Sexualising girls - Social stigma the burden for girls who develop early

All Woman

“THE children at my primary school didn't play with me because my breasts were big at age nine.”

Kadene Morris, now 22, told All Woman that she's still emotionally scarred today after facing discrimination and being labelled as promiscuous because she entered puberty at an early age.

Morris said at that time she became withdrawn as the students who were once her friends stayed far from her, mainly because of their parents' admonitions.

“I remember my closest friend, my best friend at the time, saying her mother said my breasts would attract scaly-foot boys, and puberty would cause me to want to do naughty things with them, so she didn't want her talking to me anymore,” she said, also expressing that she felt awkward and wondered for a number of years if she was normal.

“Just imagine for a second how I felt. It was in the latter part of grade three, moving into grade four when this happened to me. I was still a child, still innocent, and to have adults saying my breasts would attract men and I would welcome the men was humiliating. I had no friends, and my parents tried to reassure me that I would be fine, and not to internalise what was being said, but I was a child. Children are like sponges, of course I felt bad and low. It's almost as if these adults thought a period was abnormal and growing breasts was a crime. Once I even heard one say, 'Look how she look big, you can see seh man a touch her', and I went to my desk and cried. Those last years of primary school were horrible. My redemption came in high school. It was there that these things were seen as normal, fewer comparisons were made, and we got on with our lives without that as the focus,” Morris said.

Morris's experience is not unique. In fact, many women today can remember having the same experiences in primary school, where girls who developed shapely figures at a young age were usually labelled as loose and promiscuous — the target of school gossip. And it wasn't confined to the rural areas where sex education can be more lax. As recently as last year, a parent with children at a Kingston private school recalled the conversations she had with her 12 year-old regarding the behaviour of a group of girls in grade six.

“Looking at it now I can see grave issues, including how even I reacted. Four of the girls out of the 20 students in the class had breasts and hips, had got their periods, and my daughter would tell me of the rumours that surrounded them. The boys would think they were easy targets for grabbing and touching; the girls didn't want to be their friends because they thought they had boyfriends and were having sex, and the teachers hounded them, watching their every move around the boys, warning them about being too friendly, too loose, and would have hush-hush discussions about which one would be more likely to end up pregnant in high school,” the parent shared.

And if the labels aren't bad enough, these girls are usually the targets of unwelcome remarks from perverts and others who think they are overgrown, fed hormone-laden foods, or are “ripe” for their age, oftentimes disregarding the fact that their development is normal, as on average girls start puberty between the ages of eight and 13.

Sex therapist Dr Sidney McGill said in general, girls who develop early tend to feel isolated and alone because of regular rejection by some of their female peers, as their bodies develop early.

“They become frequent sex targets for older boys and foolish, irresponsible men. The fallacy is that their secondary sexual characteristics are more advanced, but the opposite is true. And they become obvious sex targets because they are sexually mature, but emotionally inept.”

Dr McGill explained that these girls' lives become more complicated and challenging when they have no one to turn to for emotional support, and emphasised that these girls need more love and attention from their parents, especially their fathers, so as not to be greatly affected by the negative remarks levelled at them.

He said parents of girls in this situation should follow their children's academic performance keenly, and should ensure their involvement in extracurricular activities. He said they should have regular discussions with the girls about life and sex in general, as in this early developmental stage the children need to feel secure and loved at home.




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