Beauty and purity go hand in hand, and are tied up in a false sense of modesty. This type of attractiveness comes from being white, virginal, conventionally attractive and actively or deliberately ignorant of meeting that standard of attractiveness. It comes from needing to be seen as beautiful even “without any makeup on” but in “skin-tight jeans” if you’re Katy Perry, from Bruno Mars ‘knowing’ that “when I compliment her, she won’t believe me,” and in reminding a boy that he should be dating a girl who isn’t a shallow hussy, if you’re Taylor Swift.
All of this encourages girls to constantly strive to meet an arbitrary standard of attractiveness that fuels multiple industries (dieting and cosmetics, primarily) while reminding them that their job is to be appealing to men but never to admit that they’re trying to be good-looking for men, and never admit that they look good – especially if they’re not skinny or white. It creates a maelstrom of unhealthy attitudes about girls’ bodies and sexuality. Girls must be all things: attractive and unknowing, winking about sex and flaunting their sexuality but never expressing desire or – worse – actually having sex, and presenting their bodies as sexually available while deriding those girls whose sex lives are more active than their own. They must do all this while being straight, slender and white and preferably blonde or they’re not really even in the game to begin with.
In Blake Spence’s class, no topic is off-limits, especially when a boy has dropped it anonymously into the “question box.” Mr. Spence, 28, co-ordinates the WiseGuyz Program, now on offer to Grade 9 boys in two Calgary high schools. In 14 two-hour sessions offered once a week, the guys talk – yes, talk, without girls in the room – about everything from reproductive anatomy, sexually transmitted infections and birth control to relationships, values and the media.
WiseGuyz, run by the Calgary Sexual Health Centre (which gave Mr. Spence his training), isn’t just sex ed with an update. It’s part of a new wave of initiatives to intervene in a young, male culture that is giving many adults cause for concern. Long-term, the aim is to combat the rates of domestic violence and sexually transmitted infections. Short-term, the goal is to tutor young men in healthy relations with women and non-destructive masculinity.
A U.S. study of 1,430 Grade 7 students published last month found that nearly one in six (15 per cent) reported being physically abused by someone they had dated; one in three (37 per cent) said they had been victimized psychologically or electronically in a romantic context.
“The script about what sexual relationships should be has been written for young men – that they have to be the aggressors and that it’s about their pleasure, not necessarily their female partner’s,” Mr. Spence says.
The researchers, who used data collected from African-American girls and women ages 15 to 21 living in a low-income area (we’ll come back to that in a sec), did indeed conclude that “adolescent women whose boyfriend is their primary source of spending money may not explicitly exchange risky sex for money, but their relationships may be implicitly transactional.”
Is this conclusion truly publication-worthy? Of COURSE their relationships are transactional—every single relationship is transactional. And it doesn’t matter what one’s socioeconomic status or racial or ethnic background is; it doesn’t matter what the gender(s) of the partners in the relationship are. We all negotiate wants, needs, and desires with our partners. We make choices based on what we have and do not have. We communicate well, we communicate poorly—and we make decisions with which some will agree and others will disagree.
The difference here, however, is that what was being examined was whether the male partners of these young women provided them with money. And right there you have a not-so-veiled statement: low-income, African-American girls are whores. Think I’m exaggerating? Just read the key words beneath the article’s abstract, which include “sexual behavior; safe sex; adolescent” and “prostitution.”
What if we took a look at a middle-income, white couple in their early thirties? One partner or spouse works outside of the home, and the other stays at home and raises their 2.5 children. This is a transactional relationship. In a male-female relationship, we will most likely see the male partner playing the breadwinner role and the female partner staying home—although this has been shifting more over the years with more stay-at-home dads. The choice of who will work and who will stay home is a transaction between the partners. It is one that involves and reflects, among other things, each partner’s capacity to earn money. Yet no one would look at the stay-at-home mom in this example who accepts money from her partner to run their home as being “paid” by her spouse, and certainly no one would imply that any stay-at-home mom is a prostitute.
Just a few episodes ago, Finn outed Santana to the entire world. It is done so painfully and publicly that she will be the face of a new queer bashing ad campaign. Does one scene of repercussion come Finn’s way? No. He sings Santana a song about “girl power,” tells her he cares about her and is forgiven. Sure there’s that one part when Santana slaps Finn, but that isn’t dealing with right and wrong or the fact that Santana’s queerness doesn’t make her any less of a person; it’s dealing with the anger that she she has every right to be feeling.
