Views in 2017: 33,534. Total all-time views: 100,465. Thanks for your visits, views and comments!
Views in 2017: 33,534. Total all-time views: 100,465. Thanks for your visits, views and comments!
“One of the most memorable events of my childhood was the day that I (a girl who loved nothing more than running around in ragged jeans and nothing else) was told I had to start wearing a shirt.” – Katherine.
Anjeza at 9. Copyright © 2009 Frank Adamo
Why do women cover their breasts? Why are little girls told to cover their flat chest? Was there more shame in the distant past, or less? Does somebody profit from breast shame, or is body shame inevitable?
I’ve written about breast nudity for several years, but now there is a new force on the scene who merits some attention: Chelsea Covington. I re-blogged one of her articles “Why Some Parents are Afraid of Bare-chestedness” and also corresponded with her about my reply to a comment on her article. Our correspondence revealed the complexity of the issue of top freedom, and some differences in viewpoint that may exist between individual advocates.
In 2009 I first published some of my photographs of top-free little girls on European beaches on Yahoo’s photography site: Flickr.com. Using the name “Girl Becomes Woman” my account quickly got over 300,000 views and hundreds of favorable comments defending my images as normal and constructive rather than “sexual” or “seductive” or “erotic” in any way. Nonetheless, some hysteric(s) succeeded in persuading Yahoo to delete my Flickr account, along with my associated Yahoo email account which was active for over 10 years.
In 2011 I published an eBook “Real Child Safety” which pointed out that the majority of child deaths and serious injuries are due to physical abuse and neglect, so why are some crusaders focusing on “too much” skin showing? Worse, some psychopathic individuals seem to be quite thrilled that responsible vigilance to protect children has deteriorated into widespread vigilantism. “Real Child Safety” criticized the mass hysteria over child nudity and child sex abuse and offered as a free gift a photo-documentary “Girl Becomes Woman” I had been working on for the previous five years.
The photo-documentary of a little girl going through puberty is accompanied by over 100 pages of text describing my personal observations and research on the learning of breast shame in childhood. The eBook was also praised by many readers as normal and constructive, and received no open criticism, actually no attention at all in the establishment-owned mass media. In 2010 this blog also began discussing body shame and sex hysteria, as distorted cultural values learned in childhood. The hysteria over child nudity and child sexuality today is palpable: when people see an image of a top-free little girl they are almost shocked, as if little girls are not supposed to have nipples.
Paypal had been processing donations for my Breast Pride Education Foundation for a year, but in 2012 Paypal panicked and blocked my account “permanently.” The mass media (and the California Better Business Bureau) ignored my crucifixion. I have continued offering “Real Child Safety” to readers (now in a second, expanded edition), as well as “Girl Becomes Woman” and my new video for children “Buddy Massage” – as always on the condition that RCS readers fill out a questionnaire to show they don’t have prurient interests, through my sites: www.GirlBecomesWoman.com and www.FRECS.org
Images of top-free little girls in painting and photography are nothing new, and many historical images are in the collections of major museums and university libraries, most famously the early photographs of Oxford University Professor Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), author of Alice in Wonderland, as well as Paul Chabas’ “The First Bath” (1907) http://www.mystudios.com/artgallery/paintings/131501-132000/131566/size1.jpg William Sergeant Kendall’s three daughters e.g. “A Statuette” (1914/1915) in the Brooklyn Museum: http://www.pigtailsinpaint.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/William-Sergeant-Kendall-A-Statuette-ca-1914-Brooklyn-Museum.jpg and the images of many other artists and photographers. Even Shirley Temple, the most gifted child actress of all time, was photographed top-free when she was nine to advertise her greatest film “Captain January” (1937): http://65.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m697bwOeG01qhpmnao1_500.png In her autobiography “Child Star,” Shirley Temple Black revealed that as a small child she occasionally wore nothing at all in the California sunshine.
Never before in American history has there been such hysteria over child nudity and even partial nudity as today. There is good reason to believe that there is method in the madness: Hysteria over breast nudity discourages mothers from breastfeeding, and thereby promotes sales of infant bottle formula – an industry with $30 billion in annual sales worldwide (1).
Chelsea Covington to the Rescue
Breast nudity is outlawed in many states while males may freely uncover their chest in public in most places. Chelsea Covington’s activism for legal equality of top nudity consists in casually walking around top-free on public streets, in public parks, and beaches while a friend videos her. The videos are posted on YouTube and promote her blog.
Ms. Covington focuses on the simple matter of legal equality, which I feel is not the best approach because that focus could just as easily justify forcing men to cover their chests in public – as men already are in many cultures around the world. As a man I have been told to put a shirt on in a public park. That is a form of “equality.” So I think focusing on legal equality is overly restrictive and could ultimately backfire.
Surprisingly, Ms. Covington has not been prosecuted on most of her top-free walks. If parents allowed their flat-chested young daughters to likewise bare their chests at parks and beaches in most states they probably wouldn’t be arrested either, but the modern police state has so terrorized parents with the threat of kidnapping their children (for “protection” from the supposed risk of abuse/neglect), that many parents are reluctant to challenge the hysteria.
Since body shame is learned in childhood, I believe that the mass hysteria over nudity and sex should be attacked at its source. Many mothers begin breastfeeding but then stop abruptly after a short time. Some women report pleasure and even orgasm during breastfeeding, which probably provokes guilt – a feeling that such pleasure and arousal are “abnormal.” Although some mothers claim various reasons for early weaning, I wonder if guilt over the natural pleasure of breastfeeding contributes to it.
In the past the genitalia were literally named shame organs: “pudenda” in Latin, and “shamhaft” in German. But mothers breastfed in public and even in church during mass. Nowadays the disease of genital shame has infected the breasts. Many parents (usually mothers) passively model breast shame and/or actively indoctrinate daughters to hide their flat chest. Media images of “perfect” mature breasts and complete censorship of normal breast development at puberty further make many growing girls feel especially ashamed of budding breasts, at a sensitive age when girls should be showered with compliments. I believe that children should also be taught buddy massage in school and at home rather than be neglected or ostracized for insufficient “modesty.”
Groups like FEMEN and GoTopless.org also demonstrate in public for women’s top freedom, but nobody seems to care about the source of the problem: instilling breast shame in childhood. We need to realize that the deeper problem isn’t merely legal inequality, but the distorted fear of the human body and its natural functions in fostering healthy sexual desire and genital pleasure.
There is good reason to believe that far worse damage results from body shame than merely offending a moral need for equality. Like other body organs, especially those whose primary purpose is perception or sensation, the clitoris needs stimulation during early life while the relative brain area that controls clitoral function is developing. Otherwise, girls risk suffering reduced sensitivity or irreversible clitoral erectile dysfunction later, an uncomfortable subject that many women have trouble even putting into words.
The Internet is revolutionary because it provides everyone with access to quantities of information never available before in human history. Unfortunately, some individuals feel so insecure that they have a need to limit and censor information they don’t like. They try to control the conversation, and when they don’t succeed they withdraw from the conversation and even try to censor any input from other individuals. That is a very unscientific and highly political (i.e. cynical) view of communication, and expresses contempt for democratic ideals.
Even before Betty Freidan published her classic “The Feminine Mystique,” she fought against oppression and McCarthyism by claiming the value of individualism and nonconformity. How sad that unlike Chelsea Covington most women and even most feminists in America today confront the issue of mental castration of little girls with complete silence rather than challenging the mass censorship and hysteria over child nudity and child sexuality.
I agree with Mr. Trump on some of the things he says, especially that we should cooperate with the Russians in Syria (and elsewhere) rather than antagonize them, and I think the mass media are very unfair in portraying him as an idiot – which he obviously isn’t. He has a sense of humor and the courage to be a politically incorrect non-conformist. Whatever happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave? But when Mr. Trump reportedly called a female attorney “disgusting” because she wanted to pump her breasts for her baby in his presence during a deposition, I have to object quite strongly.
Large and pendulous human breasts are virtually unique among mammals; they are beautiful organs of nourishment. Breast milk is the most miraculous food known to science, and it’s free. Considering that the criminal infant bottle formula industry does everything possible to sabotage breastfeeding from the moment of birth and even before – e.g. by making girls and women feel ashamed of their breasts – a woman who succeeds in breastfeeding her child anyway is a hero (1). If a savvy businessman like Mr. Trump says breasts or breast milk are disgusting, we must wonder if he is a ruthless stockholder in one or more of the largest bottle formula producers: Nestlè, Danone, etc. or one of the secondary profiteers of body shame: sellers of Vitamin D supplements, bra makers, and bathing suit tops for little girls!
Even if he isn’t a stockholder profiting directly from breast shame, Mr. Trump should know that once a woman has succeeded in overcoming the dishonest tricks of corrupted hospital staff who try their best to encourage mothers to buy inferior infant bottle formula, frequent suckling is essential to maintain the breasts’ production of precious human milk. For a working mother pumping the breasts as frequently as possible is not an arbitrary choice. There is no love lost between Mr. Trump and politically correct feminists, but his reported hostility to public breastfeeding is strangely consistent with the feminist crusade to legitimize and normalize dangerous feeding of inferior artificial formula, even if that’s at the risk of infant health.
In practical terms, expelling milk from the milk glands is accompanied by increased production of the pro-social hormone: oxytocin. If the attorney who reportedly wanted to pump her breasts was on the opposite side of the table, then that’s a perfect time for any opponent to be dealing with her. Calling a woman “disgusting” for pumping her breasts doesn’t mean Mr. Trump is against women, as some of his critics conveniently claim. A kinder explanation is that better education is needed about the human body in general, and in particular why breastfeeding and breast milk are things to cherish not shy away from.
Breastfeeding is one of the greatest experiences in life for both mother and child, but men can’t do it and naturally feel excluded. Men shouldn’t wallow in their envy; we can take positive steps to compensate for women’s superiority in that department. The skin contact of bathing, cuddling and nude massage can be just as important and rewarding as breastfeeding to both parent and child, and men can excel at that.
The mass hysteria over child sex abuse and pedophilia is fostered by body shame, so many men today are reluctant to even offer to bathe or massage their baby, for fear that his intentions might be considered “suspicious.” Mr. Trump appears to be a loving father who is close to his daughter. Such closeness can and should begin right after birth and continue throughout childhood, especially when a mother can benefit from time off from caring for a baby, but even long after weaning until children are old enough to massage each other.
Mr. Trump, we men need to become better informed about breastfeeding and childhood instead of unwittingly helping unscrupulous profiteers by promoting body shame. Your opponent, Hillary Clinton, has a long track record in promoting the interests of children. If you want to defeat your opponent (you say that you love winning), then you need to one-up Mrs. Clinton in promoting children’s welfare and well-being in an increasingly pedophobic world.
The modern hysteria over child sex abuse is odd in that although feminists played a major role in raising awareness of sex crimes in the 1970s, there is clearly an anti-feminist element in the mass hysteria that terrorizes little girls against sex. This anti-feminist aspect could easily be blamed on the movement being co-opted by the religious right later (in the 1980s), but sadly there is evidence that a key assumption underlying the early activism against child sex abuse was clearly consistent with patriarchic ideals from the very beginning. Everybody makes mistakes, even feminists, but if we are mentally balanced and mature we learn from our mistakes and try to correct them. Hillary Clinton says she wants to expand rights and opportunities for women and girls, so does that include the right and opportunity for girls to grow up sexually functional? How can she do that unless we all confront and reverse the mass hysteria over child sex abuse?
The most thorough account of the movement against child sex abuse is Nancy Whittier’s detailed description of the rebirth of “child protection” after its original popularity in Victorian times (1). Along with the rediscovery of the sexual exploitation of children in the 1970s there were repeated if not constant references to women’s own feeling of guilt over their early victimization and hence the need to reassure survivors that early abuse was not their fault. But why is such propensity to feel guilty so prominent, if not because women never let go of the traditional ideal of the innocent (i.e. asexual) girl and woman? Worse, far from liberating women from patriarchy, Whittier notes the grassroots activist movement melded with the traditional state agenda to control citizens, with the result of increased law enforcement, expansion of the prison system, and now even post-sentence confinement or registration of sex offenders, and increased surveillance of suspects and anti-sex indoctrination of children – especially girls.
The pre-feminist, traditional view of professional psychologists and the broader society was that child sex abuse (CSA) is rare and not usually catastrophic. But feminist activists in the 1970s decided it was neither rare nor mild in effect. The simplicity and convenience of attributing all your complex problems to a single cause (and a single bad guy) were irresistible. That viewpoint was also attractive to some individual bigots who wanted to demonize men, since in the beginning amateur theorists thought CSA was exclusively men against girls and hence a sinister conspiracy of males to make females submissive. Even when feminists discovered that both women and men sexually abuse boys as well as girls, they believed the majority of cases were men against girls and hence good PR for the broader movement against patriarchy.
One of the many obstacles to logical reflection and rational political activism on CSA was that some “survivors” in the movement tended to have serious personal problems. Early self-help groups declared themselves experts on CSA and prescribed treatment, even though their numbers included some individuals who “seemed overwhelmed and out of control.” They were necessarily more focused on healing themselves than changing the world. Early theorists on CSA repeated the traditional assumption that good little girls are not interested in sex, so men abuse girls to “prepare” and “socialize” them for future submission to unwanted contact.
So there had to be some sinister explanation for so many girls not saying “No!” or “I don’t like this,” or at least “Let’s go to the amusement park instead.” While traditional psychologists claimed little girls naturally try out their seductive skills on older men, some feminists were unwilling to concede any ground on the supposed innocence of girlhood. Particularly thorny was that some women confided having experienced arousal and pleasure during their childhood victimization. How could something so wrong feel so right? Some women felt they needed to defend themselves from the “shameful” suspicion that they wanted to be touched and cooperated in the sexual contact for basic hedonistic motives. So they settled on the excuse: “that was your body, not you.”
Why did some women need to hide or deny that sexual experiences may be pleasurable under certain circumstances, even during childhood? At that time in America it was unthinkable for feminists just like everybody else: a little girl with a dirty mind? Certainly, victims wanted to avoid blame. But as Whittier points out, CSA was seen from an “often lesbian feminist perspective” and responses utilized a “lesbian feminist approach,” so at least some individuals may have had an additional need to justify their personal rejection of men. Some of those individual activists were so – shall we say – selective they couldn’t stand to be in the same room with a man. When self-help groups of former victims met and hugged each other, some individuals preferred that only females were present and hugging. Nobody denies that other political opportunists and profiteers brought their own priorities to the crusade against sexual desire and sexual pleasure in childhood.
Regardless of gender, the crusaders taught that each child’s body is her own, so she has a right not to be touched if she doesn’t want to. Ok, no problem with that. But it follows that each child also has a right to be touched if she wants to, otherwise what does your body being your own have to do with anything? Was it merely a coincidence that denying female sexual desire and pleasure in childhood was wholly consistent with the traditional patriarchic ideal of the asexual female? The traditional ideal of the “innocent” young girl uninterested in sex was hard to reject entirely. The result was surely the same: millions of little girls are being mentally castrated today no less than before they were rescued from the risk of early sex abuse. Mary E. Odem has documented that early laws against statutory rape were often exploited by parents in the courts to control rather than protect “wayward” daughters (2).
In 1970 the Australian Germaine Greer suggested the crux of the problem in the title of her bestseller “The Female Eunuch” (3), but in reality Greer’s book said very little about female sexual dysfunction and even blamed it on the absurd traditional explanation: women’s lack of desire or pleasure results from a failure to achieve true romance. Despite the title of her book and oddly consistent with patriarchy, Greer didn’t identify mental castration in childhood as the likely cause of female sexual dysfunction after puberty (discussed below).
The PR value of violence against women was exploited by Women Against Rape, which identified sex with assault, making no distinction between sex play and violent assault. A father who touches his daughter’s genital area is merely greasing the wheels of patriarchy. WAR declared that no adult should touch a child in an uncomfortable “or” sexual way. Huh? In other words, being touched in a sexual way is unacceptable no matter how comfortable that touch may feel.
Conveniently, the early feminist activists didn’t define sexual “abuse” specifically, let alone define it carefully, so sex abuse was construed so broadly that eventually any and all sexual contact in childhood was demonized, or at least any contact between individuals ≥5 years apart in age, a magic number similar to the sacred contemporary dictum that every female becomes competent to consent on midnight of her 18th birthday. The belief in magic numbers was wholly consistent with the original Victorian crusade to raise the age of consent in Britain from 12 to 16. For a comprehensive review of the 19th Century “purity” and “social hygiene” movements see R. Danielle Egan and Gail Hawkes (4).
