Friday, May 21, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Another Kind of Empowerment

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

It’s an oldie but goodie. Much-loved opinion columnist Dave Barry has a few words to share about the Sailor Moon cartoon my own daughter grew up watching:

“Sailor Moon is the blond, ponytailed heroine of a wildly popular Japanese cartoon show. Sailor Moon leads a team of female superheroes who wear miniskirts and go-go boots; according to the AP story, they ‘combat evil and sexism’ using special powers that they get from their ‘magical brooches, scepters and compacts.’

That’s right: These heroines, striking a bold blow against sexism and outdated stereotypes of women, get their power from jewelry and makeup.”

Boom. Mic drop, long before mic drops were a thing.

Not Just Pay Equity

Tom: Last week, Immanuel Can, we talked a little bit about the current female obsession with taking on men nose to nose, toe to toe, fist to fist. I think we concluded that it doesn’t work for either men or women.

But what Dave Barry’s talking about is a little different, isn’t it?

Immanuel Can: Yes. In this case, “female empowerment” doesn’t mean pay equity, job access, or the right to vote. It doesn’t even mean being able to hit men in the face without expectation of getting hit in return. Rather, it’s a synonym for sexual promiscuity.

Tom: Lovely.

IC: Ever since the famous pop group The Spice Girls, the phrase “girl power” has been used to mean having no shame in behaving like a stripper or prostitute. What Dave Barry’s talking about — the Sailor Moon cartoon — is just preliminary training in this for little girls. Or do you think that is too harsh a characterization, Tom?

The Power of Youth

Tom: Sadly, not at all. The cartoon doesn’t portray these teen characters as sexually active, but it’s very clear they have been deliberately sexualized by the art team. One would think the target audience was really teenage boys, though if I recall correctly, the lucrative demographic the show tapped into was primary school girls all over the West.

In hindsight, what I find offensive about it is that the entire visual provocation thing is treated as if it is entirely normal and perfectly acceptable. I think that’s a disturbing message to send our kids. In contrast, this week I read a teen novel by Catholic writer John C. Wright in which a girl of similar age to Sailor Moon is struggling with the sexual power she is coming to realize she wields over men simply by virtue of being young and attractive. Wright delves into the moral aspect of this discovery, and his character experiences a crisis of conscience in coming to grips with the idea that not all power-options open to young girls are good ones to be choosing.

Or, as Stan Lee put it, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s a message our teens need.

Missed Communication

IC: Right. It’s well-known that many boys today are being affected by the rampant pornography on the Internet. What a female teacher pointed out to me about the girls took me by surprise, though. She pointed out that while many boys are being influenced to regard and treat girls as sex objects, many girls are being trained by the same sorts of sources to view being treated with sexual rapaciousness as a necessary sign of genuine interest. And if she’s right about that, then it’s a genuinely horrid flip side to that awful coin.

Tom: Ugh. That is revolting. So they end up looking for all the wrong things in men.

IC: Yes. Now, this is only to be expected. Media theorist Jerry Mander pointed out some years ago that television-type formats, shows on screens, are terribly handicapped when it comes to trying to portray certain things. For instance, sunsets may be beautiful in real life, but they’re boring on TV. Long-term things like growth and learning are also hard to represent. Subtle and complex things are another problem ... 

Subtlety and Shorthand

Anyway, love is a very difficult thing to portray. TV needs it to happen fast, and with some kind of visual demonstration. So it has to employ enthusiastic sex and physical passion as substitutes. And this means that screens will always tend toward the short-term, the physical and the visual … in other words, to the pornographic. But watching all this normalizes it, and makes young people feel that short-term, physical and visible activity is the essence of love.

The upshot here is that “girl power” has increasingly come to mean “the visual power of the female to induce desire” and a woman’s “self-expression” has been converted to mean “the right to self-display as meriting of sexual attention”. Sexting, twerking or exposing in public have come to be regarded as exhibitions of freedom … almost as rights. And to question that is now viewed as Victorian and repressive.

Tom: And because girls are competitive, a tactic that is used by other girls with such apparent effectiveness to get attention from boys is going to be a tempting tool for even Christian girls to utilize.

