Beverly Beckham

Face it, young women: You’re being exploited

By Beverly Beckham
Globe Columnist / February 20, 2011

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Last week in Italy, more than 100,000 mothers, daughters, and grandmothers gathered in cities and towns to protest Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

The 74-year-old Berlusconi, whose wife is divorcing him, has a reputation as a womanizer. But Italy’s women took to the streets because a 17-year-old is not a woman, and though prostitution isn’t a crime in Italy, paying a minor for sex — Berlusconi allegedly gave the young girl gifts and money — is.

Her age propelled them.

What will propel us?

Girls in the US are being exploited and brainwashed every day, immersed in a culture of sex that tells them nonstop that they are their bodies and little else.

We shrug at this. What can we do? Change the radio station? Shut off the TV?

A daughter says to her mother: “You’re overreacting. There’s nothing wrong with that song. Or that show.’’ And the mother says: “But the words? Do you hear the words?’’

Of course, kids hear the words. And the words to the songs are “If she ever tries to [expletive] leave again, I’mma tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.’’ (From “Love the Way You Lie,’’ one of last week’s Grammy contenders.)

Or “She want it, I can tell she want it, want me to push up on it, for she know when I’m all on it, we get the party going, liquor flowing, this is fire.’’ (“Down on Me’’; Billboard Top 30.)

In other parts of the world, women have no choice in their exploitation. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, they’re raped every day, little girls, mothers, 80-year-old women. They’re victims of a war.

In Ukraine, women are being kidnapped and drugged and sold. The PBS Frontline documentary “Sex Slaves’’ tells the story of some of these women. One, Katia, was married. She had a child. She was pregnant with her second child when she was abducted by a friend, sold for $1,000 in Turkey, then locked up and raped over and over for seven weeks.

This is tragic. But tragic, too, is that girls in America who are blessed with freedom and protected from such brutality choose to be exploited, choose to be sexualized, and seem somehow flattered by it.

Michelle Trachtenberg is a 25-year-old actress who’s been in 20 movies and nearly 20 TV shows. She’s also the March cover girl for Maxim, a men’s skin magazine “known for its revealing pictorials featuring popular actresses, singers, and female models.’’

Asked by Maxim how she felt about her cover shot, this accomplished woman gushed: “It’s exciting. . . . I’m thrilled!’’

So this is the ultimate success, posing semi-nude. Being a sex symbol. Being noticed by men.

This kind of thinking is a direct result of our culture. Our fashion is about exposing women. Our sitcoms are about bedding women. And our songs are about beating women.

This is what our girls absorb.

American women stood up for their rights 50 years ago. The sexual revolution, too often blamed for what’s wrong with America today, wasn’t only about sexual liberation. It was about equality. We are more than our bodies is what all the bra-burning meant. But here it is a half-century later, and we’re back where we started.

In Italy, one 17-year-old girl got 100,000 women to take a stand. To say enough is enough. How many young girls in the United States have to be exploited to get us to do the same?

Canton resident Beverly Beckham can be reached at