While Salon's feminist blog, Broadsheet, has been excellent since its
inception, I wish I could say the same for the rest of their coverage when
it comes to teen girls and young women. In their lastest hand-waving over
those wacky coeds, "Live girl-on-girl action!" Whitney Joiner highlights a
few studies and talks to a few real, live girls and warns us of the dangers
of pseudo-empowerment through sexual manipulation and faux-lesbianism.
Just to step back for a moment, I'm not even sure why this is news -- my
queer friends and I have been complaining for years about women who make out
with other women for male attention, and many have suggested the
connection to male-fantasy lesbianism as portrayed in mainstream porn.
Is this kind of behavior demeaning to straight women and insulting to queer
women? Sure. But why do we automatically blame teen girls for the sex and
gender norms to which we subject them? And how exactly can you qualify "real
desire?" Sex and desire are culturally specific in how we experience them --
who's to say that kissing can only be an expression of "authentic" sexual
desire to be enjoyable? Many girls may only feel safe kissing other girls
for male sexual attention, but does that mean they can't also enjoy it?
Before we get our Playboy-themed thongs in a twist, I think it's worth
pausing for a moment to think about why we respond to these supposed
"trends" the way we do. Perhaps teen girls and young women do perceive less
of a stigma attached to same-sex experimentation, with or without male
voyeurs. Is "staged bisexuality" the problem, or the underlying gender norms
in which women perform for male attention, rather than identifying and
pursuing their own desires?
The broader context here requires examining why young women feel pressured
to attract men, and how exactly they absorb cultural norms about sex. While
faux lesbianism may (or may not) be on the rise, performing gender is
nothing new, and media freak-outs over young women's behavior just
reinforces the tendency to blame girls rather than examine the social
pressures they experience. Sadly, this should come as no surprise in a
society that emphasizes abstinence over informed decisions, punishment for
female sexual expression instead of reproductive rights, and "protection"
from promiscuity (that dangerous HPV vaccine!) over real empowerment.