Fun Girls and Marrying Girls

How much of this is a product of immaturity and short time-preferences? Because self-displays may look like they succeed in the short term, but they are deadly in the long term. Many experts say that the number of sexual partners a person has had matters significantly to the stability of their long-term relationships and, oddly enough, it turns out that it matters more to men than to women. Studies have demonstrated that while young men often fool around with girls who are overtly sexual in their come-ons, they do not ever come to view those girls as marriage prospects.

IC: I wouldn’t at all be surprised if that were true. For example, I knew one very promiscuous unsaved fellow who divided the world into two types of girls: “fun girls” and “marrying girls”. He was very much a fan of “fun girls”, and gave them lots of attention of the kind girls today anticipate ... but his attitude to them was entirely contemptuous. They were there for his fantasies, but never for his love or commitment.

Tom: Well, how exactly do you ever trust somebody who’s presumably said all the same things she’s now saying to you hundreds of times over to other men? The answer is that you don’t. And while men frequently end up partnered with untrustworthy women, they rarely do it knowingly. If you’re going to invest in a long-term relationship, you’re going to do it with a person who you think gives you the best possible chances of success. At least, that’s how most men I know think. These days nobody is compelled to get married.

The Ticking Clock

The other thing I don’t think these young girls realize is that time is their enemy. The tricks that work for them now won’t work at all in 20 years, and won’t even be as effective in ten, because the competition will increasingly be younger and prettier and even more “out there” and “in your face”. There are tons of articles online these days by thirty- and forty-something women complaining that, “Hey, nobody looks at me anymore.”

IC: Right. This is a young woman’s game, a short term “win” for a major long-term loss. But I think young women have a hard time seeing the long game.

I’ve heard it said that “Women use sex to get love, and men use love to get sex”. That’s cynical and over-general, maybe; but it points to an important difference in attitude to what is going on in the “girl power” game: in it, men can strategically use the language of love and commitment to make young women more inclined to offer sex; and young women can wrongly imagine that the subsequent sex is providing a confirmation of male love and commitment.

Investment Without Reward

Tom: That’s perceptive, and I think it explains the plethora of middle-aged women who are deeply, deeply disappointed in men. And I want to yell into the computer, “What sort of man did you THINK you were getting? I mean, you slept with him on your FIRST DATE!” But they believe they’re investing in something that just isn’t there to be realized on.

IC: What’s really happening — at least in many cases — is that by yielding sex the woman is surrendering her “girl power”, and will henceforth have diminished sexual capital and interest for her male intended.

We see that dynamic graphically at work in 2 Samuel 13:15 in the case of Amnon and Tamar. Powerful sexual attraction is no guarantee of commitment. If a woman allows herself to become viewed as a “fun girl”, then to be used frequently, discarded repeatedly and abandoned inevitably is likely to be the greatest “power” she’ll ever have — a power which, as you say, will shrink to zero even before middle age.

Self-Control, Purity and Submission

Tom: I’m going to go all cliché on you here, but this is not a new problem, and the church has the answer in the word of God, but it’s an answer very few women today are willing to hear, because it appears to hamstring them in terms of competing with other women for the men they want in their lives. It restricts their choices and restricts the methods they can use to get what they want. I mean, self-control, purity and submission are not words that are remotely in fashion. No go-go boots or miniskirts, I’m afraid.

If you had a teenage daughter, IC, what would you want her to know about relationships?

IC: Oh my goodness ... so many things! But one would surely be, “You attract the kind of person you are advertising for.” To take a spin on Proverbs 11:22, a girl who lacks discretion attracts swine. A woman who is herself a person of substance attracts men of substance. I’d say, focus not on the men, but on becoming the best, most godly possible you.

You have a daughter, Tom ... any advice?

Reaping from the Flesh

Tom: Well, an attractive young girl is in a position very similar to the manager who heard he was about to be fired in the Lord’s parable in Luke 16. She’s got great assets available to her for only a very limited period, and the question is whether she’s going to use the things she has at her disposal today to help produce a good result for herself and others in the long term, or whether she’s going to find herself very lonely and bitter in later life.

IC: So, be the right kind of person quickly, eh?

Tom: Well, fast or slow, it’s always good to be clear that everything we do today inevitably affects our tomorrows: “The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption.”

IC: I think I’d want my daughter also to understand that power, rightly understood, isn’t a sexual property but a spiritual one. I’d want her to focus on becoming what the Lord wants her to be, not what the Internet seems to want her to be.

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