More than two years ago, I wrote a blog post about Club Libby Lu, the store that promotes "make-over" parties for little girls, parties where a girl as young as four or five is dressed as either a princess or a sex object, parties that end with the little girls dancing with "sexy moves" in the window of the mall store. Actually, my post wasn't so much about Club Libby Lu as it was about the conversations I have with my students during the ten minutes before class begins and about how two blog posts about Club Libby Lu led to a discussion about consumerism, the sexualization of pre-pubescent girls, and damaging gender stereotypes. But my post ended up being the target of many google searches, mostly from parents planning birthday parties. Because I'd dared to criticize Club Libby Lu, the post led to hundreds of hate emails.
For the record (and to repeat what I said in some of the comments on my posts), I am completely in favor of kids, both boys and girls, playing dress-up and experimenting with all kinds of costumes and roles. But Club Libby Lu gives the girls only two options: you can be the pretty princess (and a princess by definition is someone born into power and wealth, not an empowered woman who chooses her path) or you can be the sex object rock star who dresses slutty for an audience. Girls at Club Libby Lu parties aren't given the option of scientist, or pilot, or doctor, or firefighter.
And yes, I'm appalled at the way how young children are sexualized at a place like Club Libby Lu. When sexuality is forced on kids before they are ready, it is artificial, and not at all empowering. The first couple of strange comments I got about Club Libby Lu, I made an honest effort to explain some of this, but soon I figured out that commenters never came back to hear what I had to say. When I turned the comments off on the post, I began getting the hate email.
Much of the hatemail begins or ends with an insult to my character. If I look critically at Club Libby Lu, then surely, there must be something wrong with me. Anonymous readers tell me that they feel sorry for my husband, with the implication that anyone who criticizes Club Libby Lu must be frigid. They tell me that I'm an "uptight bitch" and that they feel sorry for my children, who clearly never get to have any fun at all because of their evil feminist mother.
Many of the emails tell me that I need to "lighten up." Why is that whenever feminists analyze gender roles, someone tells them to "lighten up"? The implication is that it is better to just go through life with your brain turned off. My favorite insult was the anonymous person (hate mail is almost always anonymous) who called me a "childless prude who clearly has no clue what it takes to raise kids." That made me laugh.
What appalls me most about the hate mail is not the venom that pours out; that's just misdirected anger and I shrug it off. No, what's shocking is how poorly the emails are written. Has the state of public education in this country sunk to such a level that adults can't communicate in whole sentences? Must their insults be so unoriginal? And what ever happened to making a logical argument?
The biggest defense of Club Libby Lu — well, actually, the only defense I can glean from any of these rambling and poorly written emails — is that the girls have "fun" at the parties. Yep, that's the whole defense. "But it's fun." One parent said he had reservations about the place because of the sexist messages it seemed to be sending, but that he was glad he kept his mouth shut because his daughter "had fun." That seems a curious defense to me. I know people who think that torturing animals is fun — I knew kids when I was growing up who shot birds for fun — and the fact that the kids think it's "fun" doesn't make it okay.
I've yet to receive an email that had any sort of logical defense for Club Libby Lu. And the hate emails are about to come to an end. As many of my readers already know, Saks is closing all their Club Libby Lu stores. By May of 2009, all 98 stores — including the one that opened here in April of 2006 — will be closed. The Saks news release said simply that the stores were "not profitable." I suspect it is the economy more than cultural change that has brought about the end of Club Libby Lu, but still, I am relieved to see those doors shutting.