Wednesday, August 24, 2016

These are the best of times ... but also the worst of times?

With all the women's liberation and advances in feminism, could it be possible that young girls of today feel the pressure of their gender as much as--or perhaps even more than--young girls of the bad old days?

I have been thinking about this for a long time.  On the one hand, boys and young men are falling behind so rapidly that I have been blogging about "save the males."  On the other hand, I have also been blogging about how heterosexuality, which is the overwhelming sexual identity and behavior, then translates into even the loser guys having an easier time in contrast to young women--who have to now fiercely compete for their man.

Girl power seems to be increasingly measured in terms of sexuality.
American girls may appear to be “among the most privileged and successful girls in the world,” she writes, but thanks to the many hours they spend each day in an online culture that treats them—and teaches them to treat themselves—as sexual objects, they are no more, and perhaps rather less, “empowered” in their personal lives than their mothers were thirty years ago.
This has been my worry too.  Even on campuses and in public social spaces, young women seem to be hypersexualized than ever before.  The weather warms up and the skimpiest of hotpants are de rigueur, it seems.

Even in the Olympics, which I did not watch--of course--I did notice in the sports pages that while male track and field athletes wear shorts and vests that are tight and long covering most of their bodies that we relate to sexuality, many of the female athletes are covered with gear that is only a little more than a two-piece bikini.  Apparently the female beach volleyball team even voted to wear only the skimpiest minimum--even though the bikini is not a requirement!

If everywhere we turn it is the sexualized image of women, then?
The unsparing gaze that social media train on girls’ sexuality—the supreme value that they place on being sexually appealing—engenders a widespread female anxiety about physical appearance that is highly conducive to “self-objectification,” Sales claims. All of her interview subjects agree that on sites like Instagram and Facebook, female popularity (as quantified by the number of “likes” a girl’s photos receive) depends on being deemed “hot.” “You have to have a perfect body and big butt,” a fifteen-year-old from the Bronx observes grimly. “For a girl, you have to be that certain way to get the boys’ attention.”
Teenage biology points to the direction of sex.  In this, I am not sure whether young women today are better off than those in the past:
Some of the misery of teenage girls’ sexual experiences is attributable, Orenstein contends, to the “hookup culture” in which sex, “rather than being a product of intimacy…has become its precursor, or sometimes its replacement.” (Rates of female orgasm are much lower for casual encounters, she notes, than for sex that takes place within committed relationships.) Another contributing factor, she suggests, is the part that pornography now plays in determining normative standards of teenage sexual behavior.
The pressure that girls and young women must feel to look good 24x7, day after day means that they are continuing to respond to the male-defined world even though boys and young men are rapidly falling behind when it comes to successful schooling and other responsibilities of that age?  Will the young women really feel confident to say no when the situation warrants it, or will they say yes only because of the intensity of the pressure and the competition?

In such a context, it does not help when the presidential candidate of the "family values" party loudly says things that are outrightly misogynistic but which get him loud applause and cheers from his adoring millions of supporters.  After all, if the overwhelming majority do not think for themselves, then they will only imitate the behavior and thinking of "leaders," right?

I suppose I should be relieved that I do not have a young girl to raise and worry about!


Ramesh said...

This is a very involved and convoluted argument.

There is a matter of a choice involved. Nobody is forcing anybody to look "hot". If you want to do so, that's fine. If you don't want to do so that's fine too. Increasingly in the corporate world , at least, the notion of women having to look pretty is completely outdated. Both men and women need to dress and look smart and not slovenly. End of story. You can have the face of an owl. As long as you perform you are fine. If not, you are fired. Period.

Sriram Khé said...

Not convoluted by any means.
You are living in your world of mirage when you write that "Nobody is forcing anybody to look "hot"" ... you are seriously discounting, waving away, the tremendous pressure young girls and women feel to look good. I wish it were outdated, as you think it is. If it were not outdated, then you think Drumpf will be able to say all the nasty things he has said about women and get away with it?

Anne in Salem said...

I land somewhere between the two of you. I think Ramesh is a bit idealistic and Sriram is a bit too negative. With two daughters who have plenty of female friends, I see and hear plenty about the pressure some girls put on themselves to be attractive to boys. Thankfully it seems to be an issue of immaturity so they outgrow it. The young women in their early twenties know they have value beyond looks/sexuality that the younger girls aren't experienced enough to realize. And the boys are immature, incapable of realizing the value of a smart, funny and/or kind girl over the value of a "hot" girl.

It is also an issue of confidence. Teenage girls don't have sufficient experience in life to have developed the confidence in their abilities such that they can discount the importance of looks and popularity. Once they have achieved a few things with their brains and their hearts and their souls - grades, scholarships, jobs, volunteer work, friendships - they will have reasons to believe in themselves beyond appearances and realize they have much more to offer.

Question is: How do we get the teenage girls through the developing and maturing years with their brains, sense and confidence in tact?

Sriram Khé said...

Anne, the question that you raise is *the* challenge that parents are increasingly going to be forced to face in a liberal, free society like ours. (The highly restricted role of girls and women in many other societies is another problem of its own.)
I will readily admit that I have no answers. Not a single thought as a potential solution. This is a case of the proverbial genie that is now out of the bottle and nobody can push it back in ...
Ahem, what else did you expect to hear from Major Buzzkill? ;)

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