For Tween Stars, It's Different When You're A Girl

The cover of this past weekend's New York Times Magazine features a somewhat stunned and lifeless looking Miranda Cosgrove with the headline "Big Girl Now," the corresponding story (penned by Peggy Orenstein) examines the difficulties that the seventeen year old Cosgrove faces as she navigates her way from tween idol to adulthood, ideally without becoming yet another cautionary tale of out of control young womanhood (see: Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, etc etc etc).

The piece is fascinating and raises quite a few good points, but what I find far more interesting is what's ultimately left unsaid: while Miranda and her female cohort are desperately trying to grow up without losing control, their male peers are somehow able to traverse the path from boy to man in a much more seamless manner. While cultural critics wring their hands in fear of what's to become of Miranda (or has become of Lindsay, Miley, and the like), no one seems the least bit concerned about how similarly wholesome Justin Bieber (who, like Miranda, is on the cusp of adulthood at age seventeen) is going to become a man and embrace his sexuality without betraying his principles: perhaps because, for a boy, being interested in sex is not seen as being in conflict with being "good." (How else to explain the fact that Justin Bieber manages to maintain a wholesome image while palling around with rappers best known for singing, well, less than chaste songs?)

It might be part and parcel with the fact that–as a general rule–-our culture views sexual women as objects, and sexual men as subjects; that as girls become sexually aware, they somehow stop being people and start being things. After all, the easiest way for a budding teen starlet to signify that she has arrived (along with puberty) is to pose nude: what more direct way to say, "I'm not a little girl anymore" than to show off your secondary sex characteristics? Yet somehow, even male stars who flirt with exhibitionism on the way to their adult careers seem to emerge unscathed: let's not forget that Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe signalled his own maturity by doffing all his clothes for a role in "Equus." It seems somewhat telling that his long time costar, Emma Watson, has yet to follow suit.

All this is a roundabout way of getting to my real point, which is that I think that, by worrying about young women while assuming that–no matter what trouble they get up to–-boys will, in the end, be all right, we are doing boys a tremendous disservice. To wit: like Miranda Cosgrove, Angus T. Jones (of "Two and a Half Men" fame) turns eighteen this year. Unlike Miranda Cosgrove, he hasn't spent the decade sheltered in the bosom of Disney–he's spent it at the side of a womanizing, drug abusing, violent, emotionally disturbed man (yes, that would be Charlie Sheen). Given the two situations, I'm vastly more concerned about the long term mental wellness of Jones–yet I've yet to see any columnists agonizing about his future, or how he'll successfully navigate to adulthood given the trauma of being exposed to someone so unhinged at such a young, impressionable age. Are boys really as resilient as we give them credit for–-or are we just fundamentally less concerned when they do drugs, go to rehab, shoplift, abuse women, and have sex (or any of the number of activities that cause us to fear for the futures of young women)? And, regardless of what the answer to that question is: why is it so?

This post originally appeared on Pop Culture Pen Pals, a site featuring an ongoing discussion between Fleshbot [NSFW] editor Lux Alptraum and TheAtlantic.com's Alyssa Rosenberg. Republished with permission.

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