Idealizing the Innocence of Girls

Before Telus decided to kill our SEX TV Channel, I caught an episode of 'Sex TV' entitled 'Girl Power'. I'm not a fan of Sex Tv at the best of times. It oversimplifies and over-sensationalizes. This episode was no different.

It started out with a backstage look at a Spice Girls tribute group (shows how old the episode was) as they got ready for a show, interspersed with scenes of the teenage girls in the audience waiting for the show to start. The voice over at the beginning explained how the image of female sexuality has been changing, with more and more representations of women who are both strong AND sexual, rather than there having to be a choice. It talked about the stronger presence of images of powerful sexual women. This got my attention and I kept watching. Perhaps, I thought, we'll see some discussion about a newer feminist paradigm around female sexuality.

Not so much.

It turns out this opening narrative had nothing to do with the show as those statements ended with a 'BUT......are young girls becoming too sexual too soon?' And so here we go again. The rest of the show talked about how girls are maturing much faster than they used to, and are bombarded with images of sexuality everywhere to go. Is this forcing them to grow up to fast and to have sex too early? According to this show, yes it is.

What really boils my potatoes about this old saw of an idea is that we are trying to pretend that girls are not sexual beings - at least until they become adults. It's just not true. Just before this show was a little montage of women confessing when their first sexual thought was. They all shared memories from their early or late teens. Come on already! My first sexual thought would have been somewhere around age 4 or 5. It's not that I wanted to have sex but I certainly thought about and was curious about things related to bodies and sex. We all are. Sexuality is not a separate little compartment in our lives that suddenly pops open at puberty. Girls are sexual from the time they are born. So if that's the case, why are we so terrified about them expressing that part of themselves?

It is only in much more recent times, around the turn of the century, that we have held these kinds of ideals around innocence and purity, and yet shows like this and people who share these views distort the historical facts by claiming that girls are entering puberty earlier and earlier and that they are being 'thrust' into the world of sexuality when they are so very young. In fact, this same show, after reporting 'alarming' statistics how the age of menarche has become progressively younger, suddenly switched gears and reported that in ancient Rome, girls were normally married between 12 and 14 years of age. How does this make any sense at all? Since the main reason for marriage at that time was creating families, those girls would most certainly have not been married had they not reached menarche and been capable of having children. So what is really going on here? Clearly, throughout history, it has been understand that women mature physically at a young age and that they are ready to take on adult responsibilities of sex and child-bearing. So why now, do we treat girls so gingerly and make such an effort to protect their innocence? Why is female sexuality so precious and yet at once so threatening.

Don't get me wrong here, I really don't think that girls should be getting married and having babies at 14. But the reason that I believe that is because we our society is not set up to prepare and then adequately support girls to do that at that age. Come to think of it, I don't think our society is set up to support women to make good sexual decisions and to bear children at any age. But that's another story.

The fact of the matter is that both girls and boys are sexual. They are not innocent. The innocence we work so hard to protect is an ideal created by adults who find it easier to pretend their children are ignorant than to deal with the realities of their lives. This idealization and refusal to deal with reality has some dire consequences. Why are the vast majority of teens afraid to talk to their parents about sex and contraception? I think a big part of it is that they are afraid they will destroy their parents image of them. Most parents think their children are perfect and in our society, a perfect child does not have sex, and doesn't even think about it. How can a child talk openly and get good information from a parent who idealizes their innocence? The result is children who hide their real lives from their parents and parents who have no clue what their children are really doing.

There was a very strident young woman on the show who had written a book that I've since forgotten the title of. She believes that sex is sacred and that girls in our society are tramps who have lost all respect for themselves. She shared a story that she heard (she could give no real information to support whether this story was even true or how often something like this might happen)about an 18-year old girl who had planned to go to a motel to have sex with her boyfriend. This plan came about because both of them lived with their parents and had no privacy. The girl needed a ride to the motel so she asked her Dad take her. On the way there, she discovered she had forgotten her birth control pills. The father drove her home to get them and then back to the motel. We were clearly meant to be horrified by this story. I thought it was an example of a nice father. This is an 18-year-old girl who can make a decision about whether she wants to have sex or not. She'd thought it out and planned for it because she was already on the pill. She told her parents what she was doing instead of sneaking around. And her father helped her out with her good choices. I think this is how we all ought to behave where our sexual choices are concerned. But in this looney woman's mind, the idea that parents would be that open and accepting with their children was abhorrent. It's ass backwards - rewarding ignorance and decrying honesty.

So for the end of the show, we cut back to the Spice Girls concert and watch 12 to 14 year old girls mouth the words to 'Stop Right There' as they dance around in their boas and satin shorts. Exactly what we are meant to feel about this, I don't really know.