Would you let your daughter take part in a hobby/activity you 'disapproved' of, from a more feminist angle?

(80 Posts)
NellyBluth Tue 22-Jan-13 13:12:04

Of all things, i started thinking about this when watching Got to Dance on Sky blush

The other day an episode focused on several competitors who dance what I think is called Freestyle Disco. There seems to be a very specific look for these particular dancers, one that I actually felt quite uneasy about, as a mum. The girls were all heavily fake tanned, wearing almost beauty queen levels of make-up and false eyelashes, and their costumes were extremely tight, sparkly and extravagant. There's an old article from The Sun about it I've just found here if you haven't seen these costumes before. Now I know that a lot of dancers will wear revealing costumes because you need to see their body move, but there was something about these particular outfits and the need to wear make-up, tans etc that doesn't sit quite right with me. It reminds me of child beauty pageants, which also make me a feel a bit uneasy.

Yet I believe freestyle disco is a pretty common form of dance for young girls to learn, and it started me thinking. My DD is only 1 so I have no idea what hobbies or sports she will be interested in, but it could be dance. And she might really love freestyle disco. And then she might want to compete, and would 'need' these outfits that I basically disapprove of, she might 'need' fake tans and false eyelashes and all that at a very young age. But could I actually stop my daughter doing something she loved because of that?

What do other people think? This applies just as much to boys taking part in more traditionally feminine hobbies too, I know, but I know I was thinking specifically about what to me seems an unnecessary sexualisation of a dance style that is more popular with girls. Would you let your feelings stop your daughter taking part in a hobby she loved?

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 14:44:48

Heh heh.
I have two dd's and a ds, and they all dance. grin

In my opinion, dd1 has an extremely sensible attitude to the make-up, glitz, spangles and costumes, as she recognizes it is for performance. So, for the stage, she gets on her false eyelashes and whatnot.

She wears no make up at all in her regular life, wears jeans, boots, and is quite the scruffiness and most balanced kid I know.

In a very interesting twist, the dance costumes and make up have given her a balanced insight into performing femininity a la Judith butler.

She also spent the week before Christmas in a workshop for 'equal voice', a local organization campaigning for women in politics.

To sit with a one year old and tut at dance because they wear makeup makes me feel that you are nicely tripping along a stereotypical 'dance is bad' path, without actually having any personal knowledge.

I am absolutely secure in my feminist beliefs. As is dd1.

She doesn't do disco - she did freestyle in the UK. At the mo she takes, ballet, jazz, modern and garage tap. (Tap is her thing, really, but essentially she dances about 5-6 hours a week. The practices look nothing like the performances, and are full of girls of all shapes and sizes who are exploring the strength and fluidity of their bodies. No make up or spangles in sight)

Dd1's first dance teacher was a size 22.

Dd1 isn't going to be a professional dancer. She's a grade A student in a gifted programme, with a strong vocation towards making the old a better place. Most of the girls in dance will take their homework to competitions, and concentrate on their text books in between performances. Dance gives them a discipline that permeates through their life, and most of the dancers are also the hardest workers in school, getting the best grades.

To stick with a physical activity that takes up so much time for so many years, and work hard, isn't something I'm going to complain about.

I always find these threads quite funny. I thought that way once. grin. And I see similar attitudes with mums of toddlers. I have a great friend who used to take the piss out of me allowing my dd to wear makeup for shows, what with my all encompassing feminist attitude. But she didn't see the impact it has on dd.

Putting on stage make up is a glorious pita. So much so that it reinforces the 'this is just for performance' angle, which gives the girls a really good insight into 'performing' and make the link to femininity and real life.

Sure, you'll get a few nutters that will look at it like pageants, but their girls won't still be doing it when they are old enough to start forming their own ideas about feminism and the role of women in society. For those girls, dance is bizarrely a great introduction to societal expectations and the necessity of conforming to the rules.

I'm very proud of my dd.

I'm very proud of ds, too - he loves to dance. He isn't much impressed by having to wear makeup, but again, what a great way to be able to discuss gendered expectations, huh?

Who knew that a few dance lessons would mean they get delusions of gender for free?

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 14:51:45

Nelly, I should also add that in rl, dd does indeed get her ideas from me. I additionally never wear make up (at all, ever, I don't believe in performing femininity grin) don't wear heels, ever, wear trousers to wrk and jeans at home, have a very short greying pixie crop, never shave my legs or armpits, etc etc.

On that note, btw, dd shaves twice twice a year for the performance season. She chooses to dance hairy the rest of the year. This is a deliberate choice to conform to the performance aesthetic.

I have a (feminist) degree and masters and spent the vast majority of my working life in military uniform doing a 'man's' job.

Your assumptions about dancers and their families are sadly very common, though.

