I was struck by two different articles I read today that touch upon an issue briefly raised in GOODNESS FALLS: that of the inappropriate assumption of sexual privilege by too many and typically young males. The first article, written by Brittney Cooper, appeared in Salon (http://tinyurl.com/mxfh9or). You can read the article for yourself, but it basically asserts that many young men have come to believe that they somehow inherently deserve sexual access to women. To illustrate her point, Cooper uses the recent killing spree on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in which a sexually-frustrated twenty-two year-old targeted and gunned down young women as revenge over his frustration with his inability “to score.” The second article, an op-ed written by Ann Hornaday, appeared in the Washington Post. Hornaday questions whether films targeting the young and new adult demographic, such as Seth Rogen’s NEIGHBORS, promote the notion that all guys – even those lacking matinee idol looks, like Rogen himself – deserve “hot chicks” (http://tinyurl.com/mxfh9or). The article inspired a volley of Twittered insults fired at Hornaday by Rogen and his sophomoric friend and mentor Judd Apatow. (What’s that old saying again about slaying the messenger?) In both cases, we should all be sickened by such sexual objectification of females.
I find this issue to be exceptionally poignant today and in great need of being addressed for the well being of both young men and young ladies, and I believe that YA literature is an effective means for doing it. There’s no need for me to elucidate the many ways in which we all are bombarded with sexual imagery in our daily living. As adults, the vast majority of us have already come to terms with our own sexuality. We have come to recognize and adhere to the limits that are necessarily placed upon our desires, or we have discovered how to circumvent them in self-serving ways that are harmless to others. This, however, cannot always be said of teenagers. As a society, we do such a piss-poor job of educating them about their sexuality that they are typically left to figure it out for themselves. In the process of which, they often fall prey to the absurd expectations perpetuated by pop culture and by the lurid exaggerations of their more experienced peers, and they make misjudgements – some they never stop paying for.
I’m willing to bet that if I could ask for and see a show of hands of all of those who read this article and I could ask them how many have either been guilty of forcing themselves sexually upon another or how many have allowed such unwelcome sexual advances due to not wanting to be considered uncool or a prude, the hands still resting on the table would be few. For those of us with our hands upraised, we can’t all be “bad” people, can we? In fact, we are all victims of our ignorance of proper sexual protocol (an ignorance perpetuated because we, as a society, are too squeamish to talk honestly and openly about human sexuality) and of the false expectations put forth by pop culture. Trust me, I’m no puritan. I believe consenting individuals should be left to their own imaginations. With too many teens, however, the consent is only given under intense duress and with great reluctance, and it quickly morphs into shame – and worse.
GOODNESS FALLS includes a scene in the back of an SUV in which a drunken young man “hears Time’s winged chariot” drawing near and pressures his girlfriend into acquiescing to his sexual desires. At only eighteen, he feels the loss of his virginity is long overdue. He has been dating his girlfriend a significant length of time and feels sexual access to her is his right. To learn how that scene turns out, you’ll have to read the novel, but I believe it’s a fairly typical scene in the lives of the majority of teenagers, including our own teenage pasts and our children’s present and future.