Just as “the cougar” has territorially marked the whole of pop culturedom, a new female predator is stalking into collective consciousness: “The hyena.” She is a younger and more aggressive creature, but hungers for male meat — wink, wink — all the same. Dr. Jennifer Austin Leigh, the “number one teen girl expert in America,” recently coined this descriptor in her book, “Laid or Loved? The Secrets Guys Wish You Knew About Being a Dream Girl Instead of a Just-in-his-Jeans Girl.”
You might ask: How is a cackling beast with bone-crushing jaws descriptive of girls’ sexual behavior? According to a press release, Leigh chose the female hyena because it is “far more aggressive than its male counterparts” and engages in “sexually explicit taunting.” Another fun fact not mentioned by the press release: The female hyena has a greatly elongated and erect clitoris, or “pseudo-penis,” which subordinate males are made to lick. (And, in the hyena queendom, all males are inferiors.) Hmm, OK.
See, Leigh thinks that today’s young girls are similarly dominating and “preying” on boys. She quotes Steven, a teenage boy she interviewed about losing his virginity: “I was at a party and had too much to drink. One of the girls decided she wanted a thrill and pulled off my pants and made me get a hard-on and had sex with me … Everyone watched. Some friends even took pictures of us on their cell phones. I don’t remember a lot of it. But I regret that I lost my virginity like that.” She replies: ”‘Like that’ is sometimes de facto rape.”
There is no doubt that boys are sexually victimized. But a single example of a girl taking advantage of a boy does not equal a widespread trend worthy of its own buzzword. Similarly, she says that 30 percent of the teen dudes she interviewed “were depressed, anxious and some even reported self-mutilating after giving up their virginity to a girl who didn’t value it.” I believe that. So, too, it might be for girls. That doesn’t mean that either side is necessarily being victimized, but rather that some kids have sex with the wrong people and long before they should.
To her credit, Leigh notes that girls are struggling with paradoxical cultural instructions: They’re supposed to be “good girls,” but are also taught that there is true value in being pornographically sexy. She sees their supposedly predatory behavior as a symptom of that sexual dilemma and, in so far as girls are being more sexually forward, I agree — but only to a point. The thing is that the girls who booze it up in hopes of getting up “the courage to prey on a guy,” as Leigh puts it, are just as confused as the boys who regret losing their virginity to an uncaring partner. That is to say: Both are confused as all hell. (Hey, welcome to young adulthood!)
As Broadsheet’s Lynn Harris wrote on Breakup Girl in response to Leigh’s take on sexually aggressive young ladies: “Seems to me there have always been, and will always be, girls on both sides.” Just as there have always been boys on both sides. And by conflating female sexual forwardness with rapacious sexual aggression, she plays into the idea that, as Salon’s Rebecca Traister put it in her recent piece on cougar mania, “how strange and hysterically funny the idea of energetic female sexual desire is” — and, in this case, how terrifying and threatening it is.