I invited my 9-yr-old, K, to watch the first part of the Oscars with me. I wanted her to see Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9-yr-old girl who was nominated for Best Actress, making her the youngest female ever to receive such an honor. K was also eager to see if Brave would win Best Animated Feature, which it did, to the delight of all in our household. (Our 5-yr-old is an enthusiastic archer who uses her Brave bow to shoot rubber-tipped arrows at paper targets in the basement, and our 2-year-old sleeps with a Brave book in her crib).
As if Quvenzhané Wallis and Brave weren’t enough of an enticement, there is my 9-year-old’s obsession with the music of Les Mis, so she was hoping for a chance to hear a live performance.
In choosing to watch the Oscars with a 9-yr-old girl, I first spoke with her about the unrealistic pressure to look Red-Carpet-Ready. We talked about the huge emphasis placed on appearance at the Oscars, and I explained that many of the women she saw would be disproportionately thin, bejeweled, and well-coiffed.
But let’s face it – dressing up can be a lot of fun, and I enjoy seeing the fancy dresses as much as the next person. There’s nothing wrong with oohing and aahing over glittery gowns with my girl, especially in the context of knowing that we talked about how it’s also okay not to look like those actresses.
I was prepared to talk with my little girl about the importance of recognizing that in the broader world, beauty comes in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. I was prepared for some jokes to be tasteless and to go over my daughter's head, expecially in light of the choice of Seth MacFarlane as the host.
But I wasn’t prepared for the opening song and the endless jabs at the expense of women. Quality films featuring serious female actresses were reduced to “We saw your boobs.” Rape scenes? “We saw your boobs.” Depictions of serious illness? “We saw your boobs.”
“Why is there a whole song about girls showing their boobs in the movies?” K asked me, as it went on and on.
If I gave any answer other than “sexualization,” then I would be part of the problem.
Here is where the naysayers will respond with: 1)“It was just a joke or a parody;” 2) “your 9-year-old shouldn’t have been watching the Oscars;” or 3)“this is show biz.” No, no and no. Let’s break it down:
1) A joke is meant to be harmless, and sexualization is harmful. A joke means both parties are laughing, as compared to a taunt, in which one party is laughing and one party is hurt. There were plenty of women who were not laughing last night. Hiding behind the label of “it was a joke” implies that the offended target was “being too sensitive for taking it seriously.” This is classic bullying behavior in which the victim is blamed for not laughing along. Regarding the defense that the boobs song was parody, my colleague Allison Clark commented, "Parody is supposed to mock the style of something, not the individuals involved in that thing. A parody that involves mocking actresses for roles that called for nudity - several of which were related to situations of rape or sexual assault - is as much parody as if the Oscars had done a number in blackface to call attention to the fact that African Americans are underrepresented in major Hollywood movies."
2) If a 9-yr-old is a nominee, and children’s movies such as Brave are being featured, it is reasonable to expect that a child might be able to watch part of the Oscars, especially with a parent sitting beside her. Furthermore, I was offended, and this had nothing to do with whether or not my child was watching. As an adult woman, I was offended. Doesn’t my voice count? The boobs song wasn’t just inappropriate for a 9-yr-old; it was inappropriate for a grown woman. And, quite frankly, I was glad that K was watching it with me, because it gave me a very relevant chance to introduce the idea of sexualization to her. If she learns to recognize it at a young age, she is less likely to be victimized by it. Perhaps if more kids learn about the insidious nature of sexualization, they will speak up and put an end to it.
3)This is misogyny and discrimination, not entertainment. “Show biz” means that it is indeed a business. Discrimination is illegal in a place of business. Reducing serious female actresses to porn star status is not how a company should treat its employees
Throughout the first hour, I sat there, increasingly uncomfortable, as Seth MacFarlane proceeded to: glorify eating disorders, mock women, and, most egregiously, sexualize young Quvenzhané Wallis by suggesting she is still too young to date George Clooney.
Shortly after that, it was K’s bedtime, and she went upstairs. Today, we continued our discussion of the Oscars, and K brought up the boob song again.
My little girl nailed it when she innocently observed, “He should have sang ‘we saw your dancing’ or ‘we heard your singing’ or something about their performance! It seems stupid to sing ‘we saw your boobs.’”
I couldn’t agree more. Then I laughed because she added, “But I guess he got the part right where they showed the newspaper headline saying he was the worst Oscar host ever.”
Carrie Goldman is the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.