BOOKS: by Catherine SheehanNews Weekly
WHAT'S HAPPENING TO OUR GIRLS? Too much too soon: how our kids are overstimulated, oversold and oversexed
, August 30, 2008
Our daughters at riskWHAT'S HAPPENING TO OUR GIRLS?
Too much too soon: how our kids are overstimulated, oversold and oversexed
by Maggie Hamilton
Paperback: 295 pages
Rec. price: AUD$29.95Adults and parents are largely oblivious to what is happening to girls today. They do not comprehend the intense pressure girls are under from a whole range of different sources to conform to expectations about what a female should be.
The only adults who see the amount of angst and suffering girls endure are teachers, counsellors, police and medical staff who, on a daily basis, deal with girls who have depression and eating disorders, who are engaging in all kinds of risky behaviours and being sexually exploited.
That is why NSW author, teacher and social trends researcher Maggie Hamilton's book is so important for our society right now.
We need to get a handle on what is happening to girls. We need to decide whether these trends are what we really want for our girls, and, if not, what we are going to do to make life better for them.Uncensored account
Potential readers should be warned that Ms Hamilton gives a totally uncensored and detailed account of what girls are experiencing. She has interviewed girls, teachers, psychologists, medical staff, counsellors and police officers.
Unfortunately, life today for girls - even very little girls -no longer consists of "sugar and spice and all things nice". As this book shows, the reality they face is often dark, highly disturbing and frightening.
Too many parents believe life for teenagers is similar to what they experienced at the same age.
This mistaken belief places girls in danger because parents do not realise how much protection girls need in our sexualised culture.
Over the past 10 years, life for young people has changed rapidly and the world now is often a cold, brutal and downright dangerous place for girls.
One of the major concerns of the girls interviewed was that they were having their childhood and their innocence stolen from them at such an early age.
Teen girls expressed concern about what is happening to younger girls, as they recognised that these little girls were being sexualised.
"Tweens" are eight to 12-year-olds, a group relentlessly marketed to by advertisers. Tweens are increasingly wearing make-up, acting sexy and wanting to dress like adults. Older girls argued that tweens should be allowed to enjoy their childhood and innocence, and parents should protect them more from the media and advertising onslaught.
Girls want to be liked and accepted, to feel that they belong. They are also extremely sensitive to rejection from their peers.Vulnerabilities
Marketers realise this and exploit the vulnerabilities of girls. The message is sent to girls through the media and advertising that, in order to be acceptable, they have to be thin, beautiful, sexy and popular.
Unless girls are told otherwise and given a greater sense of self -worth, they will do just about anything to achieve this false ideal of what a female should be.
Being sexy requires being sexually active and experienced. This leads girls into situations they are not equipped to deal with and that many of them do not want to be in.
Ms Hamilton writes, "In many ways, girls are damned if they have sex, and damned if they don't." In order to be liked and accepted by boys, girls are often coerced into sexual acts.
One school counsellor remarked, "They're asked to do things sexually they don't want to do. The guys do these things to girls, then call them sluts. Other girls get to know, and so sometimes the girls have to stay with the group of boys because there's nowhere else to go."
To keep boyfriends happy, many girls engage in oral sex, as they don't consider it to be real sex. "Girls are participating in oral and anal sex to please boyfriends so they can still say they are virgins," states Ms Hamilton. It seems it's not cool to ever say "no" to sex.
The latest trend is weekend sex-party games, including certain practices that are simply unprintable in a family publication such as News Weekly
. Participating in them exposes youngsters to the very real risk of contracting sexually-transmitted disease.
A police detective commented, "It seems to be an expectation on the part of the boys. If the young girls don't adhere to the apparent norm, then everyone hears about it, and the girl's reputation is shattered."
Twenty years ago, a girl's reputation would have been ruined for participating in such behaviour, now it's ruined if she doesn't.
Faced with the very real threat of social isolation and rejection, girls are allowing themselves to be exploited in numerous ways.
Some girls even turn to pornography to learn how to be sexy and please guys. With the internet, girls have easy access to such material.
With pornography becoming mainstream in our culture, girls and women are under increasing pressure to emulate the sexual behaviour of women in pornography. Men and boys now have this expectation of them.
One 18-year-old girl said, "In some ways, it's a bit of a worry (that) porn is what sex is meant to be about. It takes expectations of boys to the extreme. I think that's why rape and sexual abuse is more common now. Porn expresses women in a very different way."
As would be expected in a highly sexualised culture, many girls are also becoming sexually aggressive themselves.
After their first sexual encounter, many girls go on to have numerous sexual partners. They are also having random sex with males they don't know. When out somewhere, they may simply see one they like the look of and make sexual advances towards him.
