Another book argues that teenage girls would rather be sexy than clever.

| January 27, 2008 | 12 Replies

The Telegraph is reporting on a new book that argues that teenaged girls are being corrupted by distorted images of what it means to be a woman. 

In a society that celebrates people such as Paris Hilton, girls are being brainwashed into believing that promiscuity is synonymous with success, says Carol Platt Liebau.
 
In Prude: How The Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls, Liebau claims there is “scant recognition or respect” for a woman’s achievement that is not associated with sex appeal.

Liebau says the sexy images of performers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera catapulted them to fame.

She claims that teenage girls are growing up in a culture in which being called “a slut” is preferable to being labelled “a prude”.

“The overwhelming lessons teenagers are now learning from the world around them is that being sexy is the ultimate accolade, trumping intelligence, character and all other accomplishments at every stage of a woman’s life,” says the author, managing editor of Harvard Law Review.

These sorts of accusations have been made before.  For instance, see here.

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Category: Consumerism, Culture, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. It would be refreshing for once to see one of these jeremiads against teen sexuality embrace the male side of the equation as well. It is not just girls who are taught to be sexy rather than clever. Look at all the guys these "role models" are being paired with.

    Besides, this is hardly new. I believe the old phrase "Girls who wear glasses seldom get passes" dates back to the Thirties at least as an admonition that women should not aspire to be smart if they want to "catch" a husband. Many Victorian girls were dissuaded from deep reading because too much of that sort of thing would put lines in their brows and make them unattractive.

    But the flip side of the message is just as strong—athletes make out, not bookworms, and guys who read too much and require glasses have always been derided. True the imagery today is pitched at a higher level than ever before, but it's not just aimed at females.

    On the positive side, though, there are tv shows like "Bones" wherein sexiness and genius are shown as not at all mutually exclusive. There are probably more.

    When a study like this comes out, it seems to me that there is an implicit argument that boys and girls simply can't be both smart and sexy, that they have to choose. The bias of the researchers shows a bit, I think, and maybe they would do well to find some way to make brains sexy instead of trying to cast dire warnings of the either/or variety.

  2. There's a difference between being expected to be attractive and to be sexy. The former is the standard superficiality that women have experienced through history, the latter objectifies them.

    "But the flip side of the message is just as strong—athletes make out, not bookworms, and guys who read too much and require glasses have always been derided."

    Sounds whiny to me, but it seems American highschools are horrible places with a lot of cliques where people get stereotyped very quickly with little chances to change their label.

    I knew a very pretty smart girl who said that Paris Hilton intimidated her… I don't think the researchers were implying that you can only be sexy or smart. And brains alone are not sexy, but that's really just my opinion, I know other people think differently about this.

  3. Hm, I guess, my "sounds whiny" comment is not that nice, but I just don't think that this comparison is valid. Sorry, I can't elaborate now, because I really need to go to bed.

  4. Vicki Baker says:

    I think that kids hear their immediate authority figures – parents and teachers – telling them that education and intellectual achievement are important. Then they compare this to what actually gets the big rewards of money and fame in the adult world, and they draw their own conclusions.

    I have no doubt that a similar survey of teenage boys would reveal that most would rather be world-class athletes than scientists.

    I think PL has a point though, too. Think of all the pop culture scenarios where male nerds and nebbishes hook up with desirable women while remaining nerdy. Now try to think of a single movie or TV show where a female nerd bags the cute guy without the obligatory makeover scene.

  5. I think I didn't like Mark's comment, because it seemed like the usual reaction of a lot of men when you talk about something that affects women. They will start complaining about feminism, that women get too much attention and then will tell you, "look at the many problems that guys have, too!" And when it comes to dating looks or physical attractiveness most of the time are not the things that seal the deal for a guy. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, Salman Rushdie and this girl whose name I can't remember – 'nuff said…

  6. Forgive me if I left that impression. And I wasn't "whining" about how boys get "overlooked" in these studies.

    My point was (a) this is nothing new.

    and (b) you can't understand this phenomenon without looking at the same thing happening (albeit in somewhat different form) with boys.

    The dumb blonde gig can only work longterm if both blonds are dumb, male and female.

    And it also ignores a common factor (well, that may be too strong, I don't know if this book ignores this or not) that people generally WANT to be attractive, which, pushed a little bit, becomes wanting to be sexy. And adolescence is when the hormones are perfectly simmered to make that ambition central.

    Women get the lion's share of the problems from this, that I will not argue, but we can't "solve" it without stepping back and seeing it as not so much a girl issue as a people issue.

