“Come on girl, shake that thing!”
“Shake, shake your booty!”
Typical lyrics to a typical pop song. Except these weren’t being sung on the radio. They were being chanted by my 4-year-old daughter with her group at her camp. As they sang, she wagged her just-recently-toddler tush semi-suggestively behind her, while her camp group clapped and cheered her on.
As I watched this happen on our day camp’s visiting day, I was grossed out. I was annoyed. I was mad. These feelings came up in me so volcanically that I couldn’t even speak about it. And I felt that I had to say something to someone. So I sent an email to the camp directors, and as I wrote, tried to figure out how I felt and why.
I told them that I was nonplussed and upset by the girls’ groups singing songs referencing their “booty” and being told to “shake it” in front of the group. I explained that I wasn’t big on teaching my girls to call their tush a “booty”—nor did I want them to think that they were expected to “shake it” for other people’s enjoyment on demand.
“There is just so much bad stuff out there objectifying girls and women,” I wrote. “I am really trying to teach my girls, even now when they are going into kindergarten, a language (both body language and personal language), of empowerment as individuals, not “booty.’”
While our camp directors are wonderful people and I didn’t doubt that they’d be willing to consider anything brought up by any parent with an open mind, I wondered…is it just me?
Was I being prudish, or priggish–like a new wave Tipper Gore? After all, on Visiting Day, as the girls chanted, I looked around trying to exchange a look of “can you believe this?” and no one reciprocated—except my husband, who knows how my mind works and must have been well aware of what was percolating in my head. No parents talked to me about it after the fact. It went completely unremarked upon.
But these girls were, at best, 5 years old. Five. Years. Old.
If anything, the fact that I felt comparatively alone in my feelings made me more convinced that I was correct. Because if I knew one thing, it was that while it might be considered “no big deal,” I did not want this to be my daughter’s “normal.”
I didn’t want my almost-5-year-old daughter thinking that her booty was something to shake on demand for other people’s amusement. And, even more than that, I do not want her growing up in a world where little girls being unwittingly complicit in objectifying themselves is a phenomenon that passes by without comment. Someone had to stand up for them–and if they were too young and naïve to know to do it for themselves, as a mom, to quote a pop song from the early millennium, “It’s gonna be me.”
Even though my girl is little, I want her learning a language of empowerment. And the longer I do this parenting thing, the more I realize that that doesn’t only mean the instructive things I say to her explicitly when I’m on my A game as a parent. That doesn’t just mean equal time for science and princess toys. To me, it means that it is my job, as her parent, to keep an eye out on her implicit, unspoken environment.
What message is she being sent by the environments in which I choose to put her? What values are being taught–implicitly, as well as explicitly? And when I see something, I say something–both to her and to the people who control that environment.
I’m extremely happy to say that after talking to the camp directors, the chants and songs were changed. Now, instead of booty shaking, the kids “jump around” and “dance around,” and boys do this as well as girls. The camp director told me they thought about what I’d said to them and decided that those chants were not in keeping with the values they wanted to send out as a camp. Not only that, but they thanked me for raising the topic and for pointing it out.
I’m writing this not to toot my own horn (ha): I’m writing this because I need allies. I would never have initiated this discussion 10 years ago… because at the time, I was only a mother of boys. I thought any implicit or explicit bias against girls, intentional or otherwise, had little or nothing to do with me.
I was wrong.
We are all affected if any of our children are implicitly or explicitly devalued, or valued for their physicality rather than their unique, amazing selves. At age 4 or 5, a kid is learning the norms of their community.
If you are a member of a community, you have a voice–and I think that if you are a parent, it is all the more important to use that voice, and to model speaking up for your children. Please join me, and speak up.