A Long Way Backwards

Posted: Mar 08, 2007 12:01 AM
A Long Way Backwards

The latest flavor of feminism is exhibitionism. "You've come a long way, baby, but you're dancing backwards." Betty Friedan is spinning.

Puritan ladies who blazed earlier trails, declaring that all men are rapists and accusing poor innocent Playboy magazine of exploiting women, are morphing into sexual sirens looking to liberate their libidos in pornographic photographs that could put a blush on the deeply wrinkled cheeks of Hugh Hefner. (Well, probably not.) But issues of date rape, sexual harassment and campus rallies to "take back the night" have been replaced with a rush of salacious sensitivity, identifying something called "vaginal personalities" and erotic effervescence.

Co-eds learn less about dead white males such as Milton and Shakespeare than about live young men and women, barely beyond adolescence, in titillating exposures in college sex magazines. Parents might be surprised to learn that this is the latest bang for their buck.

Alarmed by the sexual saturation of images influencing young girls, the American Psychological Association identifies the influence of these images in different developmental stages: "We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development." That's Ph.D. language for "this trash is bad for young girls in nearly every way." The report links the omnipresent sexual images with the three most common mental health problems confronting girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

The Sunday New York Times magazine featured a full-page portrait of Ming Vandenberg, the editor of H-Bomb magazine at Harvard, with her leg draped suggestively over her desk as she sits behind a biology book and a computer. The magazine, which received $2,000 from the university for start-up costs, no longer shows the full frontal nudity found in other campus sex magazines, but in one issue the magazine engaged undergraduates in various poses of undress to illustrate their tales of how they lost their virginity. In one photograph, a young man stands in the shadows, under a bare light bulb, proudly showing off his not very much.

This is modest compared to other campus adventures in the skin trade, but H-Bomb carries the imprimatur of Harvard, with a faculty adviser. Boink, by comparison, is "user-friendly porn" by several students at Boston University, whose dean of students denounced it just before it published its maiden issue. Boink exposes selectively salacious naked body parts, sells for $7.95 a pop, and sponsors parties with girls walking around topless. "Boink, the Book," an anthology, will be published by Warner Books, a mainstream house.

Students revel in their notoriety. "I would prefer that all nude photos were anonymous," says Ms. Vandenberg, primly. "But people want everyone else to know. People want to stand out."

She's right about that. Fame and celebrity in the image generation run deep in the shallows. It matters not how you get attention as long as you get it. The title of one new cable-TV reality show tells you all you wish you didn't need to know: "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll." The six singers aren't pussycats of the purring kind, but are meant to evoke the image of larger cats representing the metaphorical feline as reflective of human female "empowerment." Hear us roar.

Dolls aren't the playthings they used to be. The sexualized Bratz dolls, in thigh-high boots, fishnet stockings and feather boas, would give Barbie's boyfriend Ken unwholesome ideas. The Bratz are aggressive seducers in trendy styles for the Britney Spears wannabes, marketed for girls between 8 and 12 for whom lingerie designers now produce thong panties emblazoned with slogans such as "eye candy" and "wink wink." Thong images for adolescents include characters from Dr. Seuss books and the Muppets. This is sexuality "rejuveniled."

Abercrombie and Fitch, which once purveyed outdoor gear to conservative preppies, now targets moppets with tight T-shirts emblazoned with explicit sexual mottos: "Who needs brains when you have these?" Mainstream advertisements blur distinctions between childhood and adulthood, with a sexy grown-up woman in pigtails seductively licking a lollipop.

Even therapy emphasizes social and political agendas suggesting sexual experimentation, not healthy goals toward integrated work and family life. Dr. Miriam Grossman, UCLA campus psychiatrist and author of "Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student," cites a "health education program" at Columbia University where students learn how to initiate "phone sex" and study the "politics" of "group sex."

Lewd and lascivious trump love and marriage. Emotional vulnerability is sacrificed to sexual conformity and exhibitionism. Shakespeare, the deadest white male long since exiled to the periphery of the campus, nevertheless got it right. What fools these mortals be.