    BTW, I don't recall many instances where the nerds get the girl without the make-over. For some reason, the only one that comes to mind right now is Weird Science—and Kelly LeBrock turns both those geeks into Cool Dudes so they can get the girl. The thing to remember about nerdy boy stories is that, central to it, the boys don't want to be nerds—they want to be cool. They just don't know how.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Are both boys and girls being messed up by our culture? In Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (2000), Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson argue that boys are being damaged by our culture, albeit in ways that are different than the ways that girls are being damaged by our culture. Here are a few excerpts from the book:

    Although there is a lot of lip service being paid to the new age of the "sensitive male," stereotypic images of masculinity are still with us. Whereas boys used to emulate John Wayne or James Dean (who now seem quaint by comparison), today's boys seemed even more exaggerated images of stoic, violent, impossibly powerful supermen on a movie, television, computer, and video screens. The media serves up as role models Neanderthal professional wrestlers; hockey goons, ready at the slightest provocation to drop their sticks and pummel an opponent; multimillionaire professional athletes in trouble with the law, demanding "respect" from fans and the press; and angry, drug using misogynist rock stars. Even boys who are not allowed to watch violent movies or play violent video games but who watch television sports, will nevertheless consume a steady diet of commercials in which a man is not a man unless he is tough, drives a tough truck, and drinks lots of beer. …

    Our culture co-opts some of the most impressive qualities of boy can possess–their physical energy, boldness, curiosity, and action orientation–and distorts them into a punishing, dangerous definition of masculinity.

    (Page 15).

    Men, in particular, are rarely celebrated for moral or emotional courage. Men in the news are almost always there because they represent power, skill, or wealth; men in entertainment programming are either dominators like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is fearless, or good-natured nitwits like Tim Allen on Home Improvement, where the context of sitcom life simply doesn't include emotional courage. Most important, boys need models of emotional courage in their own lives, not just in the media. We need to recognize and identify for them emotional courage in the lives of women and men, and our families and in the lives of children and others around us. In life and art, we need to provide boys models of male heroism that go beyond the muscular, the self-absorbed, and they simplistically heroic. Many adults display emotional courage in their work or personal lives, but rarely do we allow our children to witness our private moments of conscience or bravery. We need to speak of it, and we need to recognize how loud the emotional courage of those people around us and who, in small ways daily, exhibit personal courage…

    Mark Twain's description of courage bears repeating: "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear-not absence of fear."

    (Page 250)

  8. "that people generally WANT to be attractive, which, pushed a little bit, becomes wanting to be sexy."

    I think we need to define sexy here. Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears/Paris Hilton-sexy is not the same as the Bones-scientist-sexy and I assume the researchers are concerned that girls nowadays are trying to imitate the dumb Paris Hilton type and not the smart Bones type. At the moment I can't remember any rolemodel in the past that was as materialistic and dumb as Paris Hilton and received the same kind of admiration and cult status from teenie girls, but maybe I have only fallen back to the same worn out complaint that the good old days were much better than they are now.

    I was about to write that teenage boys don't have the same kind of dumb rolemodel as girls do, but Puff Daddy and Co wouldn't be able to make money with their share of male fans.

    I guess, girls who try to be cool and sexy end as school drop outs and pregnant, while guys end up in jail.

    We should all become feminists and overthrow the patriarchic system that oppresses both women and men. :D

  9. Erika Price says:

    I have little pity for the girls that become washed-out by the culture and turned into ditzy tramps. I feel somewhat skeptical about that claim because I grew up in the same celebrity-worshiping, sex-appeal-rewarding culture, and I never felt for a moment tempted to succumb to it. We don't pity boys for facing unfair gender standards- we expect them to get tough and deal with it, to become strong individuals despite it. I think to have an incongruent opinion of girls is the most anti-feminist thing you can do.

    So yes, as Erich points out, both boys and girls face unfair, restricting social expectations. And the culture does deserve our harsh criticism for it. But we still need to hold girls at least partially accountable if they fail to exercise their brains, because we would do the same thing to airheaded boys.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    A new article from Salon.com: "Sexualizing girls for a good cause" http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/2008/02/08/ad

  11. yoanna says:

    As a young person, I would like to say that I know that none of my friends value being sexy over being smart. However, I did go to a Catholic (albeit co-ed) college prepatory high school. Either way, I knew and still know almost all the girls from the satellite "hick" towns surrounding the city where I grew up and trust me – none of them want to seen as a slut, a skank, or a stupid one at that. Yeah, some of them might not be the brightest, but when it comes down to it, girls will say one thing ("OH GOD I don't want to be seen as a NERD!") and in the back of their mind think another ("But I don't want to be the village bike either…")

    To summarize: This is a generalization but frankly, a lot of teenage girls mask their feelings about this subject. So any kind of "conclusions" are really hard to tack down.

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    Yoanna: I'm glad things are going well regarding the girls you know. If you cruise the mall, though, you'll find a lot of sexy young girl merchandise being purchased. You'll also find a lot of teenaged girls losing interest in math and science. Mary Pipher links these two occurrances. See http://dangerousintersection.org/2007/02/21/the-e

    Consider, also, that merely two generations ago, women were portrayed to genetically designed to make babies, raise babies and keep the house clean. Here's the evidence of that: http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/07/14/lawye

    I'm not suggesting that being sexy necessarily lead to loss of interest in schooling for girls. We all know of many girls who are into girlie/sexy clothing and make-up yet are excellent students. The concern is that these are exceptions to the rule.

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