I get why people are uncomfortable with acknowledging teen girl sexuality, too: the fact is that young women are often targeted for sexual assault, have fewer means to defend themselves from it because they know less about the world than adults, and are correspondingly fetishized by way too many creepy, misogynistic men. But to make the whole thing about whether teen girls should be allowed to be sexual, or whether they are Bad Girls for being sexual in ways we do not approve, places the onus on teenage girls and their sexuality. Rather than, say, predatory dudes. And that’s a problem.
It shouldn’t be a problem to assert these two things, simultaneously: first, that teenage girls are sexual, and want to express and experiment with their sexuality, and second, that their desire to express and experiment with their sexuality shouldn’t be exploited by predators. But it is, for some reason, and the end result is that we end up with role models as asexual and one-dimensional as Taylor Swift. Because a girl can’t be sexual and innocent, for whatever reason. Because we’ve constructed a worldview wherein desire and innocence can’t occupy the same space.
[A new case is] asking Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to invalidate Criminal Code provisions that serve as Canada’s policy response to the world’s oldest profession.
They argue that prohibitions on keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade force them from the safety of their homes to the insecurity of the street, where they are exposed to physical and psychological violence.
But the women are battling a fortress of opposition from the federal government, as well as religious and conservative groups intervening in the case.
The intervenors contend that loosening restrictions on the sex trade would be out of step with Canadian moral values.
No one has ever succeeded in eliminating prostitution by criminalizing it, so can’t we just think about what’s best for sex workers? How is it moral to uphold laws that make sex work more unsafe for women than it needs to be?
An article by Leigh Goldstein in Jumpcut argues that the legal and media commentary about sexting denies youth the capacity to be subjects:
By criminalizing self-produced child pornography, our government has effectively censored minors’ right to record their sexualities or erotic identities. … Having shushed the kids, we adults gleefully expound on what they must feel: duped, misguided, ultimately regretful of having exposed and/or exploited their bodies. Exploited object? Of course, it’s the part kids were born to play. But the role of subject when it comes to discourses of desire? That remains off limits.
Goldstein also raises interesting questions that I am trying to grapple with in the chapter I am currently working on:
If ample research, especially that coming out of girls’ studies, has already documented the silencing of adolescent sexuality, why do legal and media discourses continue to participate in this silencing? And what are the possibilities for bringing together these different forms of discourse so that they better inform each other?
We’ve been hearing warnings from feminist researchers for decades that the “missing discourse of desire” in sex education for girls could lead them to have trouble saying “no” as well as saying “yes” to sex. Why haven’t I seen any feminist articles heralding sexting as: “finally, look at this, a new way that girls are expressing themselves sexually!”?
From a law review by Stephen Smith (2008, Jail for Juvenile Child Pornographers? A Reply to Professor Leary, 15 Va. J. Soc. Pol’y & Law) concluding that prosecutors should only pursue charges against teens for consensual sexting if it aids catching adult sexual offenders:
We need not celebrate what some might describe as the “sexual liberation” of teenagers. If we really want to help children (and we should), we should not pursue prosecution-based strategies that are likely to do minors more harm than good. We should instead concentrate our efforts, as a society, on dealing with the many sexual predators and other dangerous criminals in our midst – and, so far as the criminal law is concerned, leave the Romeos and Juliets of the world alone, even if their love happens to be memorialized in forms less appealing than iambic pentameter.
What does it mean to be “against the sexual liberation of teenagers” but for “leaving Romeo and Juliet alone”?