by Robin Slaw
I’ve been pondering the nature of sexuality lately, and in particular what that means to me as the mother of three adolescents.
Recently, one of my daughters brought her laptop over to show me a video of some eight- and nine-year-old girls dancing to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring on It)” by American singer Beyoncé. The video went viral on Facebook, attracting the attention of many adults and major news networks as well as the attention of my friends and the friends of my teen daughters. Good Morning America picked up on the video and attending controversy, bringing in parents and a child development expert to comment. You can view clips of the video here, as well as clips from GMA.
My daughters and I had an interesting conversation after watching the video. We talked about how the dancers were dressed, particularly suggestive dance moves and our overall impressions from watching the dance. Opinions were decidedly mixed in our house, and a healthy argument ensued.
One daughter loved the precision of the dancers (they are skilled, absolutely!) and found the negative parental reactions incomprehensible. “That’s just the way people dance now, Mom,” she told me. Another daughter reacted with discomfort. “They’re too young, they shouldn’t be dancing that way … they’re not in high school, they are younger than [my youngest daughter]!” The third daughter was confused, not understanding all the nuances of the moves, the costumes, or even why we would be talking about it, an appropriate reaction given her age.
We talked about whether it should be okay to dress one way for dance and another way for school. We talked about how other people view girls who dance or dress the way the girls in the video did. We talked about appearances, and how others judge us based on outward appearances. And we agreed to disagree about the appropriateness of that dance for young children, since none of us were changing each other’s opinions.
That same evening, a friend forwarded a news report about the resignation of Indiana Representative Mark Souder, an evangelical Christian who promoted abstinence-only education, over news leaks of his extramarital affairs. The juxtaposition of a “Just Say No” advocate caught NOT saying no, on top of a viral video causing all kinds of controversy, was just too delicious to ignore.
We push our children into early sexuality, before they even understand what they are broadcasting, teach them how to attract attention by dressing in revealing clothing and suggestive moves, and then expect them to repel all advances until marriage. What kind of mixed message are we giving our children?
I wonder what life would be like in the US if instead, we cherished the innocence of childhood by not promoting sexualized behavior, and then talked honestly with them about sex? Would American teens be more like European teens who delay intercourse until later in adolescence than American teens, who more consistently use condoms when they start having intercourse? Or would the world come to an apocalyptic end? I vote for honest conversations, a realistic acceptance of adolescent sexuality as normal and healthy, and less fear over all topics sexual in nature. It’s a normal, natural, healthy part of our lives, and our teens would be a lot healthier and safer if we could accept sexuality as a natural part of our being human, instead of making it secret and hyper-sexualizing everything in our society.
For information on how sexuality education works in some European countries, check out Advocates for Youth.