Growing Up on Teen TV: Woe is my Gender Role…

11 Apr

A few weeks ago the New York Times posted an article by Peggy Orenstein called, “The Good Girl, Miranda Cosgrove.” If you don’t know Miranda Cosgrove, as the article says

you must not be between ages 2 and 14, the parent of such a child or, possibly, British (nearly 8 percent of England’s population tunes into “iCarly”).

The article is intelligent and often sweet as it dissects the current group of Tween-girl-superstars and the difficult road from child to adult star. Especially, when, like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and other Disney stars, these actors represent entire brands, or industries as the article says, they are living, breathing, money factories.

The article primarily questions how these girls are forced to present themselves as role models in ways that are frankly unrealistic, but my mind started wandering. Yes, these girls are meant to represent an unrealistic view of sexuality in order to remain viable “role models” and money sources. But is this a girl’s game?

While the article mentions Justin Bieber, I started to wonder, where are all the boys?

While girl-icons evolve as seamlessly and “genuinely” as possible into sex symbols at neck-breaking speeds, what happens to their male counterparts?

While Justin Bieber hasn’t quite hit 18, and therefore may still be holding off on his complete sexual evolution; I can think of a couple of guys who have, Zack and Cody, and the actors who have made the characters famous, the Sprouse Twins.

This year, Dylan and Cole Sprouse will be turning 19. And while girls their age have immediately gone from goody goodies to sex symbols, when they have turned 18, the Sprouse twins remain within their unrealistically simple sexual identities. In their show, they do date but are rarely sexualized to the degree of any of the aforementioned girls.

So, what’s going on here? It’s not that I want to see the Sprouse boys shirtless and oiled up but, I have to say, I’m curious why they aren’t.

Why do we sexualize girls at such a young age while we let boys remain immature in more ways than one? Is this an issue of how we understand the liminal space that is teenager-hood?

Shows like “Degrassi” and “Skins” have obviously approached this realm differently, but when we look at the mainstream, the most successful, enterprises of Disney and Nickelodeon there is an undeniable truth to this.

I’m not sure what my answer is, but I definitely know that this doesn’t feel right.


I posted this and forgot to respond to the Jezebel article that came to a similar conclusion.

Author, Lux Alptraum, states

It might be part and parcel with the fact that–as a general rule–-our culture views sexual women as objects, and sexual men as subjects; that as girls become sexually aware, they somehow stop being people and start being things.

And I don’t disagree.


8 Responses to “Growing Up on Teen TV: Woe is my Gender Role…”

  1. Michelle J April 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Although the Sprouse twins have yet to become all sexified, don’t forget Taylor Lautner was SharkBoy way before he was Twilight’s hunky (and under 18) Jacob…

    • redshana April 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      True, though I feel like he had to leave the spotlight for awhile to come back this way. And also, I feel like Twilight has it’s own world of issues that are unique and different from the “must also be role model” roles forced on Disney and Nickelodeon stars.

  2. Matt Pullen April 11, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I’ve always found these sorts of issues really interesting. On the one hand, you have the pre-feminist, historical concept of female sexuality being something that should be hidden from public (and even eschewed altogether, as demonstrated by the original concepts of “female hysteria” and “wandering uterus”),and on the other hand you have the post-feminist (or just feminist? I’m not sure of the proper term here) concept that female sexuality should be seen as no different than male sexuality, and displays of that sexuality in dress and attitude aren’t something a woman should be punished for.

    So, you have this weird balancing act. There was a huge push in the 1960s and 1970s to make sexuality, male and female, a “safer” topic to talk about, which has apparently led us to focus on the group that is relatively new to being able to express this, females.

    I think I’ve rambled enough…I’m not sure I’ve made the complete circle in my logic, but it should be close enough, heh.

    • redshana April 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

      Matt, I’m not going to dissect what you’ve said. But I would say, from what you’ve said, you might be interested in reading a quick overview of Feminism in general. There’s been first-wave, second-wave, and now some people say third-wave feminism. Some people even say we’ve already passed third-wave and are now into something entirely different.

      Having said that, I think that not only are we talking about concepts of feminism here but also how we define teenagers and adults, agism if you will. Because there is an idea of what is sexually “appropriate” for certain age groups that is being sold through these images. Why isn’t it being sold with men/boys? It might have something to do with the “male gaze.” Then again, like I said before… I don’t feel like I have an answer I’m satisfied with yet.

      • Matt Pullen April 13, 2011 at 3:38 am #

        I’ll definitely look into the various waves, Shana. I’m always open to new information, and this is absolutely an area I’m woefully uninformed about.

        • redshana April 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

          You should be able to find a book to read easily, there are several pocket guide kind of books that give really good overviews without bogging you down in too much of the actual theory. However, if you want to get into that, I’m sure you can find collected essays as well.

  3. Randi April 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    On Point discussed this issue today with young women being marginalized by the fantasy of porn and hook-up sex. And you know what? We let them. Teen movies and shows have taught us that we’re “cool” chicks if we allow this to happen.

    • redshana April 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      You know, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with fantasies as long as we recognize that that’s what they are. Having said that, it’s a thin line to walk. And I think you’re right, it’s up to us to speak up about it and let girls know that they don’t have to turn to sex as way to get noticed because that is the message a lot of media sends.

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