I’m not a regular subscriber to Bitch magazine (though I shall probably succumb after finishing this issue), but I picked up their “Micro/Macro” Summer 2013 issue on a Barnes and Noble trip in an attempt to satisfy my buying lust at a price that wasn’t “all the books! Give me all the books!”
And since my mama taught me to read magazines from back to front (we just do it, I don’t know why), the first full article I came upon was Victoria Bekiempis’ “Hopeless Romantics: The Safe Sexuality of Boy Band Mania.”
Bekiempis admirably laid out a combination of boy band history (I now know that the blindingly-white New Kids on the Block was a rip-off for an all-black R&B group called New Edition) and her general conceit that, at least to society as a whole, a pre-teen girl’s lust for these types of androgynous crooners is non-threatening because, (a), the boys themselves are unattainable, and, (b), the representation of the girls’ sexuality in the media is one of uncontrolled immaturity rather than adult desire.
Friedan would definitely agree that this boy-band obsession is simply an outlet for women’s (in this case, growing women’s) unused/frustrated sexual and creative energy. But I personally find it hard to dismiss young women’s sexual yearning for the unattainable in this way.
I completely understand that not all 13-year-olds are still at the stage where they are mooning over a perfectly-coiffed singer. Many pre-teens and teens are already navigating real-life, up close and personal sexual activity, and perhaps the boy-band branding does try to push that reality under the carpet. But I do believe that, whatever age it comes at, this stage of the navigation of boundaries within the realm of fantasy is indeed a very real part of growing up girl. Indeed, a complete picture of pre-teen women also shows that many young girls (my past self included) don’t have or don’t want an opportunity to ‘get in the game.’
And for these girls the unattainable is wonderful — not some societal imposition on their sexual expression. Reading (or writing) sexy fan fiction about wizards or angsty vampires and buying trapper keepers with air-brushed men wearing neon colors feels good and a little bit illicit and rebellious all at the same time!
I distinctly remember indulging in a bit of PG-13 Hermione/Ron fic and then hastily clearing my browser history as if I had been perusing hard-core kink. I swooned over Rafe Kovich, the vampire slayer-cum-angel, from Port Charles in the pages of Soap Opera Digest and cut out pictures of Roswell‘s irresistible aliens to paste on construction paper and surround with swirly doodles (overall, I definitely had a preference for the supernatural mens over the boy bands).
As readers of “Half-Way” already know, I wasn’t ‘in the game’ until my early 20s. And my desire before that stage was immature and underdeveloped, as I think any fantasy is before it becomes reality. It definitely wasn’t nuanced or experimental or feminist, as my actual sex life became. But neither was it, as Bekiempis says, a product of “dangerous, heterocentric gender norms.” Nor did it make my “sexual autonomy fraught” when I did begin having sex. It was simply, as Cher famously said in Clueless, “a jumping off point to start negotiations.” An abstract road map to later fill in with more detailed information.
I find it unbelievable that any adult, male or female, could ever concede to Bekiempis’ assumption that society as a whole dismisses “the real lives and sexualities of young women and young people in general” by labeling this boy-band mania an asexual “cute, annoying phase.” Maybe she forgets that we are members of this society!
As adults, we are able to acknowledge the connection between our pre-sex fantasy lives and our post-sex reality. When we are shopping at Walmart and see One Direction pencil cases, we remember our own transition period between the two times of life — a clearly different internal reaction than the one we have to the sight of objects for children in the non-sexual phase of life (Barbies, toy trucks, etc.). These objects are “cute.” These children have the “yet-to-be-developed sexuality.” But the One Direction merchandise purchasers are fellow travelers. We are simply much further along the path then they are.