When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.Anne Frank
For weeks, aggressively online parents have been talking about Netflix distributing (perhaps a better word is “selling”) Maimouna Doucouré’s film Cuties. Netflix originally summarized Cuties as “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions,” which they have now softened to “eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.”
Like everything in our society these days, the film has driven a cultural wedge between political leftists (whom at this point do not believe any sexual act is deviant, and who actively consume media sites that argue pedophilia should be considered just another sexual orientation among many) and conservatives and independents (who view the documentary as child porn and evidence that moral relativism has finally destroyed American life).
Leftist media sites across the board have been taking the position that Cuties is actually exposing the hyper-sexualization of very young girls in western societies, which is a good thing, and that people people need to quit it with the moral panic and give the film a chance. They seem to believe the film has opened up a productive debate on how we are raising young women, and to do that, you have to show what girls are up to these days.
As the mother of an eight-year-old girl, I do not think there are many parents in the US who are confused that the sexualization of childhood is a real phenomenon. The average age at which a child in the US first views pornography is eleven years old, the same age as the girls in Cuties. As that is the average, that means a not insignificant number of children are watching porn at much younger ages. The porn they are seeing is also a lot more deviant. Choking, for example, is so prevalent in porn that it’s no longer its own category.
A friend told me just last week about another good friend of hers who discovered that her 9-year-old daughter was trying to have sex with a boy in her school. They had seen porn videos online and were (successfully) imitating what they had seen. Her other daughter recently informed her that she was bisexual. She’s 12.
What Cuties is showing is also very familiar to mothers. When I was in high school in the 1990s, cheerleading was already getting pretty sexual. But now, cheerleading and dance routines look like something one would see in a strip club. Girls get down on the floor and grind their hips like they are having sex. They mimic humping each other.
But a surprising number of parents are also okay with sexualizing their children. When I was in the Junior League before moving to Florida, I unfollowed a woman I had met through that group on Facebook precisely because I could no longer look at the pictures she was posting of her own daughter. Her daughter was not much older than mine and in every dance group the city had to offer. She’d post pictures and videos of her daughter in slutty costumes bumping and grinding all the time. On family vacations, her daughter would wear highly age-inappropriate outfits and pose provocatively. There was little doubt she was being trained by the other women in her life to behave this way.
For some women, this is the direction living vicariously through their daughter takes. And some women legitimately think girls exploring their sexuality is “empowering.” For them, having a daughter who gets an abortion as a teenager is a “rite of passage” and parents who shake their heads at this just want to “shelter” their children.
Because I had encountered so many stories and seen so many pictures from other parents, I decided to have “the talk” with our daughter, who thankfully is pretty mature intellectually, at a very early age. I minced no words on the consequences of having sex with someone you are not in a serious committed relationship with. I explained to her the mechanics of having an abortion and we talked about what it means to live in a society where a not insignificant number of people think poisoning or cutting up a baby is okay. We talked about how not every kid gets to grow up in a stable home with loving parents and that this influences attitudes toward sex and reproduction. We talked about predators and that other children can be raised to behave in predatory ways, and what to do if that seems like a real risk.
I know a lot of religious parents who think there is something to be gained from putting off these conversations as long as possible, to maintain the innocence of childhood as long as they can. And that’s certainly their prerogative as the people who know their children best and are responsible for them. I understand the impulse behind it.
But for me, this is first and foremost a safety issue. I do not think for a second that homeschooling your child or putting them in a good private school will safely insulate them from toxic sexual influences or indoctrination (and, yes, political indoctrination absolutely is a safety issue for young girls). This stuff is so pervasive now that I guarantee it is affecting someone you love and trust already. I also do not think taking a doctrinaire approach is an effective way to help kids make good decisions. Instead, I try to rely as much as possible on honest information, transparency, and critical thinking. That’s one thing I have picked up from a lifetime of reading philosophy and taking big questions seriously: It is surprising how much a vivid hypothetical accomplishes at helping someone reason through moral questions. This is why no one on the left wants a media platform to distribute a film that shows an abortion taking place. Because once you see that, you can’t help but reason through it as an act of evil.
But back to the issue as to whether Cuties is an exposé or child pornography. On that issue, I would appeal to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” Cuties is filmed in a way not to show other people sexualizing children, but to engage in sexualizing children themselves. It does not just show a provocative dance routine, for example, but instead the camera hovers over the girls’ crotches and butts (as a porn film would). They zoom in to make sure you get a real good look at the girls’ bodies and how they are touching themselves.
Here is the parents’ guide that accompanies the show’s rating, which includes “severe” sex and nudity. Imagine a scene where adults watch a child watching people having sex. They can’t just show an 11-year-old getting dressed, they have to hover over her like Scarlett Johansson in the intro to Lost in Translation (whom, incidentally, was a minor when that movie was filmed… it really turned Woody Allen on).
It’s something a pedophile would love, and now pedophiles can screen it as often as they want. In fact, the more pedos watch it, the more Netflix seems like a success, and the more the film seems statistically… popular.