Do all good girls go bad?

I love Rihanna's catchy "Umbrella" tune. When it comes on Video Hits on a Saturday morning, I find myself ditching my breakfast to bust a move on front of the teev (hoping Husband will not get out of bed and see my enthusistic display). Despite it being totally danceable, the lyrics (co-written by Jay-Z and "The Dream") are also quite sweet:

"When the sun shines
We’ll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath
I'mma stick it out 'till the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we still have each other
You can stand under my Umbrella..."

Despite the mushy lyrics, 'sweetness' isn't the first word that comes to mind when I see 19-year-old Rihanna artfully dancing around with her umbrella, dressed in fish-net stockings and black leather.

Miss Rihanna, whose album is titled Good Girl Gone Bad, isn't the first star to openly exploit her new-found sexuality by way of a provocative film clip. For Christina Aguilera it was "Dirrty"; for Britney "Slave 4 U". Rihanna's not breaking any ground here. But in the era of Bratz dolls and Pussycat Dolls, you've got to wonder what kind of message Rihanna's clip is sending out to young girls. Do grown girls all get around in their knickers? Will boys like me if I dance like a stripper?

Teen sexuality, and the way it's expressed, is a vexed issue – something parents fear, teachers gloss over and churches attempt to control. These days, it's further complicated by social networking systems. Back in the mid-90s, when I first started to notice boys, you would start hanging out on the basis of proximity (dating someone who lived close by or went to the same school), attraction (lack of facial acne = big plus) and general interest (they knew some of the same people or had a similar hobby). You'd meet boys at friends' parties, through their older brothers, in church youth groups (I suppose; back then I wasn't much of a church-goer), at the beach or on the school bus. These days kids hook up on the basis of MySpace profiles and pictures (which are often Photoshopped or posed provocatively).

The question of sex – when to start doing it, who with and why – is even more complex. Teen sexual experimentation is nothing new (just look at 1981 Bruce Beresford flick Puberty Blues). That's not to say the majority of teen girls aren't smart, carefully weighing up their decisions about when to 'go there' despite the pressures of raging hormones, more 'advanced' (or easily led) friends, and that all-encompassing quest to be cool. We also have groups of Christian teens pledging their virginity till marriage (and their parents sighing relief).

My own teens were a flurry of 'pash and dash's' and relationships with young boys who didn't know any better. Had my parents known what I was up to, I'm sure they would have locked me up in a tower Rapunzel-style. But you get away with a lot when your school results are good and you say 'please' and 'thank you'. In hindsight, had I established my own 'value code' earlier on (as you know, I rediscovered Christianity a few years ago now), and stuck to it, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache, regret, misdirected energy and misused brain space. Teen brains are oft not equipped to deal with the complications of intimacy.

The Saturday Sydney Morning Herald yesterday published a feature story on teen sex – 'Let's talk about sleepovers' by Julie Szego. According to the story, teens are 'claiming' each other, which is basically lay-bying someone you're interested in but shopping around on the side (it seems today's teens have too much choice, in every way, and bore easily). They're also embarking on sexual exploration earlier (the average 'first time' age now being 16).

The 'raunch culture' created by Paris Hilton and her posse, hip-hop film clips and singers like Rihanna, who quite literally wear their sexual desirability (think Fergie's midriff tops, Paris's thigh-scraping dresses and Britney's cleavage-enhancing halter tops) has definitely had an effect on girls. And the guys who date them. In the SMH story, one boy says: "Those [girls] who don't act raunchy and everything, well, it's not that they get ostracised, but people aren't as willing to go out with them to parties and stuff... It's a bit of a Catch-22 for girls; you're judged if you do things, and you're judged if you don't." Further in the article, a school counsellor says: "I've seen girls presenting themselves as promiscuous on their MySpace profile and then taking on that persona in reality... they'll change their behaviour to suit their profile if they think they're getting a lot of kudos." Another school counsellor interviewed by Szego says some girls are basing their self-esteem on "serious" relationships, becoming dependent on the guys they date.

Remember the Sex and the City episode where Carrie takes her 25-year-old protoge to a book party, then later discovers she's a virgin? "Is this supposed to be shocking, wagging one's (rude word) at every good-looking stud who walks by? Please!" says the 25-year-old to a perplexed Carrie. Casual relationships were de rigeur for Carrie and her pals. The female quest for the perfect man (or even a flawed one who would just love you, exclusively) was, of course, the driving force for the show (and Carrie's weekly sex and relationships column for The New York Star). But I think that the positive role of female friendship, rather than how far flagrant promiscuity (worn with Manolo Blahnik shoes) will take you, was the more empowering message the series had to offer.

