Eighth Grade: Consent and the male gaze

On Thursday Juliette and I ventured to the cinema, regretfully not to see Endgame, but to see Eighth Grade.

I hadn’t heard of the film, but Juliette suggested it after seeing positive reviews on Twitter.

I quickly watched the trailer to check I wasn’t being duped into a horror/thriller/anything that would plague my imagination and agreed, happy it was a sweet coming-of-age story.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, check it out here:

 

I was surprised to see the movie was rated as a 15, even our dear Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging was only a 12. Why would they make a coming-of-age film cutting off some of their audience?

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Credit: Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging

The film itself is sweet, awkward and cringey, everything a 13/14-year-old should be. In addition, it’s an interesting insight into what it’s like growing up in the digital age.

However, it’s also the most truthful representation I’ve seen of the shortcomings of sex education and consent in schools.

Aged 14, most of us are starting to seek others approval on a romantic level. We notice attraction towards other people and are desperate to have our affections reciprocated.

For a young girl interested in a young boy, it’s easy to identify what they’re all interested in.

I can remember in school when boys suddenly discovered porn and it was all they could talk about – that’s where they got their sex education, from a world created for the male gaze.

To get a boys attention it was easy, just make yourself apply fit their gaze.

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Credit: Eighth grade

Kayla, the protagonist, in a completely misguided conversation, attempts to do this during the film. In a toe-curlingly awkward scene, Kayla attempts to bring her sexuality to her crush, Aiden’s, attention.

After hearing he broke up with his last girlfriend because she wouldn’t send explicit photos, Kayla pretends she has an album of “dirty photos” of her own.

She tells Aiden they’re stored on her phone, ready for when she gets a boyfriend – he responds with a question about her ability to give a blow job.

She responds that she’s obviously great, then turns to YouTube tutorials for advice from experts.

Watching this, 22-year-old-me was howling with embarrassment for the poor girl as she unsubtly navigated the conversation. However, another part of me was devastated she felt the need to act this way.

The more I thought about it, the more I found similarities with my 14-year-old self.

I can remember posting a photo on Facebook in a bikini, aged 14, hoping people (boys) would see I now had boobs and a “woman’s body”, just like the other girls in my year.

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Awkward 14-year-old me wishing she was more mature than she was

Had I received a better education, I would have known before-hand that the only attention it would have received was from the boys I’d want to avoid.

This was something I, and many other girls I’m sure, had to learn the hard way.

Awkward teenage attention-seeking aside, the film also touches on consent.

Kayla finds herself alone in the car with a boy, older, shirtless, and encouraging her to do the same.

She apologises repeatedly after refusing, feeling guilty for not being ready. Meanwhile, the boy guilts her, that he was just trying to teach her so she wouldn’t be a crap kisser in the future.

If there’s one thing I wish she, and every other girl was taught in school, it’s consent.

I can remember the lessons about how to put in a tampon and how to put on a condom, but I don’t recall one lesson regarding consent.

Yes, I now know how to avoid STI’s, but what good is that when you don’t know how to say no? And that it’s not your fault if you do want to say no?

Consent is a heavy topic to discuss with young adults, but we need to stop pretending that they can’t handle it.

As soon as a girl transitions to a young woman she faces inappropriate comments and situations, and the only way we can tackle this is through education.

We also need to stop relying on girls to know to say no, and teach boys how to respect girls. When they grow up experiencing sex through porn, they don’t learn about respect and consent – after all, what good would porn be if one person said no, the other respected that and the video ends?

In the digital age, young people have access to so much more knowledge than we did growing up, but we can’t trust them to figure it all out for themselves.

While the #MeToo movement has done amazing things for opening a dialogue about consent, we can’t just rely on kids finding these conversations for themselves – we have to start them in a safe and open environment first.

I wish this film had been around when I was growing up. Eighth Grade includes all the awkwardness of being a teenager, with the reality of being a teenage girl and navigating through it.

One Comment Add yours

  1. jakaitruth says:

    I have never thought of it this way,it’s like you’ve shined a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I believe this knowledge will go along way in the upbringing of confident and respectful people especially here in Kenya where the topic sex itself is still taboo.

    Liked by 1 person

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