David Mills on choice, entrapment and virginity
I watch unusual movies once in a while in an effort to keep up with the culture, and the other night watched The Smokers, an independent movie about three girls in an expensive boarding school in Chicago. Two are quite wealthy while the third is a scholarship girl from a poor family, but all come from dysfunctional homes. They decide that they are tired of being weak and exploited by men, and decide to turn the tables by forcing the boys in the school to have sex with them by threatening them with a gun.
Too accurate to be funny
They do not succeed, and are not happy, and their friendship breaks apart, till things spin out of control, as they tend to do in these movies. I think it was meant to be a comedy, but it was too accurate to be funny, because one knew that all around us are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of young women exactly like the three girls, just as unhappy and confused and desperate, and one cannot laugh at children who are lost in the dark.
It proved to be an oddly conservative movie. The girls' pursuit of sexual power just proved to them how impotent they were. One can't help but feel that the three are sad but very silly young women, and that their sexuality was as dangerous to them as the gun. Of the three, the two who had sex came to bad ends: one left with an apparent disgust with sex and with the guilt of killing a boy, the other burned to death, blamed afterwards for the killing the first committed. Their sexual acts – the film earned its R rating – gave them no joy and little pleasure. The one who does not have sex in the movie finally recognizes the good man who cares for her and the voiceover at the end suggests that she marries him after the movie ends and is now living happily ever after.
An advertisement for virginity
The result was that the movie was, if anything, an advertisement for virginity. It was therefore somewhat of an irony to come across an article in the New York Times that praised – somewhat ambivalently – the sexually aggressive young woman.
‘Ever since Sadie Hawkins, teenage girls have chased and flirted with boys. But now they are initiating more intimate contact, sometimes even sex, in a more aggressive manner, according to the anecdotal accounts of many counsellors, psychologists, magazine editors and teenagers,’ claims a story titled ‘She's Got to Be a Macho Girl’ in the November 3rd issue of the New York Times. (Look it up now as their stories stay free only a few days.)
As with most such stories on alleged social trends, it is hard to know whether it is a trend at all, and if so how significant it is. The author offers quotes from teenagers around the country and examples from pop culture, particularly pop music, but the only hard data he cites shows a decrease in adolescent sexual activity. The thesis seems intuitively true, but does it seem intuitively true because it fits what we expect and at some level want to believe (liberals because it shows how liberation and equality have spread, conservatives because it shows how bad things are)?
And if it is true, who does it apply to? All teenagers? Affluent teenagers? Poor teenagers? Secular teenagers? Teenagers from what used to be called – and accurately – broken homes? Teenagers in the public schools and secular private academies? Teenagers who watch a lot of tv? These are all significant distinctions, which the writer does not make.
Assuming it is generally true, it is really a sad story, despite the brave claims of some of the adults quoted, who see the creation of sexually expansive young women as an expression of equality, confidence and the like, and one of the greatest fruits of feminism. They use the word ‘empower’ a lot. People like Atoosa Rubenstein, the editor of CosmoGirl, a magazine that originated in Hell, explain that ‘Their mothers have told them, Go for student council, go for the team, go for that job, and that has turned from a message directed toward achievement to being something their whole lives are about. So they apply it to pursuing boys as well.’
But the matter does not stop with girls asking out boys because they feel confident enough to do so. (One notices, by the way, that the whole idea of dating, especially the idea that children of that age should be out alone in a romantic affair that will not lead to any permanent commitment, is never ever questioned in American newspapers and magazines, though it really is a very odd and imprudent practice.) The matter inevitably involves the question of what these children do on their dates, and Ms. Rubenstein has a blithe answer:
Whether that pursuit is sexual or an expression of a crush, Ms Rubenstein said, ‘is up to the girl.’
Up to her
Up to the girl. There you are. The choice of an act with profound and ineradicable moral, spiritual, emotional, social, and usually physical consequences is to be left up to a child who is not considered competent to vote, choose elective surgery, drink, or decide whether or not to go to school. If her choice results in a baby, however, she is considered competent to have him killed. In many states she cannot get her ears pierced without her parents' permission, but in nearly all of them she can have her womb opened and evacuated without even telling them.
But it is up to the girl, and we are meant to think that this is a good thing. We get a different view from Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke, a co-director of the Helping Girls Become Strong Women Project at Columbia University.
