The Real Controversy

I’ve tried twice before to express on Facebook what I felt when I watched the Netflix movie, “Cuties.”  Both times, before, I thought that most people got the gist of what I was saying, but there were still several people who needed to chime in about child pornography and perverts masturbating to the movie.  I felt that people were looking for things to be offended about and arguing about things that were, in my opinion, completely irrelevant.  By the legal definition of child pornography, “Cuties” is not pornography.  I never encouraged anyone to watch it if they were uncomfortable with it.  I just asked that people watch the movie before judging it.

I consider myself a writer.  It gnaws at me when I feel like I’m not being heard the way that I had intended to be.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been obsessing about it, but I’ve been thinking about it for some time.

So I’m going to try this one more time.  Consider this your trigger warning.  I plan to be frank and thorough in my discussion of my own experiences of growing up in The United States of America, which includes what some may consider sexual abuse.

One of my earliest memories was of playing alone in my front yard.  It was 1975, and I was 4 years old.  A man who lived a few houses down, asked me and some other kids if we’d like to see his newborn kittens.  We went into his house, he showed us the kittens, and then he had us sit in his kitchen while he served us candy.

It wasn’t long before I could hear my mother frantically calling for me.  When I went to her, she took me home, sat me down, and told me that I couldn’t go into strangers’ houses without her permission.  She was very serious when she told me that “some men like to look at little girls’ panties.”  And that was my first experience with “the talk” that most girls have heard at some point in their lives.

Another memory around that same time was of my mother leaving me alone with her grandpa – my great grandpa, while she ran to the store to get diapers for my brother.  Grandpa told me that his fingers were stiff.  He needed me to help him button his pants, which I did, because I craved opportunities to be told I was a good girl.  Then he told me that I didn’t need to tell my mama bout this.  I did, of course, not wanting to miss the opportunity for praise.  It was years before I understand why she got angry and didn’t tell me that I was a good girl.

My favorite toys, then, were Barbies and their back-breaking bosoms. Of course, I couldn’t have a Barbie without a Ken, because a girl is not complete without a man to tell her how beautiful she is.

My other favorite toy was a Barbie head and shoulders to which I could apply makeup, color and style her hair, and apply various accessories.

Sexuality was marketed to me as a child all the time, and it still is.

While thinking about all of this last night, I came across this Cracked article, about items marketed to children that are uncomfortably sexual, including a stripper pole, g-string panties, pushup bras, and tramp stamps. The article is from 2011, so the children in this movie would have been babies when these products were on the market.

I wondered what might l be out there, today, and it took me about a five minute search on Amazon to find little girls’ padded brasthong underwear, and see-through panties, that were accompanied by this charming photo to the right.

The experience of transitioning from little girl to young woman was particularly stark for me.  When I was six years old, my stepfather was transferred to Germany.  We lived there for three years, and then in Texas for three before moving back home, to Northern California.  When I left California, I was a little girl with a little girl’s body.  When I returned, I was still a little girl, but had developed breasts, hips, and a waist, and was often thought to be much older than I was.

There was no gradual transition for me.  When I’d left home, it was common for me to sit on people’s laps and give hugs and kisses when asked.  So when we moved back, and a family friend asked me to sit on his lap, I did.  I had grown up calling him “Papa Bear,” and did not realize that that had become inappropriate at some point between 6 and 12.  When he asked me to kiss him, I did.  That’s when he put his tongue in my mouth.

When I told my mom about it, she told me that I was “too big to be sitting on men’s laps, anyway.”  In other words, if I had behaved differently, it wouldn’t have happened.

He was not the only one, but he was the most disappointing.  I could and have listed dozens of moments like this in my own experience.  I had a teacher in 8th grade who told a very popular boy that he should “go for” me.  I was mocked mercilessly for the remainder of that school year.

I had a teacher in 9th grade who told me that if he were 10 years younger, he’d give my boyfriend some competition.

My high school counselor would cruise my street in the mornings to offer me rides to school.  I never accepted.  When I was in his office planning my schedule for the  coming school year, he told me he wanted me to take aerobics for PE, because I’d put on some weight.

I never knew that any of those things were in appropriate.  My mom tried to prepare me, but her experience was different from mine.  She just told me that “boys only want one thing.”

It was the 80’s.  Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was the standard by which my friends and I modeled our wardrobe.  At least until high school, when Glam Rock became the thing, and then it was leather miniskirts and fishnet stockings.  My stepfather told me I looked like a hooker.  I had never seen a hooker, and he and I didn’t get along anyway, so that just made me more determined to dress that way.    It’s what my friends were doing.  It’s what the girls in the videos were doing.

By the time I reached high school, I loathed my body.  I thought I was fat because women could only be fat or skinny.  No in between.  I hated my breasts, because I felt like that was what had attracted so much unwanted attention.

In the midst of all of this, my great-grandmother was obsessed with my virginity.  She took me to McDonald’s one day and told the poor kid behind the counter, “This is my great granddaughter.  I’m so proud of her because she’s going to be a virgin when she gets married!”  TRUE STORY!

That had been my intent, but I did not realize that I could expect a boy who tells me he loves me to keep his hands to himself without an absolute wrestling match.  Every boyfriend I had, including the one I married, pushed the boundaries as far as he could.  I married the one who pushed them too far.  I married him out of shame.  I thought marrying him would make it o.k.  During our divorce, I told him that saving myself had been important to me.  He said he knew.  I asked him, “then why?”