There was clearly method in the madness. Rather than specifically acknowledging insensitivity and exploitation as the true crimes against children regardless of the age or gender of those involved, inconveniently widespread even in non-sexual interactions between different age groups, feminists promoted the traditional idea that sexual desire and sexual pleasure are evil in themselves, especially – by coincidence – when fathers and daughters or any other men and girls are involved.
When the movement against CSA was embraced by mainstream society in the 1980s, the original focus on incest and gender changed. Instead of reporting rampant incest within families the mass media focused on more palatable “stranger danger.” At one point the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect stopped reporting pesky data on the relationship of abuser to victim. The politically correct mass media advised “parents” on how to protect “children” from “ adult abusers,” instead of feminists advising women how to protect girls from men.
Was it hysteria? Eventually some people suspected that satanic cults were secretly organizing widespread CSA in order to destroy the civilized Christian world. The threat of Satanism became popular and was even given credence by an article published in Ms. Magazine, so a counter-movement began to defend the falsely accused (collateral damage). Greedy therapists tried to expand the market for treatment (never proven safe or effective by medical standards) by encouraging confused patients to “recover” forgotten memories of childhood abuse, but scientific research promoted by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation soon demonstrated the unreliability of memory and the suggestibility of children, resulting in retractions of accusations and even successful lawsuits against overeager therapists. But few questioned the traditional denial of children’s sexual desire and sexual pleasure.
Recently one activist against CSA, Sharon Lamb, had the courage to question the traditional myth that girls are naturally asexual – especially in childhood (5). She interviewed over 100 girls and women in over 20 states who described their early sexual experiences, mostly in neutral or positive terms. Typically the circumstances were far from ideal, since kids rarely have the benefit of accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education from the earliest age, let alone models of healthy, sexually functional adults to imitate and be monitored by. But they clearly experienced desire and arousal, and somehow survived to report it.
What about all those pedophiles? Hysteria is a failure to carefully evaluate or even see the many aspects of something and instead focus on only one aspect: usually the worst aspect, what Lenore Skenazy calls worst-first thinking (6). One of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject states that true pedophiles are probably rare, and dangerous pedophiles are probably even rarer (7). Most adults who victimize children (sexually or otherwise) are more accurately classified as psychopaths.
Even without actual sexual contact, a child may feel attracted to a particular adult such as a teacher. Some children are fatherless (or motherless) and suffer greatly because of it. One of my students recently suffered the tragedy of a parent who committed suicide. Every class has at least one student with serious problems at home. Some individuals naturally feel a need to replace a missing parent. It’s shortsighted to say a child should only love her own parents, or that adults should only love their own children. What about a parent who has lost her child, or an adult who has no children, or a grandparent whose own children are grown? Tough luck?
We may commonly observe non-parental care of offspring even across species. Adults of some species of animals sometimes show affectionate care of the young of a completely different species. Humans show affectionate care for the young of other species and nobody marvels at that. Isn’t it clearly hysterical to question and suspect human adults who exhibit affectionate care for someone else’s children? The current paranoia over supposedly widespread “pedophilia” probably hurts innocent children as much as innocent adults.
More concrete evidence of hysteria was the reception of the Rind Study (8), a meta-analysis of 59 unbiased studies that did not support the dogma that CSA is usually seriously harmful. Previous studies of CSA suffered from selection bias by focusing on women who were already in psychotherapy, but Rind et al. avoided such bias by analyzing studies of a group more representative of the general population: college students. Since by the 1990s the belief that CSA is usually seriously harmful had become a dogma, Rind et al. also avoided publication bias by including unpublished doctoral dissertations in their meta-analysis. Rind’s findings and conclusions were not really radical, and should have been welcomed as a relief. But they provoked a firestorm of popular criticism that led to an extraordinary Congressional Vote of Censure of the publisher (the American Psychological Association). More rationally, another study found that child cancer patients are remarkably well-adjusted, but nobody claimed that study should be censured as insensitive to child cancer victims.
The ultimate measure of hysteria is that so many people invest their time, effort and expense in preventing, investigating, or treating CSA while ignoring the causes of the vast majority of child deaths and serious injuries that have nothing to do with sex (9). By the 1980s state governments were targeting child sex abuse more than any other form of child abuse or neglect, and more funding was given to investigators of invisible kiddy porn and child sex abuse law enforcement than to prevention of the most deadly dangers facing children in everyday life. Perceptive observers are confronted almost daily with the spectacle of extremely cautious, supposedly protective adults keeping a sharp lookout for flashers while themselves exposing children to potentially fatal behavior: driving while sleep-deprived (just as deadly as drunk driving), allowing children to ride in vehicles without restraint, swimming in pools without supervision, etc.
There is still a strong incentive for feminists NOT to admit that sex play in childhood is normal (both statistically normative and healthy) rather than necessarily harmful. That admission would not only mean feminists have been wrong about denying and demonizing children’s sexual desire and sexual pleasure for over 30 years. Worse, the belief in a male conspiracy to shame girls and women was clearly paranoid. Was it a conscious conspiracy with fathers instructing their sons: “You have to molest girls so they’ll know their place,” or a compelling, unconscious instinct: it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it?
There is also good reason to believe that the traditional taboo against sexual contact outside marriage (in this case in childhood) contributes to some girls becoming sexually dysfunctional (10). The evidence for widespread female sexual dysfunction is abundant. In addition to at least two separate surveys in which the majority of women reported some form of sexual dysfunction, Deborah Tolman’s study (11) makes sexual problems among young girls painfully clear, although Tolman prefers the euphemism that some girls today have “silent bodies.”
