We talk a lot about the sexualization of young girls on this site. From spray tanning and padded bras for little ones on Toddlers & Tiaras to young models who are being photographed and styled as adult women. We discuss the problems this creates for young girls who are constantly subjected to the idea that their value is based on how attractive they are. And we hope to protect girls from the idea that their natural appearance needs to be altered to fit into a specific sexy mold. We talk a lot about girls and sexualization, but we tend to look past the early stress put on young boys to objectify females before they can even understand what attractiveness and sexuality are.

The truth is that plenty of parents find it cute when they’re little boys act like big men. Dads make jokes about how their infants sons “like the boobs.” Mothers brag about how all the little girls at the playground just flock to her little “heartbreaker.” Just like their Toddlers & Tiaras counter-parts, these parents are encouraging the sexualization of children. They just don’t understand, because the boys aren’t the ones being objectified. And that’s why it’s become so pervasive in our culture.

We get angry when clothing for young girls focuses on being pretty and dating as opposed to being independent or intelligent. And yet, mothers think nothing of dressing their little boys in phrases and innuendo that say their worth is based on appearance and ability to land a date. In about fifteen minutes of browsing at some major children’s retailers I found infant or toddler shirts that say, “I Get All The Chicks,” “Heartbreaker In Training,” “Big Brother’s Wingman,” and “Certified Hunk.” Because it’s just so adorable to think of little boys dating and referencing girls as “chicks.”

For me, the most frustrating of all the early sexualization practices for young boys has to be the idea that little boys need to ogle women with their dads as a bonding ritual. It’s the father-son trips to Hooters. It’s the hilarity of seeing a young child holding his dad’s Playboy magazine. Suddenly, objectifying females becomes a part of the manly experience. It’s as if the boys are only boys because they find conventionally attractive women appealing. We encourage this thought process at such a young age and then we’re confused why these young men grow up to view women as pieces of meat.

I have close friends who see no problem with taking young children to restaurants like Hooters. I know more than one mom who just shakes her head when her husband takes his young son to Tilted Kilt, another restaurant that’s appeal centers around the skimpiness of the waitress’s uniforms. (They’re probably going to love me for writing this piece.) And they’ve said that they don’t mind the practice because their kids don’t understand yet what sexualization is. These little boys don’t know why a woman in a bra and mini-skirt is attractive.

I can’t help but think that it’s the same excuse that was used by a certain pageant mom to explain her daughter’s Pretty Woman hooker get-up. The logic goes, if the kids are too young to understand the context, it’s no big deal.

And yet, it is a big deal. Children understand a lot more than we give them credit for. And I don’t think that it takes a genius to figure out that a pretty woman with barely any clothes on is valued on her appearance. It doesn’t take a lot of context to understand that these restaurants are popular because they involve pretty women pampering and serving men, which is obviously what every man wants.

In an article about the growth of “breastaurants” at Fox News, the owner of Twin Peaks restaurant chain explains, ”We believe in feeding the ego before feeding the stomach. Twin Peaks is about you, `cause you’re the man!” This is their business strategy. And it shouldn’t be hard to see how a young mind can interpret attractive women fawning on their father, and their father paying for the pleasure. When pretty girls pay attention to you, “you’re the man!”

As a culture, some of us are at least talking about young girls and the pressure they face early on. We’re discussing ways to protect young females from body image pressure or inappropriate exposure. We’re getting outraged about crotchless thongs being sold to young girls, as we well should. But we’re only looking at half of the problem. We should be just as outraged about fathers taking their sons with them to objectify women as we are about mothers dressing up their little girls for pageants. To fix this problem, we need to start at the beginning of the pattern. Ogling women shouldn’t be considered bonding time for dads and their little boys. No child should be in a restaurant that profits off of the sexualization and exploitation of women. And all kids should be taught to respect one another based on their personalities, not their appearance or the appearance of the people they surround themselves with.

Hooters picture courtesy of Hooters.com

I Get All The Chicks – Available at Target, Heartbreaker In Training – Available at JCPenney, Big Brother’s Wingman – Available at OshKosh, Certified Hunk – Available at Carters