(This probably goes without saying, but links below contain swear words.)
I’m a swearer. I swear at grad school, on my social media, and even at home. The F-word is part of my vocabulary. Thus far, I’ve been able to curb it in front of the kids for the most part, and they know that adult language is not to come out of children’s mouths. Will they grow up to be swearers? Probably. As such, I have no visceral reaction to hearing little girls swear in FCKH8’s new video.
It’s not the f-word that’s necessarily troubling in this video, but the other words. These dressed-up beauties shout in a bravado fitting for their ages and experience:
“One out of five women will be sexually assaulted or raped by a man.”
Then they count off and ask, “Which one of us will it be?”
How was this line in the advertisement explained to them, I wonder? And will they, throughout their lives, think back on it and wonder what their fate will be? Is it fair to the girls in the video to ask them to ponder such a harsh reality at age 6 just to sell a few t-shirts? As Rebecca Cullen said, “F[*&^%] is a sound we’ve deemed bad to say. Rape is a horrific concept that little girls shouldn’t ever have to worry about.”
It’s not the fact that the little girls are swearing that many are taking offense to, but instead, the jerky push-and-pull of emotions the video evokes due to the children being used in it. As a society, one would hope, we strive to protect our children, to treat them as sacred innocents, and while we know that too many times that innocence is taken from them too early, the desire to save them from the world is strong. And as parents, we frequently fight against the invincibility complex young children have about life, about themselves, about the world.
So when a 7-year-old says, “I’m not some pretty [f-word] helpless princess in distress” in a mocking tone, my heart screams, “Oh, yes, honey, you are. Oh my God, you are. Not because you’re a girl, but because you are a child.”
Children can be helpless; sometimes they do need help, and it is of utmost importance that they know it. Because growing up in a world where people will take advantage of them in any way possible, they will need an arsenal of people they can trust to help them. We constantly tell our children to talk to a trusted adult if something questionable happens to them, be it bullying, abuse or any kind of sexual advance. By having them internalize the message that they are strong and unstoppable, we may inadvertently be pushing them along the path of blaming themselves should they somehow be unable to stop a rapist, mugger, or even the patriarchy in general.
Why didn’t this video use adults? Is exploiting children for financial gain worth the shock value this video claims to be trying to achieve? The children are actors, yes, and it is a script, and presumably their parents were paid for their participation. And surely the children consented, in their way, to doing it. There really isn’t anything shocking about children actors doing their jobs, is there? These aren’t real feelings, they aren’t real, palpable emotions, the messages apply to adult women navigating the world in this day in age, not the children or their peers (yet), and thus, I would argue the shocking tone of the video actually takes away from the messages at stake.
Not to mention FCKH8 is setting up a false dichotomy by pretending that people would or should be equally offended at little girls dropping the f-bomb as they are the inequity women face on a daily basis. If there ever was a case of apples and oranges, this is it. Just because both feminism and little girls swearing about feminism contain both girls and feminism does not make them comparable on any deep level.
All it does is confuse the issue and play on negative associations in the feminist movement, conflating swearing and raucous wording and attitude with equal rights for women. As the writer Anne Theriault aptly said on her blog, “There is nothing feminist about using little girls as props to sell t-shirts.”
In this video, we see a bunch of adults telling a bunch of kids what to say, and we’re told to equate that with empowerment. But who is it empowering?
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