Don’t call me trashy, and don’t call me victimized either - Macleans.ca
 

Don’t call me trashy, and don’t call me victimized either

A cropped tee and mini skirt certainly doesn’t say ‘love me for my mind,’ it does say something about Western emancipation


 

There exists a point in many young girls’ lives where it becomes fashionable to stick your tongue down your best friend’s throat at a club and later post the pictures on Facebook. Ideally, your best friend is of the same sex, clad in a cheap polyester bubble dress, and surrounded by a gaggle of young men chanting, “Dooo it!” or “Guuuuhh!”

This is not power. That point is made clear by Maclean’s recent cover story titled “Outraged moms, trashy daughters,” which tries to make sense of how mothers of the women’s lib movement managed to produce the barsexual daughters of today. Anne Kingston writes, “For these girls, Snoop Dogg’s misogynist Bitches Ain’t S–t is not an affront but a ring tone, and ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ are not put-downs but affectionate greetings between female friends.” Nancy Vonk, the co-chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather, was quoted in the article saying, “I’m so deeply pained to see where women are today and how girls—and I mean girls—are being groomed to believe their purpose in life is to be sexual beings that please men.”

Of course, there’s a perpetual belief that the new generation is always more misguided than the one before. A few years ago, mothers watched their abhorrent daughters flip the bird at tradition and march on parliament so they could be seen as the “housekeepers of the nation.” Fast forward a few years and a new generation of daughters are letting their poor husbands starve as they seek paid work and—gasp—stop shaving! Later it’ll be an affront to want to be a “full time mom” and suddenly, “A blow job is just like shaking hands,” according to Kate Lloyd, the director of program and service development for the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario. But even Lloyd acknowledges that, “there is some of that sensationalizing for sure,” though she’s fervent in her belief that “the sexualization of young girls is at a point it’s never been before.”

But is it just tired moms fussing about their unruly daughters? Not entirely. The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy published a book back in 2005 called Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, in which she laments the idea that sexual power amounts to any real type of liberation or clout. Levy speaks with American author Erica Jong who says, “If you start to think about women as if we’re all Carrie on Sex and the City, well, the problem is: You’re not going to elect Carrie to the Senate or to run your company. Let’s see the Senate fifty percent female; let’s see women in decision-making positions—that’s power. Sexual freedom can be a smokescreen for how far we haven’t come.”

So it’s not just exasperated mothers sensationalizing their daughters’ rejection of “traditional feminism.” According to Levy, we’ve developed a real raunch culture where “Bimbos enjoy a higher standing than Olympians.” Everyone agree?

Obviously, if I took this rhetoric at face value I would be grooming my nails instead of my next point. But not all girls are solely preoccupied with achieving the perfect tan, and reasonable readers know that. Along with more American Apparel-clad asses conquering our downtown billboards and reality TV shows of Sn00ki performing fellatio on a pickle comes increased coverage on the effects on young girls. And while some may, in fact, reach for the Strubs, many others turn and chuckle, then go back to the books.

It goes without saying that sexual exploration is a normal part of growing up. Our bodies are changing, hormones are going wild and the brain is trying to fervently catch up. The decision-making area of the brain—the frontal lobe—is not fully developed until the mid-20’s, according to some studies, which explains why many teens post their underage drinking photos on their Facebook pages, even though they are Facebook friends with their mom. Oopsies.

Luckily, these impulsive trends begin to settle; the numbers swing significantly after 24. But for many, like Jong quoted above, the problem is not just that this promiscuity—however temporary—is so exaggerated, but that girls believe it gives them a sort of power. To them, the freedom to show cleavage is feminism.

Now, before we start digging up dusty copies of The Feminine Mystique and writing off this generation as wholly composed of “lost, trashy souls,” maybe it’s worth exploring how this idea got its roots. Undoubtedly, this group of young women is more globally tuned-in than any generation before. We have access to breaking information from all over the world, sent directly to our inboxes, iPads and phones at all hours of the day. Pair that with an increasing global social conscience, and girls undoubtedly pick up on stories of women journalists in Sudan being sentenced to 20 lashes for wearing pants, or catch a glimpse of Time magazine’s recent cover of 18-year-old Afghan Aisha, who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban after fleeing her in-laws.  There are even stories closer to home; just two months ago, a father and son plead guilty to the so-called honour killing of Toronto teen Aqsa Parvez, who refused to wear a hijab.

