4 WTF Lessons The World Teaches Us About Sexualizing Teens
I'm not surprising anyone by saying that the world sexualizes teenage girls. If I printed out all of the articles and books on that subject, we'd have to build a library on the moon to contain them. And now that I said that, I really want to Google "sexualized teen moon library" to see what comes up. But I'm not going to. I don't think my brain could handle the results.
What fascinates me (and equally creeps me out) are the unspoken messages behind this sexualization. I mean, it's bad enough on its own, but when you start breaking down the lessons girls are being taught, shit gets weird. Lessons like ...
Young Girls Are Sexually Valuable Because They Are Virgins
Virginity is elevated and mystified in our society to the point of practically being a superpower. An innocent virgin is sacrificed in adventure stories to summon a demon or appease a god. An uppity unicorn only allows virgins to touch it because it's the judgiest pointy horse in the universe.
Did you know there's no solid, medical definition of virginity? It's literally not a physical thing. It's just a concept somebody came up with to add or subtract value from a woman. Because women used to be products, sold from one man to another for a couple of pigs and some farmland. "Virginity" is just a buzzword someone came up with to help advertise their product. "Girl: Now with 50 percent more virginity!"
We have this picture of women being hermetically sealed from birth until some lucky guy gets in there to pop the Lord's soda tab, but that's completely wrong. The hymen isn't even a total seal -- it's just an extra bit of tissue that naturally has a hole in it, which can sometimes be stretched the first time someone has vaginal sex. Or riding a bike, using a tampon, a jousting accident ... pretty much anything you do in a normal day.
Taking a woman's virginity has always been coveted as an achievement for men, but with modern women actually getting to choose when they have sex, the best chance a man has to get with a virgin relies on him being the very first mistake a girl makes. That coveting and sexual value is one of the many disturbing reasons girls are pursued at such a young age.
To see it in action, you don't even need to pull up studies or do heavy research or even go to a porn site. Just type "school girl" into Google. Not sexy school girl. Just "school girl," as in "a girl who is in school." I don't even need to tell you what you're going to get. Hell, most of you won't type that in, because you don't want the results on your search history. You didn't ask it for a bunch of half-naked women, but like an insane tweet from Donald Trump at 4 a.m., it's just inevitably there. The top web searches that come up for me are all for sexy schoolgirl costumes. The only outlier is a link to the "schoolgirl" hashtag on Instagram, which populates the same collage of young girls, porn, and anime porn. You know ... classic school activities.
Are these portrayals meant to be graduate students of consenting age? Hell no, they're not. They're wearing a parody of the uniforms once worn by girls in religious middle and high schools. A uniform so highly sexualized that most religious institutions now require students to wear khaki pants. Try to make those sexy, creeps.
Girls Want To Look Pretty In Order To Attract Men
Recently, Stranger Things and IT have given us a crop of talented young actors entering the public eye, which can be a nightmare for those actors. Mara Wilson wrote a great piece for Elle about the way 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown is discussed in the public. Here's an article from The Today Show's website which pronounces Brown "all grown up" right in the title. But she's not all grown up. She's a 13-year-old girl who looks like a very pretty 13-year-old girl. She's not a sex object; she's a young girl who put on a nice dress and fun makeup for a movie premiere. She's following the exact standards her industry demands. She's wearing Hollywood's version of a uniform.
So why do we feel the need to pronounce her "all grown up"? It's because she looks good. There's a problem with that, and it has nothing to do with her -- it's with us. We think that if a woman is dressing up, it must be to impress a man. So when teenage girls dress up, they must be impersonating grown women in an attempt to entice men. The reality is that there isn't a separate clothing style for young girls that marks them as not being objects for sexualization. We're supposed to do that with our grown, adult brains. That's our job, not theirs. And apparently, we're bad at it.
Take, for instance, school dress codes. For boys, the dress code is "Are you wearing pants? You're good." For girls, it involves a myriad of yeses, nos, and maybes that are almost always enforced by adult men. Even though teaching is a largely female-dominated profession, women are in leadership roles less than 25 percent of the time ... which is actually a recent improvement.
