In Michele Willens' "New Kind of Hollywood Girl Power" (Calendar, Feb. 16), she suggests, and movie producer Barnaby Thompson affirms, that preteen girls (or what Thompson calls "subteens") are a new force at the box office. But this strikes me as a case of the media presenting an old phenomenon as something new.
In fact, the media--and manufacturers and advertisers--have produced and marketed products specifically for this age group (those between the ages of 7 and 12) since the postwar period. Consider Beatlemania and Tiger Beat and 'Teen magazines, and the early successes of David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson. All of these cultural phenomena depended on the spending power of preteen girls, and all of them existed long before the Spice Girls and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Willens connects this focus on preteen consumers with parental concern about how young girls may inappropriately process the overabundance of "adult" fare (sex and violence) in today's films. This direction of Willens' article seems oddly off course to me. Instead, her article should have considered how such media subject matter translates into the negative behavior of not children but adults.
As I see it, the real concern is not how early in life girls choose to engage in adult activities such as sex or present themselves as sexual beings, but rather the overwhelming increase of sexual violence inflicted upon young girls in contemporary society. Such violence is not the result of preteens being unable to responsibly handle the media images they consume, nor is it the result of young girls dressing like the Spice Girls (or Madonna, or . . . ). It is the result of predominantly male adults being aroused by the eroticization of young girls and choosing inappropriate avenues to satiate their desires.
While girls can and should be taught about the possibly damaging effects their overt sexualization may have on others, the behavior that really needs transformation is that of adults, not children.
Parents need to learn how to more effectively teach their children to decipher media images produced for older audiences (saying "you're just not ready" is not enough), and those adults who get off seeing young girls sexualized and brutalized need to think of less harmful ways to realize their fantasies.
Mary Celeste Kearney is a doctoral candidate at USC who is writing a dissertation on representations of female adolescents in the popular media.