NOTE: Links include references to rape, violence and pornography. But, don't worry, all of the references are entertaining.
Remember Stacy's shagalicious mom? Circa 2003? If not, here is an introduction, because you really should:
To briefly recap, in case you got distracted singing along: What appears to be a pouty, strutting, "sexually-themed gag toy for men" 11-year old girl, Stacy, tries everything in her "power" to get an even younger "Mr. Wonderful" to pay attention to her. (Really... check out his t-shirt, some one with a sense of humor thought about this.) He ignores her in favor of her conveniently stripping mother, who has, by the way, seriously enviable pole-dancing skills. "I could tell she likes me from the way she stared!" says the oblivious, fantasizing boy, in a disturbing presentiment of Steubenville's Ma'lik Richmond's explanation that it "just felt like [the raped, incapacitated girl] was coming on to me." Stacy works hard to be the perfect sex object... but fails. How could she not? Her fully developed, vastly more experienced mother, succeeds so magnificently. The peeping tom boy naturally has to go to room where her daughter, used to get close to her, accidently walks in on him spanking his prepubescent monkey. I like this song, it's catchy. Besides, it's thoughtful and clever, there are visual references to Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Stanley Kubrick's 1962 movie based on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (more to come.)
This bouncy sexist agitprop playfully and comedically sums up our cultural propensities so neatly: Girls and women are sex objects and none are off limits, even to little boys; girls and women know it, participate in our objectification and are happy about it; and boys and men derive pleasure, centrality and power from these ideas. (Wink, wink!) I KNOW: "OMG! It's called entertainment!"
If you really think this, you're so "lightened up" that you're not actually on the planet for all pertinent purposes. "Stacy's Mom" is the family-friendly national anthem of our broadly female-objectifying mainstream everything. Products like this both reflect and create culture. Specifically, the video is a power pop precursor and PG expander of the mother-daughter porn genre. You know, the one that shows up on, say, DirectTV's on screen guide right after kids' PPV animated films. You see, a little boy trying to find Wreck It Ralph on Channel 193 cannot do it without seeing Busty Erotic MILFS on 195 and Lesbian Moms: Sex with My Stepdaughter on 196. Neither can a little girl.
At any rate, Stacy will be fine, because she's got a good role model. The kind that Victoria's Secret Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer believes all girls are trying to emulate when they buy "Bright Young Things" products. "When somebody's 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the [strong, sexy, empowered] girl in college, and that's part of the magic of what we do at PINK," explains Burgdoerfer, waving his magically middle-aged, magically American, magically male wand and and frolicking through his magically executive halls to the tune of "Bippity, Boppity. Boobs"!
Oops! I mean, Boo!
This is old hat and has nothing to do with sex, certainly not girls having and enjoying sex. A 15- or 16-year old girl contemplating the natural, and hopefully fun course of things, when to engage sexually isn't the problem. The problem is her deciding to, lace be-ribboned mons festooned with words like "Sure Thing," because she thinks of herself as a "gift" to some guy who's "owed." The problem is determining at what stage she started to cede her self and becomes, in her own eyes, mainly some (bright, young) thing other people see and use. This process begins much earlier than when a girl is 15 and maybe buying thongs.
In general, parents, schools, counselors, "concerned" adults aren't openly confronting the unrelenting pressure girls feel to base their self worth on being beautiful, perfect creatures idealized for the sexual and breeding purposes of others. For many people, girls and women are biologically meant to be available to boys and men in these ways. Our default is "Yes!" and "Of course!" You know the kind of being I'm talking about -- females whose purpose, abstracted, divine or biological, is to look out for boys and men and guide them to ultimate pleasure and eternal happiness. Hey, aren't Victoria's Secret's models called ANGELS? What a visually pleasing, totally random and meaningless coincidence.
Once a self is ceded it's hard to get back. Regardless of a girl's or woman's age, this kind of objectification and "sexualization" results in a performance. It's not about being a sexual person, it's about acting out someone else's idea of a sex object. And, as in the video above, what girls and women want, feel, need and experience are irrelevant unless they help fulfill the dreams of boys and men. The impact is real, meaningful and measurable. It's also serious and not at all entertaining.
Girls who conform well and internalize their "thing-ness" don't miraculously stop doing it when get their driver's licenses. It NEVER ends. Which brings us back to Stacy, her hot, wet, mom and this book: The MILF Diet.