If we draw our gaze slightly up from our navels, is it really any wonder why many girls today believe sexual freedom amounts to a certain form of strength and liberation? While a cropped tee and mini skirt certainly doesn’t say “love me for my mind,” it does say something about Western emancipation.

Of course, portraying one’s self as a sex object isn’t quite the right way to gain esteem and respect, but neither is portraying one’s self as hopelessly disadvantaged. In Kingston’s article, Susan Nierenberg, a mother of a 25-year-old woman and the vice-president of global marketing of Catalyst, an organization tracking female advancement, says her daughter mistakenly believes that the workforce is an even playing field. “I hate to tell her that’s not the way it is. I want her going into it thinking she can do anything. But I also want her to be smart about it,” Nierenberg says.

In other words, go in thinking you’ll have to work doubly hard? Why not convey that idea also? Indeed, there’s no better way to convince someone to see you as equal than to perpetually remind him of how unequal you are. It worked for Hillary Clinton, right? Everyone remember: “To be able to aim toward the highest, hardest glass ceiling is history-making.”?  While Obama’s racial allusions were subtle and infrequent during the Democratic primary, so much of what we heard from Clinton was, “Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a female president?” I suppose we can keep wondering.

To get back on point, while the ‘fight’ for sexual equality may not be over–so to speak–it’s been reduced largely to an ideological battle, which, granted, is probably the hardest to tackle overall. But hounding the new generation to “look for the sexism” in daily life probably isn’t the way to go. Internalizing the belief that one will is perpetually victimized can be just as debilitating as the belief that flirting will get you respect in an office. At least you can shape up for the next work placement.

So, we can provoke this hysteria that the new generation of harlots is soiling the efforts of women past, or we can take a good look around at the women in higher education, medicine and the general workforce, and take a global perspective to evaluating the strides women have made in our society. And girls—do me a favour—take down those loathsome Facebook photos.

Photo by wolfgraebel


 

Don’t call me trashy, and don’t call me victimized either

  1. I told my daughters the line from the movie FaceOff with Travolta and Cage.
    ” If you are going to dress like halloween, expect the ghouls”
    it applys to trashy dressing as well as it only attracts those types who see it as easy access and that the party in question will likely do things contemporarily dressed women would not..

  2. Fantastic article. I totally agree with Urback’s argument. Having the freedom to dress in whatever style one wants regardless of gender is an important part of equality. And so is the freedom to be promiscuous, regardless of gender. It should never be considered OK for teenage boys to have different expectations of sexuality than those of teenage girls.

    At the age of 24, I can spend an equal amount of time lamenting the youth of today for doing things I did five years ago as wearing cleavage-baring shirts. But none of that precludes me from getting a post-graduate degree and embarking on a professional career.

  3. Maybe instead of passing judgement on scantily clad women you could have looked up the word “contemporarily.”

  4. Female “sexual power” is more apparent than real… just ask any pimp or victimized sex trade worker.

  5. Having interviewed literally hundreds & hundreds of professional women from India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, China, the Philippines, Argentina, Eastern Europe, Russia and yes, Canada, I can say thankfully, they do not look, sound or behave like these young females in your article. The new immigrants have a lot more on their minds – like perfecting their English, trying to figure out the culture and find a decent job in systems, engineering, biosciences. The immigrants have a sense of confidence in their own value and want to contribute. Perhaps some of our ‘trashy girls’ lack self-worth and maybe that comes from their own insecurity or a culture and media that rewards stupidity. One day they will regret their actions. The internet is unforgiving.

  6. I have no issue with “scantily clad women”… This definitely gives them power over me and I say “all the power to them!”.

  7. “mothers watched their abhorrent daughters flip the bird at tradition and march on parliament so they could be seen as the “housekeepers of the nation.””

    Huh?

    This article is poorly researched and poorly written and the point is difficult to find.

