Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Wake Up: Don’t Sleep Through This!

One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution”, 31 March 1968, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

My 8-year-old daughter, Allie, was assigned to do a research project on a hero. She chose Martin Luther King, Jr., and we’ve spent the last month learning more about him together and reading his words. What strikes me as I read his words is his unfailing hope for humanity. He believed in the beauty and the power of the human spirit.

I fight against the sexualization of children and the promotion of narrow gendered stereotypes because it matters. It matters that we’re offering our children narrow, restricted visions for themselves. It matters that we’re telling our girls and young women that their power lies primarily in their sexuality and physical appearance. It matters that six year olds are being sold sexy.

We have had the world of gender stereotyping and sexualization pulled over our eyes for far too long. I recently read my friend Melissa Wardy’s account of talking with the creative team for Monster High, and hearing how they think their product is positive for girls and didn’t even see the “sexiness” factor until it was pointed out directly. I’ve heard people who don’t believe that sexualized media matters because they don’t think it hurts children. I’ve heard parents say, “It’s just a toy, just a doll, just a tv show.” Here’s what I have to say to all of you:

Wake up! You are sleeping through a fight for the rights of children to develop healthy identities at their own pace. This is not about healthy identity and sexual development, this is about a pattern of connecting value with physical appearance from a very early age. This is about corporate greed run amuck, and a complete lack of regard for the emotional well-being of an entire generation. This is about restricting children’s vision for themselves and the possibilities for their lives. Enough with the excuses. Enough with the apathy. Enough with the callous disregard for the dignity and humanity of our children. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to call out corporations who peddle sexiness to six year olds for profit. It’s time, as King said, “to rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”

I have worked with children for many years, and I live with three of them. I have a deep and abiding belief in their dignity. They are not bodies on which to place sexual jokes. They are not little dolls to dress up for a laugh. They are people with beautiful spirits and individual strengths. They have gifts that can change this world. Let’s provide them with the opportunity to do that.

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11 comments on “Wake Up: Don’t Sleep Through This!

  1. Jana Green
    October 26, 2012

    I actually fight this fight for my son, too. He broke his arm, and as he was picking out a color, his dad said, “Anything but pink.” Which is ridiculous. I hate it. He’s four. Let him pick his color. It says nothing about his sexual orientation, and also, nobody is even going to make fun of him for it because tons of guys wear pink nowadays. But it does send a message that if pink happens to be his favorite that there must be something wrong with him. I WILL fight against that.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      October 26, 2012

      Amen! This fight is for all of our children.

      • Jana Green
        November 1, 2012

        I may be making headway with my husband. Jakob picked a flower for his face painting at the fall festival and David never said anything. It was a pink flower too.

      • Jennifer Shewmaker
        November 1, 2012

        Hi Jana, and my daughter picked a killer whale for her face painting!

  2. Beth Wade
    October 26, 2012

    Well said!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      October 26, 2012

      Thanks!

  3. lorrainem9
    October 26, 2012

    Beautiful! Women and girls are dignified human beings. So true! :) Keep spreading the word!

  4. Julia Goodman
    October 26, 2012

    I so, so agree with your blog. I am passing it to my daughter, Amy, (just turned 26) who could be your assistant if she were in Abilene! She is very vocal about women’s issues and has been aware of the sexualization of children for many years, probably since she was in beginning middle school. Thanks for all the work you have done and are continuing to do.

    Julia

    ________________________________

  5. Pingback: A photo essay: What can a girl be? – Marketing, Media and Childhood

  6. jlmjjh
    October 31, 2012

    Reblogged this on PhD Research Blog.

  7. naomi@thekidscoach.org.uk
    November 1, 2012

    Exactly. There is still a message there that it is okay to dress like that and it is not. Kids see things and interpret them differently.

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This entry was posted on October 26, 2012 by in Acting, Recognizing and tagged , , , , .
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