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Fight for liberation regressing

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The Facebook page jailkerrycampbell isn't getting much traffic yet, but the San Francisco child protective services caught up with the real Kerry Campbell Wednesday and nabbed her kid. Now the overbearing beautician mama is pleading remorse and promising to check in to some self-esteem therapy.

Daughter Britney, 8, should start right away, too. Britney is a puffy-cheeked pageant contestant who got regular Botox shots -- four times in the last year, starting with her eighth birthday "present" -- from her mother, to smooth out the facial wrinkles. Most of us would have recognized these as dimples.

Britney also gets body waxed to prevent pubic hair from crowding the bikini line when she reaches puberty.

Kerry says her daughter will thank her when she's a star -- and she's going to be a star. Monster? Kerry Campbell said she's just following the advice of other pageant moms.

"It's a tough world, the pageant world."

No, it's a tough world. Especially for girls who grow up in the warped realm of a mother who will go to obscene lengths to live out her thwarted dreams vicariously. The normal, neurotic hormone-ravaged adolescence the rest of us survived is so yesterday for some kids.

I pity the young feminists RebELLEs, gathering for their second conference in Winnipeg Friday. They are girding for the new revolution, built on decades-old battles fought in consciousness-raising workshops of the 1970s, human rights tribunals in the 1980s and the boardrooms of the 1990s. The feminists of the 21st century have also taken up the job left undone globally, in countries where women are publicly stoned for adultery or where lesbians are murdered during "corrective" rapes.

Progress comes in baby steps on many fronts, socially and globally, but I see the fight for liberation regressing, too.

On the home front, in fact. I've given ground on the domestic politics of division of labour. (I've accepted the fact that if I don't wash the floors, they don't get washed.)

The more daunting challenge is the raising of our daughters and sons, particularly our girls. They are growing up in a hypersexualized world, fraught with far more land mines than what I faced 40 years ago.

It used to be an 11-year-old girl was on the tipping point of growing up female, at risk of losing her jam as she tried to survive the snake pit of junior high. That's now the lot of eight- or nine-year-olds.

Body image? Notch the age back three or four years.

And they are drowning in the not so subtle stuff, too. When I was a ruffian left to my own devices, we'd find porn mags stuffed into culverts, with empty beer bottles and used condoms. Now kids are a click away from music videos that glorify sexual exploitation, degradation and violence.

Pre-teens post breathtakingly risqué photos of themselves on Facebook. It's a dangerous practice for all the obvious reasons, but it's also dangerously coercive, moving the line of what's socially acceptable behaviour.

Once I signed into social networking, fretting about the helicopter syndrome became academic real quick; in the Internet age, the parent who is not hypervigilant is not doing the job.

Kick them out to play in traffic or explore the riverbank, it's safer out there.

The rapid sexual maturation of our girls is wrapped up in pervasive marketing. But kids learn from role models and the strongest modelling starts early, in the home.

The stuff you see or hear in the playground, virtual or down the street, is the stuff women throw at each other all the time and little girls are finely, biologically tuned to the cues of femininity.

They are expert social navigators.

They see Mom changing the way her face looks, obsessing over the bulge, hear the moms talk about their diets and body enhancements.

It is a stretch to link the routine domestic influences on girls to the mind-bendingly destructive parenting of Kerry Campbell.

But a stretch concedes the two are connected; it's a continuum.

Aging feminists fought with traditional roles. We asserted our sexuality to assert equality. Our girls are struggling to assert their value in a world where sexual prowess is equated with feminine power and perfection.

In the (r)evolution of gender equality, none of us gets to pick our battles, but I'd gladly take mine over theirs, any day.

catherine.mitchell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2011 A14

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