Monday, June 7, 2010

girl culture

image sally mann blowing bubbles

Today is the day of bursting jaw. I stay home with my tooth that I have nursed since 3:30 am when Lola Moon woke and whispered Mommy I had a bad dream......can I watch TV? I lay with one arm round Lola's cream hair and one hand pressed onto the pebble in my jaw, soft and painful, like mumps. It humped blood and disease through the lymph nodes, swelling them like tiny water balloons. I called work at 6am, the dentist at 7.

Late last night I watered the lawn by myself in the dark. The neighbor girl next door sat smoking a cigarette silently, staring at the concrete. Today I left the house and saw the neighbor's boyfriend's silver sports car had LIAR spray painted in large letters across it's side. Later still a police car circled and then stopped across the street, perched there for an hour. What did he do? Promise marriage. Change his mind about having children...and a girlfriend. Cheat? Is she the same girl I called the police on in the morning hours months ago after a night of listening to her scream, sob, catch her breath and begin screaming again. The police came, lights flashed, it was quiet.

If someone does things to you so horrible and painful that you act crazily, are you crazy, or are they?

Do you believe if you are adult and mature and smart and honest enough you can avoid loving someone who will make you feel insane? I don't.

I get very angry when I think about an ex-roomate of mine. She threatened to call the cops on me because I showered with my daughter and kissed her on the lips. I also nursed her until two years old. What made me mad wasn't the threat. It was living somewhere where I know that is a real threat; I could get in trouble for doing things like Sally Mann. I can take naked pictures of my children but if CPS ever showed up at my door and found them that would be HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS. In our culture you are not nude around your children and they are not nude around you past the age of two, or maybe three, or maybe four, depending who you talk to. Girls are encouraged to be half naked, wear makeup and pump and ooze rampant femininity from age twelve

and discouraged from showering naked with their mommies. Girls have tee shirts made for their pre-pubescent nipple buds that say FLIRT but are not supposed to see their Fathers naked body past toddler-hood. Girls are given lip gloss called Cherry and Victoria Secret clothes called PINK which they wear across their asses but are not to sleep in bed with their parents past two. Girls are supposed to learn about sex from 'talks' with their parents at the 'right age' and educational videos, instead of a natural integration of discussion and healthy physical affection shown between their parents, when having neither, they learn solely from music videos, magazines, school and experience. Girls are told their vaginas are 'hoo-haas' and ' girly parts' and don't know how many holes they have until teen years because the female young body in America is not meant for understanding and respect and care, but for exposure, lust and men.

Girls in our culture are raped, beaten and murdered more than ever. The sexual lives of girls often begins not at home in safe loving discussions and private exploration with good role models but with ass pinching breast squeezing and aggressive name calling middle and high school.

My roomate could have called the cops on her own dad who beat the shit out of her. Or her ex husband who didn't touch her for years during their marriage. But instead she'd like to lock me up for being disgusting. She is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with our culture and our girls. Every choice I make is informed by this. The magazines I buy, the shows I watch, the clothes I buy my daughter, the rules I make for her, the example I set with Mr. Curry, the example Mr. Curry sets with me, the unspoken lessons about female worth and pride in our family's behaviors and interactions.

Sally Mann's family pictures were and are controversial. Her naked children play and think in their Southern home and land. Then there are the pre-teen and young teen girls in Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs and Victoria Secret ads, sexual looks on their faces, stomachs revealed to the public line, tops of breasts curving outward in invitation, their bodies thrust into positions of sexuality- ads based entirely around the sex appeal of young girls.

Which bothers you?


katiecrackernuts said...

Am here. Reading. Thinking 'bout this post and the last one. This one - big issue for me. Raised three, am a Girl Guide leader and constantly battling the dumb arse expectations of parents who are raising princesses (and cheering on the ones raising heroines). Too simple a statement, but oh it rankles.
Just thought I'd say I was here and thinking. Not writing much, saying much, thinking. So wish we could jump on the phone some days and natter. Some days I just want to natter.

Maggie May said...

natter away katie nuts:) my tooth is kILLING ME and i can hardly think. it got infected after being pulled so today i had to take antibiotics damnit. poor baby. (in utero, not me) ;)

Simply Mel said...

