Back in February this year I participated in a seminar in Melbourne, put on by the Barefoot Magazine team, Charlotte, Anna and Rachel. It was called Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Girls and was to address the issue of the sexualisation of girls in our culture. There were three speakers. First Melinda Tankard Reist, author of “Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls” spoke, followed by Julie Gale, a comedy writer and performer and founder of Kids Free 2B Kids and me.
Melinda and Julie basically told us the bleak story as it currently stands. Girls are being badly effected by the ‘pornographiction’ that our culture has undergone. Females are portrayed as sex objects, they must behave in certain way and look a certain way. This is seen everywhere in the popular culture – magazines, newspapers, TV, advertising, fashion, music videos. Its hard to avoid. This effects all people, however our girls come under strong social pressure, are bombarded with negative messages and of course this has tragic effects on their self worth. Check out Melinda on http://melindatankardreist.com/
My contribution on the evening Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Girls, below, sought to provide some map out of the mess we’re in.
Our bodies, our selves, our girls – that’s so the right order to put these in, and a clue to what we can do about the situation. Its about girls, its about women, its about our bodies. And how do we protect our precious ones from the popular culture, sexualisation, social pressure, and the plentiful negative messages, to increase their self worth, and remind them of their true value? And as we’ve heard and know it starts with action about Getting Real, and challenging the sexualisation of girls.
And my role tonight is to suggest some ways we can reclaim our girl’s childhood, honour our rites of passage and remember, put back together what it really means to be female, to be a woman.
Each generation and each culture has its own dance around sexuality. This current situation of the sexualisation of girls is part of a big ongoing story of the treatment of women within our patriarchal culture. For 3000 or so years women have been oppressed, seen as less than men, the feminine has been denied. You know the story. The wounded feminine. Sexualisation of women, women as sex objects, it isn’t new, but now its gone too far…. Now even pre teen girls are subject to the sexualisation.
Last week in the famous Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, a 7 year old girl was one of the samba queens. Dressed in skimpy clothes and high heals, dancing the samba little Julia Lira performed for millions of people in a role traditionally reserved for sexy and ‘sultry models’. The Rio State Agency for Child Protection appealed to the Justice Ministry to disallow the girl to participate due to the inappropriateness of her age in such a sexualised role and the exploitation of her as a child and the Judge’s decision was to let the 7 year old dance in the Carnivale.
So, what are we going to do about it?
What’s the road back from here, out of this mess?
As with most things to do with the wounded feminine, its about healing, reclaiming and gaining strength. We need to reclaim the preciousness of our girls and ourselves, then nurture and protect that.
As a result of the sexualisation of our girls we know that something precious has been lost, taken away, before time. And its their innocence, their childhood, the last few years before they seem old enough to want to look into, feel, explore their sexuality. Our girls are subject to the cultural reinforcement of a way of being that doesn’t feel right to us and causes them personal suffering.
What’s lost that is precious is something that has been lost from most women, not just our young girls. Being a woman is more than what the pop culture tells us. And this isn’t something to blame men for, this is a cultural situation that we are all part of and it’s part of a bigger story.
We can see this bigger story, as an evolving journey of the relationship between the masculine and the feminine. And in our culture, and its different in others, we see the expression of an extreme, and as it will, it will swing back in the other direction, and what’s going on here and in all the places that it is, is the energy to create and facilitate that shift, that redirection. It always helps me to see the bigger picture of a situation and also the mythic qualities.
The story here is Persephone’s, Greek maiden Goddess. In the patriarchal version of the story She is abducted and raped and stolen away by Hades, the God of the Underworld, and kept prisoner there, hidden away. Her mother Demeter, Mother Goddess, searches for Her for ages and can’t find Her. All the other Gods and Goddesses keep silent to the why fores and whereabouts of Persephone. Demeter is stricken with grief by the loss of her innocent daughter and in response the lands fall barren, nothing grows, things die everywhere. Eventually Hecate, the Crone Goddess tells Demeter what happened and where Persephone is. The story goes that Zeus, Hades brother and king of the Gods, gave his permission to Hades to abduct Persephone to be his bride. Demeter, Her mother, is totally outraged and eventually negotiates with Zeus for Persephone’s release from the Underworld. Hades tricks Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds before She leaves and so seals Her fate that She must return to the underworld for half of the year. Demeter’s reluctance and grief at each time Persephone departs for the Underworld, results in our Earthly seasons of autumn and winter. When Persephone returns Spring comes followed by summer. And the cycle of the seasons goes on.
