May 19, 2010

Attention Moms: Think ‘Girls Gone Wild’ is Dying Out? Think Again (And What To Do)

 

51WVRX4uHOL._SL500_AA300_Back in 2006, my husband bought me a fantastic book by Ariel Levy called, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.  In this book, Ariel explores the stratospheric rise in popularity of shows like "Girls Gone Wild" and our current sexual stereotypes of women.  But this book is more than just a rant.

It turns out that in order for shows like "Girls Gone Wild" to be successful, they need….well…girls.  They need girls to cooperate.  They need girls to willingly take off their shirts for the camera. And they do.  Why?  Ariel goes on set with a "Girls Gone Wild" camera crew and finds that all it takes, in most cases, is the promise of a "Girls Gone Wild" baseball hat.  So yeah – there's something else going on.  Add to that, the rise in celebrity of porn stars.  Porn stars are getting their own TV shows, are being interviewed in magazines for tips on sex.  Which strikes me as funny.  I mean….people know that porn is fake, right?  YES – porn is actual sex, but these women aren't really having 12 orgasms in a row.  They are just pretending to.

More upsetting, however, were the interviews Ariel did with current high school students – both boys and girls.  There was the usual stuff: girls wanting to be prettier, girls wanting to be thinner…but what struck me as new was the additional (self-imposed) "requirement" that girls now also be sexually sophisticated.  Not just active, mind you, but sophisticated. Sophisticated in a way that really isn't achievable by anyone still in their teens.  So what we've ended up with are high schools full of girls who look and act the part…but who still have no idea how to orgasm.  The bottom line?  These girls aren't enjoying it.  Like porn stars, they are pretending.

And the boys?  They certainly aren't complaining.  But the one slightly refreshing part is that the boys interviewed by Ariel weren't fooled.  They knew these girls weren't behaving like this for the benefit of the boys – it was more about the competitiveness between girls.  The old game of "who's more popular" has turned into "who's sexier".  And according to Ariel, their definition of "sexy" is pretty messed up.

But that was 2006.  Surely things have changed, right?

Earlier this month a Canadian magazine, Macleans, published a story called, Inside the Dangerously Empty Lives of Teenage Girls.  It was an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax PhD, author of Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge.  In this interview, Dr. Sax talks about the rise of anxiety and depression among teenage girls, which he believes is related to a new issue girls face today: "self-objectification". 

Forty years ago, if you went into a department store and looked at
clothes for seven-year-olds, they’d be quite different than the clothes
on sale for 17-year-olds. Today there’s no longer any distinction; the
same short skirts are sold to girls in Grade 2 and girls in Grade 12.
T-shirts that say, “Yes, but not with you” are now sold to
eight-year-olds.

Girls understand what these T-shirts are about: pretending to be
sexually aware. We have girls who are now putting on a pretense of adult
sexuality that they couldn’t possibly feel, and the danger of putting
on a show is that you lose touch with your own sexuality.
[emphasis
mine]

Additionally, part of this "self-objectification" extends to the social media that we all know and love:  Facebook.  Young girls are spending time photo-shopping their pictures – taking out the zits, making themselves look a little bit thinner, etc.  The harm?  According to Dr. Sax, these girls are "essentially presenting themselves as a brand, trying to create a public
persona, polishing an image of themselves that’s all surface: how you
look and what you did yesterday, not who you are and what you want to
be
."

It's one thing for us, as adults, to remove a few wrinkles (which I'm not above doing) in order to put our best face out there for our old high school cronies to see, but for a 14-year-old, Dr. Sax says, it's "toxic".

It gets in the way of the real job of adolescence, which
is figuring out who you are, what you want, what is your heart’s
desire.

So what can moms do?  Both Ariel and Dr. Sax give us a few ideas.

In an interview Ariel did for NPR, she mentions that one of the best gifts her parents gave her was to never mention her looks.  They never told her that she was "such a pretty little girl".  Instead, they told her she was smart, they told her she was clever.  I was surprised – first of all, Ariel's gorgeous (here's a pic), and secondly…."What a pretty, pretty princess!!!" just rolls easily off the tongue.  But it's an interesting idea.  Every time I tell one of Raines' little friends how pretty they are, I'm basically telling them (and anyone who is listening, including Raines) that it's important to me that they are pretty.  Which it isn't.  Not only will I adore my girlfriend's kids even if they turn into ugly teenagers, I'm concerned about the example I'm setting for my son.  God forbid he brings home some gorgeous but vapid creature one day.  I'll want to shoot myself.

Dr. Sax, on the other hand, is very clear:  Children are not adults.  Not even 16-year-old children.  He warns parents against what he calls the "1980s mindset that you should give your child autonomy and independence".  Yikes.  Being such a Free-Range Kid parent, this is hard for me to hear.  But he breaks it down thusly:

  1. Set limits  — EX:  Only 30 min of facebook per school night
  2. Monitor — Dr. Sax wants you to monitor text messages, email, calls, websites visited…and here's the kicker:  tell your child, and all of their friends that you are monitoring.  The goal isn't to catch them in the act, the goal is prevention. (BTW – there's software to help).
  3. No cell phones after bedtime.  He's finding that a girl will get a text in the middle of the night, "Jason's at a party with SUZIE!!"  Then the girl is texting back all night, upset, etc. etc.  Take the cell phone to bed with you.