Maggie you totally hit the nail on the head with this one (as you always do!) ~ I'm one of those parents who lets my little girl (2+ years old) run around naked, go without shoes, kiss me and her papa on the lips, shower and baths with us both, sees her parents walking around the house naked, etc., etc. I want her to never feel inhibited about herself, her body and the beauty of it all. Our society puts so many constraints on kids at such an early age and makes such huge issues out of normal human nature, and there is no doubt in my mind that this 'overboard conservative mindset' is what causes the eating disorders, bad relationships, sad body images, etc. that our teenagers suffer from and carry with them throughout their lives. The entire marketing towards girls disgusts me ~ but unfortunately, I never see it changing but instead it will just become worse.

Hope your tooth pain subsides soon...
~Melissa

Maggie May said...

i just finished Reviving Ophelia and am on fire with it. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Mel you rock.

Simply Mel said...

I'll go to the library first thing tomorrow morning and grab this recommendation ~ thank you!

Elizabeth said...

I remember seeing Sally Mann's big show in NYC in the early 90s, perhaps even before she was dubbed "controversial." Some of the photos were disturbing to me, at the time, but not because they were inappropriate. I'd have to say that photos and representations of girls as sexual beings in the service of commerce is grotesque, though. And you've got me wondering whether this is instinctual or cultural?

Maggie May said...

Elizabeth I think both. As a country we have used girls as sexual objects to sell things but before, it was always very underground, not socially acceptable- it was understood to be undesirable. Instinctively we know that to be objectified- especially as a child- is to be immensely diminished in both your own view of yourself and others. Girls can say 'the culture doesn't Affect me' but because it is so pervasive and unaviodable and aggresive in grabbing your attention, it is impossible not to feel the pressure and insinuations. When a girl opens a magazine, then turns on the TV, then sees something on the internet within one hour and all of those things treat young girls like sexual flirts then that girl is influenced. IF she is lucky enough to have someone- hopefully her parents- to talk to and digest these messages and think critically, she will at least have a one up.

svasti said...

Truly, we are banned from knowing our own bodies and sexuality with any intimacy until it is thrust upon us. And then, because we don't know, we learn through experience and through those who would take advantage of that innocence and forced naiveté.

Children should learn their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of, or their parents. There is power in knowing who we are and what we're made of, and disempowerment in the not knowing. Who are we saving from whom? And clearly, it doesn't really help...

Libertine said...

Maggie May, you have said what I thought for years and you expressed it so well. I am raising a pre-teen girl, who gets so confused with the contradictive messages given by media and family home. In her literal understanding world should be black and white - nothing in between. That's where the confusion comes. Our society, fashion, creating teenage women, and me hoping to give her a little more time to be a child without putting her into a overprotective bubble. We talk, we discuss what's good for her, what's right for a grown woman. Thankfully, she has a strong personality and thinks for herself. But I can only hope she will make the right choices.

POPPY FRENCH said...

Maggie, you are entirely right. And I am so glad your speaking out about it. When I think back to the ho har we had in England over Robert Mapplethorpe's book in the late 80's I think this could still happen again.
I am a photographer and have recently embarked on producing nude, no naked pictures of myself. The fear it produces in some of the senior male lecturers at university is so odd to me. This has included such a comment as "It surprises me that Poppy would want to take her clothes off all the time"

Its not about taking about my clothes off its about celebrating my photography on my self in, I would like to describe a non sexual manner. I have pretty much always taken my clothes due to very liberal parents who don't believe in hiding what is natural. This has instilled in me body confidence despite being short and dumpy and a desire to protect my body from situations that might harm it.
I do have a lot to thank my parents for.
For me I would like to see more non-sexual nudity ever. A friend of mine is just finishing on embarking on photographing 100 men full frontally naked aged from 20-70. Nothing overtly sexual about them but already she knows that to have them printed in the fashion magazine she works for they are going to require a tight crop or total censoring. When did we become so afraid of our bodies? Surely not when god chucked us out of the garden of Eden?!

lizzie_fitz said...

Amen! No one can understand the bond between mother and child until they have it. Even the father appreciates that mum and babe have a connection that dad and babe don't. Kissing your babies on the lips is normal and showering with them is THE best way to learn about being human and what we look like, not what a model looks like. id hate to have been isolated from my mum after the age of 2.. and me and my mum have an awesome relationship now.
uurrgg iv got so much to say on this, but i think ill end up writing too much that doesnt make too much sense, so ill just say that your totally right and i support your opinion. i think this is something that needs to be addressed, (perhaps not in england where i am as much as U.S) and re-assessed...in an age of peodophiles and maniacs, having a closeness with your mother and not victorias secret magazine is too important to have stupid stupid girls calling the police on a mother openly loving her child.
it frustrates me. babies DO get naked...if you tell them its wrong, like with all things theyll evenutally WANT to do the taboo things because theyre not allowed, like getting as naked as socially possible.
there we are..im ranting. ill stop.

hope your ok
xxxx

Mary said...

