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Playing at Sexy

Posted by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 8:12 AM
  • 18 Replies


Playing at Sexy


Last month, over the course of one workday, six friends sent me a link to the same video along with messages that said, “Have you seen this?” I had, but I clicked it each time anyway. I just couldn’t stop myself. The clip showed a troupe of 8- and 9-year-old Los Angeles girls in a national dance contest. Wearing outfits that would make a stripper blush, they pumped it and bumped it to the Beyoncé hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” The girls were spectacular dancers, able to twirl on one foot while extending the other into a perfect standing split. But I doubt that two million people had tuned in simply to admire their arabesques. As with TV phenomena like “Toddlers and Tiaras,” the compulsion to watch was like the impulse to rubberneck at an accident, but in this case the scene was a 12-car pileup of early sexualization.

The girls’ routine was debated on CNN, “Good Morning America” and The Huffington Post. For about 48 hours it blazed across blogs and filled up in-boxes. And then, faster than you can say JonBenet Ramsey, it was gone. Outraged mommy bloggers calmed down. News outlets turned back to the BP oil spill and the Pennsylvania newlyweds who were born on the same day in the same hospital.

Moral panics about pornified girls bubble up regularly these days: should the self-proclaimed role model Miley Cyrus have stripped for Vanity Fair (or given a lap dance to a 44-year-old film producer or pole-danced on an ice cream cart at the Teen Choice Awards)? Is the neckline too low on the new Barbie Basics’ Model 10 doll — nicknamed, seemingly redundantly, Busty Barbie? The next freakout, mark my words, will explode this summer when Mattel rolls out its Monster High franchise — dolls, apparel, interactive Web site, Halloween costumes, Webisodes and, eventually, television shows and a movie — which will be the biggest product introduction in the company’s history and its first original line since Hot Wheels in 1968 (back when “hot,” at least to children, had a different connotation). Monster High’s racy student body is made up of the children of “legendary monsters,” including Clawdeen, a 15-year-old werewolf who resembles an undead street walker, only less demure. But no worries, parents, Clawdeen is not without her wholesome side: although she is a “fierce fashionista” who is “gorgeous” and “intimidating” and hates gym “because they won’t let me participate in my platform heels,” her Web bio assures us that she is “absolutely loyal to my friends.” Well, that’s a relief.

I might give the phenomenon a pass if it turned out that, once they were older, little girls who play-acted at sexy were more comfortable in their skins or more confident in their sexual relationships, if they asked more of their partners or enjoyed greater pleasure. But evidence is to the contrary. In his book, “The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls From Today’s Pressures,” Stephen Hinshaw, chairman of the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley, explains that sexualizing little girls — whether through images, music or play — actually undermines healthy sexuality rather than promoting it. Those bootylicious grade-schoolers in the dance troupe presumably don’t understand the meaning of their motions (and thank goodness for it), but, precisely because of that, they don’t connect — and may never learn to connect — sexy attitude to erotic feelings.

That ongoing confusion between desirability and desire may help explain another trend giving parents agita: the number of teenage girls — 22 percent according to a 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy — who have electronically sent or posted nude or seminude photos of themselves. I have to admit that part of me is impressed by their bravado. Maybe, rather than cause for alarm, this was a sign of progress — indication that girls were taking charge of their sexuality, transcending the double standard. Yet you have to wonder: Just because they’re flaunting it, are they feeling it?

I find myself improbably nostalgic for the late 1970s, when I came of age. In many ways, it was a time when girls were less free than they are today: fewer of us competed on the sports field, raised our hands during math class or graduated from college. No one spoke the word “vagina,” whether in a monologue or not. And there was that Farrah flip to contend with. Yet in that oh-so-brief window between the advent of the pill and the fear of AIDS, when abortion was both legal and accessible to teenagers, there was — at least for some of us — a kind of Our Bodies, Ourselves optimism about sex. Young women felt an imperative, a political duty, to understand their desire and responses, to explore their own pleasure, to recognize sexuality as something rising from within. And young men — at least some of them — seemed eager to take the journey with us, to rewrite the rules of masculinity so they would prize mutuality over conquest.

That notion now seems as quaint as a one-piece swimsuit on a 5-year-old. Sexual entitlement, according to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College and author of “Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality,” has instead become the latest performance, something girls act out rather than experience. “By the time they are teenagers,” she said, “the girls I talk to respond to questions about how their bodies feel — questions about sexuality or desire — by talking about how their bodies look. They will say something like, ‘I felt like I looked good.’ Looking good is not a feeling.”

Tell that to the zombies at Monster High. Or the ones thrusting their hips at warp speed to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, wears a leotard in her video). Better yet, tell it to your daughter: she is going to need to hear it.

Peggy Orenstein, a contributing writer, is the author of “Waiting for Daisy,” a memoir.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/magazine/13fob-wwln-t.html?ref=magazine


by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 8:12 AM
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Replies (1-10):
candlegal
by Judy on Jun. 13, 2010 at 8:14 AM

I thought this would be a good topic for discussion, the sexualization of little girls.  How would you feel if it was your daughter.

AdkArmyMom
by Silver Member on Jun. 13, 2010 at 8:37 AM


Quoting candlegal:

I thought this would be a good topic for discussion, the sexualization of little girls.  How would you feel if it was your daughter.

I think it's terribly sad and unconsionable, really, that our young girls have sexuality forced upon them so soon. 

