Six and Sexy
(by Kate Gould)
Last Tuesday I decided I'd count the number of times I saw pictures of women doing sexy wherever I happened to see them. Wandering round the supermarket trying to find something for dinner that my pet rats would like, standing at the bus stop, flicking through magazines at the dentist, buying stuff online I don't need with money I don't have, walking to the pet shop to buy rat treats, and sitting in the bath reading the pile of Sunday supplements stacked by the loo, I counted 102 such images, each barely distinguishable from the next but all pouting and posing. Admittedly, waiting over an hour at the dentist and topping up the bath water to stop it going cold for two hours, I spent more time than I usually would looking through magazines in a day, but still, all those women are out there along with the products they're selling.
Despite how many we see in a day, these sexualised and sexist images of women are almost socially invisible. Adverts that depict women as dislocated body parts, corpses, objects, drug addicts, victims of gang rape and murder, schoolgirls, and idiots just to sell products are endemic. Shocking though the images are, I'm not remotely surprised that this depiction of women has filtered down into that of girls because the adverts work – they sell products and ideals to women. I assume advertisers decided that depicting children as dead or strung out might adversely affect sales, so they thought they'd save that for women and go, instead, for sexualising girls as the less controversial option.
Though there is opposition to it, sexualisation as a way in which to sell products for girls begins in infancy. The promise of sexiness sells to an increasingly young audience. By the age of two, having moved on from the baby dolls, the most popular toys sold for girls are fairies and princesses. Parenting websites say three is the most appropriate age at which to introduce girls to Barbie with her inhuman proportions and some girls will play with them into their teens. Femininity is pink and passive, built on dolls with limbs that can't move, dream houses, Little Miss Giggles padded bras, and Disney princess costumes. Girls move quickly into the tween market around eight where the hemlines rise, the necklines fall, and the jeans get skinnier. It is at this point that sexualisation shifts from an insidious influence to the predominant marketing tool. They're marketed to as though they're adults and fed a concept of sexiness defined within parameters as miniscule as the thongs sold to them from the age of ten. Hot pants, crotchless knickers, padded bras, cosmetics, and pop stars sexualised before they're passed puberty are staples of tween and teen marketing.
There are three primary schools and two high schools near my flat (great for those mornings when I'd sell my soul just to stay asleep) and I know the girls going to and from school are surrounded by the message that, in order to be visible, they have to be fuckable. Their mouths are for kissing, pouting, and blowjobs – not speaking. What comes out of their mouths is irrelevant in the same way that the importance of what's going on inside their heads is overshadowed by what they look like on the outside. Girls are judged, not by the quality of their character, but by the rise of their jeans and the size of their bra. Before they even understand the lexicon, they're schooled in the language of sexiness. It's a manufactured sex-sells form of sexiness, though, that doesn't, in any way, prepare them for actual sex. What it does, instead, is teach girls to value their bodies as commodities, objects and boy toys. And it starts early, long before girls have developed the faculty of examination: they are fed imagery and concepts which they accept because that is what surrounds them. They're made to think sexualised and sexist images and attitudes are the norm and they accept it.
I watch the girls walking past my flat, laughing and swearing, and I hate the fact that their minds could be so crowded with the shit pumped out by marketers and the media, telling them they're not good enough, that being female is defined by what you have between your legs and in your bra and, most importantly, how good you are at selling it. Instead they should be learning that being female has more meanings than anyone will ever imagine and that joy is all they should be feeling about their bodies.
They shouldn't be touched by the malignant influence on their young lives that is pornography, but they are. It tells both boys and girls of how they are supposed to have sex, what they are supposed to want and find sexy, and what they are expected to do. As a result, girls are taking the morning after pill, often several times in a menstrual cycle, so they can have sex with their boyfriends without condoms because the boys don't like using them and say it's more like porn sex if they don't. Having seen it onscreen, boys are pressuring girls as young as eleven into anal sex and the girls are going along with it because that's what they've learnt to do – to acquiesce to male desire as a sure sign that they've achieved the sexiness advertising and the media have told them they should strive for.
By the time girls reach this stage, their sexualisation à la media is complete: they embody the sexiness and femininity they've been taught from sexist toys in infancy to stripper heels in their teens. It's a sort of chimera of passivity and desire, the impact of which they don't understand because, contrary to how they may look and talk, and the things they do with their boyfriends, they know little about sexuality. There's very little realism in the depictions of sex and sexiness that surround them. They don't teach about intimacy, relationships, choice, trust, closeness, and communication. Nor do they tell them about creativity and the fact that there can be so much more to sex than inserting a penis into an orifice. Instead, they educate girls in the use of their bodies as a commodity and object of exploitation. Profiting from their impressionability, they rob girls of their childhood while the girls themselves have no clue that it doesn't have to be this way.
What do you think? Am I the one denying them their autonomy? Tell me in the comments.