Monday, September 9, 2013

Miley, Robin, and the "Secret Keeper Girls"

Recently, a Facebook acquiantance posted that she was attending a "Secret Keeper Girls" concert with her tween daughter.  

A few days earlier, she'd posted a link to an article about not being the kind of girl who wears clothing that encourages boys to look down your shirt.  I almost posted a comment to the effect that while I was on board with that idea, we have to be careful not to go back to the Victorian idea that women are responsible for controlling men's urges.  But not wanting to get into an online debate, I refrained.  

Still, her mention of the "Secret Keeper Girls" intrigued me.  Was this some new girl group, a Christian version of the Spice Girls or the Pussycat Dolls?  I Googled it.  

No: Secret Keeper Girls is a nationwide organization that touts itself as being "The most fun a mother and daughter will ever have digging into God's word."  But what it's really about is promoting "modesty," purity," and--as this post suggests--not having your daughters vaccinated against HPV, but instead warning them about "the risk of sex outside of marriage" (like your husband might not transmit HPV to you? Puh-lease!).

To be fair, the post about Gardisil is very even-handed, generally, and some of the project's goals are ones I support wholeheartedly, such as their effort to lobby the fashion industry to fight the sexualization of pre-teen girls by designing more age-appropriate clothing for that demographic.  The Secret Keeper Girls' petition even cites an American Psychological Association position paper on the issue.

But generally, I agree with a blogger on Jezebel who wrote
I totally support this in principle. And it's good that SKG focuses on healthy body image for girls and recognizes the correlation between overly sexualized kids and [eating disorders]. But why is there no happy medium? Why does this "mission" have to be twinned with God's Plan and chastity belts and what seems to be a generally retrograde and abstinence-only approach to sexuality?....It's depressing that the only voice I've seen publicly calling for any kind of not-slutty kids' clothes is politicized and somewhat problematic, making it easy for us to dismiss any good sense within the rhetoric. Eight-year-olds shouldn't have non-slutty clothing options because God Loves Modesty, but because they're little kids who shouldn't be sexualized.
This isn't a new battle; I remember my mom lamenting the lack of appropriate, well-made fashions for tweens back when I was one in the 1970s.  And the recent kerfuffle about Miley Cyrus' VMAs performance and the "message" it sends to girls is just the latest instance of similarly "shocking" displays going back to...oh, I don't know...probably to the silent-film era.  Hell, probably to ancient Greece.

And why was all the outrage directed at Cyrus?  To me, the video for Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," the song he performed with her, is the real source of outrage: it's a misogynistic, tedious piece of garbage (and Thicke is a low-rent George Michael-wannabe).  Better yet, skip the original and check out this smart parody by Auckland University's "Law Revue Girls" instead:  

What's ultimately disheartening about all of this is that while we seem to agree that girls and young women are suffering from body dysmorphia more than ever these days, the shots we take at a solution fall way, way short of the mark.  Or, as in the blame-Miley-and-ignore-Robin case, we're missing the target entirely.  Or, in the case of the Secret Keeper Girls, the shots ultimately seem to boomerang and hit the very people they're trying to protect: the girls themselves.

Is it really empowering to tell girls that they shouldn't show their midriffs because "bellies are very intoxicating, and we need to save that for our husbands"?  (See the Secret Keeper Girls' "Truth or Bare Fashion Tests" in this post on Jezebel.)  We may scoff at women wearing the hijab or the burqa, but the logic behind those fashion choices is the same: men can't be held responsible for their actions if you don't dress modestly.

It's easy to use SKG as a straw-girl in this debate.  Too easy.  I can't fault moms for embracing a prefab and seemingly simple "solution" to what is undoubtedly a complex and emotionally wrenching problem.  It's a classic move to think that if we just buy this book, or sign this petition, or wear a t-shirt, that we've done our part for the cause.  SKG's creator, Dannah Gresh, can't be faulted for following in the Great American Tradition of pushing merch and profiting from others' anxiety.  I don't doubt that she's sincere all the way to the bank.

Meanwhile, though, girls and adult women are still faced with the very complicated task of figuring out how to own their bodies and their sexuality in a culture that increasingly tells them that those same bodies are perpetually objects for evaluation, consumption, and capitalization.  Creating a healthy self-esteem is a long, complex, and deeply individual process for everyone, regardless of gender.  Miley and Robin are clearly still working on it, despite--or perhaps as evidenced by--their over-the-top performances.

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