Redteux
by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 9:22 AM

How would I feel if it were my daughter?

Ashamed.  Disgusted.  Like I had failed at my job as mother, and threw her to the wolves of the world.

I'm sorry, but I find absolutely no "empowerment" in being a slut, much less teaching a child to be a slut.  I should know - I WAS a slut.  And I was most definitely NOT empowered.  I was hurting, I was bitter, and I was very lonely.  Oh sure - I knew how to work it.  But it honestly availed me nothing.

The only good thing that came from those wild years was the knowledge of the "other side of the fence".  I have absolutely no desire to step out on my husband and sow my wild oats, because I've already been around that block.  More than once.  I now have a basis for comparison - I know how good I've got it, and I'm not about to mess that up.  The grass is NOT greener on the other side - it just has a lot more fertilizer.

There's a whole lot more that goes into learning to respect yourself than just "freedom".  Freedom without any controls or boundaries or consequences is more like slavery, I think.  It's not self-respect and self-esteem - it's more like being held hostage to your own biology.

(sorry, it's early yet, I'm still working on my first cuppa joe)

candlegal
by Judy on Jun. 13, 2010 at 9:27 AM

As a mother of 5 daughters, I absolutely agree.

Quoting AdkArmyMom:


Quoting candlegal:

I thought this would be a good topic for discussion, the sexualization of little girls.  How would you feel if it was your daughter.

I think it's terribly sad and unconsionable, really, that our young girls have sexuality forced upon them so soon. 


candlegal
by Judy on Jun. 13, 2010 at 9:34 AM

I am also going to add that living in Texas it is very hot here.  We have a lot of water parks.  It really upsets me when I see some of these parents letting their chilren ages 5 -12, or even older, run around outside the water park with their cute little bikinis on.  All I can think of is, are there any pedophiles here?  People need to stop and think about what they do.  Sea World has a water park and it also has another side where you see the fish, dolphins, etc.  Dress your kids before you go to the other side.

home-sweet-home
by Silver Member on Jun. 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM

My girls dress very conservative. Shorts or skirts must go to the knees (or maybe slightly above), no spagetti straps, nothing skin tight. They will continue to dress that way as long as they live here, and then it is their choice. I want to teach my girls that guys need to notice them for their minds and their hearts, not their bodies.

They all swim in girl shorts or a swim skirt and a rashguard.

40isfun
by Christi on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:04 AM

It wouldn't be my little girl.  Although there is definitely power in the sexuality of a woman, I think it is a mistake to make that the primary focus because we have too much more to offer. At least we should.  LOL!

It's easy to get caught up in sexuality.  I remember turning 12 and developing overnight.  I had tits and ass for days.  Imagine walking down the street and having car horns constantly blowing.  Knowing that the minimum driving age is 16, the men who were blowing were at least 4 years older than I but obviously more often than not, they were legal adults.  What does a young girl do when she realizes she has that power?  Without someone to guide her, she can definitely fall into a trap.  Fortunately I had someone wonderful and wise to guide me.  

40isfun
by Christi on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:06 AM


Quoting candlegal:

I am also going to add that living in Texas it is very hot here.  We have a lot of water parks.  It really upsets me when I see some of these parents letting their chilren ages 5 -12, or even older, run around outside the water park with their cute little bikinis on.  All I can think of is, are there any pedophiles here?  People need to stop and think about what they do.  Sea World has a water park and it also has another side where you see the fish, dolphins, etc.  Dress your kids before you go to the other side.

The private school my boys used to go to had their annual pool party this past friday.  I was talking to one of the moms about how difficult it was for her to find a decent swim suit for her 13 year old.  It's sad.  I saw boobs and everything hanging out on these young girls.  They were only as old as the 8th grade.

I see you...

candlegal
by Judy on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:08 AM

Yes, I agree, it is very hard to find chaste clothing for young girls.

Quoting 40isfun:


Quoting candlegal:

I am also going to add that living in Texas it is very hot here.  We have a lot of water parks.  It really upsets me when I see some of these parents letting their chilren ages 5 -12, or even older, run around outside the water park with their cute little bikinis on.  All I can think of is, are there any pedophiles here?  People need to stop and think about what they do.  Sea World has a water park and it also has another side where you see the fish, dolphins, etc.  Dress your kids before you go to the other side.

The private school my boys used to go to had their annual pool party this past friday.  I was talking to one of the moms about how difficult it was for her to find a decent swim suit for her 13 year old.  It's sad.  I saw boobs and everything hanging out on these young girls.  They were only as old as the 8th grade.


MamaScorpio88
by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:17 AM

I find myself improbably nostalgic for the late 1970s, when I came of age. In many ways, it was a time when girls were less free than they are today: fewer of us competed on the sports field, raised our hands during math class or graduated from college. No one spoke the word “vagina,” whether in a monologue or not


Less free? Oh no, keep the girls out of sports! Put them in homemaking classes. And heaven forbid a young girl is comfortable enough with her body to actually call her vagina, a vagina, instead of noochie,coochie, vajajay, bajingo, hooha, down there, it, crotch, vahoo, cooter, vertical smile, pussy etc


As for the over sexulaization of the girls in that video, I tink the outfits were too revealing, and a few of the moves were beter suited for adults. Otherwise, they rocked it out. Those girls were serious about getting it right. 

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