Childrearing

Exclusive: Peggy Orenstein Tells Mommyish Why Those Girly LEGOs Should Give Parents Pause

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I once attended a talk you did in which you described yourself as a pro-sex mom who is anti-sexualization. How do you walk that line with your own daughter and what advice do you have for parents struggling to do the same?

Well, my daughter is still young. She’s in third grade. I think that the issues will become more challenging in the next few years. But honestly? That’s what my next book is going to be about, so interview me again in, oh, 2015 when it comes out and I’ll have a lot to say about that.

But essentially what I meant by being pro-sex and anti-sexualization was that sexualization encourages girls to be desirable while disconnecting them from their own desire. It’s the performance of sexuality rather than the felt experience of it. And that is the antithesis of what I want for my daughter.

 The sexualization of girls is getting more and more attention in the media these days and I often worry that the media narrative is often to lock girls up, stifle them, and shelter them from everything in our culture. Caitlin Flanagan recently argued in her book Girl Land that girls shouldn’t even have internet access in their bedroom and that Planned Parenthood encourages oral sex. How do you respond to this assertion that girls should have less information at their disposal? 

Again, it’s exactly those questions that are inspiring me to write the next book. I don’t think that’s the way to go, obviously, but I want to do some deep thinking and writing about how to separate the threads of sexualization and sexual agency, what authenticity means, how we can guide girls, etc. So I’ll get back to you on that one. I do think those questions are pivotal, obviously.

When it comes to the sexualization of girls, the onus appears to always be on her to not dress a certain way or to not have certain products. But how do you think boys and the parents of boys should also be included in the conversation of sexualizing girls? 

Gosh, I so wish they would. And I know some do. But I so often get from parents of boys, “Whoo! I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about this!” And I say, really? Are you thinking your son is not going to ever go to school with, work with, partner with, or have children with a girl? Because if he is, you better be talking to him about the images of girls and women out there and how that affects his relationship to the other sex and theirs with him. It goes both ways, affecting what girls expect from boys and what boys expect from girls.

(photo: peggyorenstein.com)

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