On Calling Little Girls "Sexy"

Yesterday, I was bothered by a post that I saw on my news feed. It was a picture of a little girl, about 3 years old, in an outfit and posed in a way that on an adult female, would be considered provocative. The pictures were captioned "sexy", and it was posted by the little girl's father. I didn't make much of it, but it bothered me enough to stay on my mind for the rest of the day. Because it was really bugging me, I showed it to Big C when he got home that night and asked if I was such a prude for being weirded out by the picture. He took one look at it and said, "No, that's just wrong."

So I had to sit down and think about it. Why was it bothering me so much?

I guess it was the fact that she didn't have to be dressed that way, but she was. The picture was taken during a school activity where the kids were asked to dress in a particular theme. I saw that while the other kids were dressed in a way that was cute and appropriate to the theme, this little girl's outfit was specifically modified to show more skin than was necessary.

It bothered me because back when I was still teaching, one of the biggest challenges I faced was educating my female students on sexual behavior. At that time, some six or seven years ago, many of them were already engaging in meaningless sexual relationships, treating sex so casually and suffering its effects afterward. I've seen teenage girls, aged 14, 15, or 16, display alarming behavior, acting angry all the time and unmotivated in school. With some probing, I found out later on that it stemmed from incidents where they slept with a guy and were devastated when the guy moved on to his next conquest. I've had girls ask me, distressed and teary-eyed, "what if he only likes me because I have big boobs?" More than once, I've had to dispense advice on safe sex and teenage pregnancy, and each time was one time too much.

Drawing on those experiences, I am always disturbed when I see little girls dressed up in a way that is designed to draw compliments that focus on how sexy they look. I feel that people fail to see how these actions and comments affect the girls later on, when they hit puberty, and being "sexy" (which includes dressing revealingly and acting sexually forward) has more dangerous consequences.

Maybe we have failed to teach our young girls the importance of respecting their bodies, of not putting it on display, of dressing attractively, but modestly. Maybe I'm a prude in this day and age, but I feel that my body is a private thing, only for me and my husband to see. Like many women, I want to look good, but I want to look good in a way that will still require other people, especially other men, to treat me with respect as a woman. I am also very aware of the fact that my sons will be looking at me as an example, as a standard for when they choose their girlfriends, and later on, their wives.

I've heard the argument that telling girls not to dress provocatively is oppressive, and places the responsibility for proper sexual behavior on women, instead of placing it on the men as well. They say that men should respect women regardless of how they are dressed. In some ways, I agree with that line of thinking, but I do feel that it's a bit flawed and utopian. I used to tell my female students that in a perfect world, we would be able to dress however we wanted with no worries. But the thing is, we don't live in a perfect world. In this world, to get respect, you have to show the world that you're deserving of it. That starts with how you package yourself. Isn't that also true?

There seems to be a belief that claiming your sexuality is a sign of female empowerment, or that engaging in sexually forward behavior is modern and enlightened. I say that it shouldn't be that way. For me, female empowerment is rooted in what makes me feel good about myself as a woman. Why does female power have to stem from the fact that now it's more permissible to sleep around just like men do? Why can't women feel empowered because they're smart, or because they help make the world a better place? Shouldn't we work on changing the perception of what empowers women? Doesn't that start with what we teach little girls?

So that places the burden on us as parents. As mother to two boys, my task is to raise men who will respect all girls and women, regardless of what they're wearing or how they're acting. To the best of my parenting abilities, I will raise boys who will see women as more than objects of sexual desire, but as people with individual and intrinsic value. That in itself, in this day and age, is hard enough. The greater burden is on parents with little girls.

To parents of little girls, please, I beg you. Let them stay little girls, even for just a little while longer. Keep them innocent, and help the world see them as innocents. Don't dress them up like little Bratz dolls and raise them to think that being sexy is what they should aspire to be. Raise them to place value on themselves, to regard their bodies as treasures that should only be revealed to a deserving person. Teach them to present themselves properly, but modestly, not gauging beauty based on how much skin they show. Teach them a new way to measure themselves, not based on how attractive they are, or based on how others find them attractive. Teach them to show the world their worth, their intelligence, their kindness, their generosity. Maybe, just maybe, we can raise a generation of TRULY empowered young women.

I do apologize for the long post, but I would like to hear the thoughts of fellow parents on the subject. That's it for now, and happy weekend, all!