In 2015, Fetty Wap was topping the charts and his music was played every day for me on the way to work. The beats fueled my inner trap queen goddess and gave me the hype energy I needed to start my day. This music didn’t just reach adults; kids loved it too.
I will never forget one of my students singing one of his songs that talked about smoking weed, then he suddenly started to talk about the drug. Alarmed at how a third grader was talking about such mature topics, I immediately shut the conversation down. A couple minutes later, I was talking about Mavel and handing out Captain America, Hulk, and Ironman stickers.
This is the moment when I realized our kids are in trouble.
The next year, I saw the same kind of occurrences happening but this time, the most alarming lyrics were coming from my female students. Enthralled off viral dances in the pre-Tik Tok era, my students were singing Steal Her Man by the Taylor Girlz. The song, which has a youthful tone to it encourages girls to “steal her man.” When I saw my students gathered in a circle, little Sally Walker style, singing this song my jaw dropped. At no point was this okay.
The film Cuties addresses the sexualization of young girls, especially young Black girls in the film. The director, Maïmouna Doucuré, was inspired by this film after seeing young dancers come on a stage and dance provocatively. Afterwards, she spent the next year and a half researching femininity and how females are oversexualized. The main character is a recreation of Doucuré as herself at a young age who lived and navigated life as a woman in a dual culture.
Where It Misses the Mark
The goals, message, and point of view of Doucuré makes sense. I’ve seen it with my own eyes as a teacher, I’ve navigated my own femininity as a Black girl and now Black woman, and I can relate to what her intentions are. However, what Doucuré fails to understand is that perspective is in the eye of the beholder.
Harm and Human Trafficking
A couple of years ago, I taught GED classes to Human Trafficking Survivors. It was an experience that changed my life for forever. I had know about Human Trafficking before but to work up close and personal with survivors, to know their stories, and to interact with them on a daily basis was an experience that I’ll never forget.
It also showed me the large gaps we have in our knowledge about sex trafficking and was a real eye-opener. I learned about a concept called grooming, where subtle things happened in society that allowed for the normalization of sexual nature of girls. This is most definitely a film that predators will use as a way to indulge in their sexual urges due to the upclose filming of genital regions, the girls who are learning how to twerk and move their body in sexual manners, and the way that 11 year olds playing 11 year olds have sexualized themselves under the direction of adults. This is the problem.
Though Doucuré herself has done research on the sexualization of young girls, I don’t believe she had to go to these lengths to recreate the sexualization of actual young girls to make her point. It seems as though the mental health, well-being, emotional maturity, and protection of the innocence of the child actors wasn’t taken into consideration. If it was, camera angles would be different and editing would allow the point of the film to be made without the need of the actual sexualization of girls to occur.
Nobody is saying sexualization of children isn’t a problem. It is. Kids are seemingly influenced and controlled to do things that are way beyond their years. It’s a huge problem. But we can address these issues without traumatizing other children in the process.