Jody at Raising WEG has triplet four year olds, and her blog is probably favourite blog that mostly uses the author's experience as a starting point (which is generally the type of blog I like to read the most, which is funny, because it's not what I write). She just wrote a great post about the ways in which she hopes her girls will experience their sexuality. You should go read it, because I don't have one baby, let alone triplets, so this post is going to vear rapidly off into my own tangent. Jody prefaced her discussion with a referance to other ideas about sexuality for girls:
Right around here, I wanted to link to a long discussion I read (possibly on Feministe) in which many commentators defended today's fashion choices by teenage girls, and rebuffed those who would criticize girls' clothing as anti-feminist folks who want to deny girls their sexual freedom. But I can't find it. You'll just have to trust me that it's there. Somewhere. The main argument: girls are sexual beings, their clothing choices reflect their awakening sexual selves, and anyone who critiques their choices is anti-feminist.What I find so deeply disturbing about that argument is that it reduces women's sexuality to a performance art. We express our sexuality not through our desires, words or actions, but our appearance.
This explains why it's only women who express 'sexuality' through clothing. Men express sexuality through what they do - they have sexual agency. Women aren't supposed to have sexual agency - they're objects for male desire - so the only way to express sexuality is passively.
The idea that women express their sexuality through what they look like is a pretty deeply ingrained idea in our culture. To the extent that I think many (most? fucked if I know) women do experience at least part of their sexuality through their appearance and their ability to attract male attention. Covering ourselves up isn't really a solution. When I was a teenager I didn't dress to attract attention, because I didn't believe anyone could ever be attracted to me. I did experience a form of power when I realised that I could dress sexy (I still own, and treasure, the first top that I ever thought looked good on me). The problem is that no matter how women and girls dress they're still dressing in a world that sees their appearance as their main way of expressing themselves sexually.
I don't think any good comes of telling a woman that they're experiencing their sexuality 'wrong' or upholding the patriarchy with their cleavage. But I do think that we have to be careful not to reinforce the idea that women's main outlet for sexuality is through their appearance. In fact we need to go further and fight that idea, until women and girls experience their sexuality as something that is first and foremost for them.