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  • Writer's pictureEmily Ainscough

RE Colleen Ballinger

TW: This post discusses inappropriate behaviour with minors, sexual assault, perpetuation of misinformation regarding sex to children, animal abuse, incest.

Recently, several individuals have come forward with stories about their relationships as young teens with Colleen Ballinger (the creator behind YouTube's 'Miranda Sings'). I've decided to talk about it on my little blog despite having literally nothing to do with the situation because I think it's really important that we do. Legal action is not the only weapon we have in our arsenal to push back against behaviour we do not want to be repeated. Legal action is how we upkeep the standards we have decided upon - but discussion, talking about what is right and wrong and how we feel about things that have happened to people, that is how we change those standards, move forward, and help people realise what is damaging and how it is so.

Since I'm not a lawyer and don't know how to corroborate allegations (but from my humble perspective there seems to be pretty comprehensive supporting evidence to back those allegations), I think the victims are in the best position to talk about their specific stories. Instead, I don't need to talk about what 'may' or sure, for the sake of charity, 'may not' have happened, to bring up serious points of contention... a lot of the things I take issue with are shamelessly out there in the public, as part of her career. Littered across this woman's published books, YouTube channel and recordings of live shows are examples of seriously damaging, inappropriate and frankly traumatic content aimed at and marketed for children. This won't be a comprehensive list of everything I take issue with (because frankly I'd struggle to whittle that down to a War and Peace length expose) but like a typical oat-milk-swigging-Gen-Z I'm going to highlight and explain why a selection of these instances really aren't OK.

As a little intro to Ballinger and 'Miranda Sings' (her internet persona) before we even get to the more disturbing aspects of her career the entire basis of the 'comedy' is making fun of a certain type of woman. On a very surface level it's just mean. By mimicking a stereotype she's openly belittling women who she deems to not be able to sing, wear too much lipstick, have a poor sense of style, are unintelligent and speak a certain way. A lot of people interpret that speech pattern as mocking speech impediments, which is abhorrently ableist, but even if this isn't the case, 'mimicking' gait, voice and physical appearances just aren't a good look on anyone. It's giving high school mean-girl, which for a woman in her thirties, is just sad.

Now, take that un-funny premise of a character Ballinger is mocking for cheap laughs and add to the mix that one of the strongest and most frequent running jokes in her arsenal is that Miranda is being sexually abused by her uncle, and the character is too naïve to notice. Even if this content was aimed at adults... What's the joke here? Are we supposed to be laughing at grooming, child exploitation, incest, sexual assault? Every time the butt of the joke is very much Miranda, the victim, not the perpetrator, and that is what distinguishes it from tasteless age-inappropriate humour to the harmful perpetuation of rape culture and indulging in the worst parts of the social consciousness.

The rest of her 'humour' revolves pretty much exclusively around cheap sexual innuendos (and often not even innuendos, just overt shock-value sex gags), a story about animal abuse (and actual videos of her acting abusively to her cat for 'fun'), graphic depictions and discussion of aspects of puberty such as the growth of pubic hair and menstruation using non-informative, derogatory and inflammatory terms, and slut shaming. I want to make it very clear that my issue is not the discussion of puberty, sex or even sexual violence with children - I actually think more education on these topics is important, my problem is that this content does nothing to educate, and in fact goes a significant way towards damaging child perception of these topics and grossly distributing misinformation and dangerous prejudices. In short, this kind of content is why we need better sex-ed so desperately.

Children need to learn about sex and puberty from qualified professionals familiar with the nuances of culture and the media in a safe environment where clear messages are communicated about these very challenging topics. At a time in which children need to grasp complex ideas and knowledge of their bodies and the human condition in a place without judgement, Collen Ballinger literally had children she thought were dressed 'inappropriately' stand up on stage in front of thousands of people, point at them and tell them they were "porn". That is the direct sexualisation of children's bodies. In public. In front of an audience. One victim (and yes, I will say victim) of this kind of 'skit' was a girl who was invited on stage, after which Ballinger physically spread her legs. She notes feeling vulnerable, scared and unsafe in the venue and outside of it during, after, and because of this 'bit'. In other famous segments of her live shows, she would ask children to reach into her pants where she had stashed a bag of snacks (!?!) before asking for a kiss on the cheek... and there are countless other examples. Even children who thought it was funny at the time and enjoyed partaking in the show will grow up now and look back on it with the adult lens that Ballinger had at the time and see things very differently. It is as simple as this: children cannot consent to being sexualised. This is non-contact sexual abuse (and sometimes just straight up sexual abuse). Even if we take children out of this and imagine the skit was performed with adults: Live on stage in front of thousands of people, with a power dynamic of an incredibly famous person who is literally running the show, you cannot achieve proper consent.

As an adult, when I think back to those early years of pubity, back in school when we are all trying to piece the puzzle together of what we were not told and our only clues were the odd inappropriate joke we would hear from an older kid that also didn't really understand what they were talking about, that's what created complexes, internalised misogyny, and the blatantly bad grasp of sex ed that meant I wasn't safe in my own body. Now, to a certain degree, until sex-ed improves in schools and we can tackle this issue head on, a certain degree of this is to be expected amongst children just trying their best to work it out and make a joke out of it. We used 'paedo' as an insult before we really got what that meant, and then when we started to get what that meant that internalised some pretty nasty shit. Looking back now, it wasn't funny, but it's understandable that children would make those mistakes. But what's really disturbing, is that that kind of dangerous 'humour' is indulged in here not by a child trying to 'work it out', but by an adult woman making content for children. When those jokes are told by an adult what that publicly says is 'there is nothing wrong with jokes like these', and even more damagingly it blurs the lines between sexual facts and fiction.

Whether this behaviour is the result of some genuinely tragic arrested development for Colleen Ballinger, and what we are seeing aresymptoms of her trauma, or whether it's a malicious manipulation of child psychology for profit is somewhat besides the point (and the truth is almost certainly somewhere in between). The discussion needs to be had about what safeguarding standards need to be put in place to make sure content like this doesn't continue. We need better sex ed. We need to find out what is and isn't OK and why it is or isn't. We need to have stricter rules surrounding the use of children's images, bodies and boundaries in books, shows and other types of entertainment and we need at least 1 of the many hundreds of people these ideas will have been passed through for approval to question with a little more discernment this kind of material.

Get thinking about it, get talking about it, and let's be better.

See you on the flip flop xox

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