A network for women by women

Lifestyle

shutterstock_88433596

Slut Shaming 16 Year Olds

I was recently cast in an alcohol abuse campaign video (she says, sipping on a glass of shiraz – responsibly). I should specify that the focus was on alcohol abuse in young people, primarily underage drinkers. It was possibly the most random job I’ve ever undertaken. Mainly because I was cast as a 16 year old girl! The girl part isn’t too crazy, I am female after all, but I am also 23. That’s 7 years older than the age I was playing and let’s be honest, there’s a big difference between your 23 year old self and your 16 year old self. I’d say there’s a marginal difference between my 18 year old self and my current self. I certainly didn’t behave like my character’s 16 year old self when I was that age! Perish the thought.

You see, I was never one to abuse my parents’ trust and throw an out of control booze fest whilst they were conveniently away for the weekend. Mainly because they never left my brother and I alone for a weekend. This led me to think that maybe the moral of the story should be, “Don’t leave your child home alone, with cratefuls of alcohol, that they have somehow managed to purchase, and will proceed to share and personally consume.”

There were a few connecting stories in this campaign. The main aim of each one was to shame the character for the behaviour they exhibited whilst intoxicated. These characters included a young girl vomiting – not on target I might add. Because where would the shock factor be in that? A young boy, drinking with his father, at home, then making his way to the party. With every sip his ego grows, eventually landing him in some trouble, with the police, for violent behaviour. Then finally, my character, the hostess with the mostest booze down her clothes. This nameless teen proceeds to drink neat vodka. First out of a cup then, abandoning all glassware, just swigs it out of the bottle.

I was directed to throw myself at “some lad” and lead him upstairs. This particular lad was only seventeen in real life! I just played the drunken clingy type and avoided any overly seductive acting. As her brief story progresses, my character clumsily leads him upstairs and incurs some very judgemental stares as she slams the bedroom door behind them. After an obvious time lapse, the door opens, the boy exits and there’s a shot of my character looking ashamed of herself. Then one of the extras proceeds to take a photo of me on their phone. Now, whilst this scenario is supposed to discourage teens from abusing alcohol, I can’t help but disagree with the way in which it is presented.

I do hope I’m not being overly picky and politically correct but the fact that I had to act ashamed for doing exactly what the boy had just done and he gets to walk out without a care in the world…it feels a bit backwards to me. Without overlooking that having sex is a sensitive issue for young girls and some may well feel upset after intercourse; it seems that using it as a negative outcome of drinking too much can only enforce feelings of tormented self doubt when they finally do have sex. It can also give young boys the idea that girls who get drunk and have sex should be ashamed of themselves and this makes it okay to call them sluts and slags. Don’t they deserve it after such bad behaviour? It also makes it seem more acceptable for boys to get girls drunk and sleep with them because boys don’t have to be ashamed of being sexual. They can be more of an opportunist in this case.

Another qualm I had with this scene was the photograph being taken. You just know that, in this day and age, that picture would end up all over social media sites within seconds. Whilst this may be a harsh reality of what happens in the lives of teens, again I can’t help but feel frustrated that the person taking the photo seems to have the divine right to do so. Again, they walk away with no repercussions. There should have been! At a time when cyber bullying is an issue, why make it seem that if a girl has sex, it’s okay to subject her to that nastiness?

This is not to say that teens don’t get drunk and behave in a way that’s embarrassing and shameful. This is shown by the other main characters in the video, vomit girl and violence boy. Not to mention the irresponsible and cringe worthy way my character behaved in front of her guests; pouring vodka into people’s mouths, falling up the stairs and just generally lacking any composure or grace. So these were fair examples of the negative effects of alcohol.

At the start of the filming day I was included in somewhat of a production meeting. During this meeting I did voice my concerns over my character’s situation. They mentioned they were being careful not to make it seem as though the boy had forced her into sex and therefore stirring up any criticisms of victim blaming. However, they had not thought of how her story could be slightly sexist. I suggested that a more detailed storyline might help. We could see her destroy a relationship with a long term or potential boyfriend by cheating on him. Or maybe destroy a friendship by sleeping with or just kissing her friend’s boyfriend; all as result of poor judgement and thoughtlessness due to alcohol abuse. Whilst the team took these suggestions into consideration, they were quickly deemed too intricate for the time scale they were working with.

So what is the correct way to educate young people on alcohol abuse?
Some say it’s down to your own experiences and life choices to educate you. Then, possibly, we should be educating children on how to consume alcohol responsibly. We see it on packaging and adverts, “Enjoy Responsibly”. How are they to know where responsible drinking ends and abusing alcohol begins? So maybe we should educate teens on limits and drinking in a more controlled environment, rather than punishing young girls for their sexuality.

This subject is fairly complex and there’s an opportunity to explore enough tangents to write a dissertation. However, after finishing this job, it was definitely a prominent dispute on my mind. The conclusion I’ve had to come to is that we need to be more considerate of the underlying effects our methods, for educating children about health and lifestyle, can have on such young and anxious minds.

Comments

Leave a Reply