Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is this really what we wanted?

On Feministe blog, there is an interesting rebuttal to an article from The Washington Post.

Patricia Dalton, in the Post article, makes an important point:

Women once complained about being reduced to sex objects. Now, their daughters are volunteering to be sex objects.

She then goes on to blame feminists, the pill and MTV. Ok, that is nonsense and Jill at Feministe quite properly takes Ms. Dalton to task on her ridiculous assumptions. I agree with Jill, and won't repeat her comments here. You can read them yourself at Feministe from the above link.

Yet no one seems to be addressing what I think is the important point: Why are our young girls/teens dressing like eye candy? Why do they want to? And when you discuss it with them, why do they seem to need to?

I want to repeat this. They are not dressed like sluts or whores. They are dressed as decorations. They are objectifying themselves as much as the bikini girls in a pin up calendar.

My observations have no links, because these come from a completely non-scientific study of my daughter and her friends.

I KNOW my daughter was raised as a feminist. So why does she feel the need to show off her body when any teenaged male is near?

She will tell you that sexual stereotyping (as well as any stereotyping) is wrong. She is self confident and intelligent and believes her gender is not an obstacle to success.

Then as soon as a "cute boy" (her words) is near, she becomes the stereotype. When questioned, she and her friends become defensive. I think they know they are wrong, that their behavior is a contradiction to what they believe. If I remember my college psych class, this was called cognitive dissidence. Please, someone correct me if I'm wrong.

This all echos what I felt as a young adult. This was back in the mid 70's and I really believed that no boy would be interested in me if I didn't show off my body. Why else would they bother?

So what is the answer? Is this a normal phase that girls go through when their bodies change so much, so fast? When they are desperate for approval from boys?

I don't think so. I think, as feminists, we lost the sexual revolution. Nothing has changed since I was a teen, when it comes to sex. We need to stand up and say, I am not eye candy. I am not here as a decoration.

As adults, we need to show our girls that it is important to demand respect. Do not allow the media to control what we are.

I imagine people are rolling their eyes at that, saying, "You can't change teenagers." But I disagree. My daughter will argue with me that I don't know anything, then I overhear her repeating exactly what I said to her friends. Of course, it is presented as her own idea. Kids do listen, they just can't let their parents know they do.


Rachel Ann said...

I can understand (though I don't like to see it, but then again I'm an Orthodox Jew) young girls, 16+ who are dressing sexy. Feeling sexy and wanting to look attractive to another at about that age seems normal to me.

I may not like it at age 16, I may think there are more important things than being "eye candy" but I understand it.

What I don't get is when young kids dress like that; at age 10 or 12 or younger. That I need help with.

Julia said...

Young children dressing that way is a topic for another post on another day.

I agree, I don't understand, and I feel like slapping the parents.

egalia said...

Regardless of what we do as feminist parents, the culture teaches girls that they are nothing if boys and men are not drooling after their bodies, IMHO.

In my view, the best way to combat this and to eventually make real changes in the culture is to teach women's studies in the high schools and elementary schools.

College level courses are great, and far better than nothing, but still they are too little and too late.

Bitch | Lab said...

From talking with my kids, it's because they believe stereotypes are wrong. Because they feel confident that this a society where we can undermine and change them, they don't see a problem. After all, as my Other daughter said, "If a boy thinks I look like I'm a prostitute, that's his problem since, obviously, I don't get paid to have sex."

Someone pointed out to me that, having grown up with Britny Spears that isn't surprising. She both dressed sexually and supposedly maintained her virginity. When my Other Daughters were young, they believed that, even though as they aged and watched BS's behavior, they wondered if it was an act.

I've spent time studying the sociology and history of adolescence -- the emergence of the idea that there was an adolescence to begin with. In the past, no one thought there was a special stage of teenhood. You were a child 'til about 8-10 and then you were an adult. Maybe our manufactured notions of adolesence are something young ones strain against?

I mean, maybe we've idealized them to the point that we don't "understand" why they want to emulate adults when it's just us who've managed to see them as innocent babes who shoudland must be protected. Maybe the transition to adulthood doesn't start at any set point?

I don't honestly know, just pondering along with you.

When I was studying feminist thought, btw, we were all very adamant that there many kind of feminisms. When did we stop teaching that there are many femnisms, some of which disagree with what it means to raise a daughter as a feminist (which then must translate into not wanting to objectify yourself). There's an entire literature on this topic. I'm wondering why it seems to be unheard of.

Don't mean to be confrontational, just genuinely curious.


Julia said...


From talking with my kids, it's because they believe stereotypes are wrong. Because they feel confident that this a society where we can undermine and change them, they don't see a problem.

I wish I could believe that. But what I've seen and heard, that is an excuse to give to parents when they nag.

The kids I've seen (and again, this is just my daughter's peer group, not a scientific study) are influenced by what boys want.

Maybe our manufactured notions of adolesence are something young ones strain against?

I truly think it is the sexualization of young people that has changed them. And not ALL for the worse.

But I stand by my point that a lot of these girls are dressing for boys. They are acting like the only thing that matters is how they look. Now does this come from the boys? Or are the boys just agreeing with what the girls are doing?