Well, it’s happened again. Someone has put pole dancing, children, and sex all in the same sentence and an uproar has ensued. Why is it that we constantly view a young woman’s sexuality as something that needs safeguarding? According to Dr. Michelle Smith from Melbourne University, “Being sexy is sold as a path to empowerment. But also one that only “tramps” and “hookers” choose to take.” Well shit Michelle, I guess I’m a tramp and a hooker then because I find being sexy VERY empowering. But you know what I find DISEMPOWERING? People who think they know more about my own body and desires than I do.
According to an article in theage.com, retailers are making sexy clothes for girls as young as ten. Evidently, the debate around “how young is too young for sexy clothing” came about after Target was heavily criticized on social media for creating sexy clothing lines for girls ages 7-14. Various voices weighed in, including Dr. Smith, who managed to roll modeling, pole dancing for children and provocative clothing into one big reason why women today think that “being sexy is the ultimate achievement”. (Do they really think that?) Other commentators included a 17-year-old girl named Indigo who said, “We always seem to be on the side of empowering women through the whole young sexual culture thing or holding back the entire gender and it seems like a very fine line to walk.” Yes Indigo, that line is better known as the Madonna/Whore split and sadly, it is still alive and well in the world and perpetuated as much by women as it is by men.
Now, before anyone gets their panties in a twist, let me be clear: I really don’t think ten year olds should be wearing sexually provocative clothing. Generally speaking, I do not think they are physically or psychologically mature enough to understand or respond to any unwanted attention that might come their way. Or to understand the implications of what dressing that way might mean to certain people. However, the rhetoric that is being used to make this argument is unfortunately linked to the idea that we need to shield all young women from sexuality - because otherwise they will become “sexualized” and fall from grace. This is utterly ridiculous. When we view sex for girls as something predatory, risky and emotionally overwhelming, we are not only robbing them of the opportunity to explore and discover their own desires, we are teaching them that sex is something that “happens” to them, and this is dangerous. A girl who does not believe she has agency over her sexuality is a girl who will not be able to create firm boundaries around her sexuality.
If we want to empower young women to make healthy sexual decisions, then it would be wise to begin teaching them to engage with their sexuality, rather than to guard their purity. It would be wise to teach them that they can have responsible sexual experiences and that their sexuality comes from within. Anyone who pole dances already knows this – or is learning it. Why? Because she is getting in touch with her inner sensuality, and learning what feels good and right to her – from within.
There is tremendous pressure on women at an increasingly younger age to look and dress a certain way. While I by no means support this trend, I do think that appointing moral guardians to firmly protect young women’s purity is as old and outdated as the lobotomy. Instead of safeguarding their purity, why don’t we teach them about pleasure and desire? Or, as Clementine Ford so brilliantly put it in her article Policing Young Women’s Sexuality:
“It is a paternalistic society that believes the exploration of sexuality in a woman leads to an emotional fall from grace from which she cannot recover. We do our girls no favors by refusing to acknowledge the raw complexities of their own sexual desires, instead reminding them constantly that their role in sex is restricted to picking and choosing who gets to receive their 'gift'. We don't own their bodies — they do.”
You hear that Dr. Smith? Good. Now go get on a pole and work it out.