One of the most harmful and perverse aspects of contemporary American culture is the sexualization of our children, especially our young girls. While not new, this trend seems to be snowballing through various age-targeted marketing campaigns which advertise suggestive clothing, wanton pop idols, and bawdy TV shows and movies that are improper for any age, let alone preteens.
This concerning trend accelerated last week when Netflix advertised on social media a movie poster that featured several eleven-year-old girls in sensual poses wearing tight, two-piece outfits. (Intentionally absent in this article is a link to the poster.) The movie is a French film named Cuties for American markets that is set to be released on Netflix in September. A description of the movie was included in the social media ad:
“Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
I will not attempt a definition of “twerking,” but suffice it to say that it is an explicit dance move. In the movie’s description, eleven-year-old Amy’s sexualized quest is set against her family’s traditions, which one assumes are conservative, chaste, and aimed at stewarding sexuality toward traditional marriage. The fact that Amy’s pursuit of “twerking” is framed as an exploration of femininity reveals how shallow and bankrupt our society’s concept of femininity really is.
In the aftermath of Netflix’s social media post, there was a glimmer of hope. The poster sparked such significant online backlash, including a petition at Change.org that as of publication has almost 300,000 signatures, that the Netflix Twitter account published the following apology:
“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”
The problem with this apology, of course, is that the artwork was not the only problem; the entire concept of the show is the problem. But as of today, Netflix is not planning on pulling the movie. The apology’s attempt to cite the Sundance Film Festival as a kind of moral imprimatur should say more about Sundance than this movie.
Incredibly, not everyone thought the apology from Netflix was even necessary. One movie critic writing at Forbes downplayed the problem of the original ad:
“Maybe, marketing is marketing and a keen understanding of how the media works in 2020 would show them that this was actually a viable clickbait-friendly strategy. Or, more likely, they made a poster with four kids in dance costumes which wouldn’t be out of place at any dance recital and are now contending with the film’s director getting chased off social media.”
This writer’s hand-waving reminds me of something my dad would say when I wanted to do something because all my friends were doing it: “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” To put it clearly, if this poster wouldn’t be out of place at your daughter’s dance recital, you shouldn’t be involved in that dance recital.
Why is it that our culture can muster essentially universal condemnation for Jeffrey Epstein’s and Harvey Weinstein’s crimes against young women, but we can’t voice universal condemnation against the obvious exploitation of these eleven-year-old girls?
Too often, the hyper-sexualization of young girls, which in any moral accounting is a form of exploitation, is aided and abetted, ironically, by a feminist empowerment narrative. The silence from #MeToo leaders is especially egregious when the exploitation and objectification is so patently obvious, but worse still are the cheers for what they believe to be a liberation from conservative, oppressive, traditional norms.
Complementarians, in contrast, stand against all forms of abuse and female exploitation, championing female dignity as God-given and worthy of protection. True, biblical complementarianism defends women and girls. Complementarians aim to dignify womanhood in all its resplendent glory.
But this controversy is bigger than complementarianism. What Netflix released last week should galvanize Christians everywhere to stand against such vile objectification. Be wary of any quarter that cannot give a full-throated condemnation of this movie.
Parents, protect your young girls from being sexualized by the culture. Fathers, model for your sons and daughters respect for women that refuses to objectify women and girls, but instead treats them in all purity (1 Tim. 5:2). Mothers, model for your sons and daughters feminine godliness and adornment that is honoring and pleasing to the Lord (1 Pet. 3:3–4).
And let’s stop giving oxygen to the feminist narrative of sexual empowerment and the chauvinist narrative of women as sex objects, both of which are sexualizing our young girls and setting them up to be used and exploited by men who do not have their best interest in mind. Familial tradition is a common grace that encourages chastity before and within marriage for the good of future generations. Any institution that sets itself up against such a good should be vehemently opposed.
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