This essay first appeared on BlogHer.
Little Lolitas are in the news again. Or rather, society’s sexualized images of young girls are in the news again. A recent report by theParents Television Council warns us that the objectification of young women in the media must be stopped; that girls’ self-esteem, body image, and sexuality will be deeply harmed because of this oppression. While I couldn’t agree more, I wonder, is this really new news?
Girls and women have been objectified in the media for time immemorial.
The ancient Greeks told parables of the Olympic gods’ lust for young girls. Think of the story of Demeter and Persephone in which a mother tries to protect her young daughter from rape and kidnap by Hades, king of the underworld. We know that Lewis Carroll lusted for Alice and every lap Shirley Temple sat on made certain men swoon. In modern times, we have had Nabokov’s Lolita, Jodie Foster and hertaxi driver, and Brooke Shields and her jeans, among others. Today, we have the entire Disney line-up, the cast of Gossip Girl, and the cheerleaders of Glee. The difference between then and now? Where once girls were unsuspecting victims, now they are sexual predators, ready to seduce the next man who passes their way.
When I asked my own fourteen-year-old daughter her thoughts on the sexualization of “tween” girls, she laughed and said, “It starts with Barbie and Disney Princesses, not with Miley Cyrus.” She’s right. Barbie’s breasts and mini-skirts, Pocahantus’s deer skin and the Little Mermaid’s hair, are male fantasies — not girl playthings.
Why is it that female sexuality is always in the hands of others? Forget the Taliban, even in western society girls are either victims or predators. It’s bits or bytes, yin or yang. This black and white notion of what a young girl wants, knows, imagines, does not reflect the reality of natural maturation. I believe sexual awakening comes in waves. It starts as young as two when little girls (and boys) begin exploring their bodies and continues onward through puberty to those first fleeting kisses of adolescence. When done right, the careful unfolding of an intimate relationship to our bodies and our desires leads to a lifetime of healthy sexuality. Hard to do in a society that is threatened by female power.
So the real story here is not the media’s overt sexualization of girls; it is the ongoing oppression of females of every age. The vast majority of media is defined by a male paradigm. If we want to change the images our daughters see, then it needs to start in our own homes. Throw out the fashion and gossip magazines, turn off the television, shut down the Internet connection. What then is left? You decide, but it has to be better than what is out there.