Having some thoughts, not totally formed, on a concept you hear about but isn’t that well defined. Excused how rambling and inconclusive I’m being because of it.
People talk about formative influences, the stuff we experienced as children that shaped our outlook, nature, or tendencies going forward. One kind in particular is when we’re just starting to grow into our sexualities but they haven’t really been formed yet, and we develop an early awareness of the hotness of people. And I don't just mean childhood crushes, which can be purely affectionate in nature. The joke people make is, usually when referring to some sexy figure from entertainment we liked when we were children, is “That’s the moment that I went through puberty.” Or something like that.
Obviously this is an exaggeration. Rarely does one lightning-bolt moment set things in stone going forward. But there’s definitely a sense of holding on to the experience of finding somebody attractive for the first time, or one of the first times, at an early age. The classic example I can think of is the way certain men talk about having seen slave Leia in the Star Wars movies as kids— it’s not like everything changed for them in a moment, or resulted in anything particularly specific, but it made an impression that stayed with them to this day.
But when people talk about this, they’re pretty much always talking about it happening to boys, not girls. For girls, the closest analogue to this phenomenon seems to be the “teen crush,” when young girls obsess over some celebrity, such as the New Kids on the Block, Justin Beiber, or One Direction. However, in these cases, the target of these crushes is usually presented in a desexualized manner, and the girls’ feelings are characterized as affection rather than lust. I’m trying to think if there are any exceptions to this, and the only one I can really think of is Elvis, who was not considered as neutered as some of the other teen heartthrobs seem to be.
I’m wondering why this is. The answer may be simple misogyny, treating male sexuality as a given while erasing female. Like, some might say that girls do not have the kind of visual responses to attractive people the way that boys do, and are therefore unlikely to be so affected simply by hotness, but more by emotion, affection, and validation. But as I’ve mentioned, I reject the notion that girls are inherently different than boys.
Socialization does of course play a role, and perhaps girls are taught to contextualize their feelings differently, which may contribute to us (and them) seeing their growing attractions as less sexual and more emotional.
Or is it that these youthful romantic obsessions are not true analogues to the phenomenon? Are these in fact more about affection, while moments of sexual attraction occur in other contexts? I don’t think that boys necessarily conceptualized every girl they thought was hot as a girl they had a crush on. It would not surprise me if girls were the same. I mean, did every girl who had that poster of Rob Lowe
hanging in her bedroom obsess over his ever move? Or did they have it because they thought he was hot, while focusing their emotional energy elsewhere?
An obvious place to seek a data point, of course, is to look back on my own earlier years and see if I have any such formative experiences. As a grown woman, when it comes to pure sexual attraction, I tend to experience it as is more stereotypical of a man
, so one might guess that I’d be likely to have such moments in my youth that set my sexuality that way. In fact, however, I was such a bizarre child that even such a question as “who were your crushes as a kid?” is almost too complicated and difficult to discuss.
I mean, to a certain extent, everyone is their own kind of weird and at the very least men and women are not monoliths. We’re all going to have lived slightly different kinds of lives. But without getting into it too deeply, my maturation process in this respect was complicated by 1) the preoccupation that I might be asexual, which lasted from about age 13 until at least 17, and 2) the fact that my being was consumed with an obsession/romantic fixation/otherwise inchoate longing for Draco, the dragon character from the film Dragonheart, which burned with the intensity of a first love and shut out any other romantic attachment or attraction.
What’s that you say? “You were a weird kid, Phoebe.” YEAH, NO KIDDING.
Besides the fact that #2 made me feel like a freak and worry that I might actually be insane, it did shockingly little to resolve the question of #1 either way. But the upshot is, while that experience CERTAINLY had powerful and lasting effects on me, I’m not sure it counts for what I’m discussing now. I mean, current-day Phoebe tends to form monogamous romantic attachments based more on the total experience of a particular person, while on a pure attraction level is drawn to very normatively physically beautiful guys. That’s… about as conventional as you get, and it certainly didn’t result from any formative attractions.
Heh. That weird little kid had no idea she’d go from THAT to spending a good portion of her time ogling pumped-up, shaved-down pretty boys. I wonder if child-me would be relieved or grossed out.
But enough about my personal madness. I may be speculating on a phenomenon that doesn’t really exist. It may be I’m blurring the affection and emotion of crushes with the development of plain sexuality. It might be that people’s attractions, even as they are growing in for the first time as they mature, might not strike them as strongly or particularly as I imagine. It occurs to me as a write this not everybody may have had moments where that first, visceral reaction to a figure has a powerful or enduring effect on you.
Hell, it’s only happened to me twice, that “lightning-bolt moment,” which it may amuse you to know were Draco and Steve Rogers. I’m a person who maintains very little in the way of sensory memory
, but I recall every visceral detail of sitting in that movie theater seeing Dragonheart for the first time and Draco came bursting out of that waterfall, twenty goddamn years ago. When Steve Rogers emerges from the chamber in all his gleaming physical perfection, it is not an exaggeration to say it CHANGED me. I don’t know if these are in any way comparable, or even examples of what I’m talking about— if only that they happened at ages nine and twenty-four respectively, vastly different points of my life and development, and only one was of a purely sexual reaction.
I don’t know. Female friends, do you have any examples of the phenomenon that I’m talking about? Who was, for lack of a better term, your “slave Leia” in this regard?
Edited to add: Comments screened now, in case that makes you feel more comfortable responding.