Becoming a Woman is About More than Just Sex

Myself and some friends saw Miley’s video for Can’t Be Tamed earlier, and we got into wondering why it is that the only two main choices for a pop starlet are to be a perfect, pure pop princess or to go with a highly sexualized image, and why the second is supposed to indicate instantly that the little girl has now matured into a woman.

I thought it was just a myth that having sex (PIV especially) magically transformed girl into woman, yet at least implying sexual availability seems like the standard way young female artists are expected to indicate they’ve matured. You could argue that yes, artists do have a certain amount of agency and choose how they portray themselves and that I have no right to over-analyze, but as one of my friends observed, a pop singer can either portray herself as sweet and virginal or sex it up (there is some middle ground but the younger she is, the more defined the difference it I’ve found) and there’s not much room in the mainstream for taking an alternative course from what we expect. Despite this, it’s just an accepted fact that even a deliberate use of sexually provocative costumes and choreography that involved input and planning from many individuals means that a young pop singer has matured whether the change of image is totally her idea and  relfects her own self-image or not. Yes, they are just performers and maybe not an accurate reflection of everyone’s adolescence, but they DO reflect the way our culture views sexuality and the transition into womanhood.

Where are the confident, talented, successful young artists who simply go through a gradual transition into adulthood not marked by a stereotypical “gaze upon my boobies, for their visibility means I’ve grown up” phase? Why is sexuality always used to indicate maturity in girls? If being “sexy” is the same thing as being ”adult”, and did that make me an adult when I got whistled at by older boys/men when I was 12? How about when I had to wear several bras to keep my breasts under control at the same age because I’d already grown out of my C-cups?  Did it mean my 11-year old sister was officially mature a few years later when some random guy came up to us in the mall and told her he thought she was hot? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it didn’t, but that didn’t stop people from viewing my sis and I as more adult despite the fact we behaved much like any less-developed preteens might and weren’t really equipped to handle being ogled or expected to act more mature than we were. It’s an unfortunate thing, but sexual and emotional development, although they are related, have become nearly indistinguishable from each other in our culture’s eyes.

I believe whether a girl is maturing/has matured into a grown woman is more to do with how she relates to herself and the world than whether her hymen (which might have broken on its own) is intact, or if Joe Public thinks she’s “hot”, and I think it’s sad that sexual experience and sex appeal are used as a stand-in for all the things we experience growing up that shape us into our adult selves. Yeah, sex IS great and all, but a strong, capable adult female is much more than the sum of her parts.

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  1. Posted July 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    You make a compelling point. I suppose the obverse would be if we observed a male child star in a similar circumstance, seeing how he presented himself in a video as a man, not a boy. I bet there’s be a lot of ego posturing present, a lot of tough guy talk, and an strong emphasis for him to seem as masculine and virile as possible. We know that masculinity as frequently defined is a front, and it’s all for show, but I wonder whether people would expect a show like this in order to take the star seriously, or how much of it would be empty posturing to conform to some impossible ideal.

    • Posted July 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      I suppose we could just keep an eye on Beiber to see if he tries to suddenly appear macho. His voice is currently breaking, so he’ll have to change his sound at the very least. Some friends of mine who heard him live said they’d dropped all his songs by an octave, and he no longer sounds like he did when he was 15 recording some of his current hits.

      Also, I’m not quite used to the site’s new format and accidentally clicked the report comment instead of reply link. Sorry, it was entirely accidental.

  2. Posted July 28, 2010 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    “I believe whether a girl is maturing/has matured into a grown woman is more to do with how she relates to herself and the world than whether her hymen (which might have broken on its own) is intact, or if Joe Public thinks she’s ‘hot’.”

    Exactly. Young women shouldn’t have to act “sexy” any more than girls have to act “virginal”. I am so much more than my sex appeal.

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