Recently, #FastTailedGirls trended on Twitter. It’s a hashtag that was started by Mikki Kendall for black women to talk about their experiences with being hyper-sexualised at a young age. I saw tweets about girls as young as four years old being labeled “fast” for wanting to play with their male peers, for dressing up in sundresses and hats, or hitting puberty early. And because black women can’t have their own space respected there were of course trolls, slut-shamers and victim-blamers.
(I was going to put a picture of an adorable little girl wearing a hat here, but got frustrated trying to find a non-watermarked picture of a pre-teen when “girl” is assumed to refer to all women.)
One of them tweeted, about an hour ago: “@yvethepoet How do those laws have anything to do with allowing children to dress like they don’t respect themselves?” (To clarify, he was addressing it to @yvethepoet, who was contributing to the hashtag. Additionally the tweet he was replying to didn’t say anything about laws, so I’m going to assume he means age of consent legislation or something similar.) And good lord that tweet raises so many issues but is so, so typical of the responses women get talking about this shit that I really want to address it.
1. Age of consent laws don’t have anything to do with how children dress because clothing isn’t consent.
2. Though he later mentioned “young women”, he is definitely referring to children here. Presumably pre-teens. A child wearing “provocative” clothing, a child wearing heels and make up, a child wearing a bikini, does not look sexy. Not to me, not to most adults. Children learn about the world through play. They dress up, they play pretend, they role play, they copy what they see. An eleven year old experimenting with her clothing in imitation of how adults dress is not making some kind of comment on her sexual availability. Ideally an eleven year old doesn’t even know what that means, though sadly many (particularly black girls and other girls of colour such as natives) have been forcibly introduced to their sexuality way, way too young. Even a fifteen year old who hit puberty early and has a lot of curves is still clearly a young girl on interaction. There are very, very few fifteen year olds who are actually so magically mature that you can’t tell them apart from an adult. And while the age of consent here in New Zealand is 16, in much of America where the people contributing to #FastTailedGirls live it’s 18, so a fifteen year old girl is not “only” a few months away from being “legal”.
3. How exactly does one indicate through their clothing that they don’t respect themselves? I actually addressed this point on Twitter and never got a reply. By asking this he’s assuming that his assumptions about the meaning of dress are universally true. Some people think that a woman who doesn’t cover her hair must have no self-respect. I could think that anyone who’d wear a onesie in public doesn’t have any self-respect. The motivations behind how we dress are incredibly complex, very culturally specific, and entirely subjective. Often people will object to clothing on one woman that is a completely normal thing to wear. For example, one woman on the hashtag talked about being told to wear trousers instead of shorts as a child because her mother’s boyfriend was coming to the house. Obviously, that’s bullshit. A young girl wearing shorts is not some sultry temptress. She’s a young girl wearing shorts. I’m wearing shorts right fucking now and I don’t think they’re particularly sexy. Another woman talked about a teacher chiding her for showing too much cleavage wearing a tank top. Women who have large cleavage often complain about trying to find clothes that properly cover them up, because sometimes it’s just not possible. You can’t wear a turtleneck in hot weather (the American South in summer…) and sometimes a turtleneck actually draws more attention to the breasts by outlining them and not having a neckline directly above them to distract the eye. Ultimately what people are actually objecting to is these girls and women having a certain type of post-puberty onset body, and that’s not something that girls and women can control.
4. Following on from that, what does the assumed self-respect or lackthereof of young girls even have to do with rape? I mean, obviously, it does because a) rapists are predatory and deliberately target vulnerable girls and women who often have poor self-esteem and b) being sexually objectified and hypersexualised erodes self-esteem and self-respect, but the guys who are making this argument don’t fall in line with that reasoning. They don’t talk about rape as a deliberately predatory act and they don’t worry about the self-esteem of girls who are being constantly judged according to their perceived sexuality. They think “confidence” is a codeword for “dressing slutty” and victims call rape on themselves by being too sexy. And in that case, shouldn’t the opposite be true, that girls who don’t respect themselves are less attractive? Unless, I guess, you think low self-esteem and lack of self-respect are sexy, that they make an eleven year old girl desirable, and that the exaggerated play-acted “flirting” of pre-teens, in the few cases where it existed in the first place (which it usually doesn’t, most girls did not invite the attention, not that any level of flirting implies consent anyway and especially in a fucking child) is somehow attractive rather than clumsy and immature.
This huge focus on clothing is ridiculous. Clothing is not the be all and end all of attractiveness. It might influence it in some ways, but not enough to make someone who you wouldn’t ordinarily be attracted to suddenly become someone you’re going to chase after, past the point of just eyeing them up, past the point of approaching them, past the point of flirting, past the point of asking them out, someone you’re actively trying to have sex with even if their first response isn’t “yeah, let’s do it!” Likewise, someone who’s attractive in and of themselves isn’t suddenly unattractive because they’re wearing more clothes. So how, how, how can what a child is wearing be a relevant factor? People who aggressively pursue children do it because of social values and conditioning that tells them it’s okay and they won’t face consequences. In some (but not all or even most) cases they do it because they’re pedophiles or ephebophiles, who are attracted specifically and exclusively to that age group, and also because social values and conditioning tell them they won’t face consequences. But the idea that there’s something that black girls in particular are wearing that accounts for the way they’re sexualised and shamed defies all logic and common sense.