Girlpower1 links us to this article about the budding ‘modesty movement’ in America, aimed at the same young girls who are being targeted and/or influenced by marketers and popular culture to participate in the ‘raunch culture’ instead of a more innocent, non-sexualized childhood. The author uses celebrities who are constantly in the media and in the tabloids, and the recent Paris Hilton-goes-to-jail debacle, as a starting-off point for her conversation–Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, etc. She points to their ‘vulgarity’ and asks, are these the role models we want for our young girls?
The author, Colleen Carroll Campbell, gets so much right:
Today’s pop culture tells women that sexual power is the kind that counts most and they can achieve it by showing skin. That message has trickled down to girls, forcing them to trade carefree childhood pleasures for sexual competition.
You can see them in the mall, tugging nervously at their skimpy shorts and halter tops, straining to see how men react to their little bellies flouncing out of low-slung jeans. They look more exploited than empowered as they fuss and cringe, adjust and squirm. How odd that in an age when girls have more athletic and academic opportunities than ever, girlhood has become a high-pressure dress-rehearsal for adult mating games.
This is no doubt, disturbing. As are the following conclusions:
The American Psychological Association recently issued an alarming report on this trend, concluding that girls who view themselves as sex objects are more prone to academic failure, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and poor self-image…A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed a strong correlation between sexual activity and depression in teenage girls – a correlation far stronger than the one seen in boys, with girls’ depression rates rising as the number of sexual partners rose. The study suggests that sexual experimentation is not a symptom but a cause of depression in teenage girls.
No doubt it’s a problem that sexual activity and depression are so strongly correlated among teenage girls. But I think the author makes a big leap when she says that the study ‘suggests’ that sexual experimentation is the cause of depression. It’s too patronizing and moralistic, and she doesn’t cite it to boot. It’s a justification for the ‘modesty movement’ she describes and supports:
Many parents feel powerless to resist the objectification of their daughters. But others are fighting back. A new modesty movement is sprouting in cities from Denver to Atlanta, with Pure Fashion shows drawing crowds of modesty-conscious mothers and daughters, new retailers like Shade Clothing reporting multi-million dollar sales figures for clothes that keep private parts private, and feisty online communities like ModestyZone.net encouraging rebels against raunchy culture.
The girls and women behind this movement say they are not looking to revive gunny-sack dresses or relive the 1950s. They simply want to be seen as more than the sum of their body parts.
Again, capitalism (note that this is becoming a multi-million dollar industry) is dressed up with a certain ideology, but in this case, it’s an ideology of the ‘struggle for protection from sexual influences,’ not the ‘movement toward liberation through the use of my sexuality.’
Don’t get me wrong; of course children shouldn’t be sexualized. But there comes a time in life called puberty, and at that time, both boys and girls do realize their sexuality. While a teenage girl should entirely have the choice the dress herself modesty, what I see here is not a choice, but rather a reaction against the other ‘choice’ of participating in the raunch culture. Check out Campbell’s credentials–she is very much a part of the Christian Right, who also advocate abstinence-only sex education. Yes, teenage girls and young women are inappropriately sexualized in our society, but I also think they should be allowed the choice of discovering their sexuality, or sensuality, or pleasure in their bodies, or just a love for fashion or what have you. Ignoring the fact that sexuality exists among adolescents only leads to more problems itself.
Another troublesome aspect of both ‘choices’–the raunch culture, or the modesty movement–is that both are about changing how the girls represent themselves; neither are about changing how boys and men look at and treat girls. If we really want to give people more choices in our society, we need to come at it from many different angles, not just the Madonna/whore dichotomy that we still look at women through.