Rather than stating the obvious, that little girls are not at fault for insensitive and exploitative treatment by adults, we should say that young girls who rebel against sex taboos must be praised for their courage in participating in their own liberation from the traditional taboo against expressing female sexual desire and pleasure even outside patriarchic marriage – especially in childhood when the growing brain needs stimulation to develop healthy clitoral function.
To be perfectly clear: I’m not saying that children should be sexually abused, and I’m not saying that women really want to be raped. I’m not defending pedophiles or sex offenders, and I’m not trying to legitimize or normalize any kind of abuse whatsoever. It’s wrong for anybody to use coercion or threats or otherwise manipulate children to cooperate in sex, just as it’s wrong for the government to control citizens by “persuading” us to obey and support laws and policies that only serve special interest groups. We need to separate “sex” from the true crimes of coercion, deception, insensitivity and exploitation.
Many women today are unnecessarily defensive about female sexual dysfunction. I say “unnecessarily” because sexual dysfunction is not a woman’s fault. Such defensiveness is not going to solve the problem of dysfunction, nor prevent it from occurring again and again in future generations of growing girls. As illustrated beautifully in the classic story of Peter Pan and Wendy Darling, the boy says he doesn’t want to grow up and claims he doesn’t have feelings, but he is actually afraid to grow up and is afraid of his own feelings. Peter obviously does have feelings but he doesn’t understand his own feelings, and ignorance breeds fear.
Hillary Clinton advocates increasing the years of schooling that girls and women complete in order to earn higher incomes, but income inequality is not the reason why the majority of women in America today are sexually dysfunctional. Feminists recognize internalized oppression, but anti-sex indoctrination goes farther than that in making girls feel that their natural desires are unacceptable and justification for thinking they are bad or sick and should probably hate their body. Instead of terrorizing children against politically incorrect sexual desire and sexual pleasure, what is needed is more comprehensive early education to help children accurately identify what they feel, rather than what adults claim kids are supposed to feel or not supposed to feel, to help kids not feel afraid or guilty.
Senator Sanders is saying some interesting things about the U.S. government that other political candidates would rather not talk about. Wealthy corporations pay little or no taxes, while the poor and middle classes have to finance the cost of government, including foreign wars. Our tax money eventually ends up in the pockets of wealthy corporations that produce arms.
Conservative opponents are justified in objecting that the wealthy corporations are creating wealth as well as creating jobs for some more humble citizens, so the corporations should be entitled to keep and enjoy the wealth they create. That’s perfectly acceptable when we’re talking about adults, but what about the children of the poor? The government has a responsibility to help children obtain essential resources, not just by taxing poor and middle class citizens, but by taxing wealthy corporations as well.
One defender of the establishment recently claimed that the trillions of dollars spent to help the poor over the past 50 years have not reduced the number of people living below the poverty level. But despite those discouraging statistics money provided to poor families contributes to improving their quality of life. When you are poor, even a little help may have a great effect. Crime rates have declined significantly over the past decades, despite the increase in numbers of poor young people who commit the most crimes.
We must acknowledge that the private Rockefeller Foundation financed the research of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, which started the post-war sexual revolution (although that foundation eventually stopped contributing after public opinion turned against Kinsey). The wealthy can do a lot to improve society for everyone. The essential components of a nation are families, which are essentially “socialist.” The question is to what degree should the socialist policies of the family be extended to distant citizens you will probably never meet. As long as every citizen may contribute something to the nation, he should have access to essential resources.
Sen. Sanders says he was against the war in Iraq, but he should be consistent and also oppose any future wars in Syria or Iran, unless our allies in the region are threatened with imminent invasion. Despite the relatively isolated (i.e. safe) geographical position of North America, the U.S. federal government spends more money on defense than education, and gives more financial aid to some tiny allies than all the other countries of the world combined – including our major allies and international trading partners who are already being invaded by millions of single young men claiming to be refugees.
It’s true that government programs are often inefficient and wasteful, even in education. The Bush Administration spent US$6 billion on the misdirected “Reading First” program, which was a failure according to a 2008 study that concluded the program had no measurable effect on reading comprehension. It’s also possible that the Bush program actually had a negative effect on children’s internal motivation to learn, by spending excessive time drilling very young children on boring decoding skills, and maintaining the simplistic traditional concept of learning as merely content delivery: the Franken-School monster.
Socialism has a bad reputation because of the tragic communist experiments that failed in Russia, China, and other countries. But those countries continue to behave like totalitarian police states today despite embracing the free market economy, and the example of contemporary Western Europe indicates that some “socialist” economic policies (e.g. free health care and free education) were not the cause of such past failures. I think that if Sen. Sanders wants to appeal to as many voters as possible, he should emphasize how his administration would protect traditional American freedom and avoid making the same mistakes as the U.S.S.R. and the People’s Republic of Albania.
“She was very controlling, very manipulative. She ruled like a dictator…When I got to high school and learned about [Hitler], I thought, Oh my God, he must be related to my mother.” (1)
Sexual abuse of children is a popular and entertaining topic for many people, but physical abuse is more deadly and emotional abuse is much more frequent. Daughters are particularly vulnerable to emotional abuse by their mothers, and some victims report that the effects of their mother’s emotional abuse were worse than the sexual abuse they also suffered. An old saying in some cultures is: You only have one mother, thank God!
Although sexual abuse is commonly called a “violation” of boundaries, that choice of words is a rhetorical attempt to justify moral blame and legal punishment. In sexual or emotional incest, a more accurate label is confusion of boundaries since the parent doesn’t recognize that the child has a separate mind and may normally have different preferences that contradict the parent’s preferences. The emotionally abusive parent reacts to a child’s different preference as if it is a self-contradiction within the parent’s own mind.
