by Katherine Dee
Wednesday, 9
February 2022
Explainer
17:38

Teen girls are struggling with male attention on TikTok

The video platform is complicating the relationship between users and creators
by Katherine Dee
Credit: TikTok

Earlier this week, a story published in The Wall Street Journal warned parents of TikTok: “[The] fame is catching teens off guard, leaving many girls unprepared for the attention they thought they wanted.”

I was struck by that line, but here’s what I’m willing to wager: even if the attention makes those teenage girls uncomfortable, they continue to chase it. TikTok, like most of social media, creates a feedback loop, though perhaps even more perniciously. From the moment a user clicks ‘record’ on a video, their face is instantly touched-up before a filter option is even available. The ‘you’ one sees on TikTok is the ‘you’ of one’s imagination (i.e. with a slightly smaller nose or clearer skin). Choose from one of their myriad filters and you are further transformed with elaborate make-up, bigger eyes, bigger lips — the menu is infinite.

But that’s not where it stops: when you unleash this idealised version of yourself into the world, even ‘smaller’ accounts can receive in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of engagements. And when it comes to videos of young women displaying their body, much of this attention comes from men commenting on their beauty or appearance. Suddenly, these young girls are caught in a whirlwind. The attention feels validating, but you’re not quite sure what it means, what it does for you, where it can take you, or if you even want it. So you continue to chase it.

None of this is to say that women — or young girls — deserve to be the subject of unwanted or inappropriate sexual comments — they don’t. Nobody does. But in 2022, we still don’t know what to say about the role of male validation in women’s lives. All that remains is a series of conflicting messages, simultaneously telling young women that they don’t need it and yet that it’s empowering to receive it.

In the 2010s, the culture resolved to ‘empower’ women by putting them in the driver’s seat. Have sex like a man, and they won’t be able to hurt you. Of course, for most women, ‘having sex like a man’ usually amounts to little more than uncomfortable or unsatisfying casual sex we would have been better off not having (as amply evidenced by the genre of tweet and think piece dedicated to the author’s complaints about all the bad sex they’re having). Sometimes this sex is had with the hope of finding a relationship in a torrent of discomfort, but if we’re to believe statistics about single women, that hope is often in vain.

The irony, the distancing, the shallow proclamations of empowerment: they all ignore several important and fundamental problems. Women and girls end up in a confused relationship with male attention, even when it’s not quite clear what their modus operandi is in chasing it. This results in two dominant archetypes: the man-eating bimbo and the man-hating feminist. The party line for both is, “I wish I wasn’t attracted to men, but I am.” And thus begins the feigned self-deprecation, “Aren’t I trash for showing off my boobs and being a giant slut?”

Of course all of this is amplified by TikTok — and how couldn’t it be? The sheer volume of people that every user is exposed to is bound to have a desensitising effect in which every person (especially women and girls) is reduced down to their looks.

But when it comes to sex, social media isn’t the core problem. These issues remain unresolved elsewhere, too. TikTok only presents a version of it on steroids. Instead of a few boys in your class, or a handful of men you know in real life, or the gentlemen at the bar during a night out, it’s everyone, all the time.

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Max Price
Max Price
4 months ago

Males are obsessed with females. Females are obsessed with male attention. It’s the species exerting itself.
An honour code for men and a modesty code for women. All else is folly.

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Yea, some things are immutable.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
4 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Haven’t we tried that? For some of us, that’s God’s code; for others, a conglomeration of ‘what’s your particular moral code?’ C’mon, keep up…we’ve evolved past all that! Welcome to your naturally selected future.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
4 months ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

…I would say that humans (and human nature) have not evolved very much at all Marcia. But for sure, traditional ‘social constructs’ around female/male relationships have lost viscosity, under the influence of technology. Things look set to be unstable for some time across many social and economic dimensions.

Last edited 4 months ago by Bernard Hill
Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
4 months ago

I think the popular notion that having “having s*x like a man” means a string of casual sex encounters forgets about the majority of men for whom this would not be possible even if they wanted it to be.
As so often in this discourse, outliers are taken to represent the whole. When discussing women’s role in the workplace we’re often reminded how many men sit on boards and form governments etc, but very little attention is given to the fact this is a tiny minority and most men work the same ordinary types of jobs as women. The fact the FTSE 100 is dominated by male CEOs is no more representative of men’s professional success in general than some sexually prolific guy who sleeps with different women every week is representative of their promiscuity.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

Yes she really tripped into a very false stereotype there and completely undermined her credibility, as well as her argument.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
4 months ago

I am so very glad that I met my wife when the internet still meant modems, and that I don’t have daughters. Mind you, even for my sons, it still seems dating these days is a minefield. How very depressing.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Philip Stott

I met my (extremely good looking, confirmed bachelor forever) husband over 17 years ago on the internet. It was longer format than Tinder and perfect for me. I didn’t ever like ‘dating’ and expectations – having to endure boring chit chat while craving my bed and a book. This way I could keep someone at arms length, see if he could write intelligently, could amuse and entertain (and vice versa).
Without this medium we could have perhaps met by chance in person, but I would never have gone for him (and probably him me), without the lengthy period we spent writing – which we continued after our first meeting – and for years after we became involved.
I found it a very sophisticated and effective medium.

ralph bell
ralph bell
4 months ago

I used to run a debate group and we ran a discussion on online dating about 5 years ago. Over 50% of the attendees met their partners online and stated the reasons you gave as why it worked for them, chatting over time without just image first impressions like a first date can involve.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  ralph bell

Good to hear! I’ve met quite a lot of couples who got together online. I don’t think Tinder will yield the same quality experience, because so much of it is simply hookups, but the longer format still exists.

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago
Reply to  ralph bell

Very interesting indeed. I guess affirms the validity of old fashioned courtship, which a hook-up certainly is not.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
4 months ago

Delete it then? As I said to my pupils when smart phones first appeared: so now you’ll be carrying your mum and your bullies with you and when you go to work it’ll be ‘work anywhere anytime’. A few did pause for thought.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago

‘having sex like a man’ usually amounts to little more than uncomfortable or unsatisfying casual sex 

Unsurprising really, because that’s what men often find out too. Though we perhaps take our time about it.
Sex with someone you just about fancy, don’t really like (or even know), and certainly wouldn’t have a relationship with – it’s just not generally that great.
If it’s the exception to your normal behaviour there my be a bit of a forbidden thrill. But if it’s the rule ….

Last edited 4 months ago by David Morley
Richard Parker
Richard Parker
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Yeah, I think that’s pretty much it. If you predicate your worth on a largely commodified dating market where youth and appearance face off against money as the tradable currencies, it becomes (depressingly) even worse. So glad I’m too old and (happily) settled to be a part of it. Looks like a desperate sh*tshow and like many commenters, I worry for my children.

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
4 months ago

In my 70’s now I have had decades to observe that women dress for other women, they wear ridiculous false nails to show off to other women (men just thinks it’s foolish). To display how gorgeous you are to women you consider not-so-much brings gratifying feelings of superiority.

William Shaw
William Shaw
4 months ago

The root of the problem is well known and documented but it seems to escape the author.  Females advertise their wares to attract the attention of the opposite sex.  The problem that females have to deal with is that they only want that attention from a certain member or subgroup of males so they inevitably get unwanted attention.  Dealing with this unwanted attention requires finesse, as the female has to somehow reject the attentions of several bigger and stronger males as she filters out her selection. 
The attention is as addictive as crack cocaine to young women. After they get tired of TikTok they will progress to be SugarBabies to pay for uni then it’ll be OnlyFans to support them through their 20’s.

Last edited 4 months ago by William Shaw