Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Melodramatic much?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

In my Google alert for "feminism" tonight this headline stuck out:

"How the faceless and amoral world of cyberspace has created a deeply disturbing... generation SEX"

I particularly enjoyed the (somewhat incorrect) use of the ellipsis and capital letters. Because the author, Olivia Liechtenstein of Britain's Daily Mail, had a lot to say on the subject, I confess that I did not read the entire article. But I was intrigued by the part that brought the article to my attention in the first place: the section entitled "Do these girls even know what feminism is?" Liechtenstein certainly has a way with her analogies; after lamenting the shady and irresponsible exploits of celebrities, she tells us solemnly, "These images are like puppies. They're not just for Christmas; they're for life."

Liechtenstein is right when she says that "feminist terms like 'liberation' and 'empowerment' have been perverted." But articles like this are hysterical, and inevitably don't address the real issues. There was an interesting article in the New York Times today that serves as a good counterpoint. It talks about the myth of teenage promiscuity; teenagers today, the article says, are for the most part more conservative about sex than past generations. "Today," writes author Tara Parker-Pope, "fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991." She admits that with regard to teenage pregnancy rates we do have cause for concern, but she also points out that this isn't because more teenagers are having sex, it's because they're not using birth control.

Clearly, we have a problem. Certainly, Liechtenstein is right - the media could be doing a better job to teach responsibility. But locking our children away from TVs and blaming parents for giving their children Internet access is not the solution, and we're definitely not going to get very far by using hyperbolic language that distorts the fact that many teenagers are actually approaching sex in a responsible way. Instead, we need to be teaching better sex education and emphasizing the positive aspects of human sexuality, in addition to its risks. I recently watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (don't ask) - in it, one of the characters has sex for the first time and (of course) the condom breaks. But instead of buying the morning after pill and going on with her life, she proceeds to break up with her boyfriend and fall into a panicked frenzy about whether she is pregnant. Yes, this is a case where the media could be doing a better job. But we also don't need to blame what Liechtenstein calls the "freedom and lack of values" given to teenagers by the mass media - because that simply isn't true.

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