Drag, sexualisation, and the question of ‘age appropriateness’…
Hello everyone! Sorry for the enormous hiatus. First Christmas, then New Years, then zipping about doing real-life things – time is a stern mistress. I pledge to catch up. So the next week or two should, if I’m a well-behaved little blog elf, see an inordinate amount of gender commentary. Strap yourself in, and enjoy the literary ride.
So, coming up with content on the fly is actually fairly hard. I’ve had some really great suggestions for topics to cover, which I wish to save because I’ll need to do a serious amount of research to do them justice. So if you’ve contacted me in that regard, watch this space.
I was recently chatting away to a friend of mine, when, suspecting quite rightly I’d find it both intriguing and fabulous, sent me the link to this video.
My reaction was one of delight and amusement at seeing the boy in the video busting sassy moves in a burlesque-style drag outfit. I’m always pleased to see people challenging normative gender behavior. It takes bravery, and I think for kids to both want to and be allowed to express themselves unconventionally is a positive thing. The boy also has a public Facebook page, where quite a few more videos of his dancing feature, along with photographs showing him at competition, and also having featured on TV.
These are videos that I’m sure make quite a few people uncomfortable, due to him being quite young and the dancing, lyrics and outfits being sexualised. It obviously relates back to the big question ‘is sexually explicit material damaging to children of a certain age?’ which I think is a problematic question already because it assumes that all children of a given age will respond to things in the same, or similar ways.
So, I decided to do some searching through academic literature. Even when searching with terms like “the impact of sexualized material”, the vast majority of results concern the impact of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or the impact of pornography – none of which really hit the nail on the head*. So rather than get into a post where I take up issues with academic communities, trends and methodology problems, I thought I’d keep to my musings on the actual topic.
Based on the fact that dancing in this style at this skill level for his age is a very uncommon pursuit, I think it’s reasonable to assume that he has been developing a passion – particularly given the page that shows many routines learnt, and some competitions entered that look pretty big. This also strongly implies support from his parents – though if any Mandarin speakers care to shed any light on the page contents, that would be cool. I came to the conclusion that a free translator wasn’t going to help me once the text ‘Free friend I want you to help refuel’ resulted, which I don’t think is a particularly accurate reflection of ANYTHING. Anyway, I should think that what this boy has taken from the music he likes does not have sinister undertones of manipulation or abuse by adults. Rather it reflects showmanship, and probably an enjoyment of striking costumes and catchy sounds rather than being something that is considered sexual, despite the music being produced with this in mind.
Even if the kid is quite aware of the sexual nature of what he does (and it would be rather patronizing to assume full out that he doesn’t) why is this automatically a bad thing? There is no rational reason or obvious evidence suggesting that any harm is caused by this behaviour. The risque nature of the art form he performs rather subverts the form itself and adds a dimension of originality, rather than instantly sexualising him to his audience.
Fabulous? Absolutely. Sexual? …not really. Both culturally and politically, it means something when boys and men put on ladies clothing to entertain.
More generally, there is quite a big stigma around recognising that many children engage in non-abusive sexual play and behaviour at all, from what may be surprisingly young ages. This isn’t something that should be punished or viewed with shame, but used as an opportunity for communication and education. Also obviously, plenty of exposure and involvement with sex for children can be abusive and traumatic, which is to be abhorred. I do not believe that this kid’s hobby acts as some kind of paedophilic catnip.
There was a time when I would choreograph routines to my Spice Girls cassette (how retro, right), and I certainly donned lady’s attire at least once when I was little. This was never sexual for me, though of course there would be people who would damn the permittance of such behaviour as irresponsible. To them I say: Sod off with your gender policing.
What was I thinking…I clearly needed role models with slightly more fabulous dress sense.
*For anyone interested, here is an interesting looking paper on adolescent exposure to sexualised media, and whether this impacts on their notions of women as sex objects. Bear in mind Also here is a paper that you may only be able to access through a University subscription, but with the title ‘Sexed Up: Theorizing the Sexualization of Culture’, how can you resist?