If there’s anything vaguely interesting to be milked from Target’s “tramp” clothing panic, it is that it happened in the same week that Puberty Blues premiered.
In the space of only three days, we got scare-mongering about girls’ clothing alongside a nearly confronting presentation of girls’ sexuality – complete with The Saints on the soundtrack.
Underpinning the sexualisation of children arguments – which seem ever-connected to retailers apparently forcing parents to buy teeny tiny boob tubes – is that external forces are doing the sexualising.
This week it’s Target being blamed for the apparently siren-like lure of their short shorts. In the past, fingers have similarly been waggled at padded bras, thong underwear and “Future WAG” T-shirts, allegedly designed to corrupt and enslave young girls into a world of sin and debauchery.
Alongside those pesky retailers, internet porn and music videos are the stock-standard whipping boys.
Puberty Blues offers a Cheezels and Splice world that predates the internet; that predates MTV, where, shock horror, girls – young girls – thought about sex. Alarming, I know, but even before they could Google it – long before Target started hawking those magical garments that can transform nice girls into vixens of the night – girls thought about sex.
Puberty Blues showed girls obsessing about boys, giggling about boys, dressing for them, perving on them, and, most fascinating of all, harbouring their own sexual desires. Even without the internet, MTV, and Target temptations – surprise, surprise – girls had tingles between their legs.
Apparently girls can piece together a sexuality disconnected from the evils of the media and lascivious retailers. Who would have thought it?
Those conservative mothers ever harping on about sexualisation seem inclined to harangue in all directions to explain why girls want to perform their sexuality. Every direction, of course, except biology. Every direction except girls’ own maturing bodies and girls’ own desires.
Puberty Blues provides a timely reminder that Target isn’t orchestrating girls’ sexuality; that Rihanna and Lady Gaga aren’t orchestrating girls’ sexuality; that sexual impulses are natural and normal and influenced by an enormous range of factors – our biology at the very heart of it.
As fundamental as I think it is that girls’ sexuality be acknowledged, understood and respected, something highlighted by Puberty Blues – and something that the sexualisation debates persistently dodge – is the need for frank and fearless sex education which starts early, starts explicitly, and which includes boys and girls.
Rather than condemning pop culture, rather than calling for bans and boycotts, rather than crowing ceaselessly about purity and morality and God-forbid chastity, we need to help both girls and boys healthily navigate their sexuality.
All the wowsering in the world won’t stop girls growing up and wanting to hasten their maturity through dress, through behaviour. Education and media literacy, however, will help mitigate the risks.
The premiere of Puberty Blues presented an implied rape. No, education alone won’t eliminate sexual violence, but universal sex education that includes sexual ethics and sexual politics certainly can’t hurt.
The premiere of Puberty Blues showed a girl giving a boy a blow job on a beach. Again, education won’t stop the guy wanting one, won’t stop the girl wanting to give him one. It just might, however, expand her horizons as to the options for her pleasure. To empower her to ask him for what might give her joy.
I won’t tune into Puberty Blues again. While the subject of youth sexuality might have shocked/outraged/titillated in the 1970s and 1980s, I grew up watching Degrassi Junior High in primary school, Beverly Hills 90210 in high school: I’ve seen it all before.
I’m 32: too young to feel any nostalgia for the Chiko Roll world portrayed and far too old to care about adolescents bonking on the beach.
August 16, 2012
© Lauren Rosewarne