How our culture sexualises teenage girls to the point of devaluing everything else about them.
It’s a disturbing fact that our society sexualises teenage girls to the point of valuing little else about them. I remember when I became a teenager and suddenly fell onto a radar for men to ogle, shout at, and pester to the point of being dangerous. I remember realising my growing body suddenly had value for it’s sexuality. I also remember noticing how everything else about my life was worthy of mocking.
The music I loved was derided as just teen girl crap. The films and TV shows aimed at me were teen girl nonsense. My emotions and pain were hysteria, my anger was drama. My ambition was bossiness, my growing interest in relationships was sluttiness. And despite my own mother being a successful doctor, a strong woman, and a vocal feminist, the culture around me still got it’s claws into brain. It’s in magazines, it’s in books, it’s how we are represented. Girls sports get less funding and less support, and are mocked for being less entertaining. Girls are less represented in images of business and sciences, despite their academic achievements placing them as firmly belonging in that world. What teenage girls will never be mocked for is being sexually attractive to grown men.
I believe the popularity of school girl and teen porn heavily contributes to this problem, because once porn users are used to seeing little girls being intensely sexualised, even fetishized, the image of little girls is sexualised in general. Through school girl porn, paedophilia becomes normalised and socially accepted. Even if we pretend porn isn’t made with actual children, which we all know it is at an alarming rate, porn featuring adult women portraying children is hugely popular. By sexualising childhood in this way, we are contributing to a culture that leads to little girls in school uniform being catcalled and sexually harassed on the streets with no criticism from observers. Sexy school girls is an accepted trope that everyone respects more than they respect school girls themselves.
And it’s not just the behaviour of men treating teenage girls as sex objects. As adult women we make choices to do the same thing. I have been to more than one “sexy school girl” party. More than one “school disco” for adults. Sexy school girl costumes are a feature of Halloween parties, popular at Hen parties, and fancy dress parties in general. I have dressed in these costumes, I have experienced the attention it gets from men. By indulging this fetish, we are enabling it. We are saying the fetishization of childhood is acceptable.
I remember how it felt to be a teenage girl treated like my potential for sex was the only valuable contribution I could make. I remember losing faith in my intelligence, my talents, because nobody cared. The only thing people cared about was whether I was wearing a thong, whether they could see my nipples through my shirt, and whether I was willing to give blow jobs or if I was a prude. I hated how this world treated me, but then I added to it in adulthood by portraying the kind of sexy school girl image I so hated being pushed onto me in my youth. Because that is how normalised it is. How much we are made to believe it’s correct. And we need to change it. We owe it to the girls currently existing in this culture, we owe it to the girls we once were.
I write books for teenage girls about teenage girls, and part of that job involves looking through stock photos for pictures of teenage girls to use in promotional media. I find this incredibly demoralising. Searching for images of teen girls produces an array of scantily clad young women in provocative poses. But I’m fighting it the only way I know how. I’m fighting it with stories.
My stories are about teenage girls who are still children. Children going through changes and becoming women, but children none the less. I write stories about girls being ambitious, taking risks, having adventures. Girls learning about themselves and their friends, making bad choices and mistakes, then learning from them. Relationships are in there, because human are multifaceted and our sexuality is part of that, but it’s not the whole point. My characters are children and they’re so many things more than their growing bodies and potential for sex.
To stop this treatment of girls, and to give them the respect they deserve as intelligent and valuable members of society, we need to have a massive cultural shift. We need to elevate and celebrate teenage girls for their accomplishments, and call out the men giving them grief for not conforming to their stupid ideas of what teenage girls should be like.
Wishing death on Greta Thunberg is not the worst thing said about this girl, but it’s one of many. Because our culture hates teenage girls, it disrespects teenage girls, and it tries to break teenage girls. But Greta is proof that teenage girls are strong, and capable, and that we as a society should be doing better with out attitudes towards them. How many more Greta’s could there be? How many more intelligent and passionate young girls are out there about to be crushed by a culture that devalues everything about them except for their bodies?
I will do what I can to change it. My own daughters will be raised in this world whilst I try and fight everything this world will try and do to them. But it won’t be easy, and we all need to try and do better. The girls deserve it.