Now that’s the patriarchal version of the story and what predates that is the Matrifocal version. In that more ancient story, Persephone is not abducted but chooses to descend to the Underworld, she hears the call of the souls in the Underworld for help with their transitioning from death to the afterlife. She goes to midwife the dead who remain in the space between the worlds, to midwife them at the gateway, to help them to know the darkness and then transcend. Persephone knows the cycle of life, death and rebirth and through her story teaches us that the willingness to descend into the dark helps with the transition into the light to come. It’s the story of the cycle, our cycle, and the clues to what we’re missing today.
Around the world, where they have the chance, women are reclaiming their inner power to make choices in their lives, to not follow what feels wrong or doesn’t serve them, and their children, but to choose. We know that we may not be able to choose all the details of our situations, many of these may be out of our direct personal influence, such as what our girls and boys see in the media, but what is in our control is how we help them interpret it, how we guide them in using what’s out there to influence them.
My suggestion as to how best prepare our daughters for this choice is to help them reclaim that part of being female that is precious, and is currently being objectified, marketised, abused, adducted and pillaged. And first we need to do this ourselves.
To know our preciousness we need to come to know our incredible female selves. To know the sacred feminine, the wisdom and blessings of the seasons of our lives, our menstrual and fertility cycle. And the interconnectedness of all that to the Earth, the Moon and the cosmos. Women are truly magnificent creatures. We have an inbuilt mechanism to regenerate and renew ourselves every cycle as well as every lunar cycle and earth season cycle.
We are as if the Earth going through Her seasons, the moon going through Her phases. Within these cycles, ours, the earth’s and the moon’s we can see the whole picture.
We need to honour and celebrate what is, not some masculine half-baked idea of what might be appealing, but what is.
We need to give our girls the whole story, the rest of the story besides the sexuality – their fertility. We need to reconnect with the cycles that rule our lives, even if we didn’t realise they do.
Sexuality and fertility are completely connected, parts of a whole story, not separate.
In our day now though, teenagers and early 20 year olds are encouraged to postpone their fertility, drug themselves to turn it off and get on with living and being sexual and not worry about fertility. This presents a big problem because girls don’t get to see the absolute link of their sexual desire with their fertility cycle. Fertility is seen as something to be managed, controlled and sure that’s possible but it has its consequences.
It’s the full picture of our cycle, the dance of our sexuality and fertility that’s been lost here and needs to be reclaimed. And in the sexualisation of pre-fertile girls the sense is lost.
This is another symptom of the wounded feminine of our patriarchal culture.
We are until our menarche, our first blood, young girls, innocent, free, uncomplicated, wild, headstrong. And then what happens around our menarche teaches us about how our culture both within our family, our community and the world at large, values woman. What happens at this time in a girl’s life, our first blood, the beginning of our fertility, whether it occurs through a consciously created ceremony or by default, instructs us on a subliminal, subconscious level, and mostly without us even realising it, how we should behave as a woman. This is a major rite of passage, the effect of which will be with us for life.
However the menarche happens anywhere from as young as 9 or 10 to say 14, 15 and the problems we are here discussing tonight are happening sometimes before that, but also during that time.
The garden is a great teacher here for us. How a seedling is cared for, nurtured and protected, fed and watered will determine how it grows, or not, and what version of its potential it will reach.
In the lead up to the menarche or puberty, for both girls and boys, what’s happening in their own family will influence what they know to be right. It is said that up until 7 or so, our children are learning by imprinting, by observing what others do, especially their parents, and then storing that as their default behaviour or reaction for use next time the same or similar situation occurs.
So we need to be living examples of women connected to our cycles, and so connected to the Earth and the moon. When we live this we realise the interconnectedness of all and that is always a healing thing. We need to be the women, strong in our femininity, that we hope our daughters will be.
Our menstrual cycles are actually a source of our feminine power, so its no surprise to see the dominant culture undermine it.
We must connect with our cycles ourselves and teach our daughters to.
Out in the pop culture, the tampon ads tell us – where white, plug yourself up with cotton wool, actually dioxin infused synthetics, and carry on regardless.
Or bypass the whole messy business and have an implant, or an ablation or take the pill. “Feel the same every day” is the marketing slogan for the new menstrual inhibiting drug for sale.
To not get drawn into this way of thinking and being, requires self discipline, and that’s a big part of it, to take the time each day to sit with yourself for a few moments and notice what’s going on, how you feel, what your energy has been like that day, your emotions, your mood, what’s your body awareness like? your libido? Your focus? If you spend this time each day to notice these things about yourself and document them, there’s lots of ways to do this, then you will see a beautiful pattern emerge that replicates the cycle of the moon and the cycle of the earth’s seasons. You’ll chart your map, and then you’ll be able to use it so you know where you are and you won’t get lost!
