The War on Teenage Girls
Although I would jump in front of a bus for Harry Styles, I have to admit that I wasn’t always like this.
In Middle School, I was absolutely repulsed by One Direction. Why, as an intelligent 12-year-old, would I subject myself to the immature lyrics of a boy band? Apparently, I was too good for Harry at this time, so I decided to explore real music, like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. Yet, when my friends made conversation in the P.E. locker room about Made in the A.M, One Direction’s newest album, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on something.
I don’t think I truly realised what I had been missing until much later. In high school, as my friends and I would go on late-night drives on the empty highway blasting “Drag Me Down”, my sense of nostalgia for One Direction turned into something of regret. As my friends would play One Direction B Sides and talk about the potential for a reunion, I was left with my ridiculous amount of knowledge of ‘80s rock bands.
But, in December 2019, Harry Styles released his sophomore solo album, Fine Line, and (to put it non-dramatically) my life changed forever. I put on my headphones, laid on my back in bed, and listened to the album front to back as the upbeat “Adore You” turned into the sadness of “Cherry”, which evolved into the reflective “Sunflower Vol. 6”, before closing out with the title track finale. For two years, Fine Line was something of a bible for me, getting me through a breakup, high school graduation, and my first year of college.
As a second-year college student, I now understand how much I missed out on. Rather than enjoying what a teenage girl is supposed to, I forced myself to adopt the music taste of a straight white man in his 40s—all because I was scared of being looked down upon by the demographic I was seeking to mimic.
Yet, this is a much larger issue than just my tumultuous relationship with One Direction. My hatred for my own identity as a teenage girl was merely a microcosm of society’s larger disdain for teenage girl culture as a whole. Young women are routinely ridiculed and degraded for simply liking things that young women are supposed to. Time and time again, we hear unfounded criticisms of boy bands, rom-coms, beauty trends, and more.
No matter what category they fall under, teenage girls can’t win. If a girl likes the entertainment that is marketed to her, like the Jonas Brothers, Timothee Chalamet, or Gossip Girl, she is attacked for not understanding real art and is thought of as weak and dumb. Too often, we label this sort of entertainment as our “guilty pleasure,” as if we should feel shame about enjoying a feminine product.
Still, if a girl diverts from feminine interests, they are met with scepticism. Most of us are familiar with the pretentious question, “oh you like ____? Name five of their songs” (it’s even become a meme in the past year). Thus, even when girls’ pop culture interest falls outside of the hated teenage norm, they are badgered by men about their genuineness.
So, if we are criticised for boy bands but gate-keeped from the “real stuff,” where’s the in-between? Enter: the pick-me girl. The pick-me is “not like other girls” and thinks that girls are “too much drama.” For most of us familiar with the pick-me, we despise her. Rightfully so, because she actively puts other women down to gain attention from men. However, we need to acknowledge what the pick-me girl represents, which is an escape. Rather than being mocked for her femininity or questioned for her non-traditional interests, the pick-me shelters herself from the male gaze by appealing to it. So, while we have a right to despise the pick-me girl, we also have to understand the power dynamics that led to her creation.
Teenage girls possess a criminally unrecognised amount of power. They hold the potential to shape pop culture and influence the music, television, and film industries. When we consider major pop culture moments throughout the decades, many of them were driven by teenage girls. The Beatles, Brittany Spears, and BTS, all began with a base of young female fans who turned them into global phenomena. To keep young girls in their place, however, society patronises and humiliates them. We sexualise them at a young age and tell them that they should be “too mature” for silly bands like One Direction. As a result, we forget that teenage girls have the right to be young, have fun, and like whatever they want to like.
I realise now that my desire to actively reject the entertainment that my peers enjoyed came from a deep-rooted misogynistic hatred for my identity as a teenage girl. I wanted to be taken seriously and not be ridiculed for the concerts I went to or the shows that I watched. As a young adult, however, I now consider it an act of self-love to divulge the things that I missed as a teenager. I’ve fallen in love with boy bands like BTS and unapologetically obsess over heartthrobs like Kim Taehyung.
All in all, we need to allow teenage girls to love whatever they want. Stop telling them what bands are respectable and what movies are admirable. Stop forcing them to grow up so fast and allow them to be young for once.
This piece was brought to you by our wonderful CLITern - Chloe Morris 💜