Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm sexy and I don't' know what it means

This morning, "The Motherlode" -- the parenting blog for the NYTimes -- ran a blog about watching her seven-year-old sing "I'm Sexy and I Know it."
She Isn't Sexy She's 7
It's a nice piece -- and touches on a lot of things I've thought about... that song, in particular, is my son's favorite.

But the funny thing is, when he first started singing it in my car, it made me happy. She's right, it's a catchy dance song -- but it was more than that. My son had horrible self-esteem issues which plagued him last year. I used to a sort of therapy game with him at night where I would ask him to tell me three things about himself that he liked -- he could seldom come up with one. So, seeing him a year later strutting his little ten year old self -- well, it makes me relieved. I want him to know he's fabulous.

Of course, this is not her point. Last year my daughter thought it was very amusing that her initials were the same as a Rihanna song title -- "S&M." Suffice it to say hearing my 10 year old daughter, with the legs growing up to her nose, singing "sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me"made all the blood rush out of my face. We actually had a discussion about different types of love and sex, in the mildest possible terms, and then the song was promptly banned from the family air waves.

A bunch of different fragments come to mind...

I think a lot about Elvis -- about the uproar he caused. I think I understand it now.

When I was in college I taught at a girls and Boys and Girls club. I remember watching a dance number the girls were practicing -- and it looked just like sex. And it made me so worried for them. The thing is -- adolescence feels to me like a dangerous time to be a girl. They are beginning to look like women -- to feel like women -- but they have no idea what that means.

When my kids were little I actually thought about a Waldorf education. It was way too extreme for me, actually -- but I liked a lot of the things that they taught and their wholesomeness. One of the stipulations is that you have to sign something that says your child will not partake in the media -- I don't know when the ban is lifted, but it's like that in kindergarten, anyway. Grammar school. I couldn't understand that at the time -- but I do now, I have to say.

These issues come up all the time. Media, sexualization... if innocent enjoyment creates growing up too soon, surly taking that away from them doesn't correlate as an antidote.

Anyway -- today I am thinking about Keat's "Ode to a Grecian Urn." Thinking about the idea of innocence and purity of expectation and the very beginnings of love.

To some degree, whatever outrage we feel at what we understand, we have to remember that that is their experience...

John Keats. 1795–1821
625. Ode on a Grecian Urn
THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness, 
  Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time, 
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 
  A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: 
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape         5
  Of deities or mortals, or of both, 
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 
  What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 
    What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?  10
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
  Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 
  Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave  15
  Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
    Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; 
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
  For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!  20
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
  Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
And, happy melodist, unweari├Ęd, 
  For ever piping songs for ever new; 
More happy love! more happy, happy love!  25
  For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, 
    For ever panting, and for ever young; 
All breathing human passion far above, 
  That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, 
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.  30
Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
  To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? 
What little town by river or sea-shore,  35
  Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn? 
And, little town, thy streets for evermore 
  Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell 
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.  40
O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede 
  Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 
With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
  Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought 
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!  45
  When old age shall this generation waste, 
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
  Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'  50


  1. I agree with your concerns. I think this is well written and provides an interesting infrastructure for thinking about these issues. However, although my initial reactions to these situations would have been similar, as a feminist I find it interesting that sexuality is often considered empowering in our society for boys, but it is frowned upon for girls. I understand why this is so, because girls are forced to live with the possible consequences of sexual acts in ways that are not expected of boys in our culture. And, I also think that submissive sexual expressions for women, like Rihanna's song, can be dangerous and are more about pleasing men sexually than about a woman's sexual satisfaction. That said, I wonder why we encourage boys to express themselves confidently with sexuality, but encourage girls to have shame for the same expressions. We live in a tremendously materialistic and and hyper-sexual society, so unfortunately or not, these expressions are important. Puberty in the United States is a dangerous thing, especially since our culture is so pubescent itself.

  2. I absolutely agree. A double standard. They are very different songs -- and I'm a bit saved by that... I would not have tolerated him talking about being whipped either... sigh. But I absolutely agree -- and it is very interesting to have a boy and a girl. I am a feminist -- and a former girl -- very much afraid. I find the former girl wins out, too much of the time. Thanks so much for your thoughts!