On Tuesday, Rihanna and her perfect ass channeled Josephine Baker at the CFDA awards. And, as these things tend to do, her exposed nearly nude body under her dress (Swarovski crystals held together with magical spider webs and confidence) has renewed yet another round of teen slut panic.
Like hard core pornography, you know slut panic when you see it: That age-old tradition of aging parents wringing their hands and blaming public figures for what they're positive is a downturn in teen girls' sexual morality. And their pearl-clutching has never been more misguided.
Now that a few weekdays have passed since Rihanna debuted the blockbuster costume for Halloween 2014 (calling it), the tsks and moral judgments are coming in hard from all corners. TLC threw some disappointed moralistic shade as though one of their biggest hits wasn't about cheating on a significant other, and columnists are starting a small sanctimonious pile-on as well.
The Independent's Louise Scodie is Very Concerned that Rihanna is being marketed like a soft core porn star (with an added stale jab at Miley Cyrus thrown in just for funsies).
Rihanna, so fond of risqué dress, is using her body to cling on to her career – as are her management. She has a fine voice, but that's not what's being used to sell her. She is a beautiful girl who looks great naked so she's being marketed like a soft porn star instead of a musical artist. It's the same with Miley Cyrus, who announced to the world that she was no longer a child star by stripping off and squatting on a giant steel ball. Her idea of getting dressed is to wear hotpants so tight they're probably giving her an infection.
Bee tee dubs, Rihanna helped design that dress. So she's not really passive-voice "being marketed;" she's pretty active in the process. Scodie goes on to praise Scout Willis's breast-baring as somehow powerful and cool, because reasons.
But thoroughly embodying Teen Slut Panicstravaganza 2014 is the New York Post's Andrea Peyser, who wrote in a damning column today that Rihanna's dress was basically a "middle finger" to all of her young fans. She sputters,
[Rihanna] pranced into the spotlight looking like a poorly put-together streetwalker, wearing a sheer gown created by designer Adam Selman. It was decorated with 216,000 Swarovski crystals that left her areolas exposed, along with a backside obscured only by a thong, and revealing a good portion of her estimated 23 tattoos. In a roomful of women and men who looked as if they were clad by the Taliban in comparison, she was handed a trophy by Vogue magazine editrix Anna Wintour, who tacitly gave approval to a getup that, should my teenage daughter try to wear it, would result in her father and I locking her up until her 40th birthday.
I hate that you're making me say this, Peyser, but: MEOW.
Peyser claims her diss isn't grounded in her own sexual discomfort in being presented with a beautiful woman confidently parading nearly naked in public. It's for the children. She even talked to both costume designers and a real, live, dad to verify this.
Rihanna "looked gorgeous — aside from her nipples showing,'' said New York-based stylist Oksana Pidhoreckyj. "I think she got the attention she was looking for.''
But Mike Peters, a Brooklyn father of a young daughter, spoke for dads and moms everywhere when he told me, "I think she looked slutty.''
Take it from A Dad, who knows more about fashion than a fashion expert. She looked slutty!
Peyser seems to think that because Rihanna presented herself sexually, that must mean that there's some kind of consummate IRL copycat sluttery coming down the pipe for American teens. "Female modesty and decency have been on the decline for years," she proclaims, citing pop culture examples of Miley Cyrus and Scout Willis as harbingers of teen vagina doom in yet another example of a neurotic parent of a teen projecting their personal fears about said teen's behavior onto society at large, thereby making it our problem. There's more, just in case we weren't convinced by her argument yet:
Finding good role models for our daughters, locating celebs who don't think that removing their clothes or publicly humping live or inanimate objects, is nearly impossible.
Blame Rihanna if you will. I fear for the children raised in our anything-goes culture.
Just as parents in the early aughts feared for the children raised in the anything-goes culture of Britney Spears. And as parents in the late '90s who feared for the children raised in the anything-goes culture of Lil' Kim's raunch rap. And as parents in the early 90's feared for the children raised in the anything-goes culture of Madonna and Murphy Brown. And as parents in the 80's feared for the children raised in the anything-goes culture of MTV.
Freaking out that girls are going to see women publicly enjoying being sexy and therefore discover that they too might want to parade around naked or fuck strangers is as irrational a fear as the one that makes parents in the Bible Belt afraid that if their son sees Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV, he'll get real gay. And the fact of the matter is that while teenagers are always going to do kind of dumb things, statistics show us that teens have never been more responsible about their sex, and, in fact, they've been getting progressively more responsible over time.
Only a month ago, Guttmacher released data on the rate of teen pregnancy and teen abortion over time, and they found that over the same years that Peyser claims that "female modesty and decency" have been declining, other important stats have also been declining: the teen pregnancy and abortion rates. Here's more on that:
Rates of teen pregnancy, birth and abortion have declined dramatically in the United States since their peak in the early 1990s. In 2010, some 614,000 pregnancies occurred among teenage women aged 15–19, for a rate of 57.4 pregnancies per 1,000 women that age. This marks a 51% decline from the 1990 peak, and a 15% decline in just two years, from 67.8 in 2008...
So if teens are in fact seeing pop stars act in a way that Peyser and various cherry-picked Brooklyn Fathers would classify as terminal slut velocity, their behavior is only reflecting increased levels of awareness and control over their bodies. Part of this drop can be attributed to birth control. The rest? Teens simply aren't having as much sex now as they were during "simpler times." From a researcher behind a study on teen sexuality published in last May's journal Pediatrics:
Policymakers and the media often sensationalize teen sexual behavior, suggesting that adolescents as young as 10 or 11 are increasingly sexually active. But the data just don't support that concern. Rather, we are seeing teens waiting longer to have sex, using contraceptives more frequently when they start having sex, and being less likely to become pregnant than their peers of past decades.
In other words, teens have never been more sexually responsible than in this "anything-goes culture." And so, it seems the only people being driven mad with lust — by Rihanna's exposed nipples or Miley's gyrating or Janet Jackson's boob or any female-related sex thing in recent history — are fading former pop stars and opinion columnists.
Images via Getty