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The tragic loss of girlhood

Nearly a month has passed since Harvey Weinstein’s numerous sexual assault and harassment accusations sparked a massive online campaign to decry abusers and demand justice for survivors. Now, some of the latest waves of allegations have shined a national spotlight on Alabama Republican, Roy Moore. The GOP Senate candidate has been accused of inappropriate sexual misconduct with five different minors, some as young as 14 years old. Moore denies the allegations entirely, but the revelations have stirred up controversy within GOP leadership as well as among the broader American populace. Several individuals who have come to Moore’s defense have attempted to normalize this predatory behavior by calling relationships between grown men and children biblical or comparing the charges to the severity of stealing a lawn mower. These repugnant endeavors to gloss over serious allegations necessitates a confrontation of our societal tendency to oversexualize young, female-coded bodies.

In the case of Roy Moore, consent became a widely discussed excuse among those who remained steadfast in their support of him. While it is entirely inconceivable and exceptionally dangerous to suggest that a fourteen year old girl could be capable of consenting to sexual contact of any kind with a grown adult, this weak defense is still regularly pushed by men accused of similar crimes. Often the appearances of victims or their clothes are suggested to imply that these children are far more mature for their age and are consequently able to make decisions about sex and intimacy. Additionally, terms like “jail bait” are still culturally relevant ways to describe these underage girls that have been forcibly sexualized by the adult male gaze. Even their own home isn’t always safe from these pervasive societal norms. Many young girls are taught that certain apparel is too revealing to be worn in the presence of adult male family members and that their body is something inherently enticing and sinful. These nearly universal experiences are a product of a culture that hypersexualizes women from childhood and normalizes their commodification throughout their lives.

The culturally accepted policing of budding sexual expression and conflicting messages of modesty teach young girls not to question the intentions of adult men, but to instead assume the objectification of their bodies is only natural. Although what “ideal” bodies looks like changes over time, all women are uniformly taught that success and worth require physical beauty. Whether its achievements in entertainment, finance or academia, women are expected to be consumable for male desire in order to get ahead. Early introductions to the connections between sexual desirability and supposed worthiness act as a training mechanism for the harassment and assault that they are likely to experience later in life. Sexualization doesn’t end once they enter adulthood, if anything, it will simply intensify.

In order to help finally quell the toxic hypersexualization of young girls, parents must further emphasize that self-worth shouldn’t be derived from appearance. Daughters should be taught early on that their bodies aren’t things to be ashamed of and that they are aren’t immoral temptresses that supposedly lead good men astray. Girls deserve care-free childhoods unmarred by the leers and actions of predators. Furthermore, it is crucial that we hold men accountable for their actions in these scenarios. Whether it be Roy Moore’s reprehensible charges or the more common instances of casual objectification that we all see regularly, adolescent girls need to be protected. Regardless of the outcome of the Alabama Senate race, one thing is clear: as a society, there is still much work to do in order to create a safe future that women and girls deserve.


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