Young girls of various ages dressed garishly, with ethnicities that would make a social justice warrior smile, speaking with obnoxiously loud and high-pitched voices and swearing so frequently it makes you think you are on the streets of Baltimore. It must be “Toddlers in Tiaras,” right? Putting myself in grave danger of being called a bigot and a hater, that was my first thought when FCKH8’s new video came on. The video stars five little girls and a boy dressed in princess costumes, listing talking points like body image and the wage gap and then dropping an F-bomb to describe them. As if the inaccurate statistics and young boy at the end weren’t bad enough, the exploitation of these children seemed unforgivable.
There are many ways to be provocative. Beginning every sentence with a racial slur or colorful language is an excellent way to get attention. However, the ethics of this sort of ad-campaign are highly questionable. It is easy to ask a very young girl if she thinks she is equal to her male counterparts. It is easy to ask children if they think it would be strange to be paid less for the same work. Explaining the current state of affairs and answering the questions that will arise from the inevitable why-game is not easy.
But rape? Really? Do young girls even know what rape is? Do they understand how difficult it is to define rape? Do they understand the intense emotions and politically charged ground sexual assault causes? Can they possibly know what citing incorrect statistics means? Can they understand the dark irony of calling rape “f****d up”? It is unlikely. But this is not a bad thing, that a young boy or girl cannot understand these things.
Assuming a young girl could understand such things, there is still the question of whether we should be explaining that to any child. Should a young girl still glammed out in her princess attire, going on playdates and building forts (or whatever it is little girls do these days), have something like sexual assault on her mind? Is it not a loss of innocence in itself to become the mouthpiece for a political movement that she is not yet old enough to understand or think critically about? Isn’t that edging on brainwashing and indoctrination?
Yet FCKH8 piles on this sort of exploitation when moving on to body image issues. Instead of getting to live blissfully unaware of the judgmental eye society will cast upon them, they are made immediately aware of it. They are told that they will be objectified and discounted before they are even old enough to have experienced such things.
While we’re at it, last I knew feminism was about men as much as women. So why is it that only women’s problems are cited in this ad? Why is it that the only male to appear is a young boy, dressed as a princess in what can charitably be called an attempt to “act like a girl”? If feminism is about all of us, why are there no princes in this ad? Why aren’t the very real statistics of male sexual assault listed? Why aren’t male body image issues considered? And for Pete’s sake, when did being handed a book or even reading one make you automatically better?
Still, as I sat at my computer, I tried to think of silver linings. Perhaps this video would be so resoundingly denounced by feminists that it would prove the movement is still capable of criticizing its own. Perhaps dialogues about the need for equal representation of men in feminist ad campaigns would begin to occur. Certainly, somebody must be getting paid for Honey Boo Boo-meets-Tumblr feminism. And indeed, somebody is getting paid. The T-shirts these women, girls and boy are selling run from $15-$37, not counting shipping costs. Five dollars of that is going to charities that were not identified in the video. This would mean that anywhere from 33 percent to a little under 7.5 percent of the profits will actually see organizations that combat the issues listed in the video.
As if the fact that this ad has a lot more to do with selling T-shirts than ensuring the future of young women isn’t bad enough, it is ads like this that distract from the real debates and real issues at the center of gender politics. I don’t believe swearing is the proper response to call anyone to arms. I do not believe that children should ever be put in the middle of a political debate and asked to puppet whatever the organization behind them believes. Children should be playing dress-up. They should be loving their princess or prince clothing without worrying about something that doesn’t affect them yet.
And if they can’t do that, if they can’t enjoy their innocence freely without some agenda or T-shirt company trying to use them to score points and make money, then as a society we have failed more deeply and more completely than any country should ever be allowed to fail. We have failed our children and sold out their happiness and innocence for something that will only last as long as it takes for someone else to produce the next viral video. We are looking at a defeat that transcends gender, race and the ability to fit in princess costumes from Walmart. It isn’t cute. It isn’t edgy. It is, in the lingo of the Internet community onto which this vile ad was released, a fail.
Nov. 6, 2014