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'Potty Mouthed Princesses' video offensive?

By Sally Kohn
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
  • A video shows girls dressed as princesses dropping f-bombs to condemn sexism
  • Sally Kohn: Premise is discrimination against women is more offensive than girls cursing
  • Kohn: Video is an ad for T-shirts, but $5 from each shirt goes to women's rights groups
  • The ad might seem exploitative, but Kohn admits she finds it f**king hilarious

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Recently, my 6-year-old picked up the word "f*ckin" on the school bus. I swear, it was from the school bus, and I know this because I don't say that word. I say "f*ck."

She has no idea what the word means. Then again, most often those of us who actually know what it means don't use it that way. It's an expletive -- adults say it when they're whipped up about something, so kids pick it up and then say it to whip up adults.

A clothing company has used this interplay to create a video of little girls, dressed as princesses, dropping f-bombs to draw attention to gender injustice and inequality.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

First they each pose as a pretty princess. Then a little girl shouts "What the f*ck? I'm not some pretty f*ckin' helpless princess in distress. I'm pretty f*ckin' powerful and ready for success!"

"What is more offensive?" the girls ask in the video. "A little girl saying 'f*ck' or the f**king unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?"

All great points. Points we still don't talk enough about as a society -- as evidenced by the unequal treatment still baked into the cultural and policy reality of women in America today.

And the most interesting premise of the video is indeed tied to its salacious production: Why do we think it's more offensive for children, especially little girls, to be cursing like sailors compared with the extraordinary bias, discrimination and in too many cases, violence these girls and others will face throughout their entire lives? Isn't that far more offensive?

By the same token, we as a society often focus on how young women dress -- just like we focus on how young black men dress -- and suggest that not only their clothes are "offensive," but they welcome abuse.

No, what's offensive is that young women and young black men are so routinely, disproportionately subject to discrimination and violence and that rather than addressing those patterns of bias, we blame the victims because of what they were wearing. That, folks, is what is effed up.

The video itself is provocative and bordering on trite.

One or two f-bombs would have probably got the message across, but the barrage of potty-words feels like sensationalistic overkill. Although young children are constantly cast in movie scenes depicting unimaginably horrific violence -- about which no one bats an eye -- somehow a group of girls 6 to 13 cursing their hearts out feels a bit exploitative. They're "profanity puppets," my friend, philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch said. Yup.

One or two f-bombs would have probably got the message across, but the barrage of potty-words feels like sensationalistic overkill.
Sally Kohn

At least they're puppets for good, kind of. Those violent movies don't usually have a message but are purely about making money. This video has a positive message about girl power and women's rights. But it is also an ad.

The video wants you to channel all your outrage, not into volunteering at a domestic violence shelter or calling for the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment, but into buying a T-shirt.

"Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights" reads one such shirt. The lettering is, ironically, bright pink. At least $5 from each T-shirt sale goes to a women's rights group.

The company behind the T-shirts and the ad has its share of critics, who accuse the brand, FCKH8, of exploiting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as others to turn a profit. That's fair, insofar as I suppose if you're icked out about these girls being put up as potty mouths, it seems even ickier if they're doing it to hock clothing.

Then again, I'm a huge fan of the "Camp Gyno" ad for Hello Flo's monthly period care packages -- and that's a funny video with a political message, but ultimately aimed at pushing product. Then again, in fairness, "Camp Gyno" a more subtle and ingenious video.

There are other critiques of the "Potty-Mouthed Princesses" video.

For instance, in the video, when one girl says, "I shouldn't need a penis to get paid," many see the reference as transphobic. In a similar vein, earlier this month, comedian Sarah Silverman made a video for the National Women's Law Center about the gender pay gap.

While illuminating viewers about the massive discrepancy in wages, Silverman pretends she is getting a sex change to address her own unequal treatment. "Does this penis make me look fat?" she jokes at the end. But the transcommunity was upset by both the implication that transitioning one's gender is such an easy, nonchalant effort and that transmen have it so much easier in the workplace. In fact, the transcommunity suffers even worse job discrimination and pay inequity.

So it's distinctly possible that the "Potty-Mouthed Princess" video offends everyone: Certainly conservatives -- many of whom insist gender inequality doesn't exist, or if it does, it's biologically natural -- transfolks, a lot of moms and plenty of others.

Then again, offensive stuff gets attention in our society and plenty of lowest-common-denominator crap aims to do nothing more than generate clicks, even if each click drags our society further into the gutter. Here, you have little girls cursing for a cause.

They're talking about important things, things we all need to be talking about. And yeah, they're selling T-shirts. But remember, $5 from every shirt will go to women's rights organizations. So far, FCKH8 has donated over $250,000 to LGBT rights organizations through other T-shirt campaigns.

Still on the fence about whether I was ultimately being a bad feminist or a bad mom or something by finding this video hilarious, I sent it to my own mom. "I fell out of my chair laughing," my mom told me.

Well, all right then. "But I don't think I'll be forwarding it to my friends."

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