These days, all you have to do is turn on the TV or pick up a gossip magazine to see the future of our youth--and let me tell you, it's not pretty. In the age of Snooki, "Girls Gone Wild," and Tila Tequila, where on Earth is a young woman supposed to find positive female role models? And how are our boys going to grow up to respect female sexuality when the girls themselves seem to be throwing all sexual caution to the wind? From sexting to the mainstreaming of amateur pornography, a new culture of raunchiness has emerged, one in which women aren't just participating--they're often taking the lead.
At Good in Bed, it's a trend that has many of us concerned. In one of my favorite books on the subject, "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture," journalist Ariel Levy argues that our culture's model of female sexuality encourages women to perform for men--think strip clubs and porn. And, writes Jennifer Egan in her New York Times review of the book, "Women have bought into this by altering their bodies surgically and cosmetically, and-- more insidiously--by confusing sexual power with actual power, so that embracing this caricaturish form of sexuality becomes, in their minds, a perverse kind of feminism." But, as Levy points out, "'Raunchy' and 'liberated' are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go."
The sexual objectification of women is nothing new. Even Cleopatra, one of the most intelligent and powerful rulers the world has ever known, is mainly remembered by history for her skills as a seductress. But these days, men aren't the only ones doing the objectifying. In fact, women don't just objectify themselves--they often objectify other women, too. They've come to see themselves through male eyes, whether they're looking at themselves in a mirror or out on the dance floor. The male gaze is everywhere. If there weren't guys looking, there wouldn't be girls posting semi-nude photographs online. If there weren't guys looking, there'd be no reason for girls to "go wild" in the first place.
On the surface, I've got it easy as a parent--my wife and I have two sons. "Boys will be boys" goes the conventional wisdom. We've come to expect--and often excuse--their bad behavior. That means it falls on a girl's shoulders to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to create and protect boundaries in respect to her sexuality. While I think it's important to teach girls how to be empowered gatekeepers of their own sexuality, I also believe that we have to focus on the boys, not let them off the hook. If girls operate in the male gaze (both actual and internalized), then we need to change that gaze. Boys need to learn how to see girls differently. Here's how:
Remember, you can't stop your boy from seeing the world around him. But you can change how he looks at it. And what he needs to be looking at are strong women who know the difference between reality and reality TV.