Name a single thing that teenage girls can enjoy without being made fun of? I bet you couldn’t think of anything. From swooning to boy band members to harmless TikTok dances, pretty much most of the culture attached to the young teenage girls is always mocked and deemed as unimportant and frivolous. I vividly remember in a failed attempt to please the boy crushes or to be taken seriously, some us of girls had to 'rewire' our choices of enjoying the 'girly' pop culture. Be it the craze for The Beatles in the ’60s to now, the rise of the K-pop industry valued at $ 562.24 million, young teenage girls have been an active loyal backbone of these multiple sectors in pop culture. Then, why exactly were we shamed for appreciating and actively participating in a culture that had been specially curated and created for girls my age?
The Good ol’ Patriarchy
The 23 y/o lifestyle commentary YouTuber, Ashley Rous says in one of her videos, “This tendency to make fun of young girls easily on TikTok points to the larger issue that women, particularly teenage girls do not hold cultural capital in our society”. She further explains the concept that it is, “Basically, the idea that things that are stereotypically marketed towards men such as sports, action heroes are considered good taste and cool things.” This has a direct correlation to how we view and interact with culture attached to that of young girls. We subconsciously view entertainment and art created for women such as Romcoms, pop culture female artists, fashion, and makeup as superficial and less intelligent.
When it comes to these young, evolving teen girls, somehow a lot of older people especially older men quickly join the bandwagon to slap on the wrist. If you happen to type TikTok roast on youtube, you will be surprised to find the number of videos with a channel of 1M to 3M subs such as Elvish Yadav, Lakshay Chaudhary, etc who actively make fun of these minor girls and young women. Many of their popular content heavily relies on these skimpily dressed teenage girls and using their harmless dancing or humor content negatively while the punchline would usually be shaming their body or their hobbies. Many of these 'commentary videos' happen to nitpick and bash even the smallest of small hand gestures. The irony of this situation is that many of these YouTubers heavily rely on their content and their eye-catching thumbnails based on these minor young teens heavily photoshopped to build their own narrative conveniently.
They are Young and You are Old
One of the main reasons for this issue lies in deeming their opinions and choices in a very critical lens with no mercy to their age and likings. In the infamous One Direction article about their young teen fan base, journalist Johnathan Heaf wrote, “By now we all know the immense transformative power of a boy band to turn a butter-wouldn’t-melt teenage girl into a rabid, knicker-wetting banshee who will tear off her own ears in hysterical fervor when presented with the objects of her fascinations,” He continued this disastrous article by commenting, “These women don’t care about the Rolling Stones. They don’t care about the meta-modernist cycle of cultural repetition. They don’t care about history. All these female fans care about is their immediate vociferous reverence: the beatification of St Harry, St Zayn, St Niall, St Louis, and St Liam.” The truth is I don’t think any teenager regardless of their gender would really like to dissect a 'meta modernist bipedal cultural cycle' because it is an age where everything is hopeful and hormonal for both, boys and girls. But what isn’t normal is a middle-aged man in his late thirties with developed tastes and biases dictating a budding young teen girl’s tastes and 'critically' analyzing her entertainment. These instances of culture policing through a gendered lens in any genre be it dance, humor, or sports are commonly faced by the young female teenagers navigating their likes and dislikes with their hobbies being labeled as 'embarrassing'. This type of gendered policing by these older men and commenting casually on these developing minds diminishes their value and their opinions without considering their constantly changing choices.
Why does it even matter?
These young teenage girls are taught from a young age how less their interests and hobbies are valued. The media and the men show no mercy in misrepresenting and misunderstanding the likes of this category. Perhaps the reason behind this passionate bickering hatred might be because of how easy the target is to exercise their masculinity, another example of how age and gender play a big role in restricting these fresh, hopeful voices
This constant censoring for developing young female adults is quite detrimental in the journey of self-expression which is laden with strict do’s and don'ts which often prevents them from associating themselves with the cultural things a normal young teen would.
