Last night I saw Shout It Out, billed as "the real high school musical." It's a major motion picture made in Vermont by a Vermont company, Kingdom County Productions, and based on lives of real teens in Vermont who participated in the original Voices Project, a theatre production that toured here and was supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont. The actors are teens from Vermont and the music was composed by teens too. The aim was to create a production that reflected the real lives and problems of teens.
What I found very moving and utterly charming about this piece was the experience of watching real teens, with all their fleshiness, pimples, old clothes, bad teeth, and other imperfections, tell a story. And they looked so real and beautiful. Also, remember that the Disney High School Musical is a narrative based on what adults think high school is about. It is meant to make pop stars of its stars. And it's of course cleaned up for Disney. This production has many characters coping with all sorts of very typical problems of Vermont high school students, cutting, pregnancy, bullying, pushy parents, absent parents, being Black in a mostly white state, parents with addictions, needing to help out on the farm as small farms go under. Yet the movie isn't about the problems of teens. Filmed in two actual high schools, the scenes in cafeterias and hallways give the viewer a sense of the intimidation or comfort of each kid.
And as a parent watching I felt different than I do watching other teen movies. Sure, if the music is right and the acting well done, I can be made to shed a few tears in any slick film. But in this one, the anxiousness that pervaded truly came from the authenticity of the stories and acting, even when the production was more transparent than in a slick Hollywood film.
I write about this because I think it's so important that we show our teens alternatives to Disney, Hollywood, whatever is slick and over-produced, so that they can see themselves reflected on the big screens and little screens and be a part of the production of such.
You can buy the film at www.kingdomcounty.org for $25 and I hear that they are creating a curriculum to go with it. Warning: there is product placement in the film, as thanks, I believe, to the underwriters...but that product placement is not for Doritos or Coke, but for things like VSAC (a place where teens can go to get financial help to go to college, and Brattleboro Retreat, a mental health and drug rehab facility). Maybe there's a Ben & Jerry's ice cream cone somewhere. That kind of product placement I can tolerate! Sharon
Here's the beginning of a piece published this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education. You need a subscription to access it, however, and because of that, we can't re-publish it here on our blog. But here's the beginning and the end paragraph to give you a taste. (Excuse the Candie's Jeans product placement -- wanted to use the photo but not endorse.)
From the issue dated June 27, 2008
The 'Right' Sexuality for Girls
Setting up an elusive ideal can lead to false empowerment and isolation
By SHARON LAMB
Pity the pre-teen girl, one day riding her bike down the road at top speed, the next day shaped by marketers into a party diva. Close behind are a cadre of researchers interested in studying her sexual development and behavior. The change is because of a little event called puberty, which transforms young girls into objects of adults' invasive attention. Throughout history, societies have attempted to control the bodies of girls as they became women, for reasons ranging from protection to exploitation. And although we're not locking chastity belts, binding feet, or corseting waists any longer, our interest in what we see as girls' new sexuality is as intense as ever.
. . . (2000 words in between beginning and end)
When we tell teens about the kind of sexuality we hope will be theirs, we ought to be careful to guide them toward something that is achievable. For instance, turning away from the subject/object dichotomy and the notion of authentic desire might lead teens and adults to develop ways of being sexual that are more individualized and satisfying than simply accepting what the culture and the media think is sexy, or an idealized alternative. And an emphasis on mutuality could redefine shame, attaching it to the mistreatment of others rather than to the violation of social expectations.
Teenagers will always have their own definitions - both idealized and realistic - of good sex. But if researchers can show them achievable goals that include fairness and mutuality, we may be able to help young people form relationships that help them and their partners flourish.
P Ever wonder if all those celebrity baby bumps and cute children in PG-13 movies, preteen TV shows, and populating the pages of Us and People magazine matter? Consider this article about the Pregnancy Boom at Gloucester High in Time magazine.
We say . . .
My bump, my bump, my lovely baby bump.” You’re right, these aren’t the words to the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps”, but Fergie’s been on “baby bump watch” like dozens of other celebrities these days. Any photo of a less than board-flat tummy is cause for rumors. Pick up USA Weekend, Us, or People and pregnancy and motherhood are all the rage. Google “baby bump” and check out a few of the 1, 270,000 results. Motherhood hasn’t had this much action in the media since Baby M.
So when a reporter asked me recently if I thought young girls would be affected by the pregnancy of sixteen-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, star of the tween-loving TeenNick TV show Zoey 101, I had to laugh. Well, sure, but not because Spears stands out in a crowd as someone very different girls than any other celebrity. She’s just the next “baby bump” to come along.
