As skepticlawyer observed at Club Troppo, the topic of the sexualisation of young girls through advertising and fashion caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. The context for the discussion was David Jones’ law suit against the Australia Institute.
While free speech was also an important theme of these recent debates, the interest and intensity show that discussions of the relationship between sexualisation of young girls and the public sphere touch some pretty sensitive spots. (It might be interesting to pause and wonder why there’s no discernible debate over the influence of advertising and pop culture on young boys’ sexuality.) One irony of such discussions is the fact that articles about the pernicious influence of pop culture on adolescent and tween sexuality often end up playing to the same celebrity hype and hyperbole that they purport to critique or dissect. A case in point is Newsweek’s piece on “Girls Gone Bad”.
Tracy Clark-Fory writes at Salon:
This time around it’s a meandering, confused cover story on how the publicised exploits of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan affect tweens and teens, and it addresses the burning question of whether we’re “raising a generation of ‘prosti-tots’.”
Reading the article proves just as painful as handing over a fistful of dollars in exchange for the issue, with its cover image of high-as-a-kite Britney and Paris paired with the headline “The Girls Gone Wild Effect”. Luckily, you become kind of numb after seeing Nancy Pelosi’s ascendancy in the House mentioned paragraphs away from a reference to Lindsay’s “fire crotch”. There’s a hasty rundown of the history of “bad girls” - complemented by a photo gallery, of course - which starts with Mae West and ends with the Brit Pack (or whatever they’re calling them these days). Ultimately - about 3,000 some odd words in - it concludes that our girls will be just fine because we adults “hold the purse strings” and, unless Paris releases a series of educational videos for toddlers, parents have a significant head start on imparting morals to our children.
The piece could have explored the more subtle ways that the highly publicized Brit Pack scandals affect the way girls feel about themselves (as opposed to whether it will turn them into little harlots or “prosti-tots”). The story also could have led with experts skeptical of the hysteria over the supposed proliferation of bad, mean or wild girls. Dan Kindlon, a professor of child psychology at Harvard, told the magazine plainly, “Sure, there are plenty of girls with big problems out there. Like the ‘Girls Gone Wild’ videos. But what percentage of the college population is that?”
Instead, the piece latches on with a vampiric thirst to parents’ worst fears and, as was probably the genesis of the piece, finds an excuse to talk about Britney’s vagina once more.
What such debates usually lack is any attempt to measure the dimension of the problems they point to (which are in turn, exaggerated out of any proportion in classic moral panic style). There’s no doubt that there are legitimate issues concerning the sexualisation of children, but they’re far too often elided behind a style of argument and writing which combines over-generalisation with dire predictions of imminent doom.
The (rather creepy) mirror image of the belief that sex has so invaded the public sphere and socialisation process of young girls that a generation of “prosti-tots” is being spawned is the obsession with purity to be found at the nether regions of the American religious right - the hardline home schooling wing of the “Virginity Pledge Movement”. From a left or liberal perspective, the snake in the grass is materialism and advertising. From the conservative evangelical perspective, changing representations in pop culture of sexuality are the work of the demon liberalism and to be countered by traditional family values.
The odd thing, as Jennifer Baumgartner observes in Glamour, is the weird sexualisation of the relationship between Christian fathers and their virgin daughters which swirls around the invented tradition of “Purity Balls”.
In a chandelier-lit ballroom overlooking the Rocky Mountains one recent evening, some hundred couples feast on herb-crusted chicken and julienned vegetables. The men look dapper in tuxedos; their dates are resplendent in floor-length gowns, long white gloves and tiaras framing twirly, ornate updos. Seated at a table with four couples, I watch as the gray-haired man next to me reaches into his breast pocket, pulls out a small satin box and flips it open to check out a gold ring he’s about to place on the finger of the woman sitting to his right. Her eyes well up with tears as she is overcome by emotion.
The man’s date? His 25-year-old daughter. Welcome to Colorado Springs’ Seventh Annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball, held at the five-star Broadmoor Hotel. The event’s purpose is, in part, to celebrate dad-daughter bonding, but the main agenda is for fathers to vow to protect the girls’ chastity until they marry and for the daughters to promise to stay pure. Pastor Randy Wilson, host of the event and cofounder of the ball, strides to the front of the room, takes the microphone and asks the men, “Are you ready to war for your daughters’ purity?”?
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