I hear myself saying that a lot these days… “when I was a kid”. It definitely has to do with getting older, but it also has to do with my constantly being shocked by the sexualized culture we live in. When I was a kid (not too, too long ago), growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, the performance given by Miley Cyrus during Sunday night’s MTV VMA’s would have been unheard of. During the 80’s and 90’s, shows were watched during certain time slots and adult content aired much later. There was no way to watch things on demand or clips on the internet the next day. With that being said, do I want to go back to a time pre-On Demand or You tube…certainly not. But I definitely don’t like the idea of my children being able to access Miley Cyrus’s performance, the Real World, or a number of other television shows where the main content is sex.
And in some ways, I, as a parent, do have control over that. For example, when Beverly Hills 90210 aired in 1990, I was 8 years old. I can vividly remember being at the town pool and having my friend tell me all about 90210. When I asked my mom if I could watch, she said no way, that the content was much too mature for me. Was I mad…of course. But did I listen to my mom…yes. So of course, as a mother, I can limit what my children watch, but that doesn’t solve the problem entirely. Even though I didn’t watch, my peers did, and since then the shows have gotten progressively more sexualized and accessible.
By the time I arrived at college in 2000, “Girls Gone Wild” was the big deal. During my freshman year, guys were paying girls at parties to kiss. By my senior year of college (2004), girls were voluntarily getting up on tables and making out at the bar. I actually remember having a debate with my guys friends because they didn’t believe me when I said I had no interest in kissing my girl friends. So, you can say that parents should control what their children watch or that television doesn’t have an impact on the way people behave, but I disagree.
Since college, I have watched as highly sexualized young “stars”, one after the other (Lindsay, Britney, the Olson twins), are both publicly hailed as sex symbols and then scrutinized for their inappropriate behavior. I have watched as Halloween costumes have become so sexualized that it is nearly impossible to buy a store made costume for a woman that isn’t a “sexy” version of a traditional costume. I have watched as clothing stores for young girls sell highly sexualized outfits and the style of prom dress change from gown to cocktail dress. This year I lamented about how hard it was to find a decent pair of shorts that covered my lady parts… and then we have the nerve to get outraged by Miley Cyrus and her overt depiction of the culture from which she grew up in. Her performance didn’t make me angry…it made me sad.
People can talk about Miley Cyrus…they will, they are, and they should. But the conversation should be larger than just this one performance or just Miley Cyrus. We cannot continue to use these young women as scapegoats for our larger societal issue. When are we all going to collectively wake up and realize that we live in a culture that sexualizes women and that it is incumbent on all of us to make this a safer, more respectful culture for all of us, especially our daughters. I will do my best to raise my children to be respectful of themselves and others, but I am going to need a little help.