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‘a refreshing oasis in a trashy desert of cheap flesh’: slut shaming, role models and bindi irwin

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Mia Freedman, founder of the website Mamamia, is a big fan of Bindi Irwin.  In her latest piece praising the now 16 year old daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter, she applauds Bindi’s recent remarks on appropriate attire for teenage girls, contrasting them with a lot of selfies posted online by other teenage(ish) celebrities (including Miley Cyrus) in semi-nude, sexualised poses (five imbedded photos, plus a gallery at the end of the article – overkill? Apparently not).

According to Bindi, ‘I look around at a lot of young girls that are my age and they’re always trying to dress older. Whether it’s wearing revealing clothes or hardly wearing any clothes at all, I feel really bad for them.’  Last time I remember hearing of Bindi was when she was thrust into the spotlight following her father’s death, but evidently she’s now a young woman who holds her own view of the world (they grow up so fast!) and she’s got some advice for other teenagers.  ’I almost wish I could tell young girls, “look, in 10 years when you look back at yourself, you’ll cringe honey, honestly.”‘

Freedman agrees wholeheartedly with Bindi, and hopes her own daughter will see Bindi as a role model.  Mia describes Bindi as ‘a refreshing oasis in a trashy desert of cheap flesh,‘ providing plenty of images of said flesh to emphasise her point, and I guess to some degree she’s right – Bindi is pretty unique.

But what she doesn’t address is the fact that it isn’t up to her to pick her daughter’s role models; her daughter will be more than capable of doing that for herself, and if she’s anything like I was as a teenager she’ll probably go to some lengths to avoid the kinds of decisions her mum wants her to make (sorry, Mum).

Freedman does raise the concept of agency in her piece, but again, she doesn’t directly address it. She quotes a tweet from former Neighbours star Caitlin Stacey (who seems to be making a name for herself being controversial) advising Bindi ‘in ten years you’ll wish you stood beside your shared sex rather than be proud you belittled their choices & agency.’ But Mia doesn’t comment on it other than to imply that anyone who agrees with Bindi ‘risks being called sexist or oppressive or a Nana.’

Mia Freedman doesn’t say why telling young women to put their clothes on isn’t sexist or oppressive; she just challenges you to call her out. So I will.

I think that telling young women to put their clothes back on is sexist and oppressive. (I don’t think it makes you a ‘nana’ though. Just because someone is old doesn’t mean they are conservative.) Here’s why.

Test number one for sexism: would you give the same advice to your son?
I’m pretty confident that the answer here is no.  There’s no need to warn teenage boys about the implications that go hand-in-hand with the way they dress.  No one’s judging the moral worth of boys based on the amount of skin they show.  And while it’s true that the reality of the world we live in is that yes, boys and girls – and men and women – are judged for different things, and girls/women are much more likely to be judged on their appearance. But that doesn’t mean that as a parent or as a role model you need to buy into that.  It’s possible to say to a teenage girl, ‘hey, some people are going to judge you based on your appearance.  Those people do not determine your moral worth, nor do they have any right to tell you that you’re letting yourself down or that you’re not respecting yourself purely by what you choose to wear (or not wear).  The only person who needs to be comfortable with the clothes you wear is you.’

It seems to me that Freedman’s article is confusing the way teenagers choose to dress with the issue of the sexualisation of young women and girls in the media.  The latter is a real concern, and there’s evidence of the damage that over-sexualisation of girls at a young age can cause.  But when it comes to the decisions teenagers make about the clothes they want to put on their own bodies, I think that dictating what is and isn’t appropriate or self-respecting attire is just dangerous. On the flipside, I think that teenage girls posing for selfies with facial expressions that seem to say “please feel free to see me as your sexual object” – regardless of their state of undress – are a real concern.  Many of the photos accompanying Mia’s article fall into this category, which indicates that it may lie at the root of what she is really concerned about.

Mia is writing from the perspective of a parent, but she also thinks teenage girls will take Bindi’s words more seriously because they’re coming from a peer.  Which makes me wonder: would I have looked up to a child star turned teen celebrity like Bindi as a role model when I was a teenager?  I’m not convinced I would have.  If I’d read her advice during my trashy magazine faze I would have dismissed it as stuffy and old fashioned; if I’d read it during my “I’m too angst-y for the mainstream” faze I would have agreed wholeheartedly that those girls were trashy bitches.

To me, both Bindi’s words and Mia’s enthusiasm just come across as judgemental.  And that seems to be the unifying thing through all my teenage fads – being judgemental.  Teenage girls can be horrendously cruel, mostly because we were (and are) so insecure. But they do have agency and control over the decisions they make.  The implication in telling girls to put their clothes back on is that dressing provocatively denotes a lack of self-respect.  And I think that making a judgement on anyone else’s level of self-respect is inherently dangerous and oppressive.

