So back during college, I found myself replaying Final Fantasy XIII while my roommate’s friends were over. And to my everlasting annoyance, these twenty-some-year-old men felt the need to fake orgasm and talk nonstop about all the nasty things they wanted to do to Vanille, whom everyone thought was fifteen, based solely on the fact that she has “perky boobs”. And according to them, her voice sounds as if she’s in the middle of an orgasm too, apparently. They treated Vanille as if she was no longer a character, but as a sex object whose sole purpose was to please them.
I didn’t have a lot of fun playing that day.
But this experience does bring to mind something that should be addressed. While Vanille is actually at least nineteen, I believe, and video games and plenty of other mediums tend to objectify grown women to titillate male audiences, many things in geekdom tend to do the same with underage girls as well. And even more surprisingly, not many people seem to have problems with this.
We could possibly argue that the sexualized teenage girl is for the underage teenage boy fantasy, but I don’t think that’s the case. Many of these games are designed for adults as well as teenagers, and the same could be said of anime and manga and comics in general. There are more adults in geekdom than there are teenagers. But even if that weren’t the case, adults are still the ones designing the stories.
The fact of the matter is that sex is an advertising gimmick found in everything. We use it to sell beer, makeup, clothes. You name it, and there’s probably an ad somewhere that has managed an innuendo of some kind. So it comes as no surprise that it also ends up in children’s media, or even in adult media that features children. And we, as a society, teach people from an early age to see this over-sexualized image as normal. And when young girls grow up with this, it can help perpetuate internalized misogyny.
But what makes this all the worse is that young girls are not trained to be sexualized and empowered this way for themselves. They are sexualized and empowered this way for other people, namely heterosexual men. And that empowerment is false. I’m sure there are sexy, empowered women out there, but for the most part, the media portrays women as empowered through being sexualized.
But though I can at least understand why adult shows, comics, etc. directed at men will feature sexualized women, even if I don’t like or agree with it, I have a much harder time understanding why adult media directed at men feature sexualized teenage girls. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to understand it. Whenever I find myself following a story involving teenagers, there’s almost always that one girl who’s objectified for no real reason. Let’s look at Rikku from Final Fantasy X, whom Tsunderin and I just recently talked about. She is fifteen years old, and when she first joins the group, we get a montage of her taking off her clothes.
And yet, for the sequel, her outfit manages to get even more sexualized. I assume it’s because they considered her to be more adult by then, but she’s still only seventeen.
There are so many times in comics, anime, shows, so forth, when shots are specifically designed to look up a teenager’s skirt, or zoom in on her rear, or even have her introduction shot start on her breasts. And I know some people say that maybe this isn’t a problem, as men are and can be objectified as well, but I just want to point out that I have never seen a male character, teenager or otherwise, be introduced through a crotch shot, or something equally objectifying. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’m grateful that I’ve never seen that.
I get the feeling that there is some idea that the more sexualized something is the more adult it becomes, and therefore we can simply say that it’s okay because it’s supposed to be like that for the audience. However, that does not change the fact that some of these characters are not adults. Let’s take a look at a rather famous story: Sailor Moon. Usagi Tsukino is a fourteen-year-old girl, and despite her superhero costume being incapable of hiding her identity at all, whenever she or the other Sailor Scouts don their battle armor, no one can recognize them anymore. My one professor theorized that this is because she grows older and more physically mature when she transforms into Sailor Moon. Essentially, she goes from being a teenage girl to being an adult. This idea treats Usagi as being incapable of maturity or responsibility unless she’s in an adult body, in which she is of course wearing a mini-skirt that could easily be mistaken as a belt. Usagi doesn’t change mentally, only physically. If we believe my professor’s theory, this sends a very damaging message, that women can only be empowered if they have a certain body type. Furthermore, despite her body becoming more adult, Usagi is still fourteen.
And most sexualized teenage girls don’t have the excuse of physically becoming older through a magical transformation.
When we sexualize young girls and teach them to act more adult in their body image, we are doing more harm than good. We are teaching girls that this is the way they should always act, that their worth is based on their looks and pleasing men. And we are also teaching men from an early age that it’s not only okay to objectify women and young girls, but that they like being objectified.
A prime example of this would be my roommate’s friends who had been watching me play Final Fantasy XIII. They wouldn’t stop the things they said about Vanille, even though they thought she was minor, and even when I asked them to stop. They saw nothing wrong with it. And after that got boring, they also saw nothing wrong with turning their comments onto me.
I think Anita Sarkeesian explains this better than I could.