Her Lipstick is Not Your Permission (Originally published August 2011)

I’ve been meaning for a long time to write a followup to my post about little girls being sexualized, I just didn’t really know where to begin. Fortunately, the internet delivers.

Today’s post comes courtesy of Dr. Keith Ablow, a Fox News doctor (seriously do they have their own medical school? It seems that way) and five star asshole of the pink-nailpolish-turns-boys-gay infamy who argues that the girl whose photograph I actually used for my last post has appeared in several other photographs in Vogue and it has turned men into pedophiles. Yes, this is his real argument.

Not only do I believe Vogue is stimulating pedophiles to act on their desires, but I believe Vogue and Abercrombie and Juicy are creating pedophiles by coaxing dark, illegal desires out of men who would never have otherwise consciously felt them, let alone acted upon them.

And we’re back to this again. If you’ll forgive my boasting for a moment, my last post on the subject actually ended up receiving quite a bit of attention and a number of comments and feedback. Of course I got a lot of nonsensical tripe from the opposition who either didn’t read it or didn’t get it, but I also got some interesting insight from concerned women, many of them mothers, who wished me to acknowledge that girls being posed in such ways are not only being exposed to a sort of attention from men that they’re not yet mature enough to understand or comprehend, but also being primed for her lifetime role in the sex class and learning that being dressed up and displayed is normal and good behavior for women. I’ll address both those concerns and Ablow.
So, how exactly, you may ask, does Vogue turn men into pedophiles? Here’s Ablow’s take on it:

She is wearing diamond earrings, lipstick, eye makeup and a red dress. In another, she looks about 20, with her mouth open and her finger gliding along her scarlet lips. The clear message is that it is A-OK to feel sexually stimulated by her (since that is the obvious intention of the photos), that little girls are inherently sexually desirable and that they desire men, in turn. Why else, the unconscious part of a man asks himself, would she dress that way?

Yes, that’s right. She’s wearing lipstick and heels. She’s wearing things that adult women wear and adult women are sexy. What else are those poor, poor men supposed to do? Here’s a thought: nothing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There was never a man in history who dressed his son up like him and was accused of pimping him out. If this girl’s mother dressed this way, she’d be considered classy, fashionable, and beautiful. So what’s the difference? They’re clothes, not sex, so why is it okay for an adult woman to wear these things in public, but not a child? Because clothes like this are considered to be no less than full consent to sexual advances. That’s what the problem is. It’s not the clothes, it’s not that she looks good, it’s not even that she looks sexy, it’s that people consider skirts, lipstick, and earrings consent to sex. Oh, and when I say people, I mean men, because women never ever get dressed this way because they’re ready to be fucked by all who please. If her mother wore those clothes and men catcalled, sexually harassed, or raped her, her defense and credibility would be significantly diminished. Her complaints would be largely ignored, her body’s fate of being invaded considered as inevitable as a car with its doors unlocked in downtown Detroit.
I could simply tell Dr. Ablow and all the men he speaks of, from skeevy perverts jerking off at their desks to otherwise normal guys who are now ashamed of themselves that those clothes do not constitute permission. If they could internalize that – really internalize that – then perhaps the terror of the sexy child would be diminished. Yes, she looks good, yes, you may have some feelings about somebody you would rather you didn’t have feelings for, but guess what? That barrier is still there. She is still a child and she is still absolutely not for you. She has put on adult clothing and that does not make her any more for you. Therefore, you are not actually faced with a larger dilemma than you were before. Nobody has told you it is okay. These are pigments and cloths, nothing more and nothing less. Would they believe me do you think? Or would they still perceive her as having asked for it?
Vogue is a magazine made for women who like fashion. These women likely spent their youths dressing up in their mothers’ clothes and trying on their mothers’ or maybe fathers’ lipsticks and jewelry. For these women, looking at pictures of a pretty little girl dressed up in too-dark lipstick and too-big heels inspires feelings of nostalgia. It makes them want to buy those clothes. That is why those pictures are there. Not everything and certainly not everyone is put there for men.
Have her parents failed to shelter her from society’s judgments of her? Judgments that she’s too young to deal with? Yes! Is she being prepared for a life of having her appearance determined by men’s dicks? Yes! Yes, absolutely she has. I never said these things weren’t problems – I said that there were much, much bigger problems when we hysterically avoid these things. So, at the risk of being redundant: What’s worse than failing to protect her from society’s judgments? Worse even than priming her for a life as a member of the sex class? Teaching her that she absolutely must not dress up until she’s old enough to consent to sex because every time she does, she’s giving adult strangers permission to harass and invade her – that she’s responsible for men’s entitled attitudes toward her body – that things as innocuous as pigments and cloths can make her or her parents responsible for a crime as gruesome and horrid as pedophilia of all fucking things and that the men who invade her body can hardly help but feel that way. What’s worse is setting herself up for a life of self-blame and triple-guessing absolutely everything she wears for fear that when she walks out that door she’ll be mocked, judged, and exposed if she fails to cover enough skin and it was her responsibility to prevent that.
I refuse to accept that. I refuse to say that a little girl shouldn’t be able to play dress-up because somebody might commit a crime. I refuse to say that a little girl’s parents shouldn’t set her up in a photoshoot meant to make her look like she just fell out of her mom’s closet because some nice guy might be transformed into filth. Wear what you want, little girls. Fight the power.

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