I am a mountain expedition leader, dd skis black runs at the weekends when she doesn't have dance practice. grin

To write us all off as poor deluded types who know no better has pissed me off a bit, tbh.

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 14:59:31

I wouldn't let her be a prostitute. I disapprove of that.

The hysteria wrt to dance on mn is very interesting. I love it when the fems get together and hoik their bosoms in mutual disapproval.

Dd1 is a feminist joy. grin and <horror> she dances.

NellyBluth Wed 23-Jan-13 15:06:21

Mad, I didn't want to make any assumptions about either dancers or their families and the last thing I was doing was writing people off as 'poor, deluded types' (though I would be interested to see where you got this impression - apologies if it was The Sun article, that was just the first one I stumbled across looking for examples of the costumes). This wasn't even really about dance, it was just that it happened to be a particular dance that sparked off my thinking.

I was trying to ask simply whether you would let your child take part in an activity that you were uncomfortable with or disapproved of. In my personal example, this was freestyle disco, whose performance aesthetic (which I do understand not all dancers will follow) I feel extremely uncomfortable; for me, catsuits cut to hear, fake tans, false eyelashes and the like are not suitable for young girls. But I wondered how much my discomfit with a particular look etc should colour my decision to let my daughter take part in an activity which she might love, or be very good at. I feel that is a very tricky line. So this was not about judging mums who let their children take part in an activity I am uncomfortable with, it was asking how do you make this decision as a parent.

Dancing was just one example. Another mum might have as many issues with their daughter taking part in a more traditionally masculine sport like rugby or ice hockey or boxing. The 'feminist angle' in my title was because in my particular, personal example, I feel the over sexualisation of young girls in certain sports/activities is a feminist issue.

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 15:45:41

Oh, I know. But often these threads end up holding up the feminist-o-meter with the suggestion that this sort of activity inherently does not measure up.

And I thought it was worth pointing out that I have an actively feminist dd who knowingly takes part in dance performance with fake eyelashes and tight costumes, and recognises it as 'performance', which has given her a really valuable insight into 'performing femininity'. She performs it, and them removes it and returns to the real world, where she is able to shake off that expectation as a result. It has made that role 'fake' for her. It is not who she is.

I am more concerned about the girls who put on their slap and heels, get their push up bras on, and 'perform' every day unthinkingly. It's the unthinking and cultural expectations aspect that bothers me.

I'm less concerned about girls who put on a costume for a specific act, knowingly. They understand that the the eyelashes and glitter are optional, and to be used in certain circumstances, for a particular effect.

So, my question, really, is, are you 'disapproving' of the right thing? Or is that disapproval a knee jerk reaction to something traditionally considered suspect from a feminist pov?

In much the same way as a parent who believes that girls shouldn't play rugby would be?

They are equally narrow viewpoints. Just because you believe that dance is somehow inherently unfeminist doesn't mean that you have the moral high ground.

It's the assumption of what is right and what is wrong that I am uncomfortable with.

And I'm aware of the irony of claiming dance as a feminist activity. But in our case, it's the one thing that has marked performance boundaries for dd that has enabled her to see gendered cultural expectations for what they are.

Funny old world.

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 15:48:26

(My assumption is that you don't mind if your dd wants to play rugby. I don't mind either. But then I don't mind if my dd wants to dance. I'm well over that, because I recognise the naïveté of the position. It's 'performing feminism' if you will. Ie rugby good, dance bad. Good feminist. I am 'right' to disapprove of x, y or z)

mindosa Wed 23-Jan-13 15:56:10

All dancing comes with a level of stereotyping and a focus on looks.
Ballet, although beautiful to watch, is probably the most hard on a girls self worth and self esteem.
Just general hip hop or disco or whatever at least is a bit more accepting of different shapes and sizes.

My DD loves dancing but I also make her swim and play tennis to counterbalance the whole dancing/costumes/looks thing. I would much prefer if she swam or played tennis competitively than danced though.

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 16:05:44

Aye, it does. I'd disagree on the self worth and self esteem thing for ballet as a recreational or childhood activity though. I'd agree for those intending to dance professionally. As a childhood activity, in a decent dance school, it's no more damaging to self esteem than any other recreational sport.

As I said, dd1's first dance teacher (ballet) was a size 22. In many years, I have never heard a single comment or picked up any sort of vibe about looks or size, and we've been through four or five dance schools. The girls are all shapes and sizes, and the focus is on activity, not looks. They are reassured once a year for the costume order, no the costumes arrive in all sizes to fit, whether you are teeny skinny or overweight. There's no teeth sucking. It is what it is.

I hear you about professional dancers. Totally.

But as an activity for kids (and as I say, ds dances too) it is no more damaging than football.