Respecting boundaries means knowing where your territory ends and another person’s territory begins. Ethically, you need the other person’s permission to cross into her territory, and the other person needs your permission to cross into your territory. Some abusive parents don’t merely ignore a child’s boundaries, they deny that the child’s boundaries exist at all.
Ideally, every individual should be free to choose her own boundaries as long as they don’t impinge on another person’s boundaries. Other people may offer suggestions on boundary choice, and may suggest that some boundaries may be rigid while other boundaries may be fluid; but if another person says: “You must choose this boundary for yourself” or “Certain boundaries must be rigid or must be fluid,” we may strongly suspect that the other person dictating such rules has some selfish political, economic, or ideological motive for saying that. Each individual should be free to choose her own boundaries, as well as being free to choose if her chosen boundaries are rigid or fluid.
Abusive parents mistakenly see the child’s dependency as a negation of the child’s unique and independent identity. The dependent child is seen as no more separate from the parent than the parent’s hand or foot. Such parents confuse descendance or resemblance with identity. In reality, even in very close proximity or with the umbilical cord still attached, a child has a separate brain and a unique genetic program. An emotionally abusive parent acts as if the child is a reincarnation of her own youth, conveniently ignoring that this new child has different genes and the new child’s brain is developing in a different environment. Or the parent denies that such differences are significant or relevant.
The classic expression of emotional incest is the jealousy parents feel for their child and their consequent attempt to have exclusive power over a child’s every choice, thought, word and deed. I have argued that the classic problem of jealousy is not inevitable but rather a result of the relatively modern, monogamous “nuclear” family. In an ideal polyamorous family children never learn to be jealous because they don’t see models of jealousy in their home, and they aren’t isolated from other children and adults. Unfortunately, jealousy is clearly rampant today in the tiny nuclear family.
The belief that jealousy is supposedly inevitable has become ingrained in modern Western culture. An elementary lesson every young teacher must learn is to keep proper “distance” between himself and his pupils. Nowadays we think of the risk of accusations of sex abuse, but the policy of proper distance existed long before the contemporary mass hysteria over child sex abuse. One thing a modern parent can’t stand is a child coming home and going on and on about how great her teacher is and how she can’t wait to be with her beloved teacher again tomorrow.
In fairness the average parent hasn’t studied child development and isn’t dedicating her life full-time to making children’s lives richer and happier. Most parents spend the majority of their time earning a living and trying to deal with many other immediate problems they have inherited or created or stumbled into. So unfavorable comparisons between a mediocre parent and a good teacher are quite unwelcome at home. Parents are much happier if a child has no special feelings for her teacher, or even better if a child wishes her teacher could be more like dear old mom.
Grandparents and other relatives are in the same position as teachers. From a parent’s point of view, it’s not fair that the parent has to pay all the boring expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, and medicine, and then some free-wheeling aunt or uncle or idle grandparent comes along and offers to buy the kids toys or take the kids to the circus. One generous grandparent who offered to buy a gift for a child was told by the frustrated parent: Give me the money and I’ll buy it.
I was teaching in a girls’ school in 1990 when the mass hysteria over child sex abuse spread from the U.S. to continental Europe. In the beginning I thought it was funny that any parent would suspect a teacher of wanting to molest his students. In my case I was more likely to strangle the teenage girls in my class than make love to them. But the abstract threat of sexual “stranger danger” is convenient for parents. Any threats that exist outside the home are a perfect excuse to keep kids inside the home and away from any competitors for a child’s admiration and affection. Abusive parents conveniently ignore the statistics that clearly show the vast majority of child deaths and serious injuries are caused by parents rather than strangers. The mass hysteria over stranger danger is merely an excuse to justify isolating children and cover-up a parent’s real, selfish fear: losing exclusive authority and control over her little captive audience.
Isolating children to indulge a parent’s jealousy is a form of emotional abuse that is common and widely accepted nowadays, but it is no less damaging or reprehensible than sexual abuse or neglect. Under the guise of “protecting” children from the risk of spoiling or bad influences, such parents are themselves a bad influence on children. In the U.S. the exaggerated risk of stranger danger has become so popular that parents themselves are being arrested for letting children outdoors unsupervised, and a movement has arisen – Free Range Kids to combat the hysteria.
Human beings are social animals, so isolation is extremely painful for a growing child and is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Parents most likely to emotionally abuse their child are the ones who have no adult partner and need a child’s company and “loyalty” to ward-off the parent’s own loneliness. Such parents either have low self-esteem and feel insecure and dread rejection, or they have an unrealistic opinion of their own expertise in supervising the child’s education, character development and social skills. The emotionally abusive parent thinks she is a jack-of-all-trades who doesn’t need any “outside interference” in her child’s life. In other words, a child is typically isolated by the worst possible parent.
In some cases a single parent isolates the child and then neglects her. I have witnessed a child make a comment and her parent simply doesn’t respond. After a reasonable pause the child makes a follow-up comment, and the parent doesn’t respond again. It may be that a parent is so incompetent she doesn’t know how to respond and doesn’t have enough self-esteem to say “I don’t know” or “I’m too exhausted to talk right now.” Or it may be that the parent doesn’t really want to be with the child, so by not responding in effect the parent isn’t there. The child is left wondering if she is hopelessly boring or completely worthless. That is a kind of emotional abuse just as bad as helicopter parenting.
Jealousy, forced isolation and neglect are certainly the most common expressions of emotional abuse today, but there are other ways that parents emotionally abuse children. A parent may actively shame a child’s sexual curiosity and natural lack of inhibition, or a parent may passively neglect to answer a child’s sexual questions and thereby model the parent’s own toxic shame. Regardless of the parent’s motivations, the effect in both cases is likely to be the child’s mental castration and eventual sexual dysfunction. A division of labor is useful in parenting as in most other kinds of work, and a parent should be competent in the kind of work she has to do. If a mother was mentally castrated by her parents when she was a little girl and is now sexually dysfunctional, she should not be supervising her own children’s sex education or anybody else’s.