One could make the case, of course, that Jamie Lynn is their star, closer to their age, and so younger girls are more likely to identify with her choices. I don’t buy that argument. Zoey, the character preteen girls love, didn’t get pregnant. But even if we’re focusing on Jamie Lynn, we have to acknowledge her place in a media that has been eroding the boundary between childhood and adolescence for some time. Tween girls share a world with Victoria’s Secret Pink collection and Paris Hilton inspired diva dolls in hot tubs. It's disingenuous suddenly to be upset at Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy when the viewers of her show are bombarded with sexualized images. Do they not make the connection? If we are really concerned about the influence of TV behavior on little girls, wouldn’t we question the party dorm atmosphere, the pseudo drinking and “soda” addictions, and the clubbing scenes on shows like Zoey 101, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Naked Brothers Band. Why are we more shocked by Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy than naked pictures of Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame?
A renewed focus on motherhood is an interesting twist after so many years of the sexualized stuff. Is it simply because “dirty girls” like Christina Aguilera, have grown up? Are people getting tired of the crass sexualization? Victoria’s Secret sales are down, after all – turns out that moms have been protesting the stripper-like outfits accosting their daughters in the mall windows -- and so-called family friendly stores like Walmart are getting caught with their little girl “who needs credit cards” panties down. In the age-old Madonna-whore dichotomy, have we run the course on “hoes”? Just in time to make the pendulum swing in the other direction: from lady humps to baby bumps?
There’s always been an odd disconnect between sex and motherhood in U.S. culture, reflecting our Puritan roots perhaps, and bolstered by the Virgin Mary. But given the sheer amount of sexualized imagery, the general pornification of the culture, and this post-modern moment one would think this binary, in particular, would be long gone. Yet the sexual girl is still naughty and becoming a mother still has the power to redeem her. It’s a powerful trope, mothering. Whether we’re talking about Madonna (the living one), Juno, or Jamie Lynn, bad girls are made good when they become mothers.
Not all bad girls. In her Emerson College Master’s thesis, the documentary Souls of Black Girls, Daphne Valerius underscores the double standard for black women. While mothering offers white girls and women redemption from their sexy pasts, for Black women and girls, it’s too often “once a hoe always a hoe”. Our views of mothering are steeped in racist and sexist histories. A punkish gum-chewing receptionist offering up boysenberry condoms from her seat in a seedy abortion clinic can still be funny to the largely white audiences watching Juno, a movie in which the only person of color is an Asian classmate picketing the clinic. That’s because Juno can flee this option, embracing all that is right and good, offering up her child to a wealthy white woman desperate to mother and return a sweet, chaste girl singing a duet with a sweet chaste boy. But it’s telling that in Urban Dictionary, “baby bump” is defined as “A shirt with the words "baby bump" in the style of excessive bling indicating the young woman wearing it is probably promiscuous in nature and wishes to inform the community of this social practice,” as in, "There goes Tammy wearing her Baby Bump shirt and I can't say I'm surprised as much as she gets around."
For Jamie and Juno, having a baby is presented as a no choice choice. No choice for the selfless, responsible girl, pure in heart; no choice when classmates not only don’t tease her, but don’t even really notice, and when parents understand, offer love, and support. No choice when no one tells her that only 1% of teen mothers give up their babies for adoption, and when no one shares the stories of the majority, the ones who struggle in poverty, doing their best in stressful circumstances. No choice when every young celebrity is parading across the magazine pages in stiletto heels with those big red arrows and circles pointing out their cute little baby bumps, a play-by-play reminicient of Monday night football.
Girls deserve better than this. They deserve an honest conversation about desire and sexuality, about sex and pregnancy, about pregnancy and choice, and about the good and bad of mothering. In this crazy making world where they’re told anything goes, but where, in fact, the lines are still drawn and the consequences are very real, they deserve a conversation that explores and explains it all.
10. It's R-rated
9. It's anti-working woman.
8. They scarily talk about sex constantly in front of a 3-year-old girl. (Charlotte's daughter). Call the Department of Social Services!
7. Rampant materialism/consumerism of the worst kind, but that's pretty obvious.
6. Good sex is always "porn" sex; bad sex is sex you have when you're a working woman and tired from taking care of your kids. Bad sex is one person on top of the other sex; good sex is posing for the camera sex or doing anything wild and crazy just to not be "normal." There's porn porn porn. Cheesy cheesy porn. Not erotica. Take for example especially the shot of the neighbor guy taking a shower at the end of the movie. We and Samantha peep at him. Hmmmmmm. After he's been shown having sex with a different woman every night, the only thing that could make him look sexy in the shower for me is giving him a bar of anti-bacterial soap and not even then.
5. It teaches girls that when a boyfriend or husband two-times you, you always share some of the responsibility. The way to healing is self-blame, forgiveness . . . and porn sex.
4. Most horribly, the movie adds Jennifer Hudson as an employee of Carrie Bradshaw who is shown to be "just like her" in her looking for love and labels! Yay, now Black women can hop on the COSMO train -- next stop Bloomingdales, after that Anorexia Lane.
