Nancy Jo Sales recently wrote an article about what social media and porn are doing to American teenage girls. It was a very interesting read, but oh boy, I was clutching my pearls throughout. (My apologies if someone has already linked this to GT and I missed it)
The article opens up with the story of a 16 year old girl who wants to lose her virginity to a guy she found on the Tinder app- but she wants it to be like a Landa Del Rey music video. She also describes her ex as not being her true love, "like Bella and Edward, or Bella and Jacob, you know?" CRINGE CRINGE CRINGE. This sets the tone for how the rest of the article makes me feel. I am sympathetic and horrified, but ultimately thankful that I didn't have to deal with social media pressures in my teenage years. Another feeling that keeps resurfacing is best described with a German word, fremdscham: embarrassment felt on behalf of someone else (often someone so ignorant to what they have done that they don’t know that they should be embarrassed for themselves).
Sales interviewed a variety of teens for her article, though it seems like they are all upper-middle class and white. I'm not sure how representative the experiences of these teens are of all American teenagers, but I imagine the pressures they feel are pretty universal. One of the recurrent ideas is how the teenage girls like to use social media to stalk boys... Both boys they find attractive and ex-boyfriends.
“You can know their likes and dislikes,” Greta said. “‘Oh, they like this band.’ So you can, like, casually wear that band’s T-shirt and have them, like, fall in love with you or something. Or you can be like, ‘Oh, they listen to that music? Ew. Go away.’”
“The thing with social media is, if a guy doesn’t respond to you or doesn’t, like, stalk you back, then you’re gonna feel rejected,” said Melissa. “And rejection hurts,” said Padma. “And then you’re gonna go, like, look for another person to fill that void and you’re gonna move on to stalking someone else,” Melissa said.
As someone who has been an obsessive snooper and internet stalker, I feel so bad for these girls. It wasn't until I let the the stalking/snooping go that I realized how unhealthy it was for me. It is so much healthier and happier to trust the person you're with, but that's not an easy thing to do at first. It was hard enough for me, someone who didn't have social media until college, but these girls are actually growing up immersed in social media and the hyper-connectivity. How are they ever going to unlearn the obsessiveness? As one of the girls puts it,
“You add some more pictures. You start a new persona. You start a new life, just so you can keep tabs on the person who doesn’t want to ever speak to you again. Just so you can know he goes out to clubs all the time, and he’s with this other girl. Why would you do it? Because it’s an obsession. Social media breeds obsession.”
Another one of the issues discussed is the proliferation of naked pictures and sexting.
“Technology being so available made every girl or woman capable of being a porn star, or thinking they’re a porn star,” said Gradus. “They’re objectifying themselves. The thinking is: ‘If I’m in control of it, then I’m not objectified.’”
There's also the idea that sex is used as social currency:
Sex is something you’re not to care about. The reason for hooking up is less about pleasure and fun than performance and gossip—it’s being able to update [on social media] about it. Social media is fostering a very unthinking and unfeeling culture. We’re raising our kids to be performers.
The article ends with the story of how Jenna and Ethan hooked up while drunk, and began a "non-romance." They continued to hook up for a year, very pointedly remaining friends-with-benefits.
Even when Ethan, drunk at another party, admitted to Jenna that “I think of you as my girlfriend,” she told him, “‘I would never, ever in my fucking life be your girlfriend.’ Immediately his face fell and he walked away, and after that we were pretty mean to each other.”
They still continued hooking up. And then, last spring, Jenna’s grandfather died, and Jenna was furious with Ethan when he didn’t reach out to console her. “I finally texted him like, ‘My grandfather died and you have nothing to say to me? And I’ve been sleeping with you for a year?’ And his response was, ‘So I really just don’t see why you said I could never be your boyfriend.’”
There's a happy ending here. Jenna and Ethan realized how stupid they were being, and are now a couple.
And he was like, ‘I really love you. I’ve never met anybody like you. You’re not a dumb bitch.’
This last story really hit home for me, because it sounds suspiciously similar to how my current relationship got started nearly 3 years ago. Drunken hook up, FWB period, denial of feelings, sleeping with other people out of denial, then 'I love you' and happily ever after (seriously, we are so incredibly happy, and it all started with black-out* drunk sex. Who'd have thought?). Fortunately we are older and more mature than Jenna and Ethan, so I never had to hear the words, "you're not a dumb bitch" used to describe my merit/awesomeness.
In spite of all my pearl clutching, the kids will probably be alright. The embarrassment I feel for them is because I've been there, done that. So maybe I'm more embarrassed for teenage me, and the embarrassment just shows that I've grown up. I'm okay with that.
Anyway, the whole article is over on Vanity Fair and is worth a read.
*ETA: To clarify, when I say 'black-out drunk' I don't mean that I was passed out. When I get black-out drunk I still walk and talk like a normal drunk person, I just lose chunks of my memory. In this particular instance, I actually thought that I was dreaming the events of the evening as they were happening. It was an odd moment in the early morning when reality clicked back into place, and I figured out that the dream was real.