I am a mother of two boys and one girl (approaching 8). Is it crazy to say that we allow them to dictate what they feel comfortable with. That is to say - we walk around naked before and after showers etc, the younger two will still sleep with us (how I adore this), I encourage the kids to sleep naked when it is absolutely stinking hot. Where they dictate it is in particular with our almost 14 year old - I call out to him if I am naked and I know is close to coming in - I am comfortable with it and mostly he will walk in - but you know - I am his middleaged sagging bodied mum after all! I always always knock before entering his room. I guess I am trying to educate the kids to be completely comfortable with their own bodies but also that I totally respect their right to privacy . And that from time to time throughout adolescence there will be stuff they are embarrassed about or lack confidence in - and that we will be there for them at those times too.

here endeth my essay!

Jules said...

And then we wonder why people like your neighbor get into relationships where the cops have to be called? Parents are allowed to TRULY nurture their children and we sexualize them from an early age. It's disgusting.

Ms. Moon said...

Here's another thing- perhaps part of the puzzle- girls need to be more involved, I think, with activities which make them know how strong their bodies are. Running, teams sports, dance (not the kind that makes them develop eating disorders to fulfill a cultural expectation), hiking, tennis (look at the Williams sisters) and so forth. The body has to be respected for its strength as well as not ashamed of.
Do you know what I mean?
I hope your tooth is better, dear Maggie.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Your ex-roommate is a crazy bitch.

Sorry about your tooth. I have a dentist phobia.

Love,

SB

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

I agree completely. Our concerns and priorities have been inverted to the pointed of perverted. I have two daughters, now in their late teens, and have pondered some of these same questions.

sherri said...

it's not ok for a child to kiss his or her parents on the mouth? whaaa? I missed that one. hope your tooth heals soon and sally mann does amazing work.

Lisa Page Rosenberg said...

So many thinks to think...

"Do you believe if you are adult and mature and smart and honest enough you can avoid loving someone who will make you feel insane? I don't." I really, really don't. Thank you for putting that into words.

We are sharing a bed or being naked or in the tub together over here a good chunk of the time, not because we're inappropriate but because we are humans living in human bodies, together. We do have a rule about wearing (at least) underpants at the dinner table. Other than that, all bets are off. :)

I always enjoy your view of things.

Magpie said...

So with you. We wander around naked, we make no big deal about it. Hate the sexualizing of little girls, and grown ones too, for that matter. Be yourself.

Only A Girl said...

I am the mother of a 2 1/2 year old daughter who already knows the words vagina and penis, and which belongs to whom. She is allowed to run barefoot, naked, showers with me and her dad, and is generally allowed to do whatever she wants as long as no one gets hurt and she shows respect to the people around her. Hurray to you for refusing to foster repression and negativity in your family's life.

pureklass said...

I've been reading silently for a while now but this, this almost made me cry.
In a powerful way. Good on you for saying these things, thinking these things, teaching these things. I'm not a parent, so I can't truly tell people what to think, but it makes me glad when parents encourage children to love and understand their own bodies. Maybe that early learning will make it so they grow up to listen to and respect those same bodies.

Hope your tooth is better.

Amy said...

Maggie, I love this post. It angers me so much that little girl innocence is subject to scrutiny because our sick culture preys on the female body.

Still Life With Coffee said...

You are wonderful. Love this post.

Lauren Knight said...

I love Sally Mann and all her work stands for. In fact, she stayed with us when I was a girl, when she visited the university where my father taught photography!

Agree, agree, agree that young girls are portrayed in such a disturbing, sexual way through ads, yet we are so uncomfortable with nudity and such natural things as the HUMAN BODY! Crazy. It makes me just crazy. Thank you for this post.

Boy Crazy said...

Maggie, I read Reviving Ophelia when I was 19 or 20, in preparation for that daughter I have yet to have. ;) Really, though, I think I was looking back on the passage I had just made it through. You bring up so much here, so much worth talking about. I live in subcultural of like-minded folks, and it's comfy, but sometimes I forget about the rest of the world and all we're up against. It sounds like we parent/live quite similarly, but I have all boys so you can carry that out to the logical questions and concerns that I have for how to continue in the near future as they get a little older. And of course the concerns that everyone else might have. Anyway, great post. Your passion shines through. I appreciate that.

