I’ve been too busy to post again lately, and I missed my Monday feminist round-up. There shall be a bumper version this coming Monday.
I saw the piece below yesterday. What do we think? Part of the argument of the guardian piece is that the evidence we have about the sexualisation of young girls is anecdotal and, as such, insubstantial. I disagree that anecdotal evidence is inconsequential (don’t all research ideas start with anecdotal evidence?). But, that aside, sociologist Danielle Egan makes a wider point: is our current concern about the sexualisation of young girls more about middle-class angst, and the social control of femininity and girlhood, than it is about the lived experiences of our teenagers? According to Egan, the sexualised girl has replaced the fallen woman of Victorian literature as a figure of concern, and this says more about those expressing their concern than its object. “It’s overwhelmingly white, middle-class, heterosexual girls who are portrayed as at risk in these stories of sexualised girls. I can’t help but think this is more metaphor than reality.”
In her book Becoming Sexual, published this month, Danielle Egan, an American sociologist, questions the panic over the sexualisation of girls. She argues that it reflects adult disquiet rather than the reality for girls. “The sexualised girl is a monster,” says Egan, “the end point of defiled middle-class, heterosexual femininity; and for more traditional authors she also represents the erosion of the traditional family.” But, for her, the monster is more apparent than real.
Certainly the figures she cites don’t justify the panic. Egan points out that from 1998 to 2008, the teenage conception rate in the UK fell by 13.3% for under-18s and by 11.7% for under-16s. Similarly, while the median age for first intercourse has dropped in the last 30 years from 17 to 16, the frequency of intercourse among adolescent girls was very low, with 47% reporting they had taken part in no sexual acts, and 5.2% saying they had engaged in oral sex. Of teenage girls who had had sex, the majority (58%) had sex with someone they had already been going out with. If you want to make the (sexist, abusive) case that girls have “gone skank”, then official statistics from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles or the Family Planning Association won’t help you.
But who needs statistics, when there are anecdotes? Significantly, what Pearson didn’t report in her story was whether the girl in question had performed fellatio on her schoolmates. Again, no matter: better panic than find out, better to disempower girls rhetorically than suggest they might be forces for change in their own lives.