A MILF, in case you've missed it, is a Mother I'd Like To Fuck... not me personally, but millions of boys and young men who enthusiastically embrace, with the full support of parents, coaches, family, friends and media, birthright access to all women's bodies. It's a crass expression, especially when you don't use the acronym, which dilutes the intent and significance of the phrase. MILFS are a cottage industry encompassing songs like "Stacy's Mom," "film" genres, products, books, memes, exercise classes. I know women who've gotten upset because they were excluded from their kids' friends' MILF lists. Aging gracefully, especially for women, is hard in this culture. Even some of the most outspoken feminists I know struggle with becoming sexually invisible in this way and MILFitude extends your shelf life.
Porter, the author of The MILF Diet, makes the argument that she's reclaiming the word to empower women. That's nice. But, "Mothers I'd Like to Fuck," just like being a "Little Lolita," is not about female sexual liberation or empowering "choices," and never will be. Clearly, women who like being MILFs -- in those exact terms -- are not feeling like marginalized, disempowered victims of Bad Men. I imagine they actually feel empowered, flattered and risqué. But, MILFS are just the same Madonna to the older whore, better known as cougars. Not liberated. Not transgressive. They are "Brightened, Not So Young, Things." It isn't a compliment. It is a corrosive and denigrating idea that has exactly nothing to do with women's well-being or sexuality.
If you want to skip the babble and really understand why boys' feeling they can freely pit girls against their mothers and rudely comment on adult women's bodies is so repugnant and objectionable imagine what people would do if teenage girls started generating lists and images of Dads I'd Like to Fuck. Think about the "boy crisis" that would ensue if boys started experiencing depression or low self-esteem, started cutting themselves or starving themselves, while their female classmates create fantasy leagues ranking their fathers' bodies and faces and openly debating their relative sex worth. Then, for good measure, when they're done, they go on to pair the boys and dads up, for a total score. Those girls, they really ARE the Little Lolitas, right?
Have you read Lolita? Do you know her name was actually Dolores? It's important to note that what we've conveniently forgotten about Lolita is that she was a manipulated and raped 12-year-old, not a deliberately provocative nymphette. Humbert Humbert distorted her age-appropriate sexuality in order to exonerate himself and make her complicit in her own abuse. People and media inclined to slut-shame and stud bait in these ways align themselves with a manipulative abuser's perspective. Nabokov was prescient in that his "unreliable narrator," has become our cultural norm. It is Humbert's voice -- not Dolores' or even Nabokov's -- that dominates our media, cultural imagination and corporate ethics when it comes to young "sex." Dolores was the person. Lolita was the thing Humbert wanted her to be. Like a MILF.
Here is where I say that this isn't a girl/woman=good, boy/man=bad problem. This environment is equally toxic to both, but for entirely different reasons. But the issue here is a girl crisis we keep dancing around. What people like Burgdoerfer et al intuit correctly and leave unquestioned is that girls learn to self-objectify and they keep doing it as adult women in grossly gender-disproportionate numbers. The cultural idea that we have to calibrate how we should
fix our hair,
cut bits off,
add bits on,
BE... in order to remain eternally dewy and optimized for male pleasure and comfort. This will be the case for as long as our human rights are mediated through boys and men and our equal access to resources, power, safety and everything else is vicarious and contingent on whether or not we are "nice" enough. It's assaultive. Regardless of how you dress up... or undress... there is nothing ironic or empowering about this process and its effects.
Mostly, many of us simply detach from ourselves and cheerily go about our days. And it has lifelong personal, political and societal consequences. Once in a while, a story is sufficiently appalling that it ruptures into public consciousness and we give it its 15 seconds, shake our heads and wonder how we got here. Steubenville is spelled with a 'u' in the middle, by the way.
The rite of passage we should be obsessing over isn't virginity, childbirth or mid-life aging. It's the inflection point when self-objectification settles into a girl's psyche because we failed to arm her with the cultural currency to say "hell no," or stronger, four-letter words to that effect. Even the strongest, most protective parental love is incapable of stemming the tide of culture, especially in our media saturated age.
But, to end on a positive note, a prescriptive endcap video. Here is Caroline Heldman accurately describing sexualized objectification -- at any age -- as "The Sexy Lie." She isn't emulating The Cars, but she does have a good voice and really good ideas about what we can do about this problem.
File under "Cradle-To-Grave Misogyny"