I’ve been mulling over this post for a while. I have wanted to talk about teenage girls and romance and all the hoopla about vampires and werewolves and what trends in books can tell us about what teens are experiencing. Not that I’m an expert, but I think I have a feel.
Then I read this recent article in the Denver Post which gave me more to think about. It bothered me, because as with so much in journalism these days, it highlights only one aspect of an issue.
The article is about princesses and little girls. Essentially, it presents the corporatization of the princess concept and the marketing of that idea to ever-younger children. It postulates that this idea — that external beauty is what matters, that pampering is a birth-right, and that they will be saved by a prince — is creating warped expectations of adulthood and relationships.
This is such an over-simplification of something incredibly complex, it really borders on irresponsible. As happens so often in journalism, the (intended?) result is to distress the reader without doing more than hinting at the other side of the issue which is that there is a psychological and developmental purpose to role play and fairy tales in a child’s life. The article drops a hint at the very end but does nothing more with it; I talked about some of it here.
When my daughter was a baby, about nine months of age, we went to Toys R Us to buy something. I remember very clearly the moment she spotted the “girls” section on the other side of the store — all pinks and purples and sparkles — and practically lunged out of the cart, desperate to GET THERE NOW! You can’t tell me that there’s not something hardwired into little girls to love this stuff. I don’t know why, but there it is.
So is it culture or environment, nature or nurture? Like everything in life, it’s a bit of both.
So how do we get from pink-and-purple dress-up to vampires?
I have some thoughts about that.
The appeal of fantasy is obvious: magic and ballgowns. Dress-up and being unique. It’s not hard to understand why a girl would want to imagine herself a princess in a world like that. It’s girl power with a fabulous dress.
But why paranormal? Who wants to date a guy who DRINKS BLOOD? Seriously!
I think I know what it is. It’s the rules.
In fantasy and paranormal, there are lots of rules. In that fantasy world, there are stratified social classes and lots of rules about courtship. With paranormals, there are rules about who can do what: vampires can’t go out in the day; werewolves need to avoid full moons; zombies eat brains.
Rules are comforting.(1)
If I am a princess and you are only a commoner, you can’t court me. You can’t even speak to me. More to the point for a modern girl, you cannot come up behind me at a dance and start grinding against my body without permission. I could so go “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” on you. That is incredibly reassuring to a girl who, in her real life, feels powerless to stop it when it happens.
On the other hand, if I like you, I can change the rules. I am a princess, after all. But until I do, you have to keep your distance.
In the paranormal realm, if you are a vampire or werewolf or other creature of darkness, my very existence is a temptation to you. I am your prey as well as your love interest. Therefore, we must keep at arm’s length, being very careful of how we touch and when and how much. Sex could lead to death for me, and I’m really not interested in going there. So we’ll just hold hands and look at each other with longing, at least for the first two books.
Now, this is all very over-simplified if you really think about it. But this isn’t happening at a conscious level. And you can understand why all this would feel comforting for young women. Things used to be straightforward: you waited until you were married (or at least you pretended to). Then the 60s came, and the sexual revolution and feminism, and women thought it was all going to be about freedom and independence. However, what I’ve seen as my friends’ daughters grow into young womanhood is that they are just as pressured to please young men as their counterparts in the 50s but society as a whole no longer stands behind them and says, “It’s ok to say no.” On the contrary, society says that sex is the be-all-and-end-all and must be done as soon, and as often, as possible. If you don’t, you’re a prude, you’re a bitch, you’re a tease — you’re anything but a strong, independent woman making a choice.(2) Is this the social progress that feminists dreamed of?
In a society where there are so few rules to protect and guide young women, is it surprising that they want to read about their counterparts who have it both ways: romance with clear boundaries, love within limits?
Is it any wonder that girls want to be princesses?(3)
(1) As an interesting counterpoint, according to this article, it seems that there are men who like the idea of some traditional rules as well – not where sex is concerned, but regarding work – judging by their response to Downton Abbey.
(2) Consider this: just when they could have their “princess” moment – homecoming or prom – instead, girls are buying skin tight dresses cut low in the bust and so high in the hemline that they have to wear shorts underneath (or at least we hope they are wearing shorts underneath). Motivated by fear, they buy the “slutty dress” so the boy will like them and so their peers will approve.
(3) Only a former attorney would do a blog post that’s nearly 1,000 words and contains footnotes. I’m really, really sorry.