Okay, this is almost too much.
Evidently, you can go into a Wal-Mart store and purchase underwear for a pre-teen girl that says, "Who needs credit cards…," insinuating that a girls’ greatest hope for financial security and independence is between her legs. Don’t believe me? Go look at the picture.
Sorry to be crass, but seriously?
This is one of those things that is so offensive on so many levels that I’m going to have to narrow it down to just one: that it seems to me that this product is a direct endorsement of the concept of human trafficking.
Which I have been educated about as a local issue largely due to some of the amazing Grantee Partners we work with, including Ayuda, the Polaris Project and, more recently, FAIR Fund, a new Grantee Partner and 2007 Leadership Awardee.
As a Leadership Awards volunteer, I conducted a site visit of FAIR Fund, where I found myself shocked to learn of the pervasive way that human, and child trafficking, is affecting our local community and our nation–and particularly when it consists of trafficking for sexual purposes, the most prevalent type. Before, I had naively thought that this was primarily an international issue. (Not that that made it okay.)
The FAIR Fund offers these statistics:
- 70% of all victims of trafficking are trafficked for sexual purposes;
- 80% of all victims are women;
- 50% of all victims are youth and children;
- 9.5 billion dollars have been made off the bodies of young girls and women in sex trafficking;
- 200,000 to 350,000 American girls and boys are at risk of being exploited for sexual purposes;
- 20,000 individuals are trafficked INTO the United States each year;
- In the United States, ANY minor child involved in commercial sexual exploitation is considered a victim of human trafficking.
So, to me, by that definition, wherein any minor child–of an age where they may get their underwear from the junior department at Wal-mart–who is coerced into or paid for sex is considered a victim of human trafficking.
Why then would Wal-mart encourage such behavior by selling a product such as this? What sort of message does this send to our young women, or to the boys and men who are encouraged by seeing something like this to view young women–or women in general–as objects, as commodities, as beings who have only their sexuality to use as a vehicle to financial independence and security?
Why would Wal-mart sell a product that blatantly endorses a concept that is not only insulting, offensive, misleading and dangerous, but also illegal? The Polaris Project has a great overview of the legalities.
I guess their response would have to be, "Because it sells." How a propos.
My initial exposure to human trafficking in terms of sexual exploitation of minor women came when I lived in Africa, where, sadly, it was a fairly common practice that young girls had "sugar daddies." Men they would provide sexual services to in order to get the money for food, clothes, to get their hair done, and, most sadly, to pay their school fees.
Either because their parents couldn’t afford to, or because they didn’t deem their daughter worth educating. (Education is an investment after all, and there’s less return on a girl’s education than a boy’s because girls are generally just going to become part of her husband’s family, and not a breadwinner for her own parents.)
But, for girls who were driven and wanted an education but didn’t have the financial resources, sometimes they would subject themselves to sexual exploitation in order to get it. So that maybe, one day, they could hold a job–and wouldn’t need to depend on the favor of a man to support them.
In a culture of poverty, particularly where young women are not valued or seen as worth educating, the commonly accepted societal message is that being a woman, and using your sexuality, is the only means to economic security and survival.
This aspect of living in Africa–hearing the stories of my female students, friends and colleagues as they recounted their experiences and feelings of constantly being told covertly and overtly that their value lied in their beauty, their sexuality, their womanhood only in so far as it pleased a man–remains one of the most disturbing aspects of my experience and memories.
So thanks Wal-Mart, for bringing these attitudes home and for marketing them–just like you’re implying we should be marketing our young women.
To make your voice heard by writing Wal-Mart and letting them know how you feel about them carrying this product: customer service or corporate.