Mine swim too. As a swimmer, dd has quite broad shoulders and good upper body strength. She's no anorexic. grin they also both played ice hockey. She doesn't meet the traditional ballet aesthetic at all, and hasn't been judged for it, but that's because they are kids having fun, not going for a job interview as a hoofer.

NellyBluth Wed 23-Jan-13 16:06:04

I have no problem with dance. I don't really care what sport or activity my DD grows up to like, obviously like most parents I'd just be happy if there was a physical activity she took part in willingly, from the health aspect. I don't think all dance is inherently unfeminist either confused There's just something about the outfits for that particular kind of dance that strike me as unecessary. I appreciate that most forms of dance require tight outfits so that you can see how the body is moving, but the overt nature of these costumes are... I'm stick with 'unnecessary'.

You're right about whether you are disapproving about the 'right thing', though. That would be my concern.

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 16:07:28

(I did lol at 'make her' though. That's nice. grin do you not trust her enough to make her own decisions?)

^^ devil's advocate. Am sure it was just poor word choice, and you don't 'make her' do anything. But it's worth asking why you chose those words from a 'good fem, bad fem' pov...

NellyBluth Wed 23-Jan-13 16:09:17

Oh, and as we x-posted, I do understand what you mean about it generally just being kids who have fun. I'm more thinking of the extreme - what if your child turned out to be seriously good at something like freestyle disco, and the only way they would be able to compete is to follow the prevailing aesthetic (i.e. judges marking down because the overall look isn't right which, from my very very very limited view of this dance style, it seems that the costumes and look are part of the overall package) and your child really wanted to follow the aesthetic - but you felt uncomfortable with it. How far can you let your opinions sway what your child loves doing?

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 16:10:38

And anyone that makes a five year old train 9hours a week is off their rocker, anyway, IMO. grin. (Can that child even see?) <boggle>

It's just very easy to say 'dance bad, swimming good', but life is never that simple. (I get that isn't where you are going, but it often is, in these here parts)

Narked Wed 23-Jan-13 16:12:26

Yes. My mother stopped me from doing that kind of dance for those reasons many, many, many sad years ago. She was absolutely right.

madwomanintheattic Wed 23-Jan-13 16:15:08

Lol, x post again.

I think it's fascinating - but I don't particularly see dance as ever being a career choice for mine - so I wouldn't be encouraging that level of activity in a young kid in any case (I mean, if you have a raft of cash and want to waste it, whatever) but I try to think a bit longer term.

Fwiw, dd2 has a half baked idea that she's going to be a Paralympic skier. Se may well, but at 9 she still only has one two hour lesson a week, and skis in the same snow pants she wears to school.

I think I would be questioning the intensity... Let alone the 'good/ bad thing...

mindosa Thu 24-Jan-13 10:33:17

Madwomen well she's 4 and not very sporty so I do in actuality 'make her' swim and play tennis. If I didnt she would be the type of child to sit all day iyswim.

shrinkingnora Thu 24-Jan-13 10:40:36

Funnily enough, my daughter has been called fat by a couple of girls in her swimming class and it has had serious repurcussions here.

shrinkingnora Thu 24-Jan-13 10:41:05

repercussions!

Tortoiseonthehalfshell Thu 24-Jan-13 10:52:31

My DD1 started ballet last year, at 3.5. Well, 'pre-ballet', which is frankly just skipping around the room and pointing their toes. I deliberately chose a 'studio' that was less than rigid about dress standards for practice, because some of the places require a Proper Bun for all practice. Quite apart from the fact that they are THREE, I just couldn't do that logistically; I keep DD1's hair so short that it can't be tied back in any form.

Anyway, so, she loved ballet. Loved it, with a passion that went beyond "I'm a pretty fairy" social bollocks and well into a sheer joy in being taught to move her body in ways that felt right to her. Seriously, watching her was a revelation, because I've always been leery of ballet with all its associated body image crap.

And then, a week before the end of year show (in which DD1 and her peers have a five minute slot in which they randomly point their toes and scamper incompetently around the stage while everyone says awwwwww), I get a brochure about costume and makeup. Makeup! Full makeup, apparently. Foundation and powder and eyeshadow and mascara and lipstick. AT THREE.

By then it felt too late. I couldn't pull her out without breaking her heart, and I couldn't put up a huge resistance. I mean, what I did was skip the foundation and buy lipgloss and natural eyeshadow. But still. She was so happy to be allowed makeup. She was three.

Takver Thu 24-Jan-13 11:29:47

Tortoise - how would you have felt about stage make-up for a play or musical?

DD has been in a few shows and I've never thought of the stage makeup as relating in any way to the sort of makeup that women wear in everyday life.

Obviously all the cast wear it, male & female, and it is specifically put on to counteract the effects of the lights and also to age/whatever the performer to fit the part.

As someone who hasn't worn makeup for over 20 years I'd still expect to have to wear stage makeup if I were to act in a play.

