Gossip About Gossip Girl

Like a feminist moth to a vapid, materialistic flame, I am drawn to Gossip Girl. I know it's kind of ridiculous, but sometimes I like that in a television show. Besides, I think they push the envelope in a positive way from time to time when it comes to sexuality and gender politics. (Right? RIGHT?!?) However, even the Gossip Girl fan in me did a double take when I saw this Rolling Stone cover:

Whoa! I know Gossip Girl has built an audience based on taboo sexiness, but this two-girls-one-cone shot (done in a decidedly Dov Charney porno style) is a bit much. Is it just me, or have Misses B and S (with the direction of Rolling Stone, of course) gone a bit far in the name of teen sex appeal? Is this a feminist display of women's sexuality, or young girls being exploited as objects of a creepy male gaze?

Of course, there is no one way to answer those questions. There are many factors to consider here, as is the case with most controversial feminist(?) issues. (Otherwise this magazine wouldn't exist, right?) For example, Courtney Fiske has a great article on this topic in the Harvard Crimson that looks at this cover from two feminist perspectives; Libertarian, and Radical. She asks the question (and I paraphrase): Can women be both empowered and degraded by sexual images? How do we decide if something is sexy or sexist? Can an image be both, depending on who is looking?

Our friends over at Feministing point out how the Rolling Stone image illustrates the "highly sexualized and infantilized" notions behind the abstinence-only movement. By showing young women acting both very sexual and very girlish at the same time, Rolling Stone furthers the idea that to be truly desirable, women must be non-adults. Of course, Rolling Stone is no stranger to the perpetuation of this notion. Pop culture consumers out there will remember the Britney Spears cover and the Grindhouse cover, among others.

Not surprisingly, the folks over at Rolling Stone are saying that this was nothing more than a fun photo shoot with some young actors. After all, they were just eating ice cream! (To see some video from the shoot and read the Rolling Stone piece, click here.) Here are a few more images from the shoot, to help you formulate an opinion on the matter:

Blake Lively and Leighton Meester with some licorice (might this suggest more than just candy consumption?)

The cast of Gossip Girl in bed together

Lively and Meester again, this time with photographer Terry Richardson (creeeepy)

So what do you think? Is this another way to force women into a narrow (and virtually impossible) woman-child mold? Is this just a carefree photo shoot promoting a teen drama? If you ask me, the inclusion of childlike props such as licorice rope and balloons makes the whole thing a tad insidious. In a world of sexting and teen pregnancy, perhaps we don't need to blur the line between childhood and adulthood quite so vigorously. On the other hand, as someone who watches Gossip Girl, I am an unwitting participant in all of this teen sexiness, and am clearly someone who enjoys the escapist element of watching young people do each other and spend tons of money.

As per usual, I am confused and conflicted. That's why I need to hear from you! Are these photos a good idea? A bad idea? Do you care? What if they were in a magazine other than Rolling Stone? What if men from the show were on the cover instead of women? Where do we draw the line (or do we draw the line at all)?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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14 Comments Have Been Posted

Just my two cents

Ok, so...I'm all for women's empowerment through their own sexuality, but these images don't really make me feel that way. For me, personally, this particular set does cross the line from being sexy in a fun way to being irritating. As a young woman myself, still in her teens, I have always objected to the overt sexualization of people my age. I might not be a virgin, but that doesn't mean I enjoy being the subject of the general voyeuristic gaze. I want to be able to walk down the street, or through my dorm, eating a carrot without getting overly familiar stares. I want to be able to go out to dinner with my father without people first assuming that I'm arm candy or something (people frequently seem to have some interesting assumptions about us whenever we're in public). Whenever I'm with an older male, do I have to be defined as a sex object in order to make sense? Is it impossible to consider that I interact with male friends and family who happen to have a few decades on me? Perhaps too much to ask, but I'll ask nonetheless. Anyway, my point is, the sexualization of teen girls in general does trickle down to a personal level, and I don't really appreciate it. Let me sexualize myself, if I want it at all.

I'm also confused and conflicted

I intellectually "get" all those arguments above, but as a lesbian of a similar age to Blake Lively and Leighton Meester, I find those images really sexy. (Well, minus the one with the guy! That's creepy.) I suppose I'm coming down on the side of "creepy and sexist" for this one though because Leighton and Blake seem mildly uncomfortable when interviewers ask them about these images lately.

Really? For me, as a lesbian

Really? For me, as a lesbian about their age as well, I consider those images completely disturbing. lolita-ifying, and besides that, not sexy in the least. To me, sexy is powerful and unique and...not that exploitation right there.

I think it's too sexual. I

I think it's too sexual. I subscribe to the magazine, and it made me uncomfortable to look at the cover. My boyfriend saw it and said "Whoa!" in a shocked manner.