I remember when I was a young teen trying to discover different forms of self-expression such as music, YA novels, and films. I made a very conscious effort to not attach myself to 1 Direction, Shawn Mendes, or any other “popular girly” music so much that I decided to never listen to Taylor Swift’s Love Story, just because it was 'lame' and I still haven’t. I made sure to hide my obsession with Anne Hathway’s Princess Diaries, pretended to be interested in Marvel and DC universe for some reason, and deprived myself of a lot of the girly things that I secretly wanted to do. These decisions led a young 14 y/o me to develop internalized misogyny just to be taken 'seriously' and put down the women who enjoyed these feminine hobbies. Much like me, many young girls who try to break this stereotype, actually end up liking and enjoying things that are said to be 'intellectual' such as getting invested in a superhero universe, enjoying sports, or I don’t know getting excited to play Uncharted. Even after enjoying these typically male marketed forms of entertainment, we still succumb to the fake geek girl trope by constantly being questioned of our authenticness of the concerned subject, like relax, ‘Arjun with an acquired taste', yes, I do know who Pewdiepie is and no, I don’t just watch him because he looks cute and also, it shouldn’t matter in case I did. So, ultimately regardless of the side we pick, we always tend to face the heat from a very young age.
The Double Standards
If we as a society were so obsessed with young girls growing up and gatekeeping their pastimes, what about the boys then? Upon asking one of my male friends whether they too faced any backlash in their tastes in their teens, he took his sweet time and answered a weak “not really”. He mentioned that he did witness how the girly pop mainstream music and books had gotten quite a lot of criticism but he pointed out how teenage boys his age were never really criticized for watching the violently portrayed fights of WWF and the heavily male gazed action films with disposable female characters.
The problem arises when we are quick to attack the teen girls for fantasizing over Edward from Twilight or a cute boy band but when it comes to teen boys watching a fifteen-year-old Meghan Fox skimpily laden in a white shirt in a movie about cars turning into robots is ignored and dismissed without batting an eye. Imagine if we teased young boys for enjoying action films, “violent” video games, and basic white boy rap. So the question to be asked is why do we draw those lines for these similar demographics when in reality they are just practicing what is assigned to them in their gendered roles.
The Ironical Trendsetters
While society might be busy calling out the girls, the capitalistic marketers are always busy to observe, curate, and target this largely loyal demographic full of intense passion. From detailed fandoms, waiting for hours for their favorite artists, young teenage girls are some of the biggest decision makers for giant industries such as fashion, makeup, pop culture, upcoming artists, and even the revisions in our vocabulary and slang. In an article written by Olivia Babin titled 'Quit making fun of girls for existing', she cited the feminist activist and writer Bailey Poland, “There’s an underlying assumption that teen girls are not in control of their emotions or interests and become overly excited or upset for no reason,” She continued, “When the reality is that teen girls are often very intentional about what they’re interested in and aware of the social influences behind those media products, and they deliberately use excitement and passion as the foundation for community-building and empathetic development.”
There’s a simultaneous hypocritical approach towards this demographic which occupies a massive chunk of cultural category subconsciously. Director of Gender Studies at the University of Notre Dame in an article with Vox said, “What’s fascinating to me about the teen girl is that we have these seemingly very paradoxical discourses happening at the same time,” Mary who specializes in media and gender further said, “There’s this idea that the girl is powerful, and that marketers and cultural figures want to court her, and the girls themselves are like, ‘Yay us!’ And then there’s this backlash against that.”
How do We Change?
As the popular saying goes, “Just because it’s mainstream, doesn’t mean it’s bad”. If I could go back to my younger self I’d have encouraged her to loudly jam to Taylor Swift’s songs, try to openly discuss her love for young adult cliche novellas, and quit trying to pretend that she didn’t have a crush on Zayn Mallik. Because the truth is, Taylor Swift went on to win 10 Grammys, those novellas have been successfully turned into popular Netflix films and 1 Direction was valued at about $340 million when it broke up. Young girls just like any other normal teen, are in this awkward phase of learning and unlearning multiple things at a rapidly constant pace and by restricting their choices to a much more “mature” confuses and stunts their own judgemental skills. A collective understanding of empathy goes a long way in preventing these young minds full of vibrant optimism from falling prey to low self-esteem just to develop a bad case of imposter syndrome along the line. There is a much necessary unpacking of internal bias and assumptions that needs to be unlearned. The next time you see a piece of media, maybe a makeup-related reel or a peppy choreography to a trendy song and dismiss it impulsively, challenge your bias while judging and change the manner in which you interact with this culture.