Last night I wrote, "we should be teaching young girls about the inherently sexual nature of their bodies (so that they will be prepared for the attention they are inevitably going to receive)". And as much as I'd like to put this issue to rest and move on, I was lying in bed trying not to think about it, when I had an epiphany. (See, there is utility in extended meditation on an issue! I worry, though, that few people ever think about things in enough depth to reach such enlightening conclusions). I realized something. I have personally witnessed examples of the sexual discrimination girls - even very young children - experience at the hands of adults. I have witnessed teachers shaming girls for performing gymnastics in skirts. I have witnessed parents chastising their daughters for showing visible panty lines in public. I have witnessed adults instructing only the girls in a mixed group to cover up, while the boys are permitted to frolic about in their underwear unmolested. These are prepubescent children. They should not be exposed to this kind of body anxiety at such a young age. What in the hell are we teaching them? What kind of message are we trying to send?
This doesn't change my opinion that it's important to teach girls (and boys!) about the sexual nature of their bodies. But I don't think that's really what we're teaching them. We're teaching them to be afraid. That their bodies are powerful, but that this power should be feared. The fact that we're telling little girls they need to be wary of the attention they're "courting" from men is more than a little creepy. Is it really an eight year old's responsibility to police her own behavior so as not to "entice" pedophiles? Am I the only one who is sickened by this thought? If a little girl inadvertently flashes her panties on the playground, it's not her responsibility to be modest. It's not your responsibility to protect her virtue, either. She's just a little girl. Let her play. Your only responsibility is to NOT be a vile pervert, by telling her (albeit not in as many words) she's behaving inappropriately because she's making you think of the sexual nature of her body(!). And you know what? It's no different if we're talking about a sixteen year old wearing shorts in school. If this is what we're teaching our kids, it's no wonder our society has a problem with blaming women for "leading on" the men who sexually assault them.
So, upon further rumination, I could see how a girl could grow up being made to feel as if she's been sexualized from a very young age, and that her body has been objectified by the sexual gaze of our culture. Why can't she - like a boy could - choose to wear shorts on a warm day without it turning into a community-wide (if not worldwide!) discussion of her virtue? I'd say the answer is not because we're always thinking about sex. That's inevitable. It's because our culture suffers from a toxic neuroticism surrounding the topic of human sexuality. "Sexualization" is a bogus term because we're naturally sexual. The problem is not the fact of sexuality, it's the nature of it. To remove the poison, we cannot drain the blood, we must find a way to neutralize it.
Consider this: barring the occasional "pervert" who doesn't understand boundaries (and is really an outlier, despite what our scaremongering culture insists), the people who invariably cause problems are not the ones who think of sex in a positive light, but those who think of it in a negative light. They are the ones shaming others, and trying to police their morality. They're the ones who insist that you cover up, and can't stop reminding you to be wary of the signals you're sending out. A positive, non-toxic view of sexuality embraces the sexual nature of our bodies, while striving to produce positive - not negative - experiences and feelings related to our sexuality, which inextricably relies on a foundation of non-violation of consent.
Stereotypically, it's men getting territorial over their daughter's virginity (as disgustingly outdated as that is), but in my experience (including every example given in the first paragraph), it's women "looking out" for their kind who more often than not are responsible for shaming and trying to control girls over the choices they make with their bodies. This needs to stop. Men and women alike need to learn to own their feelings. To acknowledge the sexual nature of our very existence, but learn to deal with it in ways that do not poison other people's minds. Don't tell people to cover up because you're uncomfortable - ask yourself why that makes you uncomfortable. Don't teach girls that their body is a weapon (albeit one that can only inflict self-harm), and that they must keep it concealed, otherwise they're inviting retaliation. This is contributing to rape culture! Hold people responsible for their actions instead. Teach girls that they can wear whatever they want, and be happy and confident, and that if anyone makes them feel bad for doing so, they are the problem. And then instruct those people on why they are ruining society for the rest of us.
The bottom line is that you, me, and every one of us is a sexual being (although we each approach that fact from different angles, and reach different conclusions about it). We can't help being reminded of it constantly. But we can manipulate the effect it has on us, by encouraging sex-positive attitudes, and discouraging the sex-negative ones. A girl choosing to wear shorts is not a problem. Nor is anyone looking at her legs and being reminded of the reason we all exist (it sounds weird to put it this way, but that's exactly what's going on). What matters is what we do with that thought. Don't shame her. Don't bug her. Just let her be. If it makes you uncomfortable, then look inside yourself and try to figure out why. Because you're the one with the problem - not her. Otherwise, just continue enjoying your life, and let others enjoy theirs, too. Relinquish the need for control, and you'll be much happier.