Young women should be educated about their sexuality, what it means to be a woman and self respect. They need parents, teachers and role models (young female celebrities like America Ferrera, Anne Hathaway, Mandy Moore and Amanda Bynes dress demurely and shy away from the popular LA clubbing scene) to interpret the messages the media at large is sending them about how to represent themselves (after all, cute and smart is just as alluring to boys and men than sexy and flippant). There should also be an emphasis on the establishment of values, whether they be Christian-based, family or other guiding moral principles, with which they can more confidently make decisions, sexual or otherwise.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

hey girl with a satchel
what you say is so so true. thankyou for putting what i've been thinking for awhile so simply.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Sadly women often times participate in their own exploitation, whether that be physical, emotional, financial or psychological . We live in a culture of excess and the ever escalating blurring of the boundaries in the guise of "freedom" and “free expression” when all it amounts to is imitative behaviour that speaks volumes to the normalization to the negation of self in preference to being like somebody else. To fit in, to be loved, to be accepted or in this case to make money. Just look at where we are at as a society, beauty is externalized and commodosized and one now has to put on makeup to look/be “natural”. Artificial is the new "natural" and self-acceptance is only acceptable if one has fully internalized and embraced the superficial "norm". At one time women spoke out against breast implants now its "ok" now breast implants is the raging norm. To alter one self is now seen as fantastic and a plus if one could afford it. The music business is no different it is brutal and often artist resort to the “standard”. While I agree with you in terms of the vast number of self-exploitation by musicians especially women I hardly think Brianna can held the full responsibility for the corruption and misdirection of our young girls/women. That kind of misogyny is unfortunately embedded in the patriarchical ideology of our society and perpetuated by the big wig record producers etc….It is not just the responsibility of the women in this industry and other alike but also of the responsibility of men to rise up produce and demand a higher standard of artistry instead of regressing predictably to carnality as a means to making money and lining their pockets.

Anonymous said...

This article does reflect some of what's going on in society, but i feel, as a teenager, we're not all brainwashed by what's being spoonfed to us in the media. We don't stop at a music video, watching the ridiculous but nonetheless entertaining antics of today's pop artists and think "I wanna be just like them!" We watch various media, whether it be from TV, the Internet, or the newspaper, and carefully weigh up for ourselves what's right and what's wrong. Some of us have families that teach values and although we do favour the music and enjoy the music videos of some of the above provocative artists, we still uphold what we're taught at home. So there's my two cents for the day. Can I just mention the fact that Anne Hathaway isn't exactly the best example - thanks to Cosmopolitan magazine (which although many will oppose, does provide educational tools for a teen to grow into a woman), she's been depicted in many movies where she isn't exactly fully-clothed. Hmm, not so angelic now is she. I do however like Mandy Moore as an artist and think every teen should see her as an idol :)

Unknown said...

Hi, too often people forget that sexuality is just a part of a relationship and not all of it. However, if you get everything else working and not the sex bit, you've probably got a doomed relationship.

Girl With a Satchel said...

Rhapsody, you make some very good points. The music industry as a whole, I feel, should perhaps be regulated like the advertising industry (or at least how it is in Australia). Some film clips being so explicit they can't be shown on Saturday-morning television. I grew up watching music shows on TV like Rage and Countdown, with fairy-floss singers like Mariah Carey (before she also discovered the power of her own sexuality) and Kylie Minogue. I'm not sure how I would have processed film clips like Rihanna's as a young girl (and here I'm talking tweens, who are much more inclined to copycat behaviour than older teen girls). The record company big-wigs, as you say, should have some kind of ethical code to abide by - I'm constantly offended by film clips for male singers like Jay-Z, Nelly, et al, who continue to objectify women - that said, these women are agreeing to it (is it the money? The attention? The allure of fame?). I was equally repulsed by scenes in the new Adam Sandler flick, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

Suraya, you're a smart girl. I'd like to think all teens were so self-aware as to look at images of women in the media and form an opinion, rather than imitate what is perceived to be acceptable behaviour. With regards to Anne Hathaway - she's a young actress on the rise who's dating an older man in 'real' life. I'm sure some of her more recent grittier film choices are an attempt to get away from the good-girl-princess image she's been stuck with and to challenge herself as an actress. Many actresses draw their own value lines with regards to nudity and sex scenes, which I applaud, but then sometimes such things are necessary to tell a story - it's nudity and sex for the sake of titilation that makes me uneasy (and I'm no prude).