Is Our Sexed-up Society Creating Prosti-Tots?
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Last week’s YouTube sensation was the adorkable 12-year-old Avery, all haystack hair and crooked glasses and giant Bugs Bunny teeth, lip-syncing in her messy bedroom to the Ke$ha mega-hit "TiK ToK.” (Sample lyrics: “I'm talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk / Boys tryin' to touch my junk, junk.”)
What’s awesome about Avery is that -- especially given the other sagaciously smart-ass material on her YouTube channel -- it’s safe to say she is totally in on the joke. (Doofy kid + “brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack” = funny!) She’s not trying, pathetically/disturbingly, to be grownup “hot.” She’s letting her creative eccentric ironic sarcastic confident dweeb flag fly. “I’munna fight!” indeed.
But much of Avery’s charm comes from the fact that she embodies a refreshing counterpoint to (if not commentary on) everything that is disturbing these days about pop culture for young girls. In other words, she’s not Azucena Diaz, the Peruvian 9-year-old who remade Britney’s “Toxic” video shot into terrifying soft-porn (and was then applauded for it, when she wasn’t being enthusiastically slut-shamed, slash, threatened with sexual assault). Diaz is not just shaking what God gave her. (Though God did appear to give her an unusually large budget.) She is shaking what we gave her and her tween peers: the super-sexualized "prosti-tot” culture that re-packages porn as mainstream "sexy" and posits “hotness” -- as opposed to, say, math -- as a girl’s highest attainable goal.
Just a small sampling of what we get from teen culture’s role-model-o-matic: mini-Miley Noah Cyrus, following in the pole-dancing steps of her big sis, sharing her rendition of “Smack That,” and dressing up as
Hermione Granger a diminutive dominatrix for Halloween. Recently came the “news” that 9-year-old Noah was launching a lingerie line for little girls. That she is in fact doing no such thing (the error has reportedly been traced to the otherwise unimpeachable Perez Hilton) is “not the point,” writes Marjorie Ingall at Tabletmag.com. “The point was that it seemed completely credible, because hey, look at her.”
Also: Suri Cruise’s red lipstick, Brazil’s 7-year-old “samba queen,” slutty undies in the juniors department, Toddlers & Tiaras, baby’s first stilettos (which, we understand, are supposed to be " heelarious"), Bratz.
What’s going on? Why the ever-more-aggro sexualizing of ever-younger girls -- even as abstinence-only crusaders and their ilk try, fatuously, to wish their sexuality away?
“The most basic answer is that it’s highly profitable,” says Meenakshi Gigi Durham, professor of journalism and media studies at the University of Iowa and author of The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. “These sexualized images are all commercially driven. The younger the demographic advertisers target, the more they can create cradle-to-grave consumers.” (And gone-to-early-grave parents.) Tweens were already the “most powerful consumer group since the baby boom" -- a $335 billion market -- in 2004. By 2007, according to Durham, the tween market had reached $700 billion worldwide.
Why is it sex that we’re selling them? (As opposed to, say, really expensive turtlenecks?) Hello, backlash. “It may also be a social and cultural reaction to women’s increasing power -- running for president, vice president, becoming secretary of state,” says Durham. All of these seemingly empowering, you- go-girl messages "are in fact disempowering,” she says. "They define sexuality in narrow, even impossible terms, like being thin yet voluptuous. The message girls get [from some magazines and elsewhere] is that their worth is limited to their attractiveness: no mention of intelligence or artistic capabilities or math skills or spirituality or environmental activism. It’s a one-dimensional picture of what girlhood is about."