|1911 illustration by J. W. Smith, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Little_Red_Riding_Hood_-_J._W._Smith.jpg|
Of course, girls have been seen as victims since at least the days of the Brothers Grimm or whoever created the timeless lesson in Little Red Riding Hood that girls who stray from the proscribed path will be eaten by wolves. (And in the original, non-Disneyfied versions, the lesson is also that they deserve to be).
Young female victims abound in the news right now. There’s the unnamed victim survivor of a gang rape at a Steubensville, Ohio party and a world away another young woman was gang raped on a bus in India. She did not survive, but hopefully the lurid attention drawn to the case will alter laws and consciousness about such crimes and the people who commit them. Radio, TV, and news outlets are also currently discussing “revenge porn”, or the proliferation of compromising videos and photos of trusting young women posted by ex-boyfriends on Facebook and the internet to delight other scummy young men and humiliate their former flames. And even famous girls can be victims, we learned, in the brief media frenzy about a month ago that resulted from a report that Ariel Winter of the sitcom Modern Family was removed by authorities from her real family surrounding allegations of mental and physical abuse.
So how can we also, paradoxically, see young girls as predatory, as dangerously sexy little vixens on the prowl for unsuspecting men? Because it’s the logical flipside to the Little Red Riding Hood story (a girl punished for straying) and to this day the most popular adult women’s Halloween costume is a sexified Little Red.
Reality TV has brought us a horde of frightening, vampirous young women scarier than the ones who attack Jonathon Harker in Dracula. There are the Teen Moms, who just keep breeding without remorse, and the Bad Girls and freaky Housewives. Even Nickelodeon’s Teen Nick Channel has bought a ticket on the vixen express. Once girl-empowering shows like iCarly and True Jackson, VP have been replaced by a show debuting this week called Life with Boys. The name says it all. Carly and True and their friends had plenty of other concerns besides boys, but the two fourteen-year-olds on this new show inform us that their boys are their number one concern because – duh! – they’re fourteen-year-old girls.
Neither designation, victim or vixen, is going to get any girl anywhere. And that’s why we need YA novels. They seem to be the only place where a girl can see a vision of herself that is in any way realistic or worthy of aspiring toward. Outside of the YA novel, the best we can look to might be Taylor Swift, who could be America’s Sweetheart because she manages to embody both the victim and vixen roles at once.
Her songs chronicle her victimization at the hands of numerous perfidious suitors or clueless boys who could not see her value (and since most of us were “in the bleachers” and not the “cheer captain”, we can relate). But her list of romantic partners is long and checkered, and a less charitable person could say she just might, like Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”, “eat men like air.” And then, like Plath, write something really nasty about her latest morsel. (You’re a great songwriter, Taylor, and we come from the same town, but I worry about you.)
So, young women of America and beyond, I urge you: Keep reading. And be assured that you can be more than what’s presented to you by most media outlets. The most real young women are not on reality tv. They’re on the pages of books.