Writer and feminist campaigner Kirsty Strickland says the double standards society holds in its attitudes towards women and girls is confusing and hypocritical
WE welcomed the news last week that the teenage pregnancy rate has halved since 1998.
This figure demonstrates how vital easily accessible contraception for young people is. However, alongside this news it was also pointed out that while teen pregnancies are now less common, abortion procedures in the under-16s are rising.
A third of girls still have sex for the first time before their 16th birthday. Too often we see statistics like these used not as a reflection on the need for responsible, consent-based sex education but as an argument that some types of girls are fair game for adult male attention.
Adults decided the age of consent. Most adults agree that we have a duty to protect children from harm and exploitation.
Footballer Adam Johnson was recently found guilty of sexual activity with a child. Despite the judge being unequivocal in his condemnation of Johnson’s actions, people were still quick to blame the girl.
Katie Hopkins said on Twitter: “Looking to impress her mates by snagging a footballer. Hey presto. From slag to wag.” Amanda Patell argued that “he didn’t drag that girl into his car” and that “though she did make her age clear, she never asked him to stop his grubby advances”.
Adults decided the age of consent. Most adults agree that we have a duty to protect children from harm and exploitation. All children. Regardless of how ‘up for it’ an adult they thinks they might be or how quickly they progress through puberty.
Nobody, as far as I know, is arguing for the age of consent to be lowered in the UK. Through other restrictions – on the buying of alcohol, tobacco, and the age at which a person can vote – we are accepting that under 16s are children.
Yet we accept newspapers like the Scottish Sun printing a picture of a 14 year old with a caption explaining that she is “flaunting her shapely legs”.
Yet we accept newspapers like the Scottish Sun printing a picture of a 14 year old with a caption explaining that she is “flaunting her shapely legs”. We allow headteachers to disrupt the education of our girls by sending them home if their trousers are deemed too tight. We police their clothes and bodies by telling them they are a distraction to male teachers or the boys who are trying to learn.
We let adults on This Morning and Loose Women run phone-in polls about whether rape is ever the woman’s fault. We let retailers like WHSmith stock magazines that appeal to teenage girls, and two rows up display ‘men’s lifestyle’ magazines that specialise in ‘teen sex’, complete with violent language and purposefully young-looking girls on the front.
We’ve let ‘sexy schoolgirl’ become a fantasy and a costume, ignoring the damaging effect that sexualising a school uniform has.
We teach them that their developing bodies are tempting, enticing and that if they are presented a certain way men will lose their minds and responsibility for their actions.
Imagine being a girl. Women are either sluts or saints. Woman or whore. The media machine scurries around like a sewer rat, sniffing out flaws to be highlighted and splashed on a magazine cover. Then Kim Kardashian takes off her clothes and the world implodes.
Imagine being a girl. Women are either sluts or saints. Woman or whore. The media machine scurries around like a sewer rat, sniffing out flaws to be highlighted and splashed on a magazine cover.
Forget that women’s bodies are used to advertise everything from Porches to PETA. Forget that our most popular TV programs show far more graphic and often violent imagery of the female form. We ignore all that. And the shaming begins.
Folk can’t get their heads around it. Kardashian once made a sex tape and we’re already clear that made her a whore – why does she carry on? The BBC, amid the sound and fury about a woman posting a picture of her own body actually asked: “Is this a step back for women?”
Teenager Abby Tomlinson drew the attention of the media during the General Election campaign, when she and others founded ‘Milifandom’ in appreciation of then Labour leader Ed Miliband. She weathered the attention she received during the General Election with strength and good humour, but let’s not forget how the adults treated her.
We laughed at her and other girls who were interested in politics – what do they know? It’s so much more fun to criticise them for taking too many selfies. The vain, self-interested youth who’ve never had it so easy.
We tell them pretty is the only accepted standard, then portray them as shallow. We tell them to treat their bodies with respect, while allowing our media to sexualise them.
We tell our youth that pretty is the only accepted standard, then portray them as shallow. We tell them to treat their bodies with respect, while allowing our media to sexualise them.
We teach them that it is normal for adult men to be interested in them while ignoring Jimmy Savile and all the others in our recent history who used this excuse to their predatory advantage.
Girls are our future. We must stand with them and speak up for them against the culture that says their young bodies are fair game for comment or consumption. We have to shout out when people say the lines are blurry. They are not.
There aren’t good girls or bad girls, acting-their-age girls or ‘she-knew-what-she-was-doing’ girls. There are just girls.
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Picture courtesy of Eva Rinaldi