I do appreciate that Gossip Girl pushes the sexuality envelope, but this cover is a bit infantilizing. I like the picture of them all in bed together (except that Taylor Momson, an otherwise gorgeous girl, looks like a heroin addict, unfortunately too old for her 15 years). The licorice photo looks like they're performing fellatio on a double-ended penis. There's more innocent sexuality, womanly sexuality, and uncomfortable sexuality, which I think this cover and spread are. I think it's the use of food that makes it uncomfortable and the implied lesbianism. It wouldn't be bad if the characters or actresses were lesbians, but they're using it as a fantasy.

I refuse to buy Rolling Stone

I did a presentation on the sexual exploitation of women using their magazine covers only - I could have filled hours with examples solely of Rolling Stone covers. 95% of their covers with females have them scantily dressed and described with sexual innuendo. Also, even though their male covers will have a diverse range of artists from Justin Timberlake to Outkast to Bruce Springsteen to the Rolling Stones, expect only 16-30 yr. old female artists who are open to unbuttoned blouses, lingerie, and with some kind of phallic accessory (a guitar strategically placed, a lollipop, or, oh yes, a dripping ice cream cone).

This display of sexuality is

This display of sexuality is very different from the Blair masturbation scene in how the energy is focused. In the Blair scene, she is (at least theoretically) embracing her sexuality for her own benefit, but here the girls are turning themselves into sexual objects for the benefit of an audience of anonymous male consumers. (The girls are touching each other but staring straight at the reader.) It is with this distinction that their power is being removed--or given away, as it appears to be.

Sometimes an ice cream cone is just an ice cream cone

It's pretty obvious who is having fun and who is neurotic. Lighten up and get a life.

I like to think

that I can have fun at be neurotic at the same time :)

And yes, sometimes an ice cream is just an ice cream cone, but not when two young women who star in a teen show about sex are both licking it together on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. (At least I don't think so.)

Thanks for the advice, though!

If this were in a men's

If this were in a men's magazine or a more porno-style mag, I wouldn't be bothered. But a lot of women and teenagers read Rolling Stone (I subscribed as a teen) and I just don't think its that appropriate for RS. That, and I don't think that Gossip Girl is RS-cover story worthy (same as The Hills cast).

This is actually pretty tame

This is actually pretty tame stuff for Terry Richardson. I think he was shooting his trashy Vice Magazine spreads before Dov Charney shot his American Apparel ones. In fact, I'd argue that his photography was a big influence on the style of those ads.
And, yeah it's a gross and hyper-sexual photoshoot, but it's Rolling Stone. They haven't exhibited high class or good taste for at least 20 years. I say yuck, but I'm not surprised.

Let's not get our granny panties in a twist

At first glance of any sexy image of girls younger than me, I want to push them away, curl my nose, and rule some kind of cliche' judgment. But why do that? I love being a woman, and I'm not so proud as to dismiss the sensual and playful aspects of my gender. In fact, I am most proud of them. Our sexuality has been recognized since culture began. Even in the the misogynistic fairy tales of the Bible, Adam followed Eve into the terrifying realm of the rebellious unknown, stiffened under his fig leaf. We were both worshiped and feared by ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Why? Why do we think we were ever repressed, suppressed, or depressed? Well, look at that picture again. If you can tell me you feel nothing, if you can say you don't wanna go take a shower or put on some tight jeans you are full of shit. Maybe it's me. Maybe there is nothing significantly different about my gender. Maybe I'm not feminist at all.
I don't want us to seduce our way through life. That's not the essence I am condoning. But there is undeniably something powerful, beautiful, and unique about women that is so forbidden we haven't even got a word for it. That's what I see when I look at this Rolling Stone cover.

Uncomfortably sexy--I agree!

So glad to see Bitch writing about this, because I did a doubletake when I saw this cover, too. I mean, it's pretty much soft porn. The women are sexy and beautiful, but still, it kind of screams porn. The issue I saw also had no text except the title on it, implying they thought the image was important enough to remove all the headlines. It was presented, tongue in cheek, almost as a "gift" to (implicitly male) readers.

I think the actresses may have been manipulated by the--yes!!--very gross photographer. When you're their age I think it's easy to assume this kind of stuff is just play, having fun, and you're not really aware yet of the power of your own sexuality, or of all the creeps who will turn it into something exploitative and horrible.

Is there a way their attitude of fun can be retained? Because to me, that *is* empowering... to have fun with the tropes of porn implies an agency for women that you don't actually tend to see in porn. I don't think there's anything wrong with sexiness ... we'll always be attracted to other humans ... it's when sex veers into violence or exploitation that it becomes problematic for me.

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