How Can Feminist Mums Avoid Being Humourless Childhood-Ruiners?
Posted by Mel Campbell on September 14, 2009
Jo Case has a fascinating article at Kill Your Darlings that focuses on a new book from Spinifex Press called Getting Real: Challenging The Sexualisation Of Girls. This is a topic The Dawn Chorus has discussed before, and these posts have always attracted lots of comments from mums who talk about the challenges they face trying to raise both boys and girls in the face of so many gendered cultural imperatives, from obsessing over the colour pink to seeing one’s body as a constant renovation project.
In a way, the comments people have made on blog posts like this – especially ones that come from personal experience of parenting – interest me more than the issues of female sexualisation (raunch culture) in the media, which are so mainstream it’s dispiriting, especially when they’re conflated with “empowerment”. The impression I get is that on one front, mums feel strongly enough about the issue to ban Barbies and pink things, to refuse to buy slutty pre-teen clothes and to stand up to schools and organisations who condone sexualised behaviour and attitudes.
Then there’s a subset of parents who appear to find this stuff amusing and ironic. Before the story got a little too old, I was planning to write a story for The Enthusiast about the quality of ‘edginess’, and the way that to involve children – who are consensually imagined as ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ – in these knowing gestures treads an especially keen edge between propriety and obscenity. Indeed, as the Cotton On example reveals, certain companies actively market their products as ‘edgy’; part of the appeal to their consumers is that other people might find them offensive, and hence these consumers feel more sophisticated because they ‘get’ the joke.
That, for my mind, is the most confronting aspect of parenting – especially of girls. Are you going to be the kind of humourless, daggy mum who interferes in everything that’s cool and is a source of mortification to your children (“You just don’t GET it, Mum!”), or are you going to be a hip mum who helps your kids navigate pop culture rather than trying to restrict their access to it?
I mean, as adults we all fondly tell stories about the wowserish parents who banned junk food and served pitiful Pritikin imitations of the foods kids love; who prevented us from watching commercial TV, or even any TV at all; who wouldn’t buy the ‘cool’ clothes so we had to look like dicks in front of our friends; who wouldn’t buy the in-demand toys such as Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids. (Oh boy, I’m showing my age with that one!)
But this just goes to show that kids don’t ever forget this stuff. Time can transform an embarrassing mum into an endearingly daggy one, but do we have to accept being an embarrassment to our children as the price of ‘protecting’ them from a culture they desperately want to participate in? Do we ‘know better’ than our kids or should we perhaps try to find some middle ground with them, rather than being the inflexible person banning things?
One of my main worries as a feminist is that feminism is so often about being angry and disapproving; it rarely seems hip unless it concedes something to raunch culture. Just last week I was thinking, “No wonder people say feminists are unattractive; nobody likes hanging out with angry people.” Perhaps we should also consider what we’re teaching children about feminism if their main experience of it is telling them what they’re not allowed to do.