I remember walking through the mall with my dad (age 55) and he made some comment to me about a girl in short shorts. The girl must have been about 17 and yet my dad saw no problem with his leering at her legs (and making a sexual comment about them to me, his daughter [age 25]).
This kind of thing has happened before.
Going through a checkout at a Walmart with my dad, he and I both noticed the cashier. I noticed her because I remembered her from Vacation Bible School and grade 9 gym class; my dad noticed her because he thought she was attractive, etc. When we left the store I mentioned to my dad that we were in the same grade and he didn’t believe me. “That girl is older than you,” he told me, convinced.
The trouble with idealizing youth and sexualizing young girls is that it becomes normalized. Men who are attracted to, and prey on, young girls don’t see anything wrong with it — they don’t even truly know how young they are. My dad, for one, refused to believe that he was attracted to someone as young as (and younger than) his daughter. Classic sexism allowed him to dismiss what I was saying and twist reality into a world where he gets what he wants and doesn’t have to answer to anybody. In this magical world, to paraphrase Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, my dad keeps getting older but the women he thinks it’s appropriate to be attracted to stay the same age.
The idealization of youth, the sexualization of young girls, and plain ol’ sexism allow men to live out this fantasy. A fantasy that translates to a nightmare for girls and women.
Sick with the flu, I fell asleep watching The First Wives Club on Netflix two nights ago, a 1996 film about three women who have all been left by their husbands for much younger women (one as young as 16). I woke to the news of David Bowie’s death and some subsequent online discussions about his — and many other rockstars of the era — sexual “relationships” with underage girls, relationships that can only be described as rape given the wide gaps in age and power. All of this points to the fact that my dad, while certainly a grade ‘A’ creep, is certainly not alone. And this poses some very real and very serious threats for women and girls. No matter how you look at it, women are considered disposable objects in a culture obsessed with youth: in The First Wives Club, this fetishization of youth translates to older women left depressed and devalued, with low self esteem and little money or stability. In the context of the 60s and 70s rockstars, the fetishization of youth meant young women were exploited, raped, and abused, a legacy that has not disappeared. My dad grew up idolizing rockstars of the 70s; it’s no wonder he perpetuates this behaviour.
I’m afraid our generation is not much better; the rape apologism, silence on sexual assault, and victim-blaming woven into the dialogue surrounding Bowie’s death confirms this. We need to do better. We need to resist misogyny and sexism that dictates that women’s only value is their sexual appeal. We need to resist ageism that dictates only youth is beautiful. We need to protect young girls from exploitation by calling out the men who prey on them, and we need to value all women for something other than their bodies. We can start by refusing to idolize adult men who sleep with young girls, no matter what else they might contribute to our culture.