- Looking for Savvy Girls in the Post-Girl-Power Era
Wow, I'm shell-shocked. Being a mother of two young daughters, I am terrified. The world is fraught for my daughters. After reading four books on the state of girlhood, my initial reaction is horror. Here's what I have to worry about: songs with lyrics that quip "if it isn't rough it isn't fun," toddler-sized French-maid outfits amid the racks of Disney Princess dresses sold at Halloween (Durham 204), Bratz dolls that come with hip-hugger underwear and padded bras (Levin and Kilbourne 42), and T-shirts for four-year-olds emboldened with the slogan "spoil me . . . cuz I'm worth it" (Lamb and Brown 27). What kind of world are my girls headed into? How will I deal with the pressures on them to be the sassy little vixens that popular culture tells them they should be?
Of course, prior to actually having children, I had [End Page 177] always thought that, as a scholar of children's culture and girls' studies, I would have the proper tools to allow me to calmly eliminate these pressures on my daughters. I would intuitively raise young socially aware girls who would make their groovy girl dolls drive trucks and be airplane pilots. Well, hah! What was I thinking? Having just survived a Christmas in which my four-year-old daughter begged for a Barbie doll wearing black high-heeled boots, I am beginning to realize my powerlessness in the face of the frothy pink princess machine that seems to suck up young girls.
But perhaps this reaction is not fair. Perhaps I am being too sensitive to the images of girlhood in the media culture that surrounds my girls and I am just blindly falling into a moral panic about the state of girlhood. Well, not if the authors of these books are right. These authors suggest that girls are surrounded by culture that constantly tells them that they have little value, and what value they do have is in being sexual. But, as these works reveal, girls' relations with this popular culture is complex and talking to them about it is very messy.
The Lolita Effect, written by University of Iowa journalism professor M. Gigi Durham, is a thoughtful, well-researched exposé on what she terms the "Lolita Effect." The basic premise of Durham's work is that the media (she includes everything from video games to teen magazines) circulates five damaging myths about girls' sexuality. Together, these myths make up the "Lolita Effect," which is "the distorted and delusional set of myths about girls' sexuality that circulates widely in our culture and throughout the world that works to limit, undermine, and restrict girls' sexual progress" (12). The first myth is that girls don't choose boys, boys choose girls—but only sexy girls; second, that there is only one kind of sexy; third, that girls should work to be that type of sexy; fourth, that the younger a girl is the sexier she is; and fifth, that sexual violence can be hot. These myths get more and more worrisome as Durham systematically works her way through them. Building on a wide range of examples, Durham succinctly illustrates how each of the myths came into being and how they operate. Durham...