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Posted at 5:32 a.m. EST Thursday, March 2, 2000

Sex sends wrong message

Many young female stars radiate aggression, and boys are listening

It looked like a no-brainer. Jessica Biel, tired of being Mary Camden on The WB's squeaky-clean family drama 7th Heaven, figured to bare her way out of the show by posing for nude pictures in Gear magazine.

``I'm leaving, period,'' Biel told the men's magazine in an interview salted with the F-word. Asked if the photos could get her fired, she replied, ``I hope so.''

But at last report Biel was still on the show. Yes, Gear is facing a lawsuit from 7th producer Aaron Spelling for suggesting he'd approved the photos of the actress who turns 18 tomorrow. But whatever tempest Biel expected to stir proved smaller even than the clothes she wore for Gear.

Biel apparently hadn't been reading the papers.

Last October, 23-year-old Melissa Joan Hart, star of ABC teen comedy Sabrina the Teenage Witch, showed off her navel ring, tattoo and considerable flesh in seminude photos for Maxim, like Gear a magazine aimed at young men.

There were a few cries of complaint about the photos and accompanying interview, where Hart talked about drinking tequila shots and her ideas of good sex. Then the TV show, and Hart, went on.

In spite of the blase response to the photos, there's plenty to worry about here. We're getting an increasing number of questionable messages about teen-age girls, and those messages are being heard by young men and teen-age boys.

It doesn't stop with Biel's and Hart's photos. Also this month, Movieline magazine has an interview and some cheesecake art of 17-year-old Leelee Sobieski, star of last year's CBS miniseries Joan of Arc.

In the accompanying article, Sobieski talks about her crush on actor Morgan Freeman. Please see Teens, D3Teens

  • Girls on `Popular'ravenous in pursuit Continued from Page D1When they met, Sobieski said, Freeman noted that ``I have a granddaughter your age.''

    ``Inside, I was, like, `I don't want you to think of me in that way,' '' Sobieski said.

    Again and again, teen-age girls -- or young actresses well known for playing teen-agers -- are being presented as not merely amorous, but hungry for sex and ready to go after it.

    In American Pie, where the most sexually aggressive characters are high-school girls. And in the Oscar-nominated American Beauty, with a teen toying sexually with a friend's father.

    In the music business, Britney Spears reinforces arguments that her attraction is mainly sexual every time she tries to sing and dance in public. The recent Grammy Awards show was just the latest in a series of dreadful televised performances.

    Considering teen star Christina Aguilera's victory over Spears for the best new artist Grammy, Time magazine said the win ``helps certify Aguilera's credentials as a real singer (as opposed to whatever it is that Spears does).''

    The high-school girls on The WB's comedy-drama Popular are far more ravenous in their pursuit of the opposite sex than their male counterparts, although their fervor is at times just for show. Fox's sitcom That '70s Show, also has its young women dictating the pace of their sexual relationships, and often taking the aggressor role.

    Of course, the teen-age stars of today are far from the first to project sexuality.

    As Annette Funicello went through her teen years on The Mickey Mouse Club -- later a launching pad for Aguilera and Spears -- male viewers noted her physical changes.

    But the show itself, working under the restraints of the '50s and its association with Walt Disney, never acknowledged those changes. And even when Funicello, by then in her 20s, made the transition to escapist beach movies, she dressed far more modestly than the extras jiggling around her.

    And even today some actresses have a public role as teen stars with their own advancing adulthood.

    ``I think a certain obligation comes with the job,'' 22-year-old Sarah Michelle Gellar recently told TV Guide.

    ``I didn't go to clubs before I was 21,'' said the star of WB drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer.``You never saw a picture of me with a glass of champagne in my hand before I was 21. . . . I have to go to bed at night knowing I'm a good person.''

    Asked about Keri Russell's discussing her loss of virginity in a magazine interview, Gellar rolled her eyes.

    ``We give away too much information,'' she said.

    Of course, Gellar -- who sees Buffy as a role model for young girls -- is not going to be confused with Annette Funicello, or even Jennifer Love Hewitt, anytime soon. Buffy is a sexual creature. So was the monstrous young woman Gellar played in the R-rated movie Cruel Intentions.

    Still, the big worry with the sexualizing of female teens lies less in how girls see them than in how young men do.

    Biel and Hart provided their sexual come-ons for the readers of Gear and Maxim, magazines that are not exactly interested in mature emotional relationships.

    Those readers are therefore encouraged to fantasize that women are like raptors, eager to devour them one way or another. That's bad enough. But there's also a deliberate attempt to make teen-agers the object of those fantasies.

    ``Given her list of crush-worthy men, I predict Sobieski could easily align herself with a much older guy,'' Movieline's Stephen Rebello wrote. `` `I think so, too,' she replies.''

    And that's creating a sexual climate we do not want to weather.

    R.D. Heldenfels writes about television for the Akron Beacon Journal. Contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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