'Vixen' Sends Girls the Latest Mixed Messages

By Donna Britt
Friday, July 29, 2005

Even in a hypocrisy-steeped culture, some things stand out. The cover of a book purportedly designed to boost girls' self-esteem and convince them that dressing like sexy pop icons and sleeping around to get ahead are questionable choices features this:

A honey-colored hottie in a blond weave leaning back in a chair -- lips parted, eyes half-closed, cleavage rising from a minidress hiked up to her waist.

Of course, nobody is fooled. Karrine Steffans -- known by a nasty-girl nickname during her groupie-stripper-video "ho" days -- can write in her book "Confessions of a Video Vixen" that there are "better choices . . . than the ones I have made" even as her photo whispers, "I still choose to present myself as a body." She can write that a video dancer who sprawls "undressed over a luxury car while a rapper [says] lewd things about her" lacks self-esteem.

But Steffans's proud book-cover pose says, "Take me," despite her written message: "No one who values, loves or knows herself would allow herself to be placed in such a degrading position."

The book is just one more example of the mixed messages that America's girls are getting -- while millions of parents turn the blindest of eyes.

We tell girls that strong women "own" their sexuality as we glamorize pimps, men whose livelihood is dependent upon women who'll copulate with almost anyone. Our sexualized culture uses women's bodies to peddle cars, records, food, you name it -- but makes birth control and other basic information about how these bodies work difficult to obtain.

We say children should be protected -- and we show them videos in which apparent schoolgirls bump, grind and wriggle in ponytails and short, Catholic school-type uniforms.

If you think that only girls in urban or minority communities are confused, listen to clinical social worker Lisa Ferentz. Her private practice in suburban Pikesville, Md., is mostly middle- and upper-class -- and includes "11- and 12-year-old girls seriously grappling with being sexually active," Ferentz says. "They tell themselves, 'If it's not penetration, it's not sex.' So oral sex is not considered sex. And it's not just girls. I work with teenage boys who feel it's not manly if they're not sexually active at 13.

"In truth, no 13-year-old is ready for sex."

Or for much of what passes for culture these days. I learned about Steffans's book -- No. 7 on last week's New York Times nonfiction list -- through my friend Monife, who works with teens at a District high school. I asked Monife whether she would share "Vixen" with her students.

Please. Steffans "talks about regretting her lifestyle, but she glamorizes it," Monife says. "She brags about the celebrities she hung with -- no matter how badly they treated her. It's awful."

The book's real draw is its descriptions of Steffans's childhood abuse, stripping, drug use and the sex she's supposedly had with a daunting list of "delicious" celebrities including Vin Diesel, Shaquille O'Neal and Usher -- even a drugged-out Bobby Brown as her young son slept in the next room.

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