‘The culture – MTV videos and television shows – helps to reduce adolescent girls to being successful when they look sexy and date often . . .’ Teenagers, Dr Kearney-Cooke said, feast on media images while they starve for love and parental attention. ‘One of the ways we learn about relationships is by being in them and seeing them at work,’ she said. ‘Today, kids come home from school and the parents or parent might not be home. They watch MTV and talk shows and cruise the Internet, and that is where they are learning about relationships.’
And from magazines like CosmoGirl.
I asked at the beginning what teenagers we are talking about, because it does seem likely that most of them come from a sexually damaged upbringing. The articles seems to suggest this, by quoting a Mr Alan Beckerman, a 19-year-old student who has written a book titled Generation SLUT — ‘SLUT’ standing for ‘sexually liberal urban teenagers’. (According to the article, Mr Beckerman's book will be published next year by Simon & Shuster/MTV Books.) He surmised that girls may be trying to transform sex into something as meaningless as they believe it is for boys.
‘All kids are scared of long-term relationships now,’ Mr Beckerman said. ‘Our parents are all divorced, and we have never seen a successful long-term relationship. Girls don't want to think of sex as something which is about love because that will just come back and bite them later. The sex thing is just the most visible sign of disconnectedness we feel.’
It seems to me that he is almost certainly right but, reading between the lines, it seems to me that there is one other reason why these young women are so aggressive. And it is the exact opposite reason to that the writer and nearly everyone quoted accepts as self-evident. I think these children are so aggressive not because they are confident but because they despair. They are taught from an early age that sex is inevitable but also that it is finally unsatisfying and leads eventually, inevitably to pain. They learn the first from MTV, talk shows, the internet, and magazines like CosmoGirl. They learn the second from their parents' divorces, their friends' break-ups, their own venereal diseases and abortions.
They feel that it is not ‘up to the girl’. It is easier, and seems safer, to try to make the affair ‘meaningless’. If it does not have meaning, it cannot hurt, they think.
As I say, I think this in part from reading between the lines, but also from long observation of people I know, and the testimony of movies like The Smokers. The story quotes an 18-year-old girl who says that
I think with feminist thought being pushed upon girls from a young age, that some people put a premium on girls dominating different areas of life. So girls may now feel that it is also important to dominate in a sexual relationship. This allows the girl to have more control, e.g. ‘I wanted him to do that' versus ‘He sort of made me do something.’
A voice of despair
I may be wrong, but I hear in her last sentence the voice of a young woman speaking for her peers, who is trying to avoid despair by claiming that she is the agent of her own actions, the one who decides her own destiny. Notice how passive she is even while claiming to have ‘control’: ‘I wanted him to do that’, not ‘I wanted to do that.’ And notice that even while claiming to have control, she can only say ‘more control’, which in context does not seem to mean that she really has all that much control over what the boy does. The sentence does not suggest confidence. It suggests what in adults we would call ‘damage control’ or ‘spin’.
It is the wording of one who has done something she wishes she had not done but feels she had to do. It is the voice of despair, familiar to us through the comic figure of the man who yells ‘You can't fire me, I quit!’ and storms from his boss's office, having salvaged his pride a little bit though he is still ruined. It is not in any way comical in the mouths of children, who ought to have been free from the dangers and the suffering of CosmoGirl sexuality, and the need to cope by being aggressive, who ought to have grown up free to choose what they would do without even thinking of what boys wanted, till someday they found men who would love them, lay down their lives for them, live with them till death did them part, to whom they could offer their sexuality freely and without fear, whose children they would bear.
The odd thing is, that such young women would have more control over their lives than the macho young women the story describes. One does not need to be a Christian to know that chastity empowers. The control of the appetites makes you free. The chaste young woman is the only one of whom it can truly be said, ‘It is up to the girl.’ Freud knew this, after all, which is perhaps why the sexually liberationist form of feminism tends to hate him almost as much as they hate Christ. They fear such freedom. They prefer the ‘freedom’ that any fool can see is really slavery.
David Mills is Director of Publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. This article first appeared on Touchstone's blogsite (www.touchstonemag.com/merecomments.html ) in November 2002.
Return to Home Page of This Issue
Return to Trushare Home Page