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Themes to take away from Cuties go beyond how society sexualizes young girls

By Alexa Livelsberger:

When my own daughter was younger she sometimes didn’t fit the mold of what society tells us a little girl should be. I would pick her up from daycare and get reports about her being “aggressive” or “playing too rough.” Working in the field of gender-based violence I was keenly aware of how her gender might be impacting the way others viewed her and expected her to behave. I often thought to myself, “I wonder if the teacher would say that if she were a boy?” The world expects little girls to act gentle, be quiet, and take care of others. At least that’s one expectation that our society has for girls, but it’s not the only one.

Prior to watching the film “Cuties” I read the blurb and assumed that I would sit down to write this blog solely about the sexualization of young girls, a subject I know far too well after working in the sexual violence field for most of my career. Yet, I was surprised because the film had themes beyond this, themes that I imagine resonated with many who viewed it. And these themes in the film that occur every day in the lives of individuals who identify as women and girls aren’t new. While the film had a focus on social media and the role that it plays in the lives of pre-teen girls, the themes of identity, gender roles, acceptance and belonging are things that we can all identify with, regardless of the generation that we’re a part of.

Let’s dissect the film starting at the end (yes I’m one of those people that reads magazines back to front and often peeks at endings of books, anyone with me?) Let me do my best to help you create a visual of one of the final scenes in the film. The camera pans to the bed of the main character, Amy. On the bed lay two of her outfits, with their placement very strategic. On the left, we see a traditional dress, floor length with a floral pattern and layers of lace. On the right, a metallic 2-piece dance costume with short shorts and a bra top. I share this scene to help create a visual in your mind about the choices that we offer girls in our society.

If we think about Amy’s two outfits on a continuum we can see the far left side as the expectation that I shared already. The expectation that women and girls will dress and behave in traditionally feminine ways and take care of others. The far right side of that continuum is the expectation for women and girls to be sexual objects and to use their bodies to please others (and then society often uses this against them, blaming them if they are sexually abused).

The belief that connects these two extremes is the fundamental expectation in our society that at either end of this continuum (and dare I say even in between) women and girls should put the needs of others before their own needs and wants. Whether it’s caring for partners and children or using your body to please others, it always seems to be about someone else’s needs.

For Amy these extreme choices were also where she was offered belonging. The traditional dress and behavior offered her belonging with her family, while dressing and acting in a sexual way offered her belonging with her friends. Every one of us, and most certainly every one of us as pre-teens, have the human need to feel accepted and belong, but at what cost?

Cuties was definitely not just about the sexualization of young girls, but made a far bigger statement.

So which outfit did Amy choose? (Spoiler alert) She did just what we would wish for every young person. She chose herself, in blue jeans and a long sleeve red T-shirt, she chose jump roping in the street with other kids, she chose self-acceptance. She rejected the extremes that society offered her and chose her own path. You go, girl.