December 8, 2016

Our fixation with slut-shaming underage women borders on fetish

Women’s cosmetics have proved to be some of the most dangerous substances in America. They’re banned in large volumes from airplanes, they’ve warranted a gender tax that rivals the tariff on cigarettes, and they’re considered highly-emasculating in a man’s hands—as well as highly-flammable in anyone’s.

The latest cosmetic threat: inappropriate lipstick. When tattoo artist Kat Von D released her new shade titled ‘Underage Red,’ the Internet erupted with fear. In response to the outrage of concerned citizens, the artist took to social media to calmly explain why she would not apologize for the name.

After hearing her defense, I don’t want her to either.

Von D calls ‘Underage Red’ a tool for “feminine rebellion.” Her critics call it an obscenity.

As an artist, Von D must accept that her work will be misinterpreted—and the public, as free Americans like her, must remember their offended opinions don’t necessarily warrant her to change anything about her art. That being said, free speech and creative license aren’t the problem here. What’s most worrisome about the response to ‘Underage Red’ is that people immediately fetishized the name.

The word “underage” in our society embodies both sexual desire and sexual predation. Labels like ‘Underage Teen’ or ‘Barely Legal’ refer to popular porn categories—names we should consider much more offensive than any lipstick. But ‘Underage Red’ offends people not because the word makes them imagine the sexual harassment of adolescents, but because it implies the women who wear that particular shade invite the illegal abuse.

The victim-blaming mentality that an underage woman who dresses maturely provokes pedophile behavior completely contradicts the so-called concerns for the young girls who wear it.

I can understand why people wrongly assumed that Kat Von D wanted the name to embody that stereotype. I’m used to seeing women play into sexist stereotypes out of ignorance. Objectification pervades so many aspects of our society that even women adopt misogynistic views of themselves and other women. But in this case, Von D uses a stereotype to empower women.

For some background on the name, Von D shared her inspiration for the lipstick on her Facebook page. She said ‘Underage Red’ refers back to a memory when she was 16 years old and tried unsuccessfully to enter a concert she was too young for.

“Back then,” she wrote, “I was already deeply in love with punk rock music, and although in the eyes of many (including my parents), it may have been inappropriate for me to be wearing lipstick. But I did.”

In her recollection, Von D describes the desire many young women experience on the cusp of adulthood: the desire to appear mature. Women learn early in life that mature female bodies hold people’s attention, while adolescents regardless of gender hold no authority. Women are socialized to believe that with attraction comes maturity, that with maturity comes power, and that with power comes respect.

Unfortunately, most young women who attempt to achieve respect or some kind of authority over their lives by appearing more mature often meet the exact opposite of their intended outcome: they are labeled something worse than “whore”—they’re labeled “Lolitas.”

‘Lolita’ also happens to be one of the shades Von D released alongside ‘Underage Red.’ Named after the famous novel by Vladimir Nabokov, this shade is about as misinterpreted as the book’s title character.

In daily usage, our society has mutated the name into an obscene, sexually charged label. The Webster-Merriam Dictionary defines “Lolita” as “a precociously seductive girl,” which places the blame of attraction on her.

However, the 12-year-old character herself didn’t ask for the novel’s middle-aged male protagonist to manipulate, abduct, and sexually abuse her. Lolita was raped. She was not the problem.

And neither is naming shades of lipstick after labels we associate with “sexually delinquent” women. Names referring to victims of sexual harassment should not offend people. Our culture blames the victims, yet ignores why words like “underage” make us uncomfortable.

Von D, self-proclaimed feminist and human rights activist, affirmed her lipstick’s name is a statement, not an invitation.

Addressing her fanbase, she explained, “My number-one goal when creating any beauty product was (and always will be) to provide the creative tools for self-expression and to empower those who choose to wear it. It has NEVER been a goal of mine to inspire sexualization of any sort, let alone promote a destructive lifestyle.”

We have become a society that blames make-up or the woman who wears it, instead of the people who have fetishized young women into objects that plead for harassment.   

Von D best summarizes this perversion in her own words: “If you read the word ‘underage’ and you automatically jump to a disgusting conclusion, I ask you to perhaps question your own mind and thoughts. Consider the damage such negativity can actually cause, verses actually help.”

Personally, I’m hoping for her next shade, Kat Von D goes for ‘Uncompromising Queen.’

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