In a recent piece printed in the New York Times, Peggy Orenstein, author of the memoir Waiting for Daisy (and also one of my grad school texts, Schoolgirls, which really resonated with me), takes the infamous video of the very talented but very young girls bumping and grinding to Beyonce (who is much more appropriately clothed in her video) to a whole new level. Orenstein argues that sudden blips of excessive sexuality on a young girl’s radar screen can cause permanent damage to the young girl herself, who may never have any sort of normal feelings about what sexuality should be.
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.
Orenstein makes an interesting point with the fleeting outrage over these issues. There is a huge outcry, then time passes (not even that much time … I wrote about the gyrating gradeschoolers on May 15th), and the outrage has pretty much disappeared, leaving instead a somewhat apathetic feeling of, “Wow, that was bad.”
And the beat goes on!
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.
And I think that disconnect is what so many of us find indefinable — and yucky. The girls do not understand the sexual nature of a pelvic thrust. When the opportunity for some real life pelvic action comes up, it will likely seem quite insignificant to them. Those girls have been, on some level, desensitized to sex, and that is really kind of a crime against them, in a manner of speaking.