WOMEN

What We’re Really Doing When We Shame Young Women For Their Selfies

Why are we so hellbent on not taking young women seriously?

No group is subject to more fascination and derision than teenage girls. 

We track them, we gawk at them, we sexualize them, we use them to sell things, we hope they buy things. We allow them to shape the direction of our culture and then scorn them when they move the needle. They are “shrill” and “self-absorbed,” and we can easily conjure up images of screaming “fangirls” who fall to pieces at the sight of their favorite boy band/singer/YouTube star.

In short, teenage girls are a powerful group, but we are terrified of them. So instead of trying to understand them, we settle on refusing to take them seriously.

Our collective scorn of young women became clear this week when two MLB announcers took it upon themselves to mock a group of them for taking selfies during a baseball game.

A viral clip shows the camera focus on a group of young sorority sisters from Arizona State University posing for selfies. Instead of panning on and showing other fans in the stadium or, you know, returning to the game, the announcers choose to focus their sole attention for two minutes on making fun of the faces the young women are making while they’re goofing around with their friends and taking photos. "'Hold on, gotta take a selfie with the hot dog, selfie with the churro, selfie just of the selfie," says one of the male announcers in a mocking tone.

Amanda Hess accurately summed up the absurdity of the situation for Slate: “What have we learned today? Men like to look at young women. Young women like to look at themselves. Men don't like it when young women look at themselves. But they don't dislike it enough to stop looking at them when they're looking at themselves.”

(To their credit, the sorority girls declined an offer of free tickets from the Diamondbacks and Fox Sports, asking them to instead donate the tickets to A New Leaf, a non-profit focused on helping domestic violence victims.)

Adults -- specifically adult men -- seem to feel unreasonably empowered to comment on and police the behavior of young people -- specifically young women. Would these male announcers have used the same condescending tone had a few boys been playing games on their phones? Would they have bothered to pay attention or comment at all? Somehow, I suspect not.

Yes, being on your phone can be distracting as hell from the world around you. Yes, we adults can argue until we’re blue in the face about how things were better before X technology ruined Y experience, lamenting how “teens these days” aren’t making connections the way we did 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. But that’s just goddamn exhausting and ultimately makes little difference.

Instead, we could try to learn from them. The majority young women I’ve encountered on platforms like Tumblr and Instagram are more informed and eloquent than I was at their age. They make real connections easily, both online and off. They are armed with language I didn’t have access to until college and they wield it with increasing power. This is a generation of Rowan Blanchards and Amandla Stenbergs, teen girls who create art and write and argue with the best of them, and, yes, take selfies.

If young women are in control of their own public-facing profiles and their own words and their own interests, why shouldn’t they have control over images of themselves?

Having been a teen girl a decade ago, I can tell you it comes with a whole lot of bullsh*t and self-doubt and other people telling you what your beauty should/could/will/must be. If a selfie can combat that in some small way, put a little bit of power back in the hands of young women, I say bring it on.

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