However innocuously presented (in fact, innocence is fetishised), we pretty much don’t know how to see a girl without objectifying her (even when we are feminist). Watching my pre-schooler I have moments where the thinness of her shoulders or the jut of her hips reminds me of images from fashion magazines – images of adults, or rather images of girls who are supposed to be what adults look like. More specifically, certain portions of her body, certain natural postures of hers are associated for me with the selling of a product; it is the very essence of objectification. It annoys me when I catch myself in the act of transposing. Lauca isn’t particularly aware of fashion images, she has almost no control over mine or anyone else’s interpretation of her physical self. The female body really can’t just be.
The problem is not that young bodies are beautiful, it is that, particularly in the case of young women, their bodies have been used to symbolise commodified pleasure, and when everything about you represents consumption you can be terribly vulnerable. The appreciation of youthful beauty would not be so troublesome were it not to come with the sense of entitlement that is the leering eye. In our culture young women are both sexualised and silenced – a terribly dangerous combination for them. Kate Harding sums this up beautifully (in a particularly fine article if your heart can bear to read any more of this Polanski stuff):
Kampmeier told me, “There’s a scene in my film where Dakota’s character is singing ‘Hound Dog’ on the bed, moving her legs back and forth in a very innocent expression of her love for this song.” As Kampmeier tells it, Fanning wasn’t intending to play it as sexual in any way, nor was she directed to — but in the film, a 17-year-old boy is watching, and projecting his own interpretation onto it. Says Kampmeier, “I had men in audiences watch that and say, ‘Well, she’s asking for it.’ Women say, ‘No, she’s just being natural, being herself.’ Why is a young girl seen as asking for it when she’s just exploring the experience of being alive in her body?” It would seem to come down to whether you identify with the 12-year-old girl or the 17-year-old boy watching.
This is what too many people fail to understand about adolescent girls when it comes to sex, rape and personal agency: The experience of being alive in their bodies makes them sometimes sexual, sometimes curious, sometimes desirous, sometimes totally innocent — and at all times vulnerable to other people’s interpretations of their behavior, of their decisions, of their very existence in bodies equipped with brand-new womanly features. And all they have to counter those interpretations are their own voices — voices that are routinely ignored, dismissed and silenced.
But this is not an argument for purity or for restraining young women.
Five minutes after we ended the interview, Kampmeier called me back to say she wanted to add one more thought: “When you rape a girl, the problem is not that you’re taking away her purity — which is what gets the religious right up in arms — it’s that you’re taking away her wholeness. And trying to keep her ‘pure,’ repressing her sexuality, silencing her voice, also takes away wholeness. It’s two sides of the same coin.
“I don’t want my daughter to grow up pure,” she said. “I want her to grow up whole.”
And this is what annoys me about the “we can sexualise girls because, of course, girls are sexual creatures”. Yes, they are sexual, but we as a world are so, so far away from having the integrity or the space or the respect to be able to interpret their sexuality, and their sexuality belongs to them.