If something like this ever happened to me I would need at least the principal’s involvement. But when the teens are taken to the principal it is with the charges solely against Santana, and not a word goes out to Finn’s actions. It’s not just Glee that does this. I experience the ‘you’re a girl so your sexuality is less valid’ mantra all the time, and I thought that maybe Glee would help to stop it, in the same way they tried to for its male counterparts. But instead, all it’s doing is perpetuating the same old stereotypes.
When the Disney Channel was pressed about whether they would address gay relationships on their shows, Gary Marsh, the president of Disney Channel worldwide said, “We don’t deal with sexuality on the Disney Channel in general. That’s just sort of not where our audience’s head’s at. They’re really a pre-sexual audience, for the most part, and so sexuality is not how we look to tell any kind of stories.”
What Disney Channel doesn’t realize is that by taking no stance on what they consider sexuality, they are in fact taking a stance. Disney is largely heteronormative in its portrayal of relationships, with many shows centering on them. While relationships between boys and girls become increasingly sexualized, (without the actual sex) couples of the same sex are not afforded the same treatment.
Television often promotes certain standards of sexuality and on these kid’s shows it is not acceptable to have feelings for someone of the same sex. If there are possible gay characters, there is a denial that the relationships these characters undergo or experience are sexual in any way.
This is not about these women wanting things; it’s about men wanting to see them do things, and that takes something that really should be empowering — the idea that women can own their sexuality — and transforms it into yet another male fantasy. It takes away the actual power of the women and turns their “sexual liberation” into just another way for dudes to get off. And that is at least ten times as gross as regular cheesecake, minimum.
“Enthusiastic consent” is about asking and listening. And it’s a powerful feminist concept that could change our entire world. The consent-positive movement is about more than “no.” It’s about “yes.” It’s about waiting for someone to verbally, enthusiastically, consent to having sex with you before you start having sex with them. No still means no. Violating that no is still wrong. But in addition, only “yes” can mean yes: not silence, or a short skirt, or the fact that we met you at Jello Wrestling and fucked you last week. Consent is about being able to say “I want this / I don’t want this” and being respected. It’s about expecting to hear some variation of one of those phrases when you begin to engage in sex. It’s about a completely safe, comfortable, and pleasurable kind of sex. Consent makes it possible for every single person in the world to have completely different boundaries and desires and still feel fulfilled and respected in bed. I liked that.
One of the most important tools we can give young people — boys and girls alike — is the reminder that their sexuality belongs to them. Pleasure is a deep and profound good, and for all of what we imagine to be their self-indulgence, young people today don’t have nearly as much healthy pleasure as they need. This is about more than teaching young people to masturbate without shame (though that’s never a bad idea.) It’s about giving them the time and space and privacy to reflect on their sexuality as something that belongs to them. With young women, it’s about teaching the difference between the desire to be desired and desire itself. (I’ll deal with young men in another post.) It only takes a girl a few seconds to realize what someone else may want from her sexually. It often takes her much longer to figure out what she really wants, to discern the pleasure she gets from bringing pleasure to another from the pleasure she wants for herself. And once she’s figured that out, it’s vital to work to create a culture where she can articulate that want without shame.
— The Paris Paradox: how sexualization replaces opportunity with obligation at Hugo Schwyzer (via psychologyoflife)
Dear Summer’s Eve Ad Campaign,
I know it’s hard to advertise for a product that’s about the vagina, and furthermore, about “cleaning” and “douching” the vagina. But seriously, your new ads are AWFUL. Especially the clip I linked to above. You say that men have fought, battled, and died for women’s vaginas? Really? And that it’s the most powerful thing on earth? I don’t think so, Summer’s Eve. And you know it. Vaginas are not the most powerful things on earth because women are still sexually assaulted everyday and get personally BLAMED for it. So, no, Summer’s Eve. Vaginas are not the most powerful thing on earth.
Basically. Also, thrilled women are valuable because men fight over them!!! ….Oh, wait.
With girls entering puberty earlier than their generation of mothers did, and our pornified culture, we need to start talking about body image and sex much earlier than we might remember learning. This is best done with a bunch of little talks, not one big “birds and bees talk” that looms over our heads sometime around puberty. Same goes for body image – it is hundreds of little conversations or statements made over the course of childhood, laying a foundation for how your children will think and react to information that comes later. And you know? You just can’t hide from it.