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Macho Girls

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David Mills - published on 01/07/15

Sexual liberation is not so liberating.

The three girls at an expensive boarding school in Chicago, two wealthy and one poor, but all from dysfunctional homes, decide that they are tired of being weak and exploited by men, and decide to force the boys in the school to have sex with them by threatening them with a gun. They do not succeed, and are not happy, and their friendship breaks apart, ’till things spin out of control, as they tend to do in these movies.

I found the movie, an indy production called The Smokers I’d seen years ago, in a video store, and I was glad to see that someone might still see it, since most movies of its sort disappear. I think the movie was meant to be a comedy, but it was too accurate to be funny, because one knew that all around us are hundreds of thousands or more of young women exactly like the three girls, just as unhappy and confused and desperate, and one cannot laugh at children who are lost in the dark.

The girls’ pursuit of sexual power just proved to them how impotent they were. The two who had sex came to bad ends: one left with an apparent disgust with sex and with the guilt of killing a boy, the other burned to death, blamed afterwards for the killing the first committed. Their sexual acts — the film earned its "R" rating — gave them no joy and little pleasure. The one who does not have sex in the movie finally recognizes the good man who cares for her and the voiceover at the end suggests that she later marries him and lives happily ever after.

The movie was, if anything, an advertisement for virginity. A few days after I first saw it, The New York Times published an article that praised, though somewhat ambivalently, the sexually aggressive young woman whose pain the movie had exposed. “Ever since Sadie Hawkins, teenage girls have chased and flirted with boys. But now they are initiating more intimate contact, sometimes even sex, in a more aggressive manner, according to the anecdotal accounts of many counselors, psychologists, magazine editors and teenagers,” claimed the story titled “She’s Got To Be a Macho Girl.”

As with most such stories on alleged social trends, it is hard to know whether it is a trend at all, and if so, how significant it is, and to which teenagers it applied. The author offered quotes from teenagers around the country and examples from pop culture, particularly pop music, but the only hard data he cited showed a decrease in adolescent sexual activity. Some of the adults quoted saw the creation of sexually expansive young women as an expression of equality, confidence, and the like, and one of the greatest fruits of feminism. They used the word “empower” a lot. People like Atoosa Rubenstein, the editor of CosmoGirl, a magazine that originated in Hell, explained that “Their mothers have told them, Go for student council, go for the team, go for that job, and that has turned from a message directed toward achievement to being something their whole lives are about. So they apply it to pursuing boys as well.”

But the matter does not stop with girls asking out boys because they feel confident enough to do so. The matter inevitably involves the question of what these children do on their dates, and Ms. Rubenstein has a blithe answer: “Whether that pursuit is sexual or an expression of a crush, Ms. Rubenstein said, ‘is up to the girl.’”

Up to the girl. There you are. The choice of an act with profound and ineradicable moral, spiritual, emotional, social, and usually physical consequences is to be left up to a child who is not considered competent to vote, choose elective surgery, drink, or decide whether or not to go to school. If her choice results in a baby, however, she is considered competent to have him killed. In many states she cannot get her ears pierced without her parents’ permission, but in nearly all of them she can have her womb opened and evacuated without even telling them.

But it is up to the girl, and we are meant to think that this is a good thing, because that proves she’s confident and empowered. It seems to me that these children are so aggressive not because they are confident but because they despair. “All kids are scared of long-term relationships now,” he said. “Our parents are all divorced, and we have never seen a successful long-term relationship. Girls don’t want to think of sex as something which is about love because that will just come back and bite them later. The sex thing is just the most visible sign of disconnectedness we feel.”

Young people are taught from an early age that sex is inevitable but also that it is finally unsatisfying and leads eventually, inevitably to pain. They learn the first from MTV, talk shows, the internet, and magazines like CosmoGirl. They learn the second from their parents’ divorces, their and their friends’ break-ups, their venereal diseases and abortions.

They feel that it is not “up to the girl.” They may say that, because authorities keep telling them that, but they don’t feel it. It is easier, and seems safer, to try to make the affair “meaningless” or to pretend that you’re in control. If it does not have meaning it cannot hurt you, they think. If you’re in control, you cannot be hurt, they think.

The Times story quotes an eighteen-year-old girl who says that “I think with feminist thought being pushed upon girls from a young age, that some people put a premium on girls’ dominating different areas of life. So girls may now feel that it is also important to dominate in a sexual relationship. This allows the girl to have more control, e.g. ‘I wanted him to do that’ versus `He sort of made me do something.’”

I may be wrong, but I hear in her last sentence the voice of a young woman, speaking for her peers, who is trying to avoid despair by claiming that she is the agent of her own actions, the one who decides her own destiny. Notice how passive she is even while claiming to have “control”: “I wanted him to do that,” not “I wanted to do that.” And notice that even while claiming to have control, she can only say “more control,” which in context does not seem to mean that she really has all that much control over what the boy does. The sentence does not suggest confidence. It suggests what in adults we would call “damage control” or “spin.”

It is the wording of one who has done something she wishes she had not done but feels she had to do. It is the voice of despair, familiar to us through the comic figure of the man who yells “You can’t fire me, I quit!” and storms from his boss’s office, having salvaged his pride a little bit though he is still ruined.

It is not in any way comical in the mouths of children, who ought to have been free from the dangers and the suffering of CosmoGirl sexuality, and the need to cope by being aggressive, who ought to have grown up free to choose what they would do without even thinking of what boys wanted, till someday they found men who would love them, lay down their lives for them, live with them till death did them part, to whom they could offer their sexuality freely and without fear, whose children they would bear.

The odd thing is that such young women would have more control over their lives than the macho young women the Times described with approval. Chastity empowers. The control of the appetites makes you free. The chaste young woman is the only one of whom it can truly be said, “It is up to the girl.”

David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, is a writer and author of Discovering Mary. His webblog can be found at www.patheos.com/blogs/davidmills.

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