Monday, March 05, 2007

Hello Dolly...Err...Dollies

Okay, how about we accept on face value that "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the New Doll," a new reality show debuting this week on the CW, is not an exploitive show glamorizing if not sex, then sexuality?

The Pussycat Dolls is, for those of you who don't know, a girl group which combines music and strutting in skimply clothes. The producers say it's about empowerment and "third wave feminism," according to a report in the "New York Times." Just for giggles, let's accept that premise, too.

After all, the free market means anyone can put anything out there they want any time. The market will always decide. So there's no real reason to worry. After all, Shakespeare's Juliet, an original empowered teen who took control of her own desires, said, "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Oh, but wait. Juliet killed herself when her romantic desires were thwarted. Oops.

Like many young people, Juliet lacked the ability to put her experience into perspective and by acting outside of the context of her social structure--and getting a well-meaning but credulous friar to provide the illegal "mortal drugs"--Juliet removed herself from the influence of those who might have helped her make a better choice. She lost her perspective and took her own life.

"What is he blathering about now?" I hear you saying. Simply this: external influences abound and are out of your control. What is wthin your control is the context you can create for your kids around such acts as The Pussycat Dolls. And it's your job to provide that, whatever it is.

Teaching kids to be savvy consumers of media is one of the best things we can do as adults in today's culture. Media surrounds them and becomes part of their experience and socialization. Without your participation, the media takes on the power to shape perceptions, which in turn can drive behavior--and the consequences may not be healthy. Moreover, understanding, particularly with teens, the inherent propensity to see things in black and white, all of nothing, is important for adults who may have forgotten that. Sharing your values and your beliefs with the young people in your life is also essential, as is making your life an example.

The Pussycat Dolls may, in fact, be role models for some young women. I can't, however, stop thinking about the young women who starve themselves, exercise compulsively or strain to fit the ideal. It's a full time job at a time of life when other things might be more important for the future. But the pressure to conform to standards, particularly among tweens and teens, is powerful. Nor can I stop thinking of the young women we talk to who are bullied about their clothes or their weight or, most scary of all, the fact that they're smart and love school. We know several young women who are repeatedly ridiculed for being good at science...because they want to be doctors. They get little validation from the mass market--and, sadly, that's just the way it is. Adults have an easier time with that, though it's never really easy. They need to know that they have value and that their dreams are just as valid, if less public, than being considered "The Next Doll." It's tough on parents, but we have to ask: Do we want girls to be fully rounded individuals? Or do we want them to be dolls?

I can respect, to an extent in our entertainment-driven society, the desire to represent women, or men for that matter, as playthings, particularly when there are buckets of money to be made, which--let's face it--is the primary raison d'etre for The Pussycat Dolls. Let's just keep it in perspective, okay? And, most of all, let's be honest about our motives and scrupulous in paying attention to the effect of such acts on the young people in our lives. And let's make sure that they are valued as individuals and that we take the time to listen and reflect with the knowledge of how difficult it can be for young people either to fit the mold, sturggle to fit into it or to be outside it altogether. Stay involved. Share your opinions. And, above all, listen. That's really all that's in our power to do, anyway.

-C. Byrne