselves is torturous. The way this makes young men think of women is objectifying and that girls are only meant to be used. And now to have what could have been and very THANKFULLY was not, the daughter of the VPOTUS as the latest adverstied example of prego-queen-do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do but it's ok to tease. No, no, no. That's a bad, bad message. Perhaps it's time for a new grassroots effort to boycott these companies, write them letters, send petitions to our legislators and do what we can to save our kids and grandkids.

midnightcajun said...

Very well argued. I fought this all through my two girls' childhoods--and I echo the frustration of the poster above who couldn't find flat shoes!

In olden days of yore, most girls went through puberty at fifteen or sixteen. It's a a matter of body fat. Now, I think eleven is the norm, with many starting even younger.

I don't know how you put the genie back in the bottle. Ironically, the good Christian mothers in places like Texas and Oklahoma are some of the worst in this respect. It might be interesting to compare the behavior of pagan vs Christianist mothers on this.

Kyra said...

I have a degree in sociology and I have to say Regina that you've nailed it. This is a huge issue and it only gets worse. Think of Jon Benet Ramsey and what drew her to the attention of her killer? We sexualize little girls, then punish them for acting out.

What is fascinating to me is the religious right's 'defense' of marriage. Marriage among the lower classes is a fairly recent invention (recent in a historical sense) as marriage was always about property, not religion. Women were property and marriage was about the merging and transfer of property. Chastity was to protect the value of property - not about sin.

You might note that Christianity is top down, male hierarchical, with women to be protected and instructed on appropriate behavior.

No wonder sexuality is the way that women have "broken away" in most cultures and that sexuality is the one aspect of our selves that is the most hot-button issue not just of this time, but pretty much every time.

Emily said...

As someone who has dabbled in biology and evolutionary psychology(I dabble in a lot of things), I think your speculation on sexuality and associated moral codes is quite sound. And I completely agree with your point-- this Candies company would be hilarious if it existed in a satirical fictional work as a commentary on the commercialization of sex, the hypocrisy of abstinence-only promoters, etc; as a real phenomenon it's symptomatic of a deeply flawed way of thinking(incidentally, "would be better in satire but is utterly dreadful in reality" also sums up my opinion of Palin herself). As a young woman, I'm glad I've been able to avoid this kind of thing-- I never even bothered with high heels or makeup(because I'm such a geek).

West Coast Grrlie Blather said...

Brittney Spears is the spokesmodel for Candie's! How perfect is that?