The Feminist Media Reader #11 - Cougars, Coleen Nolan and the double standards of sexual objectification

by - Friday, January 16, 2015

Something has been niggling me recently. Well, since last autumn really, but I've struggled to articulate it in a way that wouldn't seem oversensitive or petty. What kick started this annoyance was one lady in particular - Cheryl Cole. Or rather, Cheryl Cole's judging performance on the X Factor, where she routinely openly judged her potential contestants, particularly the male ones, on their 'cuteness'.

Now, I think we can all agree that however you want to gloss it up, being 'cute' can make a big difference between slogging it out as a wannabe musician and becoming a bona fide popstar (hello One Direction.) However, something about her 'ohhh, if I was your age' cooing over 16 year old boys left me feeling very uncomfortable. After all, how would we feel if this was Simon Cowell slobbering over a 16 year old girl? We'd feel repulsed, and understandably so. So where have these double standards that mean man objectifying young girl instantly equals potential peadophile, whereas women doing so just makes them a cheeky 'cougar'? Is it just because most 16 year old boys would dream of getting with Cheryl Cole, or is it a deeper strand of prejudice than instantly trusts women over men when it comes to sexual crimes or indecent behaviour?

I was reminded of this when watching the first episode of the new series of The Voice where I was greeted by the whole thing all over again, with Rita Ora fanning herself in faux hot flush and making vaguely inappropriate comments towards younger contestants. Once again, I made like Taylor Swift and shook it off, putting it down to her not being so old herself and pandering to the stereotypes of being the 'sexy older lady'.

But then today, I stumbled upon this article on a work break, and felt like I had to say something.

Like, I know it's The Mirror and all, but that headline alone - whaaaaat?! Who would do this? Imagine for a moment that this was a celebrity dad listening to his daughter have sex - he would be labelled a creep and wierdo instantly, not just an 'embarrassing mum'. While I've already tackled the many, many feminist issues with Loose Women in an earlier Feminist Media Reader (see here) I can't help but be a little appalled. Sure her son didn't seem to care (and I'm obviously not claiming that Nolan is any sort of abuser),  but it does strike me once more than women are universally perceived as the weaker sex, unable to present any sort of sexual threat. 

Patriarchy in stealth mode, it sets a tone that makes it very difficult for victims of female sexual abuse to be taken seriously or even recognise their mistreatment as being wrong. The media is constantly perpetuating the fact that Cougars are amusing, while similarly pushy men are threatening misogynists. It doesn't have to be as serious as physical abuse either - even sexual harassment or uncomfortable comments can be enough to make young people feel pressured or weird about their adolescence. It boils down the same way as most of these articles - if we want gender equality, we simply can't kep having it both ways.

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