I had no idea raising my daughter would be so damn hard. For every year she advances, the difficulties increase exponentially. There are so many things stacked against her, things that appear to be seeking her out—almost as if she’s being hunted. I feel that one of my primary duties is to act as a shield. I do what I can to make sure that negative cultural ideas don’t infect her.
But my wife and I can’t be everywhere at once, so sometimes things hit her harder than we’d like them to; then we have to work to make sure the infection doesn’t last for too long, or does any lasting damage. Sometimes it feels like trying to stop a tsunami with an umbrella. And never have I felt more disgusted—or borderline helpless—than I have this Halloween season.
“It really is the hoe-ification of our girls,” my dude Adam said as we were looking for Halloween costumes for our daughters. “There is no way that any woman would make costumes like these for other women and girls. You just know that some pervy-ass old man is sitting in the costume factory, having this horrific stuff made. My twins are eight years older than your daughter, and their age group is the worst. Turning girls into sex objects is never OK—but these fools think they get a pass on Halloween? Hell naw.”
I feel Adam’s anger. I feel it every single day, but the focus of my anger is aimed in multiple directions—and one direction more than most. As image activist Michaela Angela Davis says, “It is time to bury the ratchet.”
Paint me with a Cosby brush if you must, but the over/hyper/early sexualization of Black girls seems to have increased in a powerful way with the rise of ratchet culture. Whether it’s parents and other relatives posting videos of tweenage girls dancing suggestively on Vine, or dressing up their 9-year-old girls like Nicki Minaj—with simulated cleavage and butt pads (true story)—there has been an alarming trend, in some of our communities, of reducing our girls to nothing more than just mere hollow bodies that exist only for the pleasure of others.
Time and again I’ve witnessed this, and make no mistake: it isn’t just men participating. I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing women acting as horrible sexual role models for young girls. There’s a tolerated culture of early sexualization that’s toxic to the healthy maturation of our girls and young women.
I was on a train a little while back and was eavesdropping on a mom prepping her daughter for a parent/teacher conference they were about to attend. At first, the advice she was giving was solid. But then she dropped this, and I was stunned: “See my shirt? You need to take out a few of those buttons. Your [breasts] are about as big as mine. If he sees us looking this good, you won’t get suspended. You gotta be a fierce bitch for these men.” I got off at the next stop and just sat there, wondering when (if ever) this type of thinking will stop.
Please don’t mistake my anger for something other than what it is, or think it’s misplaced. My intention isn’t to advocate the policing of young female sexuality. In fact, my position is just the opposite. It’s my hope and wish that every girl/woman has the best, safest sex life they possibly can. But this has to happen on their terms, at the appropriate developmental age.
I want this for my own daughter. Why would I want to deny her such a beautiful experience? Sex is amazing, but its discovery should be organic. It shouldn’t be thrust upon them via television, acceptable and encouraged ratchetness, or something as seemingly innocuous as a Halloween costume.
Sexual exploitation isn’t something that should be accepted just because of a market-driven holiday. Once you dress up your daughter as a “little stripper who gets that money” or “a flirt.” (I’ve seen a little girl dressed in a whole lot of makeup, fishnet tights, and a short skirt with a sign reading “free kisses.” She was 11.) If you’ve participated in their exploitation, I could care less that you were trying to have fun on Halloween. It’s not about you.
Our girl’s sexualities aren’t blank canvasses that we can paint with our unconscious desires to control, shape, direct and put on display. Instead of allowing prevailing, perverse and detrimental cultural attitudes contribute to reducing our girl’s bodies into things to be ogled and consumed, let’s provide them with the tools and knowledge necessary to eventually have fulfilling and mutually beneficial sexual lives.