In my experience of teaching this information, cycle awareness to girls, being aware of their cycle, their own waxing and waning, they embrace it totally. They can see and feel it happening and it helps them to understand and care for themselves, compassionately, as women, as cyclical beings. And then the spiritual practice of menstruation allows them to see the deeper currents of their personal journeys and develop the key aspects of self mastery.
Rites of passage play such key roles in our lives. First is our own birth, which sets us up for how we do process in our lives, then our menarche as I’ve discussed and then our rite of passage into motherhood, our visit to the Birth altar. The blessed times in our lives when we see our incredible, miraculous ability to give birth to life, and this is all but totally swamped by the same flood of masculine domination.
Each rite of passage influences the next and in Childbirth, the rite of passage into motherhood, what happens informs the woman, each time, what her culture experts from her, how she should behave and her value as mother. And when you think that one in 3 women are induced, there is a 30% or so caesarean section rate, a 10% or more forceps and vacuum extraction rate. So only just over half of all babies are born naturally. And even for the women who started labour themselves, spontaneously, one in five will have their labour sped up with drugs. And then almost everyone has an injection to speed up the birth of the placenta and their placentas pulled out of them instead of waiting for when they’re ready to come.
You don’t have to think too hard how those rituals are influencing us. The subconscious messages associated with those practises are things like – my body doesn’t work right, I’m not on time, in time, or I can’t even give birth, I can’t trust my body. And then as the rite of passage into motherhood does, it choreographs our mothering. The birth experience sets the mother up with subconscious expectations about how to mother. And it has been said many many times, the current situation with the high tech, high intervention births quite simply disables mothers from finding their inner strength and resources and so she finds she needs to look outside herself for the guidance and knowing that can actually be found within. And as she does she passes this onto her children. So similar to a menarche rite of passage if the woman has an experience that doesn’t initiate her into the magic of birth, then she won’t easily be able to see the magic in mothering. The postnatal depression rates have risen with the intervention rates. No surprises there, perhaps other than the misdiagnosis of PND from post traumatic stress disorder.
Breast feeding in public is shunned. And then the media is full of all these ‘yummy mummies’ getting their bodies back in record time after giving birth. So even after birth we’re expected to be up and on and available, business as usual asap. As if!
Of course women can recover from a disempowering menarche or childbirth rite of passage, and that’s the opportunity their life presents them. Our rites of passage are not a sentence, they are rather the experience on our life journey that is the soul-crafting our higher selves are here for, on our journey to wholeness.
You know, like Persephone’s story, its all about perspective, did she jump or was she pushed? Victim or choice.
Our lives present us with opportunities to grow to be all we can be and that often includes challenges.
So onto the next rite of passage in a woman’s life – menopause, the end of a woman’s fertility. The pop culture portrays women in their older years obsessed with looking younger, filling their faces with botox so the lines of their age disappear and plastic surgery, all attempts to wind back the clock.
And the current situation to deal with perimenopause is to drug a woman’s body, to replace the hormones with artificial ones so that the ‘change’ doesn’t happen or happens in a more acceptable, less inconvenient way. By this time in our lives we are meant to be moving into our wise woman years, first to Maga the autumn season of our lives and then later after retirement into the Crone season. The wisdom of perimenopause is the wisdom of the decent phase of the cycle, moving into the dark from the light, and at this time similar to autumn, the leaves fall off the trees, everything that is no longer required for the next phase is let go of. And this happens whether you are willing or not. A woman in her perimenopause is in a phase of serious life review. And everything she has swept under the metaphoric carpet comes back out to be dealt with, but this time it must be dealt with NOW. Mostly in our modern culture the sort of support a woman needs to do this, to go through this major rite of passage, isn’t available. The rite of passage isn’t understood for its value, and so neither is the Maga, the next season of our lives.
So how we understand, honour and celebrate our rites of passage is a way to reclaim feminine power and in my opinion, the women role models and mothers of the young girls in danger of being sacrificed as sex objects are the ones that need to lead the way. We need to learn the things about ourselves our rites of passage have taught us and heal from our personal and cultural wounds around being a woman. We need to reclaim our cyclical nature and honour the full round of being rather that just the up and on and available part. Sure you feel that sometimes, maybe more often than others, but probably not all the time and maybe not even often, and its only half the story anyway.
So, how do we rescue the girls that have already been swept into these rapids?
We need to make sure we have a strong footing and then throw them the life line, the rope. They have to catch it and hold on. And we need to pull them back to shore and show them another way. Tell them the rest of the story. Tell them that they are much more than sexual objects, defined and desired by their beauty and sexual availability, so much more than that.
We need to raise our sons from this perspective too. Show them that there’s much more going on than what the big corporates want them to see. Alert them to the trickery that’s going on to get them to buy things.
