The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
By Camonghne Felix
“Misogyny loves a vulnerable girl. Misogyny loves an impressionable and easily-influenced body.”
As a woman who spent most of her teen years becoming expertly familiar with the streets of New York City, I am no stranger to the spell of attractive older men. As a teenager who considered herself “ahead of my time” (ignore my adolescent narcissism), older men were often my kryptonite. They provided a kind of intellectual and social worldliness that I felt was missing from the boys my own age. While I was probably right about that difference in intellectual and social capital, what I did account for was the kind of emotional capital these older men had over me.
I was 16 and distraught from a newly diagnosed-personality disorder. I fought with my mother as consistently as I would self-injure, and my high school dean was my only friend. Every morning, he would buy my breakfast and let me skip my first period class to sit in his office and read. It seemed innocent enough at first — he had a daughter my age and a photo of his wife on his desk. He’d been a support to me for almost a year, so I barely noticed as his behavior — and our relationship began to change.
One morning, I came to school incredibly distressed, more than I had been in months. As was the routine, I went to his office to eat my breakfast, but spent most of the time crying incessantly. He came from behind the desk to sit with me, holding my hand as I cried. “Look at me,” he said, his finger arching my neck. I looked up. “You are so beautiful. Even when you cry.” It was a compliment. It was a warm, comforting compliment when I felt most ugly. “I wish I were young enough to marry you, so that I could take care of you.” The compliments that had at first comforted me later became a clear look into the mind of a predator. It wasn’t my first run-in with a charming predator, but this was different because it wasn’t really about sex, and he was my only friend. I should have told someone, but out of fear of loneliness, I kept him close, even as his advances grew more intense.
Recently, when I checked the updates on my newsfeed, I felt a drop in my stomach when a story about a conflict between Tyga and Lil Wayne popped up, with a photo of Kylie Jenner below the title. As I have almost no interest in the Kardashian Klan, I almost didn’t Google Kylie Jenner’s age. But I did, and was concerned when I learned the the conflict had little to do with music–and everything to do with 25-year old Tyga’s rumored relationship with a then 17-year-old Kylie.
I am not asserting that Kylie Jenner, or necessarily every young woman in a relationship with an older person is being treated outside of their own will. What I am asserting is that the appeal of the Young Girl to heterosexual older men is no innocent attraction, and that it is a male-centered construction embedded in our culture that perpetuates a deeply irresponsible misogynistic dynamic.
Laurence Steinberg in his piece Adulthood: What the Brain Says About Maturity, an op-ed published by the New York Times writes,
“Significant changes in brain anatomy and activity are still taking place during young adulthood, especially in prefrontal regions that are important for planning ahead, anticipating the future consequences of one’s decisions, controlling impulses, and comparing risk and reward.”
Nowhere in the world does a girl at 16 occupy the same social space as a woman at 26 — and this has nothing to do with the way she is perceived or what is expected of her body. Before an individual can truly claim adulthood, some things that we have no control over must occur: the brain’s prefrontal cortex continues to develop until around age 25, and it influences our decision-making, critical thinking, personality expression, and the self-moderation of social behavior.