Ironically, I think that Bindi does make a good role model, but not because of what she says. Reading all of Mia Freedman’s past articles about her (and there are quite a few) left me with the image of a confident, independent young woman doing a damn good job of resisting the pressure to be other than she is.  The problem only arises when she starts telling other girls what to do (which I don’t think is her fault, incidentally.  She was probably just answering a question to the best of her ability.)

A good role model is someone who lives their life in a way that inspires others to follow them.  Not because they’ve been told to, not because their moral worth depends on it – because they choose to.   Bindi is coming from the perspective of the khaki-clad child star being confronted with the red carpet and all the pressures that go along with it, and it’s understandable that she would feel under pressure to defend her image.  Hopefully in the future she’ll be able to resist the pressure to make judgements on those who don’t share her image and get on with being the role model she’s growing up to be.

7 thoughts on “‘a refreshing oasis in a trashy desert of cheap flesh’: slut shaming, role models and bindi irwin

  1. Back in the 80s girls would have looked up to Debbie Gibson or Tiffany if they were into music. Ponytails, denim jackets and funky jewellery, a time when girls dressed like girls and not a trashy street corner hooker.

    The difference that people seem to be forgetting is that teenage girls are NOT women, NOR young women, they are teenage girls. If you want to dress like a whore, leave it until you’re an adult.

    The other issue is that the parent has the money and dictates how their children, boys and girls, should dress. Until they start earning their own and are adults, they damn well wear what they’re told to wear or they go without.

    Any expert will tell you you are in control of the money, NOT your child. What they wear is up to the parent, NOT them. They can dress like whores when they’re an adult, until then, learn and understand the difference between a young girl and a legal adult. Although let me say, not even 20 something “adult” females are very “adult” these days. Many act like drunken trash that needs a damn good thrashing. Bindi is a teenage GIRL just like millions of others.

    Miley and Justin Bieber went off the rails because their parents washed their hands of them at 18. 18 is not an adult by any stretch of the imagination. No wonder so many get into trouble, once they turn 18 parents stop enforcing rules and 18 year olds, who are STILL teenagers, think they can do what they want and there will be no consequences. And when there are, they have no freakin’ idea of what happened because their parents didn’t raise them to have morals and standards and to think highly of themselves. Morals have disappeared along with parental control.

    • Woah Diva Jewels – ‘whores that need damn good thrashing’ is not a line that belongs in the mouth of any sane person. I don’t care what you think was appropriate in the 80s, I’m pretty sure that sort of language has never been permissible.
      I hope to everything that I hold dear in this world that you do not have a daughter or a son. And that if you do they get out of your poisonous home asap.
      And frankly there’s nothing with being a ‘whore’. Whores are not bad people who need thrashing any more than 18 year old girls who want to feel sexy.

      You Jewel Diva are what’s wrong with this world.

      • Eesh, you have clearly taken two paragraphs of my entire comment WAAYYYYYY out of proportion and assumed I meant something I didn’t, hence your NEED to insult me.

        On top of that, you clearly didn’t bother reading what I actually wrote, I said “many act like drunken trash that need a damn good thrashing” Absolutely NOTHING about whores in that sentence, I was talking about young drunk girls in general and unfortunately there are way too many stories on tv about young women getting drunk and picking fights and what can society do to change it. Give them a damn good talking too, and a thrashing if necessary, otherwise they’ll end up in jail, dead from drugs or alcohol poisoning, on the streets or dead from a junkie pimp or john who doesn’t get what he wants.

        Eesh, you clearly have a problem and took it out on me without fully comprehending what I wrote or how I wrote it. Shame on you, telling ME I’m what’s wrong with this world, with a comment like yours it’s definitely you and not me.

        Girls are still girls, they are not adults, nor women, and that is the issue going on with these conversations.

  2. Contemporary feminism tries to destroy everything. It tells young girls that having low or no morals makes them equal to boys. It should rather encourage them to focus on education instead. Unfortunately, contemporary feminists are so spoiled and sex crazed that they lost any interest in anything important whatsoever. The role models like Miley are actually a product of a marketing machine which mainly benefits rich, old, white men. Congratulations to Bindi for being different!

  3. Basically what this article was saying is that no matter how an individual chooses to dress, it should NEVER be a deciding factor on you treat them as human beings. So Lady Jewels Diva, you should be ashamed of yourself. And Bob Hoskins, take your own advice and maybe get some of that slice of education you were talking about. Both of you clearly have a ways to go on how to be a decent human being. Nice commentary eesh!

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