It feels like we find ourselves in the same place at least once a year, as yet another corporate giant tries to sneak one past us, treating our young girls as sex kittens in training.
This time it appears Victoria’s Secret responded quickly, pulling the suggestive panties out of stores and removing them from the website on Monday. The company tried to clean things up by saying the PINK line had always been intended for college-aged women—even if the girls frolicking in some of the PINK ads are much more high schoolish than college coed.
What really put the target on the company’s back was a statement made by Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer at a conference, as reported by Business Insider.
Burgdoerfer admitted that his company wants to sell to high school girls as well as college girls.
“When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be?” Burgdoerfer said at the conference. “They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”
But nearly as troubling as the stumble by the lingerie manufacturer was the reaction I found all over the Internet, as writers in way too many places were attacking parents for being overly sensitive.
A piece by Amanda Marcotte on Slate was typical, where she took offense at a mom linking the early sexualization of our young girls with incidents like the rape and exploitation of the drunk 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. With a taunting headline that said “Victoria’s Secret Sells to High School Girls. So What?” Marcotte takes on the tone of the hip insider schooling all these hick, prudish parents.
“Steubenville happened because some boys thought torturing a drunk girl was hilarious, not because lacy underthings turn previously asexual adolescents into sex-crazed monsters,” she writes. “Here’s a reality check: The average American first has sex at age 17, and by age 19, seven out of 10 teenagers are sexually active. Even if they aren’t having sex, most teenagers are still fantasizing about it. That’s a good thing. They need this time to experiment, make their mistakes and figure out who they are and what they like before the responsibilities of adulthood start to complicate things. As long as they aren’t wearing their sexy panties at the gym, there’s no harm in giving teenagers a little freedom to do the growing up that they need to do.”
I’m guessing that Marcotte doesn’t have any teen or tween girls in her house, otherwise she would know that the bigger problem isn’t necessarily what the boys are thinking, the issue is that our society is engaged in a constant campaign to make girls believe they are supposed to be actingolder than they are. That they are supposed to forgo their childhoods and engage in adult behaviors way before they’re ready. A young teen who isn’t yet sexually active bouncing around wearing panties that have the words “call me” plastered across her vagina or her behind is taking a huge step toward actualizing herself in sexual situations. It may look like innocent fantasies from afar, but we all know that there’s a big difference between imagining sweet kisses from the cute boy in algebra to walking around with a billboard on your private parts that pronounces you are “wild.”
I’m guessing that even Miss Marcotte would acknowledge there is likely a difference in how she herself feels, how she acts, even how she presents herself to the opposite sex when she is wearing a sexy lacy bra and matching thongs—compared to when she’s wearing the big grandma drawers buried at the bottom of the bureau for clean laundry emergencies.
If it’s true for a grown-ass woman, why would’t it be true for a 15-year-old?
And the reactions of parents aren’t even just about Victoria’s Secret. The reaction to VS is the result of years of fighting against this stuff, feeling like the culture is always on the verge of overwhelming our parental attempts to keep our daughters young and innocent for as long as possible. Not only the music, the television shows, the movies, but perhaps more than anything else the clothing that is advertised as children’s but looks more like video ho. Though the Amanda Marcottes of the world may disagree, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with innocence.
One more point: It would be one thing if we were talking about Legos or Fisher Price, companies with long histories of creating delightful products for children, in a moment of temporary insanity manufacturing something that felt inappropriate. But if you’ve ever seen a Victoria’s Secret commercial, you know we’re talking about the closest thing to soft-core porn one can find on network television during primetime. The company’s sweet spot is lurid images of saucy, nubile young things prancing around in lacy, barely-there panties and bras. So forgive us for not trusting VS with the underwear or the innocence of our babies.