More on girls, boys, sex and sports

I’ve had much more time to think than to write since the sudden surge in interest that peaked just before New Years. Now I’m sitting down to write and noticing just how much there is to continue!

You’ve raised interesting points, here and in some other blogs, that I want to follow up on. I also want to continue some of my own musings. It is tempting to do that all at once, but that would produce such a jumble of disorganized thoughts that none of us would enjoy it very much. So I will try to discipline myself and take on only one or two related issues at a time.

Today I’ll start with the question of girls, sexualized performance and interaction, boys, sports and aggression, since that is what generated so much controversy. Soon I’ll take on some of the other ways that sex and age have been in the news of late (namely, the new attention being given to older women by younger men). Then I will take on some of the more personal themes that were raised in “Sex and Compassion,” another post that generated several new comments.

The most common counterargument raised in the comments was actually not about girls and sexuality but about boys and sports. There was a strong tendency to defend sports as beneficial, for both girls and boys, and especially in the sense that sports can encourage teamwork and discipline.

I agree that sports can do that. And not all sports are equally dependent on aggression, either. Football is a more aggressive sport than long distance running, and yet even within football some positions rely more on aggression than others. My objection is not to sports, per se. My objection is to the linkage between aggressive athleticism and masculinity, and then, beyond that, to the commercializing of aggressive athleticism (way more people watch football on television than watch relay races – even the most popular track and field events don’t generate the kind of television coverage that ordinary weekly football games do) and the limiting of boys, and then men’s sense of how to display their masculinity. Teamwork and discipline can be taught in recreational sports programs, and kids can be encouraged to play outdoor games, without having to hang college educations on the commodification and exploitation of bodies. This is the parallel I see between sports and sexually provocative dancing, and the narrowing of identity options for boys and girls.

Most commenters who were critical of my position on girls and sexually provocative dancing, for example, were bothered that girls’ ideas about sex, and for that matter boys’ ideas about girls and sex are narrowly constructed and imposed too early. BlogLily framed this concern very clearly in another feminist blog, here. Not only does this limit girls and boys sense of sexuality and beauty but it does so for the profit of impersonal corporations and continues to maintain the privilege of the relatively few women who fit that narrow mold while making for great unhappiness for many other women who don’t. I agree that the narrowing is a big social problem. I don’t think that the solution is to further lock down sexual imagery, but rather to allow it to expand. And I would love for it to be de-commercialized! I would love for girls, and boys, to be able to see sex, and sports, as ways to playfully communicate, interact, and enjoy their bodies, rather than to see either one as a way to be “successful” as a woman or man.

But de-commercializing sexuality, and transforming sexuality into something more playful and freeing requires us to take control of it ourselves. And that requires us to exert our own power as sexual individuals, and to display our many varieties of sexuality so that we create alternatives to the narrow model that is presented to us, and to those girls who were up on that stage the day that Lawrence Downes got the inspiration for his op-ed piece. And that would seem to require that we stop sending kids the message that sex should be hidden, or kept for only the most private of contexts.

The girls that we see imitating the pop stars to whom we object should be encouraged to be more creative, not discouraged from being sexual in the first place.


Filed under Gender, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sexuality, sexuality and age

3 responses to “More on girls, boys, sex and sports

  1. These are lucid, well-thought-out points. I have to admit, I’m the kind of reader and blogger who will mull all this over for quite some time and probably either post a response or blog post well after everyone has drawn their conclusions, but you’ve given me a lot to think about.

  2. Thank you for this very follow-up post. It’s never occurred to me that just as adults model all kinds of healthy behavior for children, they should also be modeling healthy sexual behavior, which would mean both an openness and playfulness about sex that demonstrates the possibilities available to us as sexual beings. This isn’t the same thing as introducing sexual topics children aren’t ready for, but more being clear that sex isn’t shameful — quite the opposite –and that its beauty is in how variously it can be expressed both by adults and, when they are ready, by young adults.

    This has given me a great deal to think about and for that I’m grateful!

  3. hmmmm… as the coach of distance runners, boys and girls, I certainly think you are onto something. Whether it is accurate or not is a discussion for a different day.