At What Age Does Objectification Begin?

by Charlotte Kramon

Girls are becoming subjects of sexual taunts and bullying at seemingly younger ages than most people assume.

Girlguiding UK, one of the biggest girl’s youth organization in the country, conducted a report surveying about 1,300 girls, with seven being the youngest age. Not only did 75% of the girls admitted to suffering from sexual harassment, but the 75% of girls ages 11-21 say sexism affects their self-esteem and motivation to be successful in their futures. Where does this all occur?

School.

Most of the sexual “jokes,” taunting, catcalling, and and undesired, superfluous sexual attention occurs in schools, a place parents think of as the least of their worries. Sexual harassment seems to be starting dangerously early and could be paving the way to a problematic culture.

I asked girls ages 11-12 about sexual taunts and harassment. Their names have been changed for their privacy from classmates.

First, the girls addressed name calling. There is a growing problem with people calling each other “whores.” Annabella* said, “These kids make jokes constantly like, ‘Oh my god, you’re such a whore.’”  Another said they use it “out of context.” “A lot of the jokes are about girls sucking dick,” Annabella said of the boy’s taunts.

Brooke* told of bullying resulting in unwanted sexual attention. She said, “I had a note passed around about me. They called me a pig, they called me a slut, and they called me a whore.”  

Brooke also described an instance in art class, and said, “I was sitting down, and I heard two people make a joke about me sucking dick. That joke was made about me in sixth grade...I probably cried for a very long time.”

Annabella described girls participating in catty slut-shaming. She addressed the behavior of these girls, saying, “They’ll look at the girl they just called a slut, and say, ‘Oh my god you’re so pretty!’”

An entry from the Everyday Sexism Project describes a “teenage boy-maybe 16/17-calling me a tosser and a slut as I walk down my local high street. I was nine.” Young girls seem to be raised to think they’re objects open for judgement and criticism.

Along with these taunts, the girls I interviewed described the prerequisite to hook up culture. Annabella said that a kid in her class, age 12, told his friend that he wanted to have sex with the person he calls his “girlfriend” before he turns 15. She said no. John* also texted his female friend who was with his girlfriend, and asked her to tell his girlfriend that he wanted to “Alabama hot pocket” her.

John* was also described as someone who hangs out with a lot of girls and takes questionable pictures with them, but his girlfriend doesn’t care. Annabella said, “Some of the kids in the couples don’t want to be in a couple but they’ve been pressured into it because they want to be accepted.”

Clearly, girls are “dating” guys who are making sexist remarks. They’re calling girls “whores” and taunting them about sucking dick. How do these girls react? Do they care?

Kaitlyn* answered, “The girls are ok with [the comments,] They want it. It gets to the point where some people in our grade are starting to dress like strippers, not to be rude.  Before the boys and came in, and people were like “Oh, we’re dating,” the girls weren’t dressing like 20-year-olds going to a strip club. When the guys starting seeing the girls, it completely changed.”

Carly* agreed with Kaitlyn, and referring to the sexual remarks and name calling, said, “The girls didn’t care. They went along with it. They said, ‘I want a boyfriend, I want to be popular.’”

The infamous yearn for popularity and acceptance. Everyone experiences it, but some value popularity more than others. It’s common to hear of people partaking in activities, betraying friends, or acting a certain way to be accepted.

People complain that the desire to appear “chill” stops people from standing up to sexual comments, catcalling, and rating. Girls have complained that guys will say, “She has a good butt, but she should talk less and go with the flow more.”

We can even look at Jennifer Lawrence while examining this idea and her letter about equal pay. She described being seen as “difficult” when she asked to be payed the same as her male counterpart. A 12-year-old (or any girl who) wants to be accepted does not want to be seen as “difficult.” They are taught at a young age that they should please guys and let them do what they want. Don’t talk too much. Otherwise you’re not “chill.”

A friend of Annabella's, Jack*, asked her out. She wasn’t ready to date at the age of 12, so she politely said no. Ryan*, Jack’s older friend, felt Annabella’s answer was not appropriate, and gave her a lecture about why she should’ve said yes to Jack.

According to Annabella, Ryan said, “I know you like him. I know when girls like guys. You just don’t want your parents to get mad at you. This is your fault. This is your thing. I get that. But you should compromise. Because he’s such a nice guy…”

Ryan was spreading the idea that a girl must be submissive or “comprising” when she’s asked to do something she doesn’t want to do.

After hearing stories from girls as young as age 9 about unwanted sexualization, I wanted to know why they think this all happens. I was curious as to what people thought the root cause of this issue was, specifically about why this was starting at a younger age.

The girls’ immediate response social media. “People are getting phones at younger ages,” Kaitlyn responded. “They can look up whatever they want.  Now that people are getting phones and apple watches when they’re younger, I feel like it affects who they grow up to be.” Annabella agreed, referring to a first grader with an apple watch.

Obviously, kids can’t get phones on their own; it’s up to the parents to provide them. Kaitlyn and Anabella pointed to a seemingly declining sense of control, dignity, and supervision from parents.

Anabella said, “Some of the parents want to be ‘cool parents,’ but in some ways that means giving up all respect and dignity.”

They continued to infer that there is this rising fear parents are developing of their own children.

“Parents are getting scared of their children because they don’t know what’s going on,” Anabella said. Many kids, they believe, have this newfound desire to act older than they actually are, resulting in a lack of control from parents because they don’t understand what is going on. Kaitlyn said that the fear of their kids being upset with them makes parents “not want to talk to them.”

As the statistics I mentioned at the beginning of this article show, most of the activity in this article is about happens in school, outside of the walls of people’s homes where parents have the opportunity to discipline their kids. The matter of whether or not this gives the parents opportunity for control comes into question.

“No matter what the parents try to teach their kid, sometimes an impression can last forever,” Anabella said, mentioning an example in which a kid may be peer pressured into playing a game like “hot or not.” “That’s what’s happening to some of our grade. Maybe they say something to their parents. The mom will be like, ‘Oh, whatever, he’s probably just in a phase.’”

A few of the girls brought up the desire their 6th grade classmates have to lose their virginity. Kids don’t want to be kids anymore. The media is little by little phasing out the concept of innocence above the age of nine, and, like the girls brought up, kids can look up anything on their phones and listen to whatever they want.

Annabella pointed out that sex is becoming desensitized, and nobody is doing anything about it. “Parents aren’t teaching their kids to wait until their older,” she said. “They don’t want to bother them and they want to be the ‘cool parent.’” Once again, this concept of the “cool parent” comes up. People want to seem chill all the way through adulthood, and they may not know how to react to the extreme desire to grow up.

Anabella, Kaitlyn, and Carly agree that this results in the fear they were talking about. “The way that kids act changes of the years,” Carly said. “Kids are starting to act like they’re not their age. They don’t want to act their age, but older.’”

Sociologist Koyel Bandyopadhyay noticed that with the increase of kids using social media, the amount of face-to-face time between parents and their children decreases. Annabelle and Kaitlyn observed a disconnect between parents and kids, mostly because parents don’t understand, or, more likely, don’t want to understand what exactly is going on in this whole other reality of phones and social media.

Parents have become more lenient with boundaries when it comes to technology. This has led to a development of self-reliance and independence. However, parents need to be aware of what their kids are exposed to.

High school students also have a responsibility to be good role models for younger grades. They look up to us, both the boys and the girls. When older guys introduce rating girls and objectification to younger guys, girls are ignored when they express that this behavior is wrong and unkind.

We must enforce respect at a young age regarding the way we perceive women in order to prevent sexualization and objectification.