  8. I was brought up by a strict mother with misguided ideas of sex and
    men fashioned to be a lady like the Mona Lisa Movie and live the Doris Day Syndrome all for not. The world changed dramatically once the pill, single parenting, educational pursuits weren’t limited to nursing, teaching and secretarial. The Liberation I fought for and professional ideals accomplished during the 70’s along with the changes in church dictatorship, and knowledge to better equip young women regarding sex, men, marriage and a change in rights including divorce rules, banking, independency and so forth was worth it. We got you pregnancy EI leave and the right to work well pregnant, combine careers, hold on to your jobs, etc. It wasn’t just about sexual liberties, it was more than that and no one even remembers 20 years hence. Only problem I see is that it created 30 years hence a new generation of bimbos with no values, just gimmee gimme because I have breast implants, lazer treatments and can provide the ultimate in sexual pleasure if you buy me the ticket. Then there are the cougars left overs of the 70’s era and so forth. I feel we should take back our ‘value’ as a woman, mother, friend, and keep some dignity and pride in our gender. We have had to fight hard for everything we earned from the right to vote to the present uplifting of attainable careers and pay scales – we have tho a long way to go in equality on all levels as men are still so favored in many circles of employment and et all.
    Yes, we now have more choice in our lives and we in the west do whatever we want but really ‘mom’ is it really appropriate to dress your 12 year old kid like a porn star with her pubic hairs showing below the short shorts and allow them the sexual freedom they choose before their brain is developed and let them have tatoos and studs on their tongue to practise more exciting felacio? Me thinks some mystery to feminity is more desirable and provacative to young men prospecting to have a ‘partner’ in life to be proud of and have a family with. Do whatever you want with your childre’s liberties and rights but I think it’s over the top and has to reverse somewhat to a more dignified image of women than bimbo sexual kittens if they are going to live meaningful lives well into the future. Seems to me the men are having more common sense these days than the women who in my books aren’t even bothering with intelligence…just living the life!! thinking they are empowered like men – nope they have a long way to go.

  9. Robyn, you are arguing that you are sadly mistaken if you think that women ignoring sexism will make it go away. Feminists are not interested in telling young women to merely look for sexism, we want them (and other allies) to *see* and *recognize* it, call it out, and do something about it. Hardly a victim ideology.

    And by the way, feminism is about choice – even the choice to be a stay at home mom or dress in skimpy clothing. While Arielle Levy might be blaming the “the new generation of harlots” for undoing some of the gains of feminism, her views are not shared by many feminists. We live in a society that constantly tells girls and women that their value is in their bodies and their sexual attractiveness. So why is the problem with the women who respond to this constant barrage of messages by concluding that their value is in their attractiveness, instead of with the messages and the social institutions that both produce them and allow them proliferate? Sexism isn’t a women’s problem, it’s one that affects, and damages, all of society.

  10. “B*tches Ain’t Shit” is a Dr.Dre, not a Snoop Dogg song. It’s also not even about women! The first line of the verse states the song is about a man. Besides, that song has been around for over 15 years! I think there’s a much bigger problem with “artists” such as Lady Gaga who have a more relevant influence nowadays. I actually find it quite impressive how she can do anything, say anything, wear anything, and in the end is mostly excused because that’s “who she is” or she’s “such a great performer”. The twelve year olds I have in my dance classes are much more affected by trash like her than golden age hip hop that’s just assumed to be offensive and misogynistic without being given a proper listen. Yes those song use words like “hoe” and “bitch”, but they’re not always directed at women and I think tween chanting about riding “disco sticks” is something much more worrying.

  11. I think Simone’s comment that “feminism is about choice” is central to this discussion. To what extent is the sexualization of girls and young women “free” choice or media coercion? Who benefits from all the eye candy? Women have ALWAYS been able to acquire some form of personal power through a seductive relationship with a male. This is not new. Women cannot, however, seduce their way to meaningful social and political power.

  12. Great read Robyn! riveting article and well written. I think a lot of women our age identify with this issue

  13. Pingback: Don’t call me trashy, and don’t call me victimized either | Robyn Urback

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