Before a parent appoints herself supervisor of her child’s sex education the parent should ask herself: When she was a child did she enjoy the benefit of accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education, or was her sexual development neglected? Was she allowed to fondle herself whenever she wanted or was she made to feel guilty about her natural genital sensations? Does she still experience normal and healthy clitoral erections as every little girl does, or is her body now silent? A responsible parent feels overjoyed by her child’s healthy genital function, not jealous and resentful.
In reality child development is not an exact science, so in theory parents should be free to raise children as they see fit and vary from current fashions of political correctness if they prefer. However, ideally all children should learn that they too are free and may communicate with anyone about anything, including and especially if they disagree with their parent’s opinions and wish to protest their parents’ behavior. Not as an opportunity for government authorities to impose politically correct preferences on parents, but as an opportunity for parents to dialogue with other adults in the community and receive constructive feedback.
Traditionally, women play the role of the weak, innocent, childlike saint who can do no wrong and is always above suspicion. So whenever a mother does something clearly wrong it’s easier to blame the husband, father, brother or some other male. Some victims of child sex abuse confide to their therapists that they initially accused their father of being the perpetrator, when in reality it was the mother.
Some emotionally abusive mothers are not blameworthy, because they are deeply disturbed. Another daughter/victim described her mother this way: “She would call me from phone booths when I was a child to say that she had slit her wrist and that she was at a phone booth, that she was about to bleed to death.” (Ibid). In such cases serious psychiatric intervention is called for. I focus responsibility on the mothers who are otherwise fairly normal, not basket cases, although there may be many more deeply disturbed mothers out there who avoid detection because of the traditional parental privilege of isolating children and terrorizing their children into silence.
Selling treatment for sexual or emotional abuse is a big business, even though there is no evidence that any such treatment method is safe or effective by medical standards. Some therapists exploit confused victims of abuse by hiding the lack of evidence, while claiming that just as the child is helpless and not responsible for the abuse, so is the therapist helpless and not responsible for the cure. The victim/patient must “take responsibility for her own recovery.” Nonetheless, if any abuse victim refuses to experiment by trying unproven treatment, it’s a sign of weakness and lack of courage!
Rather than waste time and money on ineffective and possibly dangerous quacks and charlatans treating abuse after-the-fact, I suggest that parents and especially mothers should try to prevent emotional incest by allowing children their own identity and providing even very young children with the freedom to develop their own personality and preferences. Children today have to face a world of information that is very different from the world parents grew up in.
Every parent experiences her child’s naked body exposed sometimes, but few parents photograph the experience, and rarely does a parent exhibit such photographs publicly. One courageous mother who did, Sally Mann, became famous and earned the respect and admiration of many other parents and photographers. Her three children are now grown, having survived the silly controversy over their mother’s work, and we now have the precious benefit of hindsight in their mother’s fascinating memoir: “Hold Still” (1).
There is much bad news for Sally Mann’s enthusiastic critics. It turns out that Mrs. Mann isn’t merely a serious photographer, she’s a good writer and a profound thinker as well. On top of that, she comes from a rather distinguished family whose history would be worth reading in itself even if she had never picked up a camera. I wonder how many of her superficial critics can say that much about themselves. Sally Mann’s real “crime” was not that she exploited her children (the reason most normal people become parents), but that unlike most parents she had the courage to challenge religious tradition by “uncovering her children’s nakedness.”
In 1998 I was browsing in the Barnes and Noble’s bookstore on 18th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, when I came across Sally’s book “Immediate Family” (2), which featured photographs of her three small children posing nude in everyday life around the family farm in Virginia. The book on display also featured some pages torn by (apparently) some confused and disgruntled crusader for body shame.
The petty vandalism in a New York bookshop surprised me, because I had been living in Europe for the previous nine years so I had only briefly heard about Sally’s work and the ensuing controversy. In Europe an image of a top-free 11-year-old girl was used as an album cover (3), and books by British photographer David Hamilton (4), and the Swiss sex education book “Show Me!” (5) also featured images of nude children, but they never suffered any such attacks as far as I knew. Hamilton’s books included romanticized images of young girls that were closer to what might be called erotic art, and “Show Me!” included images of little boys with genital erections and little girls reaching out to touch them. None of these images seemed inappropriate to me, and if some Europeans thought they were inappropriate they didn’t feel their belief gave them the right to damage somebody else’s property or attempt to censor everybody who disagrees with their opinions.
“Hold Still” is the story behind the story, describing Sally Mann’s life from her own childhood to the present (she’s now over 60), as well as offering some fascinating stories about her own parents and ancestors. There is a wealth of information about her experiences but I was disappointed that the book doesn’t say much about the kids’ lives. The book doesn’t say anything about her children’s sexual development and their early sexual education, if any. That’s none of anybody’s business? Neither is anything about her children or her relationships with them. So a report or at least mention of what kind of sex education little Emmett, Jessie and Virginia had – if any – is conspicuous by its absence.
In the BBC series “The Genius of Photography” (6) Sally said photographing her children deepened, complicated and strengthened her interactions with her children. But we aren’t told the details of how their interactions changed or improved. Most of “Hold Sill” is about Sally Mann’s own life and the possible hereditary influences from her forbears. She says her father (a country doctor) and mother didn’t lavish a lot of attention on her or her older brothers. Sally says when she was growing up hers was not a family that touched. “There was no kissing” and even verbal expressions of love were largely absent. “I never heard the words ‘I love you.'” Her father was a dog lover, and as with many pet lovers he did express great love for his animals. One of his beloved dogs slept in the same bed with him, but little Sally was banished to her own bed. Little Sally was cared for primarily by her black nanny Gee Gee, who did take good care of the child, but probably couldn’t and didn’t satisfy little Sally’s need for physical affection.
