I learned many things in my years as a teacher. A big one was that 18 year old girls are younger in the mind than society allows them to be. This has been on my mind this week with allegations that Drake is dating an 18 year old model and giving relationship advice to a 14 year old actress.
I was a form tutor for years 9, 10 and 11 for 6 years. There was one girl in year 10 in my second year who was inconsolable because her friends had hidden her pencil case. This was ugly crying, the kind where tears and snot fight for real estate on your face. She was inconsolable even after the friends came in and apologised and it took her a long time to recover. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m the most resilient, but if you hide my pencil case, whilst I’ll be annoyed, I’ll get through it. It took this girl weeks to get over it. There are 1000s of anecdotes like this from my years in teaching with children from 14 to 18 and all highlighted that children remain children, even as they grow physically. This shouldn’t be a problem.
But it is.
Our society suffers from what I call “The Lolita Fixation”. We sexualise girls and young women and blame them for our fixation. Look at the opening of the Wikipedia entry:
I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that some young girls are labelled as “sexually precocious”. Who makes that designation? For example, that same girl that cried over her pencil case went through a period where she fancied one of the “young” teachers (at this school, any teacher under 45 was “young”). This “fancying” lasted for about 3 days. After about 3 weeks, she was mortified that she ever saw the teacher as attractive and after 4, denied that it ever happened. Is she “sexually precocious”? Almost all of my friends have a story about fancying a teacher, a friend’s parent or some other older person in their life. It is something that we laugh about especially when we remember the reasons that we liked them. One of my friends, who I’m sorely tempted to name, really liked a teacher because “he had a full head of hair, and that counts”. Discovering sexuality is a healthy part of growing up.
Which brings me back to Drake. He is allegedly dating Bella Harris who is 18. He also allegedly dated Jorja Smith whilst she was still a teenager and is giving dating advice to Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown who is 14. None of it is illegal, but it makes me very uncomfortable.
Why does it makes me uncomfortable? For one thing, I’m a similar age to Drake and I don’t have any 14 year old friends. Where does a man in his 30s meet 14 year old children? If it’s as a professional, like a coach or teacher, they’re not your friends because you are acting en loco parentis. If it’s the child of a friend, they’re not your friend, they’re your friend’s child. I genuinely cannot think of a normal environment where men in their 30s befriend 14 year olds. If the only answer is Hollywood, then maybe that highlights that something is wrong with Hollywood…
Why does Drake’s alleged penchant for dating teenagers make me feel so queasy? In part, it’s because of the power imbalance. Jorja Smith is a singer and Bella Harris is a model. Drake is one of the most famous artists on the planet. Being associated with him can launch a career. Knowing that makes the idea of him having relationships with teenagers seem, at best, dubious. