Watching HBO’s Girls felt like standing around at a party with a bunch of people trading insider jokes I don’t get; at the same time that I was being welcomed as part of the club, it was obvious that I was not one of them. Girls is definitely for someone, but I didn’t get the impression that this someone was me. The question is: who is Girls for?
One doesn’t expect to find the phrase “whore-friendly panties” in an article about eight-year-olds. Still, there it was: Smack dab in the middle of LZ Granderson’s April 19 column for CNN about over-sexualized clothing for little girls. It wasn’t the only uncomfortable bit of name-calling in the piece; in addition to the big W, Granderson employed “prostitute,” “tramp,” and approximately eight thousand squirm-worthy comments on the “sexiness” or “hotness” of pre-pubescent children. (This week, in fun sentences to take out of context: “Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she’s not even in middle school yet.”)
But it was the “whore” moment that stood out. Granderson’s points — that young girls are being encouraged to dress in ways that would be sexually provocative in adult women — weren’t wrong in and of themselves, or even terribly controversial. In a world that sells junior-sized stripper poles and high heels for babies, it’s reasonable to conclude that we’re conditioning young girls to perform a certain kind of femininity from a very early age, and it’s right to be concerned for them. But when one drops the “whore” bomb in the middle of an essay about small children, that doesn’t sound concerned. It sounds misogynist. It demonstrates that the problem isn’t the kind of sexuality these girls are being trained to perform, or how that might affect them as adults. The problem is just that they look, you know. Like whores.
Granderson’s column exemplifies a worrying trend. It’s undeniably true that girls are encouraged to sexualize themselves at early ages, and that this can harm their developing sense of self. But our cultural sense of responsibility is deeply skewed. We condition young girls to aspire to an extremely restrictive standard of beauty and sexuality from almost the day they come into the world. We surround them with sexualized images of women, and tell them that these women have special value. And then, when little girls start behaving or dressing like those beautiful, desirable, special women — when they engage in the very childlike activity of imitating their role models — we condemn the girls and their parents for the fact that some adults might choose to exploit or violate them.