One happy result of the publication of Little Way is that it has prompted a number of old friends with whom I’d lost touch to contact me. I heard the other day from a pal who became a public schoolteacher in a small town. She mentioned in our exchange that she’d heard that my wife and I are homeschooling. I expected her to make a critical remark about that, given her profession, but she shocked me by saying that she wishes she could homeschool her daughter.
When I asked why, she said that she wanted to protect her daughter, who is not yet high school age, from the peer culture in her school community. The teacher said that no small number of the girls there, starting in middle school, are sexually active, and even promiscuous. The teacher said the social pressure on girls to be sexually available to boys is really strong, even though they live in a good town, and she teaches in a good school.
I thought about that conversation today when I saw Peggy Orenstein’s Atlantic.com piece about the sexualization of, get this, the Candy Land kid’s board game. You should look at the piece; she tracks the board game over the years, and shows how more overtly sexual the female characters have become. Excerpt:
Candy Land isn’t the only classic that has, without our notice, gotten a hot makeover. (And I’m not the only one who finds this evolution alarming.) The Disney Princesses have grown gradually more skinny and coy over time. And, check out Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, Trolls (now called “Trollz”). Even Care Bears and My Little Pony have been put on a diet.
When our kids play with toys that we played with, we assume that they are the same as they were when we were younger. But they aren’t. Not at all. Our girls (and our boys) are now bombarded from the get-go with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?).
Toymakers say they are reflecting the changing taste of their demographic. Maybe, but then it’s the change that’s so disturbing. Consider a recent study on body image among elementary school-aged girls. Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 60 girls ages six to nine recruited largely from public schools. The girls were shown two dolls: One was dressed in tight, revealing “sexy” clothes and the other in a trendy but covered-up loose outfit. Both dolls, as you can see, were skinny and would be considered “pretty” by little girls.
Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, was the girl she wanted to play with. In every category, the girls most often chose the “sexy” doll.
If you didn’t see it years ago, now would be a good time to re-read Caitlin Flanagan’s Atlantic piece, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Monica,” about the pornification of the culture in which young people are formed. This passage sums up the problem with community in many places:
As a parent, I am horrified by the changes that have taken place in the common culture over the past thirty years. I believe that we are raising children in a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape in which no forces beyond individual households—individual mothers and fathers—are protecting children from pornography and violent entertainment. The “it takes a village” philosophy is a joke, because the village is now so polluted and so desolate of commonly held, child-appropriate moral values that my job as a mother is not to rely on the village but to protect my children from it.
Or build, in some sense, an alternative village within the village, which, though it’s by no means a perfect solution, is what homeschooling does.
UPDATE: Did Peggy Orenstein plagiarize her post from Rachel Stone? This is weird. You should read it.