This article has been co-written with Michele Sinisgalli-Yulo of Princess Free Zone.
It's hard to admit it, but we need you. We need you to join the effort to end gender stereotypes and the exploitation of women and young girls. They are being sexualized around the globe in alarmingly rising numbers and alarmingly widespread ways. It is alarmingly invisible because it is alarmingly ubiquitous.
In making the case for more male voices, particularly from business leaders, politicians, and thought leaders, there are immediate obstacles:
•How do women avoid being seen as male bashers, uptight feminists, mommies with too much time on their hands, women with some irrational hatred of pink sparkly things, or all of the above?
•Is there a way to effectively develop a partnership between women and men within a grassroots movement that is still very much under the radar, despite the hard work of a great many individuals?
"This is often seen as a women's issue or parenting issue," says Melissa Wardy, owner of Pigtail Pals - Redefine Girly. "It is an issue of civil rights, as our children are having their childhoods cut short by marketers turning them into lifetime consumers." So much is at stake, and this is a time for unity, not divisiveness.
It brings to mind a favorite quote of a dear male colleague:
When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before. ~Jacob August Riis
Each individual can only do what he or she can do, but together, we can make a difference over time, and one never knows which blow of the hammer will split the rock.
Perhaps men (and lots of women, too) simply have not thought these issues all the way through. For example, do we all understand the problems represented by:
•the "pinkification" of girlhood?
•the recent study using Rolling Stone magazine covers as a window onto the marked rise in intensely sexualized and objectified images of women?
•the exploitation of 10-year-old French model Thylane Loubry Blondeau, who was posed in a highly sexualized manner for French Vogue?
We must all push the boundaries of societal messages that tell us certain things are the way they are just because. Because girls like pink and boys like blue (and gender-segmenting the toy and clothing market is doubly profitable). Because women need to be thin and sexy from cradle to grave. Because men need to want women who are thin and sexy. Must the cycle continue?
Now, this being thus far primarily a women's movement that seeks to change how girls and women are perceived and marketed to, it currently appeals to mostly women. But boys and men are negatively affected too. Sexualization and the princess culture don't just hurt girls and women; they send the wrong messages to men and boys about the value of the outside over the inside, ultimately harming their relationships. And, when girls and women begin to objectify themselves for men and boys, they benefit from male support to see that this hurts everyone. Beauty Redefined offers some clear and direct action steps men can take who wish to help break this destructive cycle.
Men should be concerned about this--after all, they have daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and female friends. Many men do care--greatly! --as girl empowerment groups like 7Wonderlicious and boy advocacy groups like The Achilles Effect recognize. The Good Men Project understands what's at stake extremely well, and fortunately there really are a lot of good men out there. We thank them, but we need even more.
The fact remains that money and corporate power still rest largely in the hands of men, so we need to appeal to the consciences and social responsibility of the male power brokers who can create initiatives to curtail the objectification of girls and women in corporate advertising. An article in Forbes Corporate Social Responsibility blog discusses how companies should behave "responsibly and ethically toward society as a whole," saying, "In a world with a shifting social consciousness and women accounting for 85% of all consumer purchases, it is astounding that such blatant sexism still abounds in the marketplace." Astounding, indeed. But there is talk of consequences to those who don't practice what they preach in the form of downgrade to a company's CRR (Corporate Responsibility Rating). Could this be one possible solution?
As fathers, men have considerable influence over how their daughters' psyches develop. Even when a father innocently calls his daughter his "little princess," there are implications. According to Tanith Carey, author of Where Has My Little Girl Gone?, it's all about helping our girls grow into happy adults who do not judge themselves by looks and sexuality alone.
In her book Our Fathers, Ourselves, Dr. Peggy Drexler, professor of psychology and psychiatry, provides an in-depth look at father/daughter relationships and the often-tangled outcome when daddy's little girl grows up: "She may look like a woman, but she's still his little girl, helpless and vulnerable and in a perpetual need of his savoir faire and protection."
Men seem almost hardwired to view women as damsels in distress, often with the best intentions. There are some excellent resources in the form of websites and blogs that offer helpful advice from fathers. Joe Kelly's The Dad Man, which includes a segment called "Dads and Daughters," is a great place to start for fathers who really want to understand their girls and play a positive role in their development.
It is so important to acknowledge the many men who are in the trenches with women. Stephen Colbert's recent tirade against Summer's Eve and those ridiculously sexist and racist commercials comes to mind. In addition to being an extraordinarily funny piece of satire, it also spurred Summer's Eve to pull the offensive ads. Even one man can be pivotal to bringing about change.
There are other glimmers of hope. The AMA has passed a new policy that limits Photoshopping that deliberately alters female images to unrealistic proportions. A "Got Milk?" ad was pulled for its inappropriate and offensive depiction of PMS. DC and Marvel comics are saying that they need more female writers and characters, which would be very helpful considering the latest graphic depiction of Wonder Woman. While this is all encouraging, so much more is needed.
So, why should men become more involved?
First, because men love their daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and female friends.
Second, because corporate citizenship has never been more important than it is today.
And finally, for the most important reason of all: because it's the right thing to do.
Can women achieve the kind of widespread cultural change that is needed without men? We don't think so. So...
Calling all men: we need you! Come be part of this movement. This is not just a women's issue or a girls' issue. It's an everyone's issue.
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