I continue to wrestle with clothing, though not my own. I have read so many well thought out blog posts and their accompanying Facebook discussions about girls and selfies, girls and sexy Halloween costumes, girls and their cartoon role models, girls and the slutty clothing marketed to them. I have even written a bit about it myself.
I am not quite sure where I land on these issues. On the one hand, I am pretty smug and disgusted.
At the same time, I hate that I am even thinking these thoughts, that I am looking at my daughters and connecting the thought of them — with sex.
See, I think the issue is so much more complex that what we have turned it into. So often it comes down to either “a girl should be able to present herself however she wants and everybody else should control their sexual urges” or “a girl needs to be modest at all times to protect herself so that nobody thinks she’s a slut.”
Either way, we are equating girl with sex.
Not girl with intelligence.
Not girl with courage.
Not girl with power.
Not girl with humor.
Girl with sex. Girl equals sex. That’s all we get.
I kind of wonder if this isn’t just another clever way to get women, moms, and girls into another civil war while men make a bunch of really important, life-lasting decisions elsewhere. If we keep the ladies fighting over who is and who isn’t a slut then they won’t have enough energy to worry about the gun laws being passed or the loopholes thrown into healthcare reforms.
Perhaps I am being a tad dramatic. Maybe it is not as insidious as all that.
At minimum, though, it is causing us to fight about all the wrong things. It is creating a process of elimination that leads to a hierarchy of power amongst women.
I’m not sure what I just said either. Stick with me while I try and parse it out.
Let’s use Halloween costumes as an example since my Facebook feed is filled with images of happy children all dressed up and ready to trick-or-treat AND since the internet is currently fecund with posts demonstrating how grown-up little girl costumes have become.
I saw a fantastic costume that uses a Lycra body suit as a base. The young teenager wearing it has yet to develop physically. Now, if we put that costume on a teenager of the same age who HAS developed, that teen, in the same costume, might be considered “too sexy”. Some might call that an inappropriate costume on her and — BOOM! — she gets tossed into the slut pile. Flat girl moves forward and has a chance of being considered something other than sexual some day (but only until either the style changes to favor flatter chests or flat girl develops into something other than flat girl).
Do you see how easy it is? The same goes for, say, selfies. Girl 1, not yet out of her little girl physical stage, thinks puckering for pictures is adorable. She encourages her BFF, Girl 2, who has moved into the ranks of physical womanhood, to join her in puckering up for a photo for the yearbook. They both post the picture on FB, where Girl 1 is considered adorable by the parents of her FB friends and Girl 2 is deleted by parents like Mrs. Hall because of her “provocative pose”. Girl 2 is considered too sexual for Mrs. Hall’s kids and dumped into a group made up of all the “oversexed” kids, but Girl 1 makes the cut and gets to move into the inner circle of the “modest and sweet”. Perhaps she’ll even be considered clever one day.
Meanwhile, Developed Girl and Girl 2, while trying their hardest to navigate the confusing landscape inherent in their naturally developing sense of sexual awareness, have been told implicitly that they are only good at one thing and that this thing they are good at is the very thing that both they and their culture thinks is simultaneously really bad (to be punished by being called “slut”) and really enticing (to be celebrated on magazine covers and in movies et. al.).
It’s Virgin Mary vs. Mary Magdalen, a young Judy Garland vs. Marilyn Monroe all over again, reborn as Hanna Montana vs. Miley Cyrus, modest vs. slut.
We in this country are working so hard to label what is and isn’t modest/sexy for a girl to do/be/wear that we are forgetting to look at who girls are.
Is it any wonder then that my girls learned from the news all about Michelle Obama’s arms long before they ever learned about her law career?
I’m not proposing that we jump all willy nilly into an “anything goes” attitude. Heck, in our home, we continue to be in the throws of trying (and failing, and trying and failing…) to figure out the safest way to handle the internet and cell phones et. al. My eldest has not joined FB yet precisely because I am not sure how we all should navigate such a powerful tool and, in the spirit of wrestling, I worry about how she will present herself to the world.
What I am saying is that it would be a step in the right direction if we could stop assigning intentions to girls and their clothing/pictures/behavior. We don’t know what goes on in a person’s thoughts when they put on that body suit or pucker for that picture. When we assume we have a key into a girl’s head, we assume we know into which exact category she should go. And we put her there. We categorize and label the hell out of her until she is reduced to nothing more than the intentions somebody else assigned to her.
And usually, here in the U.S. at least, every single one of those categories is related to sex — not the developmentally appropriate, healthy understanding of sexuality that girls should be allowed to consider, but culturally assigned sexual denigration or repression.