He said, “The challenge.”

I honestly don’t know any woman who hasn’t been trespassed at some point in her life.  I’m not saying there are none, but I have no doubt that they are the minority.

As a teacher, I struggled with wanting to protect my students by talking to them about the provocative things they wore and how just as approaching a strange dog, you have no idea what kind of training  a boy/man has had, so it’s best to protect yourself.  But girls have a right to express themselves in ways that make them feel good.  It’s not their fault if men can’t control themselves.

So when I heard that Netflix was showing child pornography, I wanted to know what everyone was talking about.  I absolutely felt uncomfortable watching those little girls do those moves, and I have wondered if they were counseled in any way during or after.  But ultimately, I felt kinship with their confusion.  I know their confusion.  I know what it’s like to be expected to live up to impossible standards, and I know what it’s like to live so long thinking sex is a negative that it never felt positive, even when I was married.

But as I have said before, this is a conversation that we must have and keep having.  When is it ok for a girl to be sexualized?  Don’t tell me never because we do it all the damned time.  We begin before birth with gender reveal parties so that we can immediately put little girls in dresses that don’t cover their asses so that their lacy panties are on display.  We do it to boys, too, but no one ever really criticizes boys for being sexual.

When does showing off panties become inappropriate for little girls?  When does going topless?  These are mysteries when we’re little kids.

The boundary between inappropriate and healthy are blurred beyond recognition.  We must stop acting like children don’t know about these things.  They know more than we want to talk about and that’s what “Cuties” uncomfortably brings to the table. 

Log in to write a note
September 21, 2020

I hear you. I was groped by my drunk foster brother. 🙁

September 21, 2020

I think that everyone should be treated the same and the same words are being used like “you look so nice in those clothes” then there is no gender innuendoes and no confusion.

I think parents need to start teaching appropiateness at a very young age  and then maybe people will be more respectful.

here is a question? Why is it a little girl is always told to sit like a lady and a little boy told to be a gentleman?  There is something really wrong with that because how does each of them really know what one is suppose to do and not suppose to do?

September 21, 2020

Applause

September 21, 2020

You might disagree but I would say that a child should never be sexualized. An adult, yes, a child no. Cute clothes are just cute.

September 23, 2020

Wow, That is quite a story. I’ve actually been reflecting on my life after watching Cuties and what it meant to me. I have read so many countless stories about women or girls being sexually harassed that I am honestly not shocked by it. It is unnerving to realize where we are in society and how hypocritical we can be. I think the problem can be solve however, it definitely wont be easy or within our life time.

I think the problem we have is the lack of free thought. What I mean is the narrative that at least I grew up with here in America as an Chinese American, I felt that as man we were served the hero’s narrative. This along side religion and the history of power in men. I am not the smartest kid on the block. I grew up not knowing how to really read or write. However, I learned the faults of my own and the system in switch we all live in. I am not christian but I was fed some of their ideas on marriage and sex. Looking back on it as a Teen or kid, sure that is seen as the highest of highs in life. Find a Pure girl/women, get her to like you by being… a hero? (smart, clever, providing, and protective, etc.) While great in story, it is not so in reality. I think this trend in romance and idea of love and how linear the story line is what plagues us. The problem is we are fed these unrealistic requirements pair with religious belief of good and evil that we cannot move forward to a new train of thought.

I myself am still conflicted about what is a good approach to love or sex. Not that I am not able to talk to women. That I can do with full confidence. For me the problem of approaching the feeling of love or lust. how do we distinguish these two feelings? and why is Lust bad?

Now in the case of Cutie. I have watched it and I viewed it as girls that are using what they have learned from the world. They clearly know that they can use their youth and the idea of men as being pedophiles if they approach them or use it as a threat. However, the scene where one of the girls is playing with a condom, for me was a reflection of how boys played with them. So why is it so much worse when girls play with it? There is so much going on in the movie that I’d like to talk about but for time sake I’ll leave it here.

For as to when and how to teach kid about sex, that is still hard and controversial. However, for me and my experience I think Novels or shows that have a better depiction of love and sex, as an example Shameless is probably the craziest depiction of all of that and much more. The problem is guiding teenagers through the problem with morals and ethics. As odd it may sound I think there needs to be more crossover in terms of activities they do together. It is going to be uncomfortable and weird and probably very difficult to triage. I think the best interaction that can happen between young adults and teen are the arts. However, I think performative arts such as drama and dance as it can bring both into interacting with each other without having them be themselves exactly. Another tactic I think is music and analyzing different songs about love, sex, and cheating. I imagine music of the opposite gender that they get to hear the voices of the other side. Sports is possible too but it is already divided. The closest to sports that is co-op would be Video Games. I think it would be interesting to see how teenagers would react to diving into erotic novels. I think the biggest one that recently comes to mind is 50 shades of gray while it is not representative of the community it is one of the only novels and movie that many people know. I grew up with sex-ed and while it was… educational, it was not fun to learn. I think they should open up the door because I think everyone is a little curious to find out their kinks.

With that I think it will be easier to discuss about sex and sexual harassment and romance and marriage. It is not easy and not saying this is even possible with the current political climate. I want to get rid of the slut shaming and other negative views about men and women that revolve around sex because sex is a pleasure to be had not to be ashamed of. People live and dream of harems for centuries or orgies so…  its not really a foreign idea. We just need to do it responsibly and respectfully.