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Image / Living / Culture

Counting down until Millie Bobby Brown is ‘legal’ isn’t just gross. It’s dangerous.


Counting down until Millie Bobby Brown is ‘legal’ isn’t just gross. It’s dangerous.

Trolls revealed that they'd literally had a countdown clock indicating the days until they could legally sexualise 'Stranger Things' actress Millie Bobby Brown.

Sigh.

How are we still here? The creepy internet – that’s why. The crusty old patriarchy. Those with a disturbing Lolita complex when it comes to child stars.

Predictably, trolls revealed this week that they’d literally had a countdown clock indicating the days until they could legally sexualise Stranger Things actress, Millie Bobby Brown.

Sexual terrorism

But 22 years after the same was done for Leon actress Natalie Portman as she celebrated her 18th birthday, how are we still accepting the strange obsession with female adolescence?

Portman called it sexual terrorism. Even as a 13-year-old child she recognised how damaging it was for her. “Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort.”

But what creeps want, creeps have been getting. Even since the early days of Page 3 when printing images of children aged 16 or 17 was deemed acceptable. In 1983, Sam Fox was the youngest at only 16 when she first featured topless in The Sun newspaper with the headline ‘Sam, 16, Quits A-Levels for Ooh-Levels’.

However, the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 2003 resulted in the minimum age for women posing on Page 3 being raised to 18. This now means that all former images featuring women under 18 are now potentially illegal.

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Millie Bobby Brown at a 2020 appearance of the Screen Guild Writers Awards

Ridiculous

It was the dedicated work of author Lucy-Anne Holmes who gathered petitions to end the exploitation of all such young girls for the sexual satisfaction of male readers. Her campaign ended the topless images. She told the Guardian at the time: “Imagine if on Page 3, for 42 years, we’d seen scrotums…and now a man was standing up and saying ‘I’ve got sons, and they’re walking down the street, and people are grabbing their balls and saying show us your balls, and they hate this. They’ve got self-esteem issues, and could we just stop the scrotum pictures?’ Imagine if a woman then turned around and said ‘you’re just jealous’. It would be ridiculous.”

In recent times, media outlets are now beginning to have some level of accountability when it comes to the way girls and women are portrayed. But social media is another beast entirely. And child stars seem to attract a worrying barrage of sexual references as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

One user explained that the thread would be “dedicated to sexual pictures of Millie,” with thousands of subscribers waiting for this content to drop

In the past few days, as Millie Bobby Brown’s birthday approached, Buzzfeed reported that there were several countdowns surfacing on online forums, including an “NSFW” Reddit thread that promised to open on her birthday.

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Millie Bobby Brown, Instagram

Pain and insecurity

According to Jezabel, one user explained the thread would be “dedicated to sexual pictures of Millie,” with thousands of subscribers waiting for this content to drop. When she was just 16, Brown took to social media to explain the damaging effect this type of scrutiny was having on her. “There are moments I get frustrated from the inaccuracy, inappropriate comments, sexualization, and unnecessary insults that ultimately have resulted in pain and insecurity for me. but not ever will I be defeated.”

The deliberate decision to wear oversized clothes appear to be a reaction to and rejection of this type of sexualisation.

For years, older male social media users have been sexualising young girls. Billie Eilish spoke about it in an Elle interview after a photo of her went viral. Instead of her usual baggy attire, she was wearing a tank top.

“Then my boobs were trending on Twitter. Eeven CNN wrote a story about them.”  Billie went on to discuss her fashion choices and how she covers her body in order to avoid judgement. Her bold fashion and deliberate decision to wear oversized clothes appear to be a reaction to and rejection of this type of sexualisation.

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Billie Eilish, Instagram

The underlying problem is that being young and perceived as ‘sexy’ in Hollywood sells. That’s the dangerous truth. It even has a name – the Lolita-factor.

(Lolita being a book by Vladimir Nabokov about the kidnapping and ensuing sexual slavery of a 12-year-old girl by her pedophile stepfather. Not to be confused with the film adaptation – the Hollywood whitewash story of a quirky, precocious girl who seduced an older man for fun.)

Sigh.

Emma Watson also pointed this out in a speech to the United Nations in 2014 in which she described being sexualised at age 14 during the fame of the Harry Potter films. She outlined her own childish disgust at having men discussing their excitement for her to reach the age of consent.

Skewed

Young, male celebrities are not immune to this type of judgement either, by the way. It just isn’t as prevalent.  Justin Bieber experienced extreme popularity after his hit song ‘Baby’ was released 10 years ago, when he was 16 years old. It was singer Sinead O’Connor, who called it out. She stated that Bieber was exploited and ‘sold on his sexuality’.

It isn’t victim blaming to understand that a lifetime of living in a society where countdown clocks to children being legal for sex can skew perspectives. It’s self-awareness. 

While it’s acknowledged that there is an attempt to ‘capture the market’ so to speak with young teens in the spotlight being encouraged to show more skin to sell more records/films/advertising space. That doesn’t mean that it’s ok for men to perpetuate this culture of…well, let’s call it what it really is… this culture of pedophilia thinly disguised as something else.

Importantly, too, we need to be extra vigilant about what we, as women, are prepared to accept, to consume, to want to be.  It isn’t victim blaming to understand that a lifetime of living in a society where countdown clocks to children being legal for sex can skew perspectives. It’s self-awareness.

The outraged hashtags and Facebook posts mean very little if we don’t continue to educate those who seem to need lessons in a few key areas. So here goes;

Not every female who pouts is ‘gagging for it’. We can be sexy and pretty and scantily dressed or shrouded in baggy clothes and not want to be raped for our trouble, thanks. There is no correlation between women choosing to wear a plunging top and a man’s right to call her a slut or demean her in any way. It isn’t for you, mate.

Finally, describing a child in the spotlight as ‘all grown up’ is just creepy, countdown clocks are wrong on so many levels, and what the hell is wrong with people?

Please stop being so gross. Please stop scaring young girls with your dirty comments. Please stop thinking this is all for your pleasure.

Please.

Just.

Stop.