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Lock Up Your Daughters (No, Seriously)

Dodai on Jezebel recently posted an item on Beyonce’s latest venture — ho-clothes for kiddies. She used the slightly distasteful ad as a jumping off point to talking about how the hyper-sexualization of young girls might lead to serious mental health problems, referencing a 2007 report from the American Psychological Association that says in part:

Sexualization has a range of negative consequences for young women, the task force finds. For instance, “studies show that when you begin to see yourself as a sex object, it leaves you with fewer cognitive resources to do things like math,” Zurbriggen says. Sexualization also can lead to body shame, depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem, the report notes.

The low self-esteem stuff I figured, but good god, math? That’s insane. Here’s the group’s support for that claim:

One study demonstrated this fragmenting quite vividly (Fredrickson et al., 1998). While alone in a dressing room, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men.

Holy crap. You may argue that the girls were simply uncomfortable, and any uncomfortable situation would impact their ability to perform on a math test, but the fact that the men showed no difference at all is a little unsettling.

The full report is available here, but warning: it may lead to shame, depression, and the sudden desire to buy a Judy Blume box set for every little girl you know.

There is a silver lining at the end, though:

Girls and girls’ groups can also work toward change. Alternative media such as “zines” (Web-based magazines), “blogs” (Web logs), and feminist magazines, books, and Web sites encourage girls to become activists who speak out and develop their own alternatives. Girl empowerment groups also support girls in a variety of ways and provide important counterexamples to sexualization.

Skepchick isn’t meant for very young girls — I mean really, we curse and drink and get a bit graphic sometimes. But, it makes me feel a little good that we’re a group of strong, outspoken women who are sex-positive critical thinkers. If a tween girl happens upon the site, I think she’ll leave a little better off.

While writing this post, I was struck with the realization that someone asked me to help them develop toys for kids that encourage critical thinking and I totally dropped the ball. I dug up the e-mail and will post the info now in the hopes that late is better than never.

Calling all scientists, educators, and humanists!
Please come to a focus group to preview fun new toys that teach kids about evolution.
Charlie’s Playhouse
Games and toys inspired by Darwin

Weds May 14th, 2008
Session 1: 5:00 – 6:30 pm
Session 2: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Location: Near Providence, RI

If interested, please email Kate Miller (kmiller at charliesplayhouse.com) with your name, phone number and which session you’d like to attend. We will call you to ask a few screening questions. Thanks.

Participants will be requested to sign a confidentiality agreement.

So, any Providence-area readers should give her a shout. It’s only an hour, you’ll get paid, and maybe one day some little girl’s birthday gifts will be one of Kate’s toys instead of a Bratz doll.

Cross-posted, of course, on Skepchick.

5 comments to Lock Up Your Daughters (No, Seriously)

  • madeingermany

    To quote from Dodai’s post: Duh!
    Don’t dress little girls up as hos.

    But if I think back to my school days, some 25 years ago, I remember that there already was talk about why girls fared worse in math and physics. And I don’t remember any girls to have been “sexed up” (and believe me, I would remember).

  • Nigel

    Ho-Clothes for kids? What decent parent with a brain would buy their kid, their niece, cousin, neighbor kid, etc. anything marked as kiddie ho clothes?

    I am always amazed that the covers of teen and magazines geared toward women are awash in half-naked women that are tooth pick/ crack thin.

    It’s all just nonsense.

    As for scientific toys what the heck happened to erector sets, legos, and chemistry sets.

  • What?!?! Pop musicians pre-sexualizing children?!?!?

    This has been going on for ages, it was just never this blatant.

  • w_nightshade

    Agreed, MisterMarc. My wife and I have been railing against this idea for many years now. I find it utterly repugnant that little girls as young as 5 or 6 are wearing high heels, makeup and “boob” tubes… and NOT because they are playing “dress-up”, but because their parents think they look good. Ugh.

    I fear the “pink aisle” of the toy store deeply, as my 11-month-old daughter is creeping towards it inexorably. My biggest fear is that my wife and I will be so gung-ho on the subject that my daughter rebels into a full “Bratz” worshipping mini-ho.

    Oh god, I need a drink…

  • sciencebabe

    I know that as soon as my daughter got interested in looking sexy, she suddenly lost all aptitude in school. But she was handicapped by having an unsupportive father and parents in the throes of divorce.
    What I really wanted to relate though is that my mom (a sexual abuse survivor) STRONGLY feels that dressing girls up in ho-clothes puts them at risk for becoming targets of sexual abuse. Being inexperience in that, I’m inclined to accept my mom’s assessment of the trend in little girls clothes.

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