Written by Tabby Biddle
This blog today comes with a lot of questions – questions about how we can raise a generation of girls to be comfortable and confident in their sexuality and sensuality as they develop into women.
On Tuesday night, I attended a talk by New York Times bestselling author Peggy Orenstein, whose latest book is called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The book takes a look at the “princessmania” that has taken over a new generation of little girls (including her own daughter) and what this could mean for their identities and futures as young women. In the discussion Peggy brought up the entanglement of sexuality and sexualization of girls.
At the same time, I have been taking an 8-week class aimed at helping me, a 40-year-old woman, become comfortable with my own sexuality and sensuality. It’s called S Factor. Have you heard of it? Many people think it’s just about pole dancing, but actually it’s much more than that. Sheila Kelley, the founder of S Factor, created it as a way to help women take back their sexuality by feeling beautiful in their sensuality without it being for anyone else. Just for themselves. Imagine that.
As I’ve taken the Level I series, I’ve had some personal challenges surface. Most namely, the fine line between feeling sexy and feeling “slutty.”
Slut. There’s that word that stings a woman, young or old.
I had my first experience with that word in the sixth grade. An eighth-grade girl from my school shouted “slut” at me in a shopping center in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. She was apparently upset that I ‘broke up’ with her best friend’s younger brother. Even though I had never even kissed a boy at this stage of my life, let alone held hands, that word stung and I somehow believed it to be true.
Has anyone else had an experience like this?
Girls today are taught that in order to be popular they need to be “sexy,” but if they are too sexy, this can quickly cross the line into “slut” territory. The problem with all of this is girls aren’t being encouraged or supported to explore their sexuality from an empowered place.
So how can a girl naturally develop into a sexually-realized woman when she’s got the world “slut” hanging over her head?
As Peggy Orenstein pointed out, girls like Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears went from wearing purity rings one day to dancing on the pole the next. I get her point, but does the pole have to be seen as a negative thing for a woman? Can’t a woman (young or old) explore her curves, her hip swirls, her cat crawls, and the playful freedom of swinging on the pole without being considered a “slut”?
We as women are divine creatures. We have the potential to give birth to new life. Yet, the elements of ourselves that are so integral to this new life – our sexuality, our feminine body parts, our juicy sensuality — are also what cause us so much shame. How can this be?
As a grown woman, I have struggled with owning my sexuality and sensuality in a way that is true and empowering to me. I have struggled with feeling comfortable in my own skin because of a latent fear of being too sexy. If I let that side of me out there in the world surely I will be admonished by other women. If these are the thoughts going on in my mind, I imagine there are other women who have these thoughts too.
How do we foster healthy sexual development for girls and women? I think as a society we need to discuss this more – and particularly as women we need to discuss this more. It’s our voices that reflect the pain and shame that run rampant in our society. If we give voice to this in honest reflection, instead of continuing the cycle of shame, there is an opportunity for healing.
The wound that is being created and perpetuated by our cultural distortion and commercialization of female sexuality needs to be and can be stopped. We have an opportunity today to hold the space and teach girls and young women that their bodies are special, sacred and beautiful. We have an opportunity today as women to use our voices to express our questions and doubts about the direction our culture is taking girls, and initiate public discussion on the topic, just at Peggy Orenstein is doing.
A friend told me today that her seven-year-old daughter asked if she could run through the backyard naked. My friend said ‘yes.’ Her daughter gleefully peeled off her clothes and ran through the yard leaping, twirling and shouting, “I feel so free. I feel so free!”
That’s what I’m talking about.
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a writer, editor, and writing coach dedicated to empowering and amplifying the voices of women and girls. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post on issues affecting women and girls, and works with women on writing projects to help them communicate their message. Ms. Biddle’s work has been featured by the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, NPR, Current TV and other online media. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.