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December 04, 2005

Sexual Responsibility.

I direct you to a discussion of this Washington Post article by Patricia Dalton, concerning the way in which teens and pre teens are dressing in a sexually provocative manner. (Yes in blog terms it was ages ago and comments are now closed but hey Iím still catching up here.) There are one or two sensible comments but most seem to miss the point entirely.

Firstly in these discussions I think we need to differentiate between adults and children. Although some commenters failed to make the link, there is a huge difference between 25 year old walking around in a thong, short skirt and cropped top if she is sexually and emotionally mature and therefore capable of dealing with the consequences, compared to a confused (pre) pubescent 11 year old wearing the same. There is no argument on this. Naturally I will be guiding my daughter from a young age and bringing her up so that sex is not seen as a taboo, I will also be teaching her how to cook, wash, tie her shoelaces and look after herself but it doesnít mean that Iíll be leaving her home alone for a week while I take a holiday the second she hits puberty. The border between child/adult may be blurred and Iím not even suggesting that every 25 year old is, or should be, sexually mature but let us accept at least that childhood exists beyond toddlerdom.

Where the article contradicts itself, and Iím surprised more people havenít picked up on this, is that it insists firstly that;

The daughters themselves may be imperious or sullen, but almost all employ the everyone-is-doing-it excuse.

and then in the next paragraph laments that

Women once complained about being reduced to sex objects. Now, their daughters are volunteering to be sex objects.

If the first extract is true then what, may I ask, is so 'voluntary' about yielding to peer pressure?

The teenage girl who doesnít use the above excuse may argue (like some of the comments in the post) that it is her right to wear what she likes. What we need to do is ask ourselves why a twelve year old would want to go out on a cold and rainy December evening with bare legs, an exposed midriff , crippling high heeled shoes and underwear that feels as if it is cutting her in two. Itís certainly not for comfort or warmth now is it? And to those who asked why we donít question the dress sense of our teenage boys when they go out dressed in hoodies and baggy jeans with the top of their boxers showing I would answer that a) they expose neither skin nor body shape and b) at least they look comfortable.

Now I would love to live in some sort of utopia where we can all act, speak and dress in the way that we desire without the implications that ensue, most of all I would like to live in a world where the individual (in whatever shape or form) is considered holistically and aesthetically rather than sexually. In other words as a married woman I want to be able to go out of an evening and meet a male or female who fits my definition of attractive in both body and mind and to be able to lavish praise on that person without it being assumed that I want to jump into bed with them. Likewise I would like to be able to go into Tescos and buy my 4 year old a pair of tracksuit bottoms with Ďcuteí and Ďbabeí across the backside and for the connotations to be completely innocent but I know what they are getting at, and so do you and lets not pretend that by consuming these items I can single-handedly reclaim those words back to their original and pure meaning.

But Iím afraid we have a long way to go and until we live in this world we must exercise some caution in everything we do. Of course bringing up teenagers is a lot more complex than barking orders or nodding approval as they go out the door. For a start I would assume that from a young age, to balance playground pressure, we would be promoting individuality and installing confidence in every area of their life whether they want to be top in the class at physics or make the netball team. How they choose to express themselves in dress is just a small part of the whole issue and maybe we need to get our priorities right, for instance it might be worth noting that when I was growing up most of my friends were being berated by their parents for wearing Doc Martens, ripped jeans or baggy combats and for not being Ďfeminineí enough, most parents would have given their right arm to see their daughter in Ďproperí shoes or a skirt of any length. Well in the current climate I certainly know how Iíd rather see my daughter dressed.

Finally I would suggest that the choice of language is unfortunate when Patricia Dalton refers to Ďthe dangers young women are bringing upon themselves.í But in the context of the whole paragraph, I see no indication that she truly believes that it is entirely the girlís fault if it all goes wrong.

Well, the so-called utopia is here, and older women have reason to be alarmed at the dangers young women are bringing upon themselves. These girls are treated as objects just as surely as in any earlier generation. Itís pre-liberation treatment in post-liberation disguise. ďTurn back before itís too late!Ē we want to warn them ó because what awaits them is not Prince Charming. It is more likely to be loneliness and regret.

With the benefit of hindsight most women my age admit that their first sexual experience was not only painful but also tinged with disappointment. Maybe by showing our daughters that the option is there and they can still Ďturn back before itís too late,í we are reminding them of their own power and choice in the matter, that any half decent respecting friend should respect them whatever they wear and whatever they choose to do with their virginity.

Jill at Feministe seems to think that by warning our daughters of the dangers out there we are somehow making them feel that it would be their fault if something happened to them. When I have discussed this issue before I have often used the road safety analogy. We happen to live right on top of a circular route, which is used by almost any driver as a second rate Formula One track. I install in my daughter extra road safety and donít allow her to play on the grass verge out the front, of course she has every right to play there and it is a shame that she cannot but at the end of the day Iím not prepared to take that risk. If one day she disobeyed my rule and slipped out when I wasnít looking and then got hit by a drunken, speeding driver who had swerved onto the grass verge, I would like to think that if I had done anything right as a parent she would not be flat on her back blaming herself.

There is a huge difference between blame and responsibility. I would argue that if a mother or a father were to say (preferably long before the daughter was walking out the door) ĎHoney letís reach a compromise on this. Your body belongs to you and the person you eventually choose to share it with, you are worth so much more than a cursory glance from some adolescent outside the corner shop, and besides youíll catch the death of cold dressed like that, how about a pair of tights and a jacket?í I would argue that as guardians we would be showing her where she can find her own individual control and responsibility.

And of course, if I had a son I would also be teaching him how to respect women., it goes without saying. What I am arguing for is a balance in sexual responsibility, if we were to place it completely in the hands of the male, then that leaves the young woman powerless and vulnerable.

Posted by purple elephant at December 4, 2005 11:29 AM