Picturesinthefirelight Thu 24-Jan-13 11:30:28

The make up for stage is because the lights wash out the skin so you can't see facial features and look a bit ghost like.

To be fair foundation isn't often needed for very young children unless they are very pale but eyes lips and cheeks will stop them looking a bit odd.

Takver Thu 24-Jan-13 11:31:04

Sorry, that isn't put well. I suppose what I'm saying is that the makeup has a very specific role (to stop performers looking washed out under the stage lights) so I don't feel like it is an issue in the same way.

Takver Thu 24-Jan-13 11:31:16

xpost with pictures

NellyBluth Thu 24-Jan-13 12:04:36

Blimey, tortoise - I think that would be one thing that would drive non-confrontational me into a meeting with the dance school!

But like you say, once your DC starts to love taking part in an activity, it would be almost impossible to pull them out, and that's where the issues can arise.

madwomanintheattic Thu 24-Jan-13 14:20:16

It's for the lights.

Like I said, ds1 has to wear make up on stage as well.

At three or four, they are quite old enough to be introduced to the idea of make up as something you do to perform. (I have to say at three or four they usually just stand on the stage and blink out at the lights anyway - it's really interesting to see the progression as they move through the dance school - and by ten or eleven, you can start to have really interesting discussions with them about the use of performance.)

All this hysteria bout stage make up is very funny.

I have lots of friends with three year olds in ballet who are all good right on fems and recoil in horror at their three year old having to wear Lippie. Most of them, if they refuse, get the photos back later, or come back after the show, and confess that they get it. Stage lighting is kinda harsh, and there's a reason actors have been wearing makeup under those lights for a heck of a time.

That in itself is a useful interest point for older kids - that parallel with a specific culture, and whether it translates to rl.

As I said, with older girls, who have been wearing stage make up for performance for many years, they see it as entirely related to performance. Entirely.

Sure, it takes a while for them to mature from that innocent three yo who wants to play dress up and be 'pretty' on the stage (hey, at three they are far more socially conditioned than a 12 yo who recognises the trope for what it is) but to run for the hills assuming this is somehow damaging her for life is somewhat unnecessary.

(I've been there, believe me. But now that my girls are well past the pink princess stage, I know that the make up has actually been a really positive introduction to why women in rl wear it - to perform. And that's an understanding they wouldn't have grasped from not being allowed it to wear it, at all, ever, and been steered to the pool)

Of course, as a parent, you are going to provide a backdrop to this. If the dd is surrounded by adults who ooooh and aaaaah when she's in her slap, and tell her how gorgeous she is, that will have an effect. If she is surrounded by adults who explain about the lighting, and the necessity to highlight facial features for the stage, and compliment her on her dancing, that will have an entirely different one.

I have never yet heard a dance teacher tell a group that their makeup was great. I've heard plenty comment on how the dance went.

All you mums of three yos in dance doing the recoil in horror thing might well end up with a feminist dd like mine. Who still wears stage make up. And sees it as an entirely functional thing. And wears none at all in rl.

Or you could forbid makeup until they are much much older, by which time they will have associated it as something that adult women do. Not something functional, for a specific reason.

So much trying to be a good fem. and so much handwringing.

Give it ten more years. grin (maybe a couple more for the op)

Three is quite the worst time for delusions of gender. grin and quite the worst time for feminist mothering. Boogie men (and make up) round every corner.

Takver Thu 24-Jan-13 17:29:21

Thinking more widely, I guess that as a parent the question 'would you let your daughter take part' depends very much on the age of your dd.

I've read the article linked to in the OP now, and it looks like all the very young children there have parents who are very much encouraging them - it sounds like lots of them dance this style of disco themselves. And I think at 3 - 4 that's pretty much always going to be the case. Sure, there will be a few dc who have an overwhelming enthusiasm/talent which shows very young, but on the whole children of that age just go along with what happens to them. Those who have rugby-mad parents will be playing tag rugby, others will be playing a 1/16 size violin (and no doubt plenty will be doing both)

Once your dc get a bit older, obviously its a very different question, because there's a lot more influence from what their friends are doing, what they see advertised etc. At that point I think you really have to have the confidence to let your dds try things out and (a) hope that you've provided a secure backdrop for them to judge things against, and (b) talk to them about what they're doing and give your opinion if it seems appropriate.

Having said all that, I've also watched a few of the freestyle disco videos on youtube (I'd never heard of it before) and it seems like some people there question the makeup/costumes etc (link here to a competition with all black clothes, no tans etc). But also I would say that watching the adult women / older girls dance, my main thought isn't 'they look like they're aiming to look sexy in those costumes' but 'my god they must be fit, that looks like bloody hard work' (and no wonder they want something skimpy to wear).

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