3. The Traumarama moments. We wrote about this in Packaging Girlhood. 1. pooping in one's pants because of diarrhea); 2. pubic hair sticking out of the edges of your bathing suit around your thighs (treated as truly horrible; much more than pooping in your pants); 3. decorating yourself naked with food and lying on a table awaiting a boyfriend who never shows; 4. 3-year-old daughter says "sex" showing she HAS been listening into all your conversations.
2. The racism: "Follow that white guy with the baby" shouts one as they look for an apartment in a seedy neighborhood.
1. And the number 1 reason why you shouldn't take your daughter to see The Sex and the City movie?
Please provide it below in the comments section!
One of the things that bothered us most when we researched Packaging Girlhood was the erosion of the boundary between childhood and adolescence. It's not only that little girls are introduced to a teen lifestyle earlier and earlier, it's that the definition of teen has become almost completely narrowed to hot, shopping girlie types -- as if this is the only way girls can look and feel grown up. Forget their maturing minds and moral sensibilities, their skill on the playing fields, their passion for theater, art, or science and just give us sexy. Why? Because if you can channel that wide-eyed desire to look cool and mature in your direction, there's money to be made. The health, well-being, and safety of girls be damned. Enter Beyonce and her mom, Tina Knowles, and you have the new "House of Dereon" little girls line of clothing designed to make your 6 year old the coolest girl on the urban street corner.
In 2007 plastic surgeons performed nearly 11.7 million cosmetic procedures in the U.S. alone, 91% of them on women. That’s a lot of women, and since 67% of the procedures were done on 19-50 year olds, that’s a lot of mothers. Enter the new children’s book, My Beautiful Mommy, aimed at answering all sorts of questions that children 4-7 may have about mom’s operation.
It’s understandable that children would be confused by their mom’s plastic surgery. But there’s something both disturbing and bizarre about the messages in this book. It reminds us of the extreme makeover show, The Swan, where “ugly duckling” women cried with joy at being chosen, saying things like, “as a child I was just an easy target for kids to pick on.” The point of such remarks was not to blame those cretins cruel enough to tease others about their appearance, but to justify why those victimized by them would want to spend thousands of dollars to conform to impossible beauty ideals. By the season's end, we all saw the results. A lingerie beauty pageant of Stepford women -- white, Black, Asian, it didn't matter -- they all ended up with the same hair extensions, noses, and boob jobs.
What angered us most about the show was not the “24-7” regimen and personal trainers who shouted “You’ve got to think military!” or the therapists who shamed participants who ate butter, or even those gleeful plastic surgeons circling body parts like they were football plays, saying things like “we’ll give her a killer body”. No, what really got us were the horrifying moments when the rebuilt mothers met their young children for the first time post-surgery. Little children were paraded into the studio to see their mommy after a three-month separation and the shock on their faces was heartbreaking. They were confronted with a stranger who pulled them into her arms, and cried real tears of joy from Bratz-doll eyes. We don't know about you other mothers out there, but our young children protested when we cut our hair. Imagine if mommy came home with a new face?
According to author Dr. Michael Salzhauer, My Beautiful Mommy is not meant to indoctrinate kids or idealize beauty but to “allow parents who are going through this process anyway to have a vehicle to explain it to their kids."
But idealize beauty it does. Mom’s “after” picture looks like the Little Mermaid in a belly shirt, and the smiling surgeon is built like Mr. Incredible. Worse is the dialogue: “Why are you going to look different?" the little girl in the book asks, and mommy responds: "Not just different, my dear — prettier!" Dr. Salzhauer’s explanation of why mommy has bandages, sleeps a lot, and can’t do the laundry or dishes (don’t get us started on that set of messages!) might make sense in Swan World, but as he acknowledges, real kids are “very perceptive” and they can read between the lines.
Which means that no kid will settle for this answer. Most will insist, “But you’re pretty to me.” They may protest, “I don’t want you to change!” The implicit question is: Why isn’t that enough, Mom? It’s a much harder question to answer because, unlike those bullies out there, a child young enough to understand this book is the one person a mother can count on to love her for who she really is, for the things she does, the way she makes her child feel, the time she gives, and yes, the information she imparts about how to treat other people and how to develop and feel good about what’s on the inside. Why isn’t that kind of love enough? We all know the answer why.
Not a child psychologist, Dr. Salzhauer might be surprised to learn that kids are also perceptive about parental narcissism. When the daughter says to Mommy after her bandages come off, "You're the most beautiful butterfly in the whole world," she knows at some level this is what her mom needs to hear. When parents are insecure, children respond by taking care of them, making them feel better, and putting their needs first, sometimes at their own expense.
What makes this book really awful isn’t the mother’s decision to have plastic surgery, for whatever complex or simple reason. Nor is it the way the book could work for plastic surgeons to troll for future clients. It’s the damaging message it gives to children everywhere, and especially to daughters who will grow up to face similar bullies someday. No mother in her right mind, or rather no mother who has given this issue more than a minute’s thought, would tell her daughter it’s her problem to fix.