Furthermore, Dr. Sax encourages parents to protect what he's calling "middle childhood", the period of time from 8 – 12 years of age.  This is the time of Harriet the Spy, Harry Potter, of Narnia chronicles.  This is the time to have kid-related adventures and develop "a sense of who they are as people without worrying about whether they’re
hot.

For ideas on how to protect middle childhood, focus on kid-appropriate adventures.  Here are a few resources:

What do you think?  Are these recommendations right-on, or going overboard?  Each child is different, certainly, but I see the value in both Ariel's and Dr. Sax's recommendations.  And as I was thinking through these issues, this video of 7-year-olds at a dance competition crossed my desk:

Now I think I'm going to cry.  Who is protecting their middle childhood?

So…to my girlfriends with daughters:  Please understand if next time I see your daughter, I remark: "What a great princess costume!!  You are so creative to wear a tutu to the park!!"

Wow.  That's a mouthful.  But hopefully worth it.

xo,

S

UPDATE on 5/23/10:  I received an email from Dr. Leonard Sax, who wrote a blog post in response to the "Pomona 5" (the video of little girls dancing above).  His response is both heart-breaking and challenging.  Read it here.

12 Comments
  • Lane
    May 19, 2010

    Great post Shana. And I think it is great you mentioned how you, as a mother of a boy, can also affect the future of this scary phenomenon. If boys are raised into men who see women as more than just what they look like, who can praise a woman for being clever not just pretty, that is half the battle, no?

  • Emily
    May 19, 2010

    Thanks for sharing this post- I read your blog for the fashion ideas, but as the mom of a little girl, this was really important to read.

  • Sarah
    May 19, 2010

    This is one of the most important posts I’ve read on any blog in a long time. And I think it is especially important because you usually write about fashion, which is all about our exterior and how we present ourselves to the world. Which I love, of course!
    But by posting this analysis you are allowing the two ideas to be discussed simultaneously and therefore normalizing the ideas Dr Sax is proposing (which, by the way, are so totally reasonable and common sensical I can’t believe we’ve strayed so far from them!).
    I have a boy and I worry about how he will view women. I did nanny for a young girl years ago and she would always want me to tell her Polly Pocket Doll that she was pretty. And I would always tell Polly that she was smart. And this would make her a little angry. But I thought it was important to throw a little cognitive dissonance in there so she might at some point consider Polly to be more than just a pretty looking thing to dress up. Which is how many young girls feel about themselves

  • Jen D.
    May 19, 2010

    Great post-really got me thinking. I will have to check out some of these books!

  • Tegan and Tage
    May 20, 2010

    EYE OPENING. Especially for someone with a boy who is concerned about raising him to respect women. The comments we make about they way children look really has never even crossed my mind in that way. We do it to build them up, which is silly because we should really be building them for who they are, not what they look like.
    Thank you Shana.

  • K
    May 20, 2010

    great post about a really important topic…I think the hardest thing about parenting during the middle childhood years and the adolescent years is that you can control what happens in your home, but not what happens outside it, so your kids are exposed to all kinds of ideas that you might not be ready for them to explore. What I gleaned from observing parent-child relationships during my teaching career (pre-baby) is that as a parent during those difficult years, you have to be open to listening and talking about anything – even if it makes you really uncomfortable – that your kids come to you to ask about.
    Parents who didn’t turn their eyes from the reality of middle school/high school in the 21st century – ie drugs, alcohol, sex, sexting, etc – had stronger relationships with their kids, and in many cases their kids were making good choices because their parents were strong, positive role models who were not afraid to make unpopular decisions. Kids at this age do respect boundaries even if there’s severe eye-rolling and pouting involved. I noticed that parents who kept the lines of communication open – by listening and then responding, by being involved in the day-to-day of their kids’ lives – had kids who were more confident in their responses to peer pressure and were more likely to hold their own when their values came into question. But it’s definitely a challenging fine line between allowing more independence and the urge to protect your kids as much as you can. Actually, it makes the terrible twos seem pretty darn good.

  • Robin
    May 21, 2010

    Brilliant post about a land mine of a topic. Is it awful to admit I previously thought I was “off the hook” because I had a boy? But, you make an excellent point – all parents, aunts/uncles, friends – make an impact on our babies and their friends – both genders. Thanks for discussing this on your blog!

  • S
    May 26, 2010

    Wow, Gang — this is a topic I feel so passionate about, and I am so glad you feel the same. While we obviously love our fashion here at ANMJ, we see it as a means to express ourselves. We are old enough to know that how you look doesn’t define who you are as a person. I just hope that’s a message we can pass down to our kids.

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