Society’s perception of young girls’ bodies needs to change, starting with dress codes
Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault, Pedophilia, Slut-Shaming
As a collective, we have conditioned and been conditioned to encourage and force girls to become little women.
I am using the term in the very literal sense: girls as physically small womxn. I believe that most girls are never given the chance to overlap their girlhood with young womanhood or experience the discomfort of adolescence for a long period of time.
I believe this because of the way girls are typically brought up in Western society. Girls are commonly asked to take on the burdens of shouldering others’ perceptions of them. When this happens, childhood innocence is taken away and replaced with the responsibility of being a part of grown-up society. There are many societal customs that subtly enforce the forced growth of girls into womxn, but I want to bring to attention three very broad areas that illustrate the emotional burden of girls being shoved into the role of little womxn.
Perceptions of the Body
I personally cannot understand the general discourse on dress coding in schools. I believe that it prioritizes male comfort over the freedom and education of girls. This is an example of the wider societal idea that men must be made comfortable at all costs.
Dress codes are an archaic custom. Policing of girls’ bodies sexualizes girls into womxn and it promotes the idea that girls as young as six, “old” as seventeen or eighteen personify sex appeal.
When we tell girls to dress modestly, we are telling them that their bodies are inherently sexual, and they are at fault for being subjugated to the male gaze. When we impose dress codes on girls, we are telling their male peers and adult male superiors that it is not their fault for sexualizing girls, but that it is the girls’ fault for gratifying and indulging sexuality.
What has led us to compare the spaghetti-strap tank top of a twelve-year old girl to the sexualized images of womxn that we see in movies, TV shows, and ads? How can we justify dress coding unless we acknowledge and justify the predatory lens in which we view the bodies of girls?
We have normalized girls and womxn as sexualized beings to such a great extent that they are no longer seen as humans, but as objects. We have normalized this lens to an extent that instead of protecting girls and womxn from these perspectives, we instead perpetuate the conditions under which predatory perspectives fester. And what do we call girls and womxn who participate in sexualized behaviour?
We insinuate that girls are sluts when they choose to wear dress-codable clothing. Instead of judging the rule, we judge the rule breaker. Instead of acknowledging that you do not have to be a bad person to uphold bad values, we throw the blame on the rule breaker.
This leads me to media perceptions. The ways in which the media labels girls are directly correlated with the ways in which we label girls in education, at home, and in broader social settings.
Huge newspapers like The New York Times and New York Magazine labelled the girls that Jeffrey Epstein sexually assaulted as “underage women”. There is an issue when our mainstream societal viewpoint has normalized sexualizing girls’ bodies to the point where instead of girls, they are “underage women.”
The underage woman only exists as a societal abstract. The concept has no foundation in female biological science and cannot be scientifically justified as a body radically different in abilities than male counterparts.
To me, the term “underaged women” suggests an empathetic viewpoint both towards the girls who Epstein sexually assaulted, and interestingly enough, towards Epstein and every male who has performed the same acts as he did.
Our society also has a big issue with reporting emotional truths. We tend to sugarcoat and skirt around dicey issues because they make us uncomfortable. However, with that discomfort, we unknowingly participate in marginalizing sexual assaults to a point where we do not believe they exist even when we have proof.
Instead of reporting rape and sexual assault on girls, media outlets report it as rape and sexual assault on underage women. It’s the same reason we dress-code–so that the societal conditioning of sexualization on all perceived female bodies is not seen as predatory, but simply upholding the rules.
When media outlets report on girls as “underage women,” it alleviates the responsibility of those who have committed these acts but have gotten away with it.
We say “underage women” so that we are not uncomfortable with the idea that our society’s sexualization of bodies that appear female has contributed to conditions under which the pedophilia and the predatory acts by Epstein and his friends could flourish and go unpunished.
Written by Solana Pasqual, fourth year major in Global Development