Friday, September 19, 2003

I’m Just A Girl

If you haven’t heard about the latest push to make abstinence sexy to teenaged girls Mark Morford is on the case (via Tbogg).
It's called "Revolve: The Complete New Testament" and it's apparently racing up the sales charts -- whatever that means -- as it sucks up all the accoutrements of a teen fashion rag and rams them through the cute Christian grinder of humorlessness and sexual rigidity and homophobia, and regurgitates them as kicky dumbed-down slightly numb virginal tidbits of advice and admonition and, yes, Biblical storytelling.

In a way, you have to admire the dedication. Despite the best efforts of the Vatican, Martin Luther, Jerry Falwell et al, sexual liberation has managed to take hold and gain ground, a few setbacks notwithstanding. Call it what you will-- tenacity, self-delusion, whatever. When you’re getting your ass kicked it takes a lot to come back swinging every time. But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

Yes, this latest stunt is both hilarious and disgusting. Take this particular line:
"The fire of God's love burns out the sin the same way the hot steam routs the dirt out of your pores. This kind of relationship with God will do more to improve your looks than any amount of facials," reads the part on "Spiritual Facials."

Hie ye blackheads! To Hell ye go! But setting aside for a moment the question of whether anybody will actually take this crap to heart, is “Revolve” the really the problem?

Let’s face it. When it comes to teenage sexuality, particularly female teenage sexuality, we’re pretty schizophrenic. It’s easy to see why. In the melee of STD awareness, pregnancy prevention, rape hotlines, and lesbian-gay-transgender empowerment groups it’s understandable that something might be missed. But it missing it we’ve left out something I believe is key in understanding how girls grow up into women. When it comes to sex, we are very conscientious about telling girls that it’s okay to say no, to wait, to ask for protection, and (for the more progressive) to say yes only when it feels right. What we don’t tell them is not only is okay if the want to say yes, it’s also okay if they want to have sex period.

This was at least my experience with sex education in junior high, and high school. There was a lot of information, there were a lot options, even the grudging admission that yes sex indeed feels good. But if you were a girl the implicit message was that you are the one who will be desired, not the one who desires. Boys get erections and have wet dreams about the babysitter. Girls get breasts, a menstrual cycle and the ability to get pregnant. But don’t they get to dream about the babysitter too? (Hey I never specified gender)

The last three years have seen an explosion of women taking control of their own sexuality with The Vagina Monologues, Sex And the City, among other things. This is thrilling but exasperating. It’s easy to say that professional women in their 20s and 30s should feel free to masturbate and experiment. But we still can’t quite bring ourselves to make that same message a little more teen friendly. The prevailing opinion seems to be, "It's bad enough that teenage boys are sex crazed and irresponsible. What if we start egging the girls on too?"

But what about messages we are giving to girls? Take the latest issue of Rollingstone Magazine featuring ex-virgin Brittany Spears. Spears' career epitomizes the schizophrenic nature of teen sexuality. When she first came out what bugged me most (aside from her screaming lack of talent) was her image as the sexy jailbait virgin. The sexy jailbait thing was annoying enough, but the virgin element created a creepy kiddy porn context to it. Here was this girl who created this image of knowing nothing of her own desires but was able and willing to play upon male desires. When she finally did drop the virgin act it was almost a relief. At least her new sexy song lyrics have a veneer of truth to them. But now she's fallen into the Christina Aguilera trap of declaring her sexual liberation by emulating a stripper. The message has changed from, "I know nothing of my own sexuality but I can play up an image," to "I define my own sexuality by being the object of desire."

It's not that I don't believe that there aren't women that don't get off on being desired in that way. But it confines female sexuality to what men want, without asking what women want. This is why you have so many women who have sex when they don't want to, who've never had an orgasm, who are afraid to masturbate, and who don't know why they are so neurotic about sex.

STDs and teen pregnancy make the idea of sexual liberation in teenage girls more than a little alarming. And I'm not just saying we should liberate them now so they won't need it later. If anything, helping girls first understand that they have desires too could go a long way in helping them navigate their teen years without getting pregnant or contracting an STD. If she can identify what she wants in terms of a sexual relationship she might be less likely to have sex out of pressure or feel ashamed.

Of course I don't expect the visionaries behind "Revolve" to take my argument into consideration. There's no point in arguing with people who believe that Jesus will hate you if you wear low-rider jeans. It's easy to laugh at that kind of cluelessness. It's harder to admit that in a lot of ways, the rest of us are pretty clueless as well.

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