-elizabeth

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

We have such a responsibility with our children of all genders, but those most endangered by the mixed messages about sexuality are our girls. I'm so glad I read this today...

Excellent post.

saracita said...

Amen to those sentiments. I was thinking about similar hypocrisy... I think it was while watching a video of a bunch of 8-year-old girls dancing half naked to Beyonce's "single ladies" video. (Have you seen that video? It's ridiculous.) Or maybe it was one of my kindergartners who keeps wearing her sleeve off one shoulder and tells me: "Ms. K, it's not inappropriate, this is how they do it in FASHION!" Sexualizing near-preschoolers (while simultaneously avoiding anything that could lead to a healthy, positive sexuality) is disgusting to me.

Mwa said...

Here here! I was raised by a couple of naturists, and I'm now married to a pretty prudish Scot. There is no way nudity is going to be something shameful in this house. Baths are fine together, and so are showers. Our eldest is five, and still thinks it's fine. I am appalled by the thought that we might be doing something kinky, when all we do is just exist as human beings together.

Radish King said...

When Sally Mann had a show here in Seattle at the Greg Kucera Gallery (which was amazing btw), there was a review of it in the Seattle Times calling her work disturbing child pornography. I was stunned. Seattle is considered to be a fairly liberal place. And my god those photos Mann's art was just entirely stunning. Great essay, MM. You are beautiful in body and soul.
Love,
Rebecca

Radish King said...

ps. I nursed my son until he was 3 and we had a family bed. I got the looks too, from everyone.
xo

Therese said...

I nursed my wailing child (14 months) in the middle of a restaruant today and was sad to see that I alarmed my lunch companion (and probably others). I will never apologize for breastfeeding my child, for kissing her on her beautiful rosebud lips or living in my body with her as she lives in hers. What is there to hide from?

I am SO grateful to see this post. My thoughts, my beliefs, my concerns, my fears right here - made eloquent by you, and echoed by your readers as well. Here (*strong arm*) is to raising strong, confident, loved and WHOLE children.

Bee said...

How paradoxical that sex equation is . . . you break it down well.

I hope the tooth is better now. I had all four of my wisdom teeth cut out when I was a teenager. It was vile.

mosey said...

I'm playing catch up.

"Female worth and pride". You summed it all up right there. Sally Mann's images made my eyes widen the first time I saw them, and to be honest if I didn't understand the context behind them, I might have been shocked. And really, when I still look at them, there's a kernel of discomfort. But how our culture portrays girls/women, and the bigger trouble our girls can be in because of that portrayal/betrayal is far more uncomfortable and ire-raising for me.

As always, thanks for your words (and I hope your jaw is feeling better)

Therese said...

UGH! I just wrote a huge comment all full of thoughtful thoughts about this post and kablam - it disappeared. Coles notes:

1. I hereby solemnly swear to love your writing, forever and ever.

2. Thank you for writing this post and echoing my own thoughts and concerns and making them eloquent.

3. I nurse my 15 month old daughter. I kiss her rosebud lips a 100 times a day. I teach her the word vagina. Every morning before she asks for milk she smiles and points and says "NIPPLE!"

4. Thank you.

KristinaBeana said...

Love this. It never ceases to amaze me how people (like your ex-roommate) can skate through life doing and believing what they are told about "right" and "wrong" from a television screen without a thought to who made those rules and why. The female body is a beautiful thing, with magical capabilities, and should be celebrated and respected as such. Instead, most individuals would berate a woman/young girl for naturally exploring her body and sexuality in any way that isn't mimicking the example models and actresses have set for her on screen.
The fact that not only did your ex-roomie threaten to involve authorities in a mother-daughter bath experience, but that you had to make serious considerations about the consequences of that threat being carried out, just adds another shadow to my fears of having children. I've never questioned my ability to be a loving and nurturing mother someday, but the thought of my child being taken away from me for having cute bathtime photo of them or letting my toddler run through the sprinkler nude in my backyard makes me terrified of the risk. Kudos to you for keeping that situation under control, because if it were me I'm sure my big mouth would've given that brainless beast a real reason to call the cops after making a threat like that.
I'm 22 years old and I kiss my mommy on the lips to this day :)

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