Billie Eilish / Lars Crommelinck / Wikimedia Commons
Every woman likely remembers the first time she was sexualised.
Maybe you were catcalled walking home from school. Maybe a much-older man sleazily asked for your number on the bus. Maybe older male relatives were expected to drop in for a visit, and for some reason you were told to change out of your singlet and shorts.
The first time sticks in our minds because it’s weird and confusing and sometimes even terrifying – in a way we’ve never felt before. It opens our eyes to the ugly truth: under patriarchy, women’s bodies are sexual objects. And, disgustingly, so are girls’ bodies.
Throughout childhood, girls are generally sheltered from — if not gender roles and double standards — the worst of objectification. Images that sexualise children can be easily reported and removed due to paedophilia laws.
Sadly, the liminal space between childhood and adulthood is harder to police.
That’s the time when the tall, thin and yet curvy Barbies we once played with are suddenly replaced with unrealistic body standards. When dress codes are suddenly replaced with slut-shaming. When we find that our worth is inextricably tangled up in our appearances, all while experiencing completely foreign impulses and urges for the first time.
The media will describe younger young women as “blossoming” or “maturing” while narratives start to focus more and more on their bodies, clothing and appearance. It’s glaringly creepy, like society at large is anticipating our steady advance towards the day that we’re no longer protected by the label of childhood.
Case in point: last year, a 17-year-old Billie Eilish’s boobs trended on Twitter because she was photographed wearing a tank top. (Eilish has also recently hit back at body-shamers and body objectification.)
Millie Bobby Brown (currently 16) has been sexualised for her ‘mature’ looks and ‘adult’ lifestyle. In 2015, Kylie Jenner’s 18th birthday was anticipated with a fervour that was near paedophilic (but not really, because she’s legal now!)
These are just a few high-profile examples that I’ve plucked from my short period of awareness of pop culture. Go back further in time, and it’ll definitely get worse.
And it doesn’t just happen in pop culture. Anecdotally, when I found out a man in my DMs was 29 (11 years older) my shock-horror was met with, “So? We’re both adults.” So? So what? I couldn’t explain the revulsion I felt at that moment, but I can now.
Younger young women (late-teens) still have much to learn. We’re still discovering our sexualities, preferences and boundaries. Many of us are not in steady jobs and still depend partially on a parent or guardian.
It’s less of a legality matter and more of a power-dynamic matter.
Younger young women are vulnerable, loathe they may be to admit it. Teenagers are exchanging nudes at earlier ages than ever, and it’s disproportionately women that are at risk of revenge porn (another side effect of sexualising the female form). Underage girls are catching onto the sort of behaviour that earns them ‘hearts’ on social media platform Tiktok, which has made the app a hotbed of paedophilic activity.
That’s not to say young women shouldn’t explore their sexualities: just that there’s a huge difference between someone embracing sexuality and someone being sexualised. The former prioritises autonomy, body confidence and self-pleasure. The latter prioritises puritan morals, slut-shaming and repression.
Essentially, female comfort vs. male comfort.
But it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. Patriarchal validation is tempting when you’re young. It’s just really damn confusing at that age.
So we need to talk it out with our young women. Which media depictions of women are actually harmful, and why? We need to clarify what sort of attention is healthy and respectful, and what sort is self-serving. The dangers of age gaps, imbalanced relationships and power dynamics need to be explained.
“So? We’re both adults.”
If only I could redo that conversation.
So – it’s f*cking disgusting.Support Villainesse