There exists a point in many young girls’ lives where it becomes fashionable to stick your tongue down your best friend’s throat at a club and later post the pictures on Facebook. Ideally, your best friend is of the same sex, clad in a cheap polyester bubble dress, and surrounded by a gaggle of young men chanting, “Dooo it!” or “Guuuuhh!”
This is not power. That point is made clear by Maclean’s recent cover story titled “Outraged moms, trashy daughters,” which tries to make sense of how mothers of the women’s lib movement managed to produce the barsexual daughters of today. Anne Kingston writes, “For these girls, Snoop Dogg’s misogynist Bitches Ain’t S–t is not an affront but a ring tone, and ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ are not put-downs but affectionate greetings between female friends.” Nancy Vonk, the co-chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather, was quoted in the article saying, “I’m so deeply pained to see where women are today and how girls—and I mean girls—are being groomed to believe their purpose in life is to be sexual beings that please men.”
Of course, there’s a perpetual belief that the new generation is always more misguided than the one before. A few years ago, mothers watched their abhorrent daughters flip the bird at tradition and march on parliament so they could be seen as the “housekeepers of the nation.” Fast forward a few years and a new generation of daughters are letting their poor husbands starve as they seek paid work and—gasp—stop shaving! Later it’ll be an affront to want to be a “full time mom” and suddenly, “A blow job is just like shaking hands,” according to Kate Lloyd, the director of program and service development for the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario. But even Lloyd acknowledges that, “there is some of that sensationalizing for sure,” though she’s fervent in her belief that “the sexualization of young girls is at a point it’s never been before.”
But is it just tired moms fussing about their unruly daughters? Not entirely. The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy published a book back in 2005 called Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, in which she laments the idea that sexual power amounts to any real type of liberation or clout. Levy speaks with American author Erica Jong who says, “If you start to think about women as if we’re all Carrie on Sex and the City, well, the problem is: You’re not going to elect Carrie to the Senate or to run your company. Let’s see the Senate fifty percent female; let’s see women in decision-making positions—that’s power. Sexual freedom can be a smokescreen for how far we haven’t come.”
So it’s not just exasperated mothers sensationalizing their daughters’ rejection of “traditional feminism.” According to Levy, we’ve developed a real raunch culture where “Bimbos enjoy a higher standing than Olympians.” Everyone agree?
Obviously, if I took this rhetoric at face value I would be grooming my nails instead of my next point. But not all girls are solely preoccupied with achieving the perfect tan, and reasonable readers know that. Along with more American Apparel-clad asses conquering our downtown billboards and reality TV shows of Sn00ki performing fellatio on a pickle comes increased coverage on the effects on young girls. And while some may, in fact, reach for the Strubs, many others turn and chuckle, then go back to the books.
It goes without saying that sexual exploration is a normal part of growing up. Our bodies are changing, hormones are going wild and the brain is trying to fervently catch up. The decision-making area of the brain—the frontal lobe—is not fully developed until the mid-20’s, according to some studies, which explains why many teens post their underage drinking photos on their Facebook pages, even though they are Facebook friends with their mom. Oopsies.
Luckily, these impulsive trends begin to settle; the numbers swing significantly after 24. But for many, like Jong quoted above, the problem is not just that this promiscuity—however temporary—is so exaggerated, but that girls believe it gives them a sort of power. To them, the freedom to show cleavage is feminism.
Now, before we start digging up dusty copies of The Feminine Mystique and writing off this generation as wholly composed of “lost, trashy souls,” maybe it’s worth exploring how this idea got its roots. Undoubtedly, this group of young women is more globally tuned-in than any generation before. We have access to breaking information from all over the world, sent directly to our inboxes, iPads and phones at all hours of the day. Pair that with an increasing global social conscience, and girls undoubtedly pick up on stories of women journalists in Sudan being sentenced to 20 lashes for wearing pants, or catch a glimpse of Time magazine’s recent cover of 18-year-old Afghan Aisha, who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban after fleeing her in-laws. There are even stories closer to home; just two months ago, a father and son plead guilty to the so-called honour killing of Toronto teen Aqsa Parvez, who refused to wear a hijab.
If we draw our gaze slightly up from our navels, is it really any wonder why many girls today believe sexual freedom amounts to a certain form of strength and liberation? While a cropped tee and mini skirt certainly doesn’t say “love me for my mind,” it does say something about Western emancipation.
Of course, portraying one’s self as a sex object isn’t quite the right way to gain esteem and respect, but neither is portraying one’s self as hopelessly disadvantaged. In Kingston’s article, Susan Nierenberg, a mother of a 25-year-old woman and the vice-president of global marketing of Catalyst, an organization tracking female advancement, says her daughter mistakenly believes that the workforce is an even playing field. “I hate to tell her that’s not the way it is. I want her going into it thinking she can do anything. But I also want her to be smart about it,” Nierenberg says.
In other words, go in thinking you’ll have to work doubly hard? Why not convey that idea also? Indeed, there’s no better way to convince someone to see you as equal than to perpetually remind him of how unequal you are. It worked for Hillary Clinton, right? Everyone remember: “To be able to aim toward the highest, hardest glass ceiling is history-making.”? While Obama’s racial allusions were subtle and infrequent during the Democratic primary, so much of what we heard from Clinton was, “Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a female president?” I suppose we can keep wondering.
To get back on point, while the ‘fight’ for sexual equality may not be over–so to speak–it’s been reduced largely to an ideological battle, which, granted, is probably the hardest to tackle overall. But hounding the new generation to “look for the sexism” in daily life probably isn’t the way to go. Internalizing the belief that one will is perpetually victimized can be just as debilitating as the belief that flirting will get you respect in an office. At least you can shape up for the next work placement.
So, we can provoke this hysteria that the new generation of harlots is soiling the efforts of women past, or we can take a good look around at the women in higher education, medicine and the general workforce, and take a global perspective to evaluating the strides women have made in our society. And girls—do me a favour—take down those loathsome Facebook photos.
–Photo by wolfgraebel