This leads to an adult man telling girls in school that they have to go home and change their leggings because men can't even think straight when they wear them. As if they are dressing with seduction in mind, and not comfort. Remember a few years ago when all those articles were being written about whether it was appropriate for girls and women to wear leggings in public? If not, Google it real quick, and then try not to punch the next human you see.
It was a debate that was quickly settled by women not giving a shit, because leggings are comfortable as hell. They weren't popularized because they make us look good. Leggings are one of the few instances of comfortable, wearable fashion that have been coming into style lately, along with rompers and, yes I'll say it, UGG boots. Every winter, people get up in arms about "basic bitches" in their UGG boots and leggings, but guess what? UGGs, and even the cheap knockoff UGGS that I wear, are essentially slippers. It's winter. Women and girls are cold, and we want to be comfortable, so we dress accordingly.
Now you can essentially wear pajamas and slippers in public, and it's acceptable. I've never loved fashion this much, and not one reason for the clothing I choose is "to entice men." At any age, women are mainly dressing for our own comfort.
Romance Between An Older Man And A teenage Girl Is Just Sexy Forbidden Love
I've written before about the way teen shows portray teacher/student relationships as both super sexy and super not-problematic ... but they're not the only culprit. Let's talk about music again for a second. What do you think these songs have in common? "You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful And You're Mine," "Sixteen Candles," Happy Birthday Sweet 16," "Sweet Little 16," "Only Sixteen." If you said that all of them are songs by grown men about how hot 16-year-old girls are, congratulations! Your prize is sadness.
What is it about 16 that makes it such a desirable age? Could it be because that's the lowest age of consent in the United States? Let's ask the lyrics of "Happy Birthday Sweet 16": When you were only six I was your big brother. Then when you were ten we didn't like each other. When you were 13 you was a funny valentine. But since you've grown up your future is sewn up. From now on you're gonna be mine. That sounds like a threat the Riddler sends to Batman.
That's not a song about a grown man looking back on teen romance fondly. It's about watching a young girl grow into ... a slightly older girl whom society now says it's OK to fantasize about. It's not a coincidence that all of these songs focus on this very young age.
Now, most Americans consider the age of consent to be 18 (even though that's actually only the case for a fifth of the states). Remember the countdown clocks to when Emma Watson turned 18? Or how about this article from CNN, "Countdown For Kendall Jenner Turning 18: Gross Or Fair Game?" Let me go ahead and solve that Rubik's Cube for you, CNN: It's gross.
We're obsessed with the age of consent because a relationship between a young girl and an older man is seen as romantic, forbidden love. The younger the better! But it has to be legal, of course. So we stick to that magic number and try not to be creeped out by the idea of a 33-year-old Benny Mardones promising a 16-year-old girl "a love like you've never seen."
Men Just Can't Help Themselves Around Attractive Women Of Any Age
The idea that men are incapable of controlling themselves around an attractive woman is disturbingly common. Look at any femme fatale in a spy movie. She uses her sexuality to get what she wants, because men just can't resist her. Remember when Lucy Liu incited a riot with her butt in Charlie's Angels?
If you're not well-versed in Lucy Liu's leather-clad butt, let me paint you a picture: Liu walks into an office building full of men who follow her around, even though no one has told them to. She then uses a riding crop to whip them up into a horny frenzy, and unleashes them on the company as a distraction so she can do spy things. The poor men can't help themselves. It's a butt! They are powerless to resist Liu's command. Except they totally aren't. There's a surprising amount of movie problems that could be solved with masturbation.
This idea is just as insulting to men as it is to women. Of course they can control themselves! They're people, not animals. It's not difficult to tell a woman no. If it is a problem for you, practice by pretending she's asking for equal pay.
This kind of logic isn't just insulting; it's dangerous. Liu is an adult woman in this case (and yes, I'm aware this this scene is supposed to be comedic), but even the core of the joke is "Men are powerless to resist." But this seeps into the real world as a genuine belief. What if a man is attracted to a 13-year-old girl? He can't help himself, right? He has no agency over himself if a woman he finds attractive is around, wearing clothes, and walking. What happens next is out of his control.
So if you're one of those people who think women are overreacting to "beauty standards" or "objectification," understand that this is why. It's why we take offense to the word "overreacting." Kids should be worrying about kid things, and not Benny Mardones.
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