Just this past Christmas, I took a train ride from my homestead of Los Angeles all the way up to Seattle, Washington. The Am-Trak route is called the "Pacific Coastliner" and is renowned for its beautiful scenery. From the sandy shores of southern California to the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, the "PC" has a lot to offer fans of nature's aesthetic. What did I think of the sights? Well, I missed most of it because I was too busy staring at the chests of the many nubile teenage girls onboard.
Whoa, hey, that's not what I meant. I'm not a sicko!
Well, okay, I am a sicko. But what I really found so captivating about these teenage torsos was the T-shirts the girls were wearing. I was shocked - SHOCKED, I say - at the overt sexuality the messages on these tops presented. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy duddy sicko, but in my day girls wore presentable attire featuring cute, loveable icons like "Hello Kitty", or Eddie, the mascot for Iron Maiden. But the current generation of belly wiggling nymphettes seem obsessed with T-shirts that have a brand logo or epigram that overtly advertises their sexuality. Let me recount a few.
The Hustler shirt
At least a couple gals on the train were wearing T-Shirts featuring the logo of Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine. On one hand, I find it encouraging to see today's young women recognizing what I have long believed to be one of America's finest magazine brands. But have any these girls actually read Hustler?
"Objects Beneath Shirt Are Larger Than they Appear"
Cute. There's no denying this is a funny message. However, the girl wearing this shirt seemed visibly angered when I offered my hands as an independent confirmation of her shirt's statement.
This one of my favorite Hot Topic/grrl power shirts broadcasting that the wearer understands that their chests are observed daily by the male gaze. It's just a little disconcerting to see on a 13 year old.
Now, I'm no prude. I read many of the pro-female periodicals that circulate in underground culture, like "Bitch," or "Modern Knitting", so I know that these T-shirts have a contemporary, third-wave feminist philosophy behind them. They seek to fortify young women by making them aware of their sexual power. But some people argue, and probably rightly so, that this sort of thing is part of a larger trend to sexualize young girls. When former Mouseketeers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera start getting breast augmentation, sporting thongs and cajoling the public to "rub me the right way," one can't escape that realization that girls are growing up fast. And when it comes to the sexualization of young girls, I'm torn. Part of me is for it, and part of me is really, really for it.
But seriously folks. Unlike the puritanical pundits of talk radio or the pursed lipped paleo-feminists of college campuses, I don't wholeheartedly condemn this. If anything, we've probably been unwisely protecting women from their own sexuality since the relatively recent creation of "adolesence." Before that, people were deemed became adults as soon as they could pull their own weight. Boys turned to manhood and were shipped off to war at an age when today's young fellahs are getting their first woodies. (This point is well-made by the recent "Master and Commander" film.) Girls became women and started raising families as soon as they could menstruate. For most of human history girls have been sexualized by society at large at the same young age they were sexualized by their bodies.
As such, if this trend indicates a heightened awareness by girls of their own femininity it's a good thing. Knowledge is power and young women are probably better off knowing the real reason the next door neighbor keeps mowing the lawn the same time they're out sunbathing. Keeping girls trapped in the misplaced romantic notions of adolescence (Price Charming, white horse, all that crap) makes them naive to the intentions of boys* and unable to enjoy their own sexuality.
But (you saw the 'but' coming didn't you?), I think we can allow that there's a difference between intelligent sexual empowerment and simply being a whore-in-training. And my completely unsubstantiated gut feeling is that a lot of young girls are simply trying to fulfill the current iteration of the one dimensional Playboy bunny archtype: the sexy and sexual ingénue with a head full of hot air.
I'd like to say, "Oh, they'll learn the error of their ways." But, I'm not sure I can make that claim. The truth is, I think most girls who embrace overt sexuality and play dumb seem to do all right for themselves. (Obviously, this gets truer the more attractive the girl is.) We'd like to argue that we live in a society that values intellectual or emotional girth over physical beauty, but it seems like there're plenty of rewards (breadwinning husbands, fancy careers, plain ol' attention) for chicks who have it and flaunt it. In fact, I'm not sure I wouldn't do the same thing were I a woman who had the goods. (Eh, there's a mental image we can all do without.)
Of course, what's the alternative? Should women bundle themselves up like an Arabian concubine and completely sublimate their sexuality? Obviously not. The truth is, we may not really be that far of from the ideal right now. As women get more power in society, they get more sexual power, and that power is a lot more effective in a bikini than a burka. Recognizing that does not mean a girl won't embrace the finer things down the road. (We've all heard the cliché of the stripper who's working on her Master's Degree.) Maybe the solution isn't preventing girls from becoming bimbos, it's redefining what a bimbo is.
I'd like to provide you, the loyal acid logic reader, with a detailed layout of what that redefinition would be. I'd like to clearly and succinctly explain how we can restructure our attitudes about sexuality in such a way that we can all feel respected and valued and thereby bring about a new era of tolerance and love. Unfortunately, I've reached the end of my column and simply don't have the space. But in a nutshell, I think men need to eliminate the idea that sexy has to be stupid. And women need to avoid condemning other women who embrace their sexuality in ways they, themselves, aren't comfortable with. If your teenage daughter walks into the room wearing a Hustler T-shirt, don't tear it off her and send her to her room. Rather, sit her down and make sure she knows what she's getting into.
But if you do tear it off, videotape it and send me a copy. I collect videotapes on T-shirts being torn off young women. It's kind of a hobby.
*Note: I'm not condemning male lust here, and I think there's a much underrated (and under-acknowledged) form of female lust that often answers it in kind.