Sunday, October 28, 2007
I find these pictures of my granddaughter very interesting. As you can see, she is very, very aware of the camera and it is nearly impossible to catch her being natural.
Here phrases of my own mother's, phrases that irritated the hell out of me whenever she said them, come to mind: "I'm old enough to remember when..." or "At my age..." What usually followed the first was a rose-coloured-glasses bit of nostalgia (terribly consistently so in my opinion) or a startling observation (much rarer) of how different things have become in even a relatively short span of history; what followed the second was a conclusion that could be interpreted as words of hard won wisdom or a put down of anybody younger. Always depends on the point of view, or how irritated I was at that particular moment with my mother.
So here I catch myself thinking similar thoughts that start the same way: I'm old enough to remember when...And I wonder if I'm not indulging in some rosy nostalgia myself.
Of course we hammed it up for the camera when I was a child too! All I have to do is remember the hilarity brought out by a family viewing of my Dad's slides. We anticipate with evil glee the stupid faces, the baby's bald head, the gap-toothed grins of certain photos, where we know the sibling was captured unawares or where the posing for the camera reveals something altogether unintended and we cringe in embarrassment of our younger selves.
Sometimes we adults notice an awareness of sexuality in today's young girls that we imagine to be so frighteningly different from what we were like. It is different, of course, but I doubt it's even half as alarming as we think it is. (Here I go: ) At my age...
No really. I can remember a certain kind of sexual awareness when I was 6. And I can remember being shocked at the apparently sexual posing of my daughter and her friends when they were little. But it was a very innocent sexuality in my daughther when she was 6, different from when she was 16, and again very different from her sexuality at 26. And it will be different again, but always present, when she is 36, 46 or even 96! It needn't be all that frightening to admit it.
Sure, the signals and emblems of sexuality that today's little girls observe and mimic in their culture may seem very shockingly more blatant than the signals we observed in our own childhoods, but that is probably only because we adults are experiencing a bit of culture-shock in general. The symbols of sexuality in our childhoods were probably just as potent as those of today, just different.
Don't let anybody kid you into believing that any culture, anywhere, at every time in history, has not had its sexual symbols that children observed and imitated. It's a fine balance, the middle ground of being aware of the vast array of sexual symbols in our culture, and helping our children navigate their way into healthy adulthood through all that.
To understand just how nuanced sexual interactions are between human beings, one just has to recall George's line in an episode of Seinfeld, where too late, he has a "flat-forehead-moment" and realizes that "'Coffee' doesn't mean coffee! 'Coffee' means sex!" Another example of how our beliefs mess with reality is the young one at my paying job (yes you, G.!!), who expressed horror and disgust that an older female patient (an age not much older than mine, which is why it struck me as a possible maligning of my own sexual urges -- tee hee hee!!) was very worried about being able to remain sexually active upon discharge from hospital. Did G. have an idea of "appropriate age cut-off" for sexual activity or was her reaction related to other generally inappropriate responses our patient did exhibit at times?? Or, what about the cultures who believe in guiding and teaching their young girls that the proper & whole raison d'être is to get married young and have children, at an age when sadly, too many of them are not even physically matured enough to have babies without terrible risks to their health?
I understand the impulse in well-meaning adults who try to legislate dress, behavior, or define a legal age of consent. Unfortunately, I think there are too many variables that can't be pinned down so easily, because, I'm all too aware (& have a great mistrust) that some of that need to control, define, and legislate, actually comes from a very ugly place in our adult worlds.
I guess our shock at encountering it, when we see the children of today mimic our culture's sexual symbols, comes from our deep fear for the safety of our children. However, it would be a shame if we were to clamp down on it or punish our children for it. It is a terrible world sometimes, but that is all the more reason for protecting and allowing our girls to bloom as they will, as they were created to do, in their own good time, in their own way, without interference from us adults.
It is only natural that children are sexual creatures from the moment they are born, but it is a continuum, not necessarily a smooth one, that has its convolutions and bumps along the way. It is only complicated by our adult need to demarcate turning points, big changes, coming of age. It is fraught with our need to define it, manage it, ensure its safety. It's too bad we can't focus instead on encouraging & nurturing its natural, healthy growth in strength, power and independence, understand its complexity and accept that it doesn't belong to us. It belongs to the growing little girl alone and yes, it will change radically, and if allowed, will develop in its own healthy way into what all little girls are meant to become, incredible, self-determining, sexy women.
The art in raising girls to healthy adulthood lies in just trying to find that precarious balance between our beliefs, enculturated ideas, science, religion and nature.