Tween Media, Harassment and Big Mouth.

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If you haven’t watched Big Mouth, or seen clips of it on YouTube, it’s a Netflix original adult animated comedy surrounding a group of 7th graders as they embark on the journey of puberty. Its second season premiered October 2018. Its definitely not something that you would watch with parents in the room. Its even kind of weird to watch with your friends… but women are tuning in. Roughly 27.8% of the users who rated Big Mouth on IMDB are female whereas for South Park its 17.1%, suggesting a change in demographic for the gross out comedy. Whilst its positive for women to start taking interest in a stereotypically male genre, the popularity of such a genre is an indicator of a repressive culture. I came across an article suggesting young men in America are drawn towards vulgar gross out comedies like South Park because they never received sex education in the same way girls do.

Girls entertainment has always been more adult compared to boys. Tween mags for girls come with strawberry scented lip gloss whereas boys comics have plastic whoopie cushions. Even the content of a girl’s magazine preps them for handling crushes whereas a Dennis The Menace comic would be stuck in the ‘girls are gross’ stage. In the early 2000s girls shows like Brace Face, Winx, and As Told By Ginger had plots that revolved around romance and sociability. Whereas in boycentric shows like Ben 10 or Ninja Turtles, the big bad wasn’t a bratty love rival or a skin breakout, but the monster of the week. Girl shows at that time were even brave enough to explicitly talk about a woman’s changing body. Both As Told By Ginger and Brave Face have episodes surrounding a girl’s first period and breast development.

This is great for girls but what about boys? I doubt any cartoon would consider handling the topic of balls dropping or having a freak boner in the middle of class. On the less raunchy side, although boys’ media tend to be entrenched in STEM (because I’m counting superheroes and science fiction as real science), these shows, video games and comics rarely cover sociability or how to treat a romantic partner with respect. So boys are starved of a proper sex and related to this, relationship education. They are repressed. They locker talk. Peek up girls skirts. Now, sexual harassment in schools is ‘rife’. The lack of appropriate teen media makes the jump from CBBC to South Park all the much easier.

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For boys that was back in the 2000s. Puberty talk in modern kids shows is non-existent and it is starting to effect girls . Even the way we represent the female body in animation is censored. The Power Puff Girls reboot wrote out the voluptuous (yet intelligent) Miss bellum and gave Miss Keane a breast reduction (this harps back to my previous article). These days, a short cut to portraying a strong female character is to denounce the crush or any feelings of sexuality. Even Kiera Nightly banned her child from watching the Disney princesses. Without children being shown appropriate romance or characters crushing, there is no discussion of romantic feelings and how to handle them in a healthy way. Now girls and women, like the boys of the 2000s, are latching onto raunchy adult shows – and they are watching shows like Big Mouth.

What makes Big Mouth so bad? The show’s intention is positive – to give a voice to different genders and sexualities throughout adolescence, but it is how this is portrayed that can be seen as damaging. Although the main characters are teens, the drawing style makes them look 5. Having toddler like characters engage in explicit sexual acts is unnerving. The show does have an R/15 rating but it is so easily accessible. Clips are splattered all over Youtube. You can watch this music video on Netflix’s official Youtube account portraying topless 13 year old girls dancing with naked older women, pubes and all. It is body positive and you don’t even need to sign into an account to confirm your age so little kiddies can watch this scene from the show. A teen or adult can understand the feminist nuances of such a clip but to a little kid, it normalises children dancing with adults naked. This is why a stepping stone of teen entertainment is needed.

Arguably, children do not watch as much TV compared to in the past. Instead, kids are watching Youtube, streaming shows and playing online video games and all of these platforms are easily accessible and highly unregulated. The government is scratching its head on how to solve the sexual harassment issue in schools, but really it needs to pressure the entertainment industry to rethink how it approaches the tween demographic. Point to take home: we need to rethink how we portray sex and relationship education and how this will impact on future generations of young adults as they embark on their own real life relationships…

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