As girls strive to become like the sexualised images of women who are thin, beautiful and sexy, they are increasingly filled with self-hatred. This is because they are trying to conform to an ideal that is not only impossible for most to attain but also highly de-humanising.
The sexualisation of girls is causing a range of negative reactions among them, such as eating disorders, depression and self-harm.
In regards to depression, it has been found that the number of girls aged 10 to 19 using anti-depressants has increased by "more than 9 per cent" in the US, while for boys it has increased by 1 per cent.
Also, Ms Hamilton writes, "The number of teen girls who resort to self-injury has increased so much that cutting has been labelled the new anorexia.... While it's hard to know exactly how many girls are cutting themselves, because they do so in secret, it is now estimated that one in ten do so. My interviews bore this out."
It has been found that girls are four times more likely to self-injure than boys. Girls are able to keep their self-harm a secret, even from parents, by wearing clothes that cover their scars.
The girls Ms Hamilton interviewed spoke of cutting as a way of relieving their feelings of depression and anxiety and also as a way of punishing themselves for their perceived shortcomings.
One 13-year-old girl said, "At my school there's probably 50 per cent are cutting themselves. Not many of them show it. It's really sad."
Another 17-year-old girl admitted, "I did it. Like clockwork. Every night before I went to sleep. Right across my arms, my legs and my stomach. I'd put on some loud music and just cry while I was thinking, 'It's my own fault I'm how I am (so) I should punish myself.'"
With the amount of pressures placed on girls, it is no wonder that some of them also turn to substance abuse to escape reality. Binge-drinking has become part of a normal weekend for teen girls and some admit they do it to forget their problems. Binge-drinking, as well as causing health problems, also leaves young girls extremely vulnerable.Barely conscious
Ms Hamilton writes: "Recently, a 17-year-old girl who lived near me was deliberately intoxicated by peers, then filmed while being gang-raped. Afterwards her 'friends' dumped her on her doorstep, knickerless and barely conscious.
"This girl had no memory of the incident, and wouldn't have given it a second though, had not one of the boys showed her the footage on his mobile phone. By this stage the footage had also been circulated to school friends."
According to Ms Hamilton, such incidents are not uncommon.
Hospital staff are increasingly worried about the number of intoxicated young girls being admitted to emergency wards. Often, the girls are aged 12 to 14.
Girls are also becoming more violent. There has been an increase in the number of girls committing violent crimes.
Girls from broken homes and those who have suffered abuse, violence and neglect themselves, are the most likely to be violent.
It is also thought that these at-risk girls are attracted to the many unrealistic, fictional female characters in movies who are violent or physically intimidating.
The general public also seems to be attracted to movies like Kill Bill
, Million Dollar Baby
, Lara Croft
and Charlie's Angels
in which the female stars, who are beautiful and sexy, solve problems through physical violence. Many people see these characters as demonstrating a form of so-called "girl-power".
Ironically, though, in real-life violent crimes committed by girls, it is often other girls who are the victims of the assaults.
There is certainly nothing liberating about the increase of violence among females. It only makes the world a darker, more threatening place for girls, and for everyone else.
In one shocking incident in 1997, seven girls were involved in bashing and drowning a 14-year-old girl. Most of the girls came from violent homes, and the fathers of two of the girls had been murdered.
In another case, a group of girls seriously bashed another girl, who was eventually rescued by an adult passing by. It was later discovered that the girl who was the ring-leader of the group had been molested by her father over many years.
The increase in violence among girls indicates not only that society in general is becoming more violent, but also that life for girls has become a lot more brutal.
Hamilton writes, "As our family and community structures continue to crumble, it should be no surprise that many of our girls are not getting the protection they need to thrive, and have become casualties of this fragmentation."
Maggie Hamilton's book should be read by every parent and by anyone who cares about girls and the future of our society. In her book we hear the voices of girls themselves describing what they are going through.
There is no point burying our heads in the sand and pretending that these horrible circumstances are not reality for our girls.
If we want to make life better for girls, we need to act sooner rather than later. We need to know exactly what they are going through and why.
Ms Hamilton finishes her book on a positive note, referring to all the wonderful things girls are achieving in our society. Despite the obstacles they face, many girls contribute positively to society and to the lives of others.Self-worth
However, girls deserve better than what our society is currently giving them.
They need protection, nurture, understanding and assurance, not just from their families but from their communities. They need to know that being a female does not mean your self-worth is determined by how sexy or how popular you are.
Most of all, girls need stable and loving families, with fathers and mothers who are involved in their lives and who help them to counteract the negative influences of our sexualised culture.