In the 2 1/2 years she spent researching her book, Sales interviewed more than 200 teenage girls around the country about their social media and Internet usage. She says girls face enormous pressures to post “hot” or sexualized photos of themselves online, and she adds that this pressure can make the Internet an unwelcoming environment.
“I think a lot of people are not aware of how the atmosphere has really changed in social situations … in terms of how the girls are treated and how the boys behave,” Sales says. “This is a kind of sexism and misogyny being played out in real time in this really extreme way.”
On how males’ and females’ pictures differ on Tinder
I talked to an 18-year-old girl who is talking about looking at Tinder with her older brother and … she said she was struck by the way in which the boys and men’s pictures were very different than the girls’. Guys tend to have a picture like, I don’t know, they’re standing on a mountain looking like they’ve climbed the mountain, or they’re holding a big fish or they’re doing something manly, or in their car. … But the girls’ pictures … tend to be very different; they tend to be a lot more sexualized.
This is a pressure on social media that goes back, for women and girls, a long time. … I trace the origins back to a site called “Hot or Not” which came out in 2000. … The whole idea of “hotness” has become such a factor in the lives of American girls, unfortunately, because according to many, many studies, including a really landmark report by the American Psychological Association in 2007, this has wide-ranging ramifications for girls’ health and well-being, including studies that link this pressure to sexualize on all kinds of things like rising anxiety, depression, cutting, eating disorders. It’s a thing that I don’t think that boys have to deal with as much.
On boys asking girls for nude photos
I think the fact that so often we’re talking about nudes and sexting is because kids are watching porn. There’s multiple studies that say that they are. We know that they are. They’re curious. They’re going through puberty. They’re watching porn. And yet, nobody really talks about it or talks about the fact that it has an effect on how they behave and what they think about sex and sexuality and how they deal with each other. And there’s really no guidelines for girls about how to react to all of this. …
Some 13-year-old girls in Florida and New Jersey both told me that if they didn’t [send photos] they had been threatened with boys sending rumors about them, sending around a picture that actually wasn’t them and saying it was them. I mean, there’s a kind of thing in adult life that we know about called revenge porn, and that happens among kids as well, unfortunately.
It’s very risky for girls to send nudes because when they do, if they chose to, those photos are not private. They can be shared and very often they are shared. I heard story after story of situations where girls had pictures of themselves sent around to groups of people. It has become such a normal thing to them.
Sales goes on to say that online pornographers have determined that the more extreme the sexual act, the more clicks they generate. And now, extremely perverse acts (which thankfully she didn’t describe) are appearing in teenage sexuality.
There was a famous (infamous?) scene in “Hardcore,” a 1979 movie in which George C. Scott plays a Midwestern father who discovers that his teenage daughter has left home and has begun making pornographic films. He watches a stag film in which his daughter on the screen doing filthy things, and screams.
You don’t have to go to an X-rated movie theater to see this stuff now, apparently. You just have to look at the smartphones of boys in town. As the secularist crank James Howard Kunstler likes to say in other contexts: We are a wicked people who deserve to be judged.
By the way, if you missed it last November, read the part of the “This American Life” episode transcript in which young teenage girls talk about how managing their brand on social media has become an all-consuming thing for them in their social world. Madness. Feel like that if I have to throw myself in front of a train to save my daughter from all of this garbage, I will.