At a time when doctors were awakened during the night to go out on house calls, little Sally’s father probably didn’t have much free time for his children. But Sally does mention that her dad used to read her the comics regularly before she learned to read herself, took her for rides in his expensive cars, and he carefully recorded the dates on her childhood artwork. Sally was a beautiful child herself, and her dad took pictures of her with his old Leica. A letter he wrote to little Sally was signed “Lots of love to you, Daddy.” I wonder if one reason Sally’s dad often appeared somewhat cold is because Sally’s mom – whose relationship with her daughter was strained and sometimes infuriating – might have demanded “proper distance” between dad and daughter, as is common in modern families.
The author describes a letter she once wrote to her father praising his exceptionally kind treatment of black people, but after mailing it she realized that what she had written was essentially a “love letter” to her father. She tried to get the letter back before it was delivered but she was unsuccessful. When her father receives the letter his reaction is described in some detail.
What about Sally’s famous children? They were the subjects of the controversial photographs, but they are minor characters in this memoir. There are no such intimate glimpses of the emotional lives of her own children and their interaction with each other or with Sally and their father. That focus on herself rather than the kids sounds like a primary purpose of this memoir is self-defense. The reader is being reassured that Sally is a clear-headed and responsible person, not a sex maniac, pedophile, or merely confused and reckless like her critics. But unfortunately the avoidance of discussing intimacy and sex education has the effect of implicitly validating the traditional belief that sex is bad, dirty, etc. so kids need to be protected from it.
Interest in photography is normal but I wonder if Sally’s intense passion for photography was partly influenced by the crisis many women experienced growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Feminists were saying that being a mother and housewife is boring. In order to feel truly fulfilled a woman needs to do more, such as attend university, work outside the home, or be an artist. The pedophobic tone of that viewpoint is deeply disturbing to me. What could be more fulfilling than being a good parent? But like many women of her time (and after), Sally apparently needed to be more than “merely” a good parent. A mystery is why Sally chose photography to satisfy the feminist ideal of the politically correct modern woman.
Hopefully someday Sally’s kids will write a much more important memoir about their own experience of growing up in the modern, liberal Mann household, and their relationships with their controversial mother. Being photographed nude was probably not the center of their lives, and even becoming famous and controversial was probably not some overwhelming influence on their lives. Theirs was an unusual family, with a very courageous and creative mother. That’s the most interesting part of the story to me, but it might not be the most significant thing to the children. No parent is perfect, but I hope the kids now realize that their mother’s family photographs have broad cultural significance and possibly continuing value in combating the Western tradition of promoting body shame.
Although nudists commonly deny that nudity has anything to do with sex or the sexual revolution, it’s hard to deny that by “nudity” what everyone really means is exposure of the sexual organs. Since the vagina is internal and the tip of the clitoris protruding erect is only visible when a girl’s legs are spread apart, in effect images of Sally daughters were never taken (or exhibited) with their genital organs exposed. Nonetheless, even photographs of her unclothed little daughters with their legs together upset a lot of confused people. None of the published images even center on the children’s genital area. Although the children’s nudity around their home was common, there is no indication that the Manns might have been social nudists who visited naturist/nudist resorts where other families are nude as is more common in Europe.
A 1950s photography book that influenced Sally was “The Family of Man” (7), which included an image of an unclothed child seen from behind. The follow-up volume “The Family of Woman” (8) included an image of an unclothed young girl posing in “full frontal” nudity, but Sally doesn’t mention that second volume. Neither of those books were highly controversial, in part because their subjects weren’t primarily nude children, and in part due to the different period of their publication – before the hysteria surrounding daycare centers in the 1980s. In contrast, Sally’s family work was published when the mass hysteria over child sex abuse was well-established around 1990. Although Sally says she was only vaguely aware of the hysteria and was taken by surprise when her work was attacked on supposedly moral grounds, her publisher must have known and expected it. Didn’t Sally’s publisher inform her in advance? Ironically, by denying any suggestion that she deliberately risked notoriety she detracts from the heroic quality of her work.
Sally’s individual photographs of her children are not extraordinary works of beautiful art. They are documentary-style glimpses of everyday life. The technical quality of the images is great – much higher than the average photographer – and each image can stand on its own, but the priceless value of her family work is the portrait of her family that the whole group of images together offer. Do the published images provide an accurate, balanced, and comprehensive portrait of the Mann family? Probably not. Hence, it’s safer to call Sally’s work “art” rather than documentary.
Like her controversial contemporary, Jock Sturges (9), Sally used a large format camera, which is slow and cumbersome for such fast and furious subjects as children. I love large format film myself, and used it for some of the images in my own photo-documentary Girl Becomes Woman but a smaller and more portable 35mm camera with autofocus is more practical for photographing children. If Sally’s kids ever resented being photographed, it’s probably not because they were photographed nude, but because they were photographed at all using such slow and cumbersome methods.
All in all, “Hold Still” is a good book, much more satisfying than the previous film “What Remains: the Life and Work of Sally Mann” (10). But the story is still incomplete. We need to hear the voices of Sally’s children. One of her daughters, Jessie, was interviewed by the photography journal, Aperture, when she was 18, but the interview was too brief. I’m sure there is much more to be told about this fascinating and heroic family, especially from the children’s point of view.