And we need to walk our talk and be examples of free thinking people.
We don’t want to deny sexuality we want to own it, in its right time.
I took this subject to my women’s circle, several of the women have young girls and the mothers talked about strategies to avoid the external stimuli that threatens to sexualise their daughters:
“We avoid the popular mass media, no TV, none of the movies that reinforce objectification of women and girls. Instead of sitting in front of the TV, we’re in the garden.”
“You need to honour yourself as a woman, mark rites of passage, understand the cycles of life. Maiden and mother are not the same, mothers need to appreciate where they are at and not try to be maiden’s, because this will influence their daughters”
“I use the images that come up to talk about it all, saying things like that magazine or ad, is using that girl to sell something. People don’t really live like that, it’s pretend.”
“I engage in honest conversation about how it feels for my girls to see the magazine billboards, I nip it in the bud, deal with it then and there at the newsstand. My oldest daughter, 8, says she thinks it would be really uncomfortable to wear clothes like that.”
“I think it’s about finding purpose in their everyday life so they don’t look to imitate something else., esp under 12’s. To teach critical thinking and tell them
its ok to be different, you don’t have to be like everyone else.”
“The girls will be influenced by the clothes you buy for them. Its ok to say no.”
“With inappropriate clothes, I find what about it is appealing to them for example the sparkles, the colour etc and I find an alternative that has that.”
“We need to teach discernment and be positive female role models.
Sometimes I see mothers living their lives through their daughters.”
And I posed the subject to the Maiden’s Circle I meet with once a month. I’ve had the pleasure and honour of facilitating these girls menarche rite of passage in our community. Each year at Beltane we hold a community camp that specifically honours the girls who have reached their menarche that year and the boys who have turned 13. It’s a beautiful thing. They love it, we all love it.
Part of the process is me teaching them about their cycle, initiating them into the women’s mysteries. These girls learn about their cycles, the ebb and flow of it all and their opportunity for renewal each cycle and the spiritual practice of menstruation.
We got talking about the objectification of girls and women as sex objects and their lives at school and how they felt different.
“You’re not just a girl, you’re in a category – nerd, emo, pretty girl…
And if you’re not in the ‘it’ group, you’re no one and nobody wants to know you. But people like us oppose the push to be like that.”
“If we wanted to be like that, instead of sitting here at the Maiden’s circle, we’d want to be at Malls with boys.” Millie 13
“We’re not typical, we’ve been given other information and other ways to the mainstream media. So we don’t feel pressure to join everyone else.” Dakota 16
“They call them the ‘plastics’, they run around the playground in a line and just follow each other, just being the same as each other. If one has her hair really nice, then everyone copies her.” Miranda 12 (yr 7)
“No one can be original, everyone copies, they’re trying to be their own person by following the cool thing, everyone is in a rut of being branded as a stereotype. If you wear black, you’re an emo. People seem to feel secure if others are labelled, then they’re not scary, they’re known.” Millie
“Some one said to me – its better to be a first rate version of yourself than a second rate version of someone else.
I don’t smile when I’m not genuinely happy, so they say – You must be a hippy emo, They ask if you’re quiet – Why are you so depressed? People are so judgemental, they think that if something is a certain way then it has to be that way. Stereotypical behaviour is expected.” Olivia 15
“I feel sorry for them, I have a higher knowledge that allows me to be objective, I can experience all sorts of things and get info from all over the place.
Why do they follow it all so blindly?
Because of all the influences, parents, religion, media. They have closed minds. If its different to what they’ve been led to believe then they’re insecure. They are oblivious to what they could be doing if they weren’t following the leader.” Dakota 16
“Everyone is beautiful. They say that but they don’t mean it, the magazines say it but still they’ve airbrushed all the photos.
My brothers have car and bike magazines and there’s girls all through them with their legs apart, its annoying, they think all girls should be like that.” Millie
So I asked what is that sort of media telling you?
“Its telling us that all girls need to be sluts. Pornography is everywhere, skimpy clothes, girls being sexual. Sex is seen as common.
If a guy has sex its called a score.
If a girl has sex she’s called a whore.
But say vagina or period and they all say oooh yuk, that’s disgusting.
They just don’t get it”
So how come you’re different?
“We learned that being a woman is sacred.”
Sacred, we learned that being a woman is sacred.
So that’s how we’re dealing with this issue, we’re walking our talk and we’re teaching the girls that being a woman is sacred. Teaching them the wisdom of their cycles, honouring and celebrating their rites of passage. Rites of passage create belief systems and belief systems create culture, we’re creating a different culture.
And I give thanks for this for all our relations.