I read a book this week called The Lolita Effect: The media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it. The author had some good insights and managed to clarify some things which had always bothered me but I hadn't been able to articulate:
- how the "sexy" clothes for young girls (pre-teens and younger) imitate sex worker's costume choices, drawing a parallel between emergent sexuality and commercial sexuality.
- how girls' sexuality is linked with violence in horror films. The formula is blatant when pointed out: nude, semi-nude, lingerie-clad or sexually active female paired immediately with the violence of the slasher villain.
Both of these parallels are bothersome in their implications and Dr. Durham manages to separate out the actual sex from the problematic content.
However, there were some things about the book which raised equally troubling thoughts in my head. There were a lot of statistics thrown out with dark hints that these numbers were just the tip of the iceberg.
One of the statistics given were the number of young women who felt they had been coerced into having sexual activity with a partner within a relationship.
Sexual coercion is bad enough but my brain made a little connection which had not been completely articulated before. Young girls are told to act sexy but not engage in sex. They are told to attract male attention but not yield to it. Their own desire is ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. In short, they are taught to imply yes but then left almost completely powerless. If they say no, they deny their sexiness. If they say yes, they become sluts.
The new extention to this thought is: how many girls have to reframe their willing sexual experiences as coerced in order to maintain the delicate social balance of being sexy but not sexual? The numbers may be innaccurate due to mental reframing as well as under-reporting of actual coercion.
Rape is a tragic reality and I do not want to imply that it doesn't happen. But I also am a strong believer in teaching girls that it is okay to say yes, to acknowledge their own desire. Boys shouldn't be cast as the demons devaluing girls as they deflower them. Without a strong yes, the no can be lost as a useful signal.