Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Fine Line Between Self-Expression and Sexualization - Ethan Wilwert and His Drag Queen Holiday Wish

My kids have asked for some pretty weird things for Christmas.While there was a glaring absence of "trained attack sharks" and "survival hatchets" under our Christmas tree, not all of the presents under there were typical. For example, my youngest daughter unwrapped boxing gloves, focus mitts, and a t-shirt that reads "I will armbar your soul" (a la Ronda Rousey style). Not exactly the stereotypical holiday gifts for a twelve year-old girl.

Ethan Wilwert, an 8 year-old boy from Port Charlotte, Florida received a not-so-average Christmas gift, too. Instead of the traditional trucks and superhero action figures, Ethan was a gifted with a drag make-up tutorial.

Season Wilwert, Ethan's mother arranged her son's drag queen makeover with Emmy-nominated make-up artist, Joey Killmeyer. The resulting pictures have blown up the internet.

The Facebook photo that went viral.
The Daily Beast reported, "It's clear from the photo how talented and happy Ethan is: Dramatic eyebrows, smoky shades of blue around his eyes, and richly plum lips in a pout that reveals just a hint of a smile."

Just reading the description makes Ethan sound . . . alluring.

Ethan's mother assures the masses that this was all about promoting her son's creativity and self-expression, not about "gender identity or sexual preference." She's quick to defend him claiming, "He's young. I don't want him known the rest of his life as the 8 year-old drag queen." Sorry, Mom. It might be too late for that. Allowing your young son's tarted up face to go viral on the internet kinda sets him up for that.

She defends her choice further by claiming the whole experience was about "a young boy happening to have an interest in the arts. It would be no different than a girl liking sports or a truck."

Except it IS different.

Maybe I'm just jealous because I regularly botch even the most basic application of eyeliner, but I don't think so. I have nothing against boys participating in traditionally feminine pursuits. My boys played with dolls. There may have been a few episodes from their toddler years that involved toe nail polish. And my youngest daughter's Christmas presents prove I have nothing against my girls pursuing traditionally masculine activities. I'm all about finding your true passions no matter what insults internet trolls spew at you because of them.

But I'm also quick to point out Society's double standards.

We are generally quick to criticize the sexualization of little girls. Very few people think dressing little girls to look like grown women (think Toddlers And Tiaras) is in any way a good idea. Make-up, spray tans, and fake hair aren't meant for children, because they make little girls look like desirable, grown adult women. We know it's not right. Little girls with spackled-on make up, strutting around in high heels and low-cut dresses give us a sick feeling in the pits of our stomachs.

Sexualizing little girls is not okay. We know that in the core of our being.

But sexualize a little boy and the internet applauds your diversity and tolerance and open-mindedness.

That, my friends, is a glaringly obvious double-standard.

And while perhaps not intentional, Ethan's make-up leans heavily on the seductive side. Drag queens don't generally go for frumpy. Those pouty lips and smokey eyes aren't exactly projecting the innocence of youth.

Most mothers don't tart up their little girls, because they don't want to draw sexual attention to their daughters. They don't want their small children arousing sexual desire in adults because it's destructive. A mother's primary role is to protect her children from harm, not just physical harm but emotional and psychological harm, as well.

In 2010, the United Kingdom commissioned a study on The Sexualization of Young People. The study found that "exposure to the sexualized female ideal is linked with lower self-esteem, negative moods and depression in young women and girls."

If it is damaging for our daughters, certainly it is just as detrimental for our sons.

According to Ethan's mom, "He's just exploring and being a kid. We, as parents, should be our child's biggest cheerleader."

Nope. Sorry, Season. While I agree that we should allow our children freedom to explore and be kids, Ethan's over-the-top drag queen make-up has nothing to do with childhood. Look at his picture. He doesn't look like an eight year-old boy at all. He kinda looks like a trollop.

As for being our child's biggest cheerleader... Maybe. Unless, that is,  they choose something potentially dangerous. I certainly haven't encouraged my son's very real interest in explosives. Why? Because I don't want him blowing up the neighborhood. Excuse me for being overly cautious and squashing his dreams, but I want him to be safe. I just can't be supportive of that particular passion. I'm such a horrible mother.

I'm sure the neighborhood is appreciative.

Besides, I think you passed the exploration of self-expression aspect of this Yuletide gift the moment the photos hit the internet. But maybe it's because I'm the mother of daughters that I'm so cautious. I've had "the talk" with my girls about the dangers of the internet. They know that something as simple as a Beach Day selfie can be passed around for strange men to get their jollies.

They know they should be careful who sees their pictures. Photos taken with innocent intentions can still arouse unwanted attention. (And by arouse... I definitely mean "arouse".)

I assure you, Season, the girls don't own the monopoly on sexualization. Be careful out there. Don't let your desire for enlightened progressive thought endanger your child's well-being.

He is only 8, after all.

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