I'm the kind of teacher who always gets to my class ten minutes early, taking possession of the room as soon as I can. And I love that ten minutes before class begins. As students trickle into the room, we talk about all kinds of things – current events, speakers who come to campus, field research, weekend plans. I used to bring the newspaper with me, but nowadays, more often than not, I come to class saying, "Hey, check out what I just read on a blog."
Last week, after reading posts by Phantom and Angry Pregnant Lawyer about Club Libby Lu, a place that puts on expensive birthday parties that include make-up, nail polish, hair spray, and sexy clothing for little girls, I couldn’t wait to find out what my students thought about the place. After all, they are a whole generation younger than me so I cannot always predict their reaction. Maybe they would not be disgusted at the ways that these places encourage little girls to accept their roles as sex objects or princesses. Maybe they would not be horrified at the way these places feed consumerism. Perhaps they are so used to this kind of thing that they would be calm about the fact that such a place not only exists, but opens this month in Snowstorm City.
They were not calm.
Within minutes, almost every woman in the room was voicing her opinion, her disgust and horror. And they jumped to other topics too. “What about beauty pageants for little girls?” one woman said, “How horrible is that?”
Later we would be able to discuss the topic calmly, analyzing the ways in which rigid gender roles are taught to children, discussing the ways in which girls are especially targeted by corporations to be good little consumers. And a chemistry student would talk about the toxins involved with such things as cosmetics and nail polish, saying that it would be especially important for pregnant women and children to stay away from such a place. But for that first ten minutes, the women in the room were so filled with horror and disgust that we could not get much past ranting and raving.
The men in the room were mostly quiet, looking sort of surprised. "Yeah, I was disgusted by the concept," one man told me, "but it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I was just surprised at how emotional the women in the room got. Like this really, really bothers them."
And we keep returning to the topic. It keeps popping up in class discussions – well, we are reading poems about the body so the topic is applicable -- or during the chats we have during those ten minutes before class. Some of the students keep saying, no, no, this can’t be for real. No sane parents would let their kids go to birthday parties like that, no less pay money for them.
That I think, is when we entered the denial phase. Maybe what we'd read was exaggerated. Perhaps the reporter was just focusing on the princess costumes and hottie celebrity outfits. Perhaps other costumes were available: firefighter, pilot, scientist, doctor, all kinds of choices. Most of the students agreed that playing dress-up is a healthy thing for a child do, so long as she is offered a whole variety of costumes and choices. And we know that the media often does get things wrong. Maybe we were just all overreacting. So yesterday morning, my students decided to call the place to see if it was for real.
KayakMan volunteered to make the call – he was the only person in the room who thought he could make the call without reacting in any way. He used a speaker phone so that we could all hear.
The call was answered by a peppy female voice. KayakMan said that he had a five-year-old and was looking for birthday party options.
"Our parties involve makeovers," the cheery voice said. She went on to explain that the makeover included hair, make-up, fingernails, lips, and then something to do with goody bags that we didn’t quite catch. Lip gloss. Hair spray. Accessories. Lotion. Pretty Lotion, she called it. (KayakMan was starting to zone out.)
"What about costumes?" KayakMan asked, after being nudged by a classmate.
She said yes, they had costumes. There were five makeover choices: Rocker. Priceless Princess. Tween Idol. Super Star. Royal Heiress. The girls will just love it. And the counselors work with the girls, whatever that means.
Then KayakMan mentioned that his five-year-old was a boy.
There was a pause.
"I will have to check with the manager," the voice on the other end said. The cheery enthusiasm disappeared. And that became her stock reply for everything he asked after that. "I will have to check with the manager and get back to you." The manager, she said, would be in later in the day.
When KayakMan hung up, everyone in the room started screaming at once. Makeovers for a five-year-old?
And that was all before class even began.