And, presumably, elsewhere at least in the West.
The August 18th issue of The New York Review of Books has a review of three books about teenage girls; two are based on interviews and the news they convey is pretty grim. The reviewer does not endorse all the generalizations and conclusions of the authors, but just the features recounted by the girls are enough. The material raises some very important questions. I’ll start with them and then provide some snippets that illustrate what the books are saying.
Question One: The idea that protecting women on campuses means insisting on “no means no” overlooks the fact that a lot of young women have sex when they don’t really want to. They lack self-respect and sense of autonomy to take charge of their sexual lives. What can we do about this? I should think that the problems need to be started to be addressed very early, as in grade school.
As the reviewer, Zoe Heller, says,
Making young men more vigilant about obtaining consent and discouraging their tendency “to see girls’ limits as a challenge to overcome” is no doubt essential, but if young women are still inclined to say “yes” when they mean “no”—are more willing to endure unwanted sex than to risk being considered prudish—the new standards of consent would seem to be of limited value.
Question Two: If the really practical problems of girls’ oppression are as bad as they sound, should this affect our teaching? I find it embarrassing now to think of what I considered ‘liberating’ thought ten years ago. Has your teaching addressed related issues? What can one do?
In American Girls, Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers a study based on interviews with more than two hundred girls, Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales argues that the most significant influence on young women’s lives is the coarse, sexist, and “hypersexualized” culture of social media. …[T]hanks to the many hours they spend each day in an online culture that treats them—and teaches them to treat themselves—as sexual objects, they are no more, and perhaps rather less, “empowered” in their personal lives than their mothers were thirty years ago.
The fact that being “the girl everybody wants to fuck” can now be characterized as a bold, feminist aspiration is one measure, [Sales] suggests, of how successfully old-fashioned sexual exploitation has been sold to today’s teenage girls as their own “sex-positive” choice.
Peggy Orenstein interviewed more than seventy young women for her book, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape … Although many of them led active sex lives and professed to find sex “awesome,” few had ever achieved orgasm with a partner. (Most of them had faked it.) And while the majority of them regarded providing oral sex as a mandatory feature of the most fleeting sexual encounter, they rarely received, or expected to receive, oral sex in return. (Several rejected the idea of cunnilingus as embarrassing and worried that their vaginas were “ugly, rank, unappealing.”)
[Orenstein] points to the fact that most of her interview subjects had been dutifully shaving or waxing their “bikini areas” since the age of fourteen. (Rather like Ruskin, whose ideas about the naked female form are said to have been gleaned from classical statuary, modern porn-reared boys expect female genitalia to be hairless.)
A general caveat about the grim picture: Heller, maintains
If the good old days were never as good as both writers are wont to imply, the dark days of our present era are not quite as unremittingly desperate either. Notwithstanding the vicious influence of pornography, social media, and Miley Cyrus, contemporary girls still manage to have high school boyfriends; some of them even get around to watching alternative films at college. Fifteen-year-olds may go online to learn how to perform fellatio, but they also post fearsome rebukes to boorish boys on Facebook … and attend Nicki Minaj concerts to hear the rapper sermonize on why a woman should never be financially dependent on a man.