This week, I have a piece up at Role/Reboot: The Real Problem with Sexualization Isn’t Victoria’s Secret. Excerpt:
Sexualization is a very real problem. The backlash against it, however, can lead to the pathologizing of any and all interest in beauty, fashion, or traditionally feminine sports like cheer, dance, gymnastics, and figure skating. In the rush to make sure that girls have role models who aren’t primarily concerned with beauty, we risk labeling those girls who are interested in cultivating their appearance as either frivolous or victimized. When the APA calls for a culture that rewards accomplishments “based on young people’s abilities and character rather than on their appearance” (emphasis mine), they perpetuate a frustratingly false dichotomy. It’s the modern iteration of the lie that a girl can’t be both pretty and smart: In this new paradigm, you can’t care about your looks and be empowered at the same time. Achieving the latter means letting go (or pretending to let go) of any interest in beauty and sexiness.
Much of the anxiety about sexualization is really about outsourcing adult men’s self-control to the bodies of young girls. The real sexualizers aren’t the marketers, but the older boys and men who are unwilling to distinguish grown women from children. Men aren’t nearly as weak, stupid, or easily deceived as we like to imagine. We fret about sexualization because we fret that grown men will, inevitably, see a short skirt, or a t-shirt with a provocative message, as an invitation—even on the body of a 12-year-old. That sells men woefully short. It’s not an overask—really, it isn’t—to expect adult men to see a 14-year-old in heels and makeup as still a child. The problem is less girls’ self-objectification and more adult men’s refusal to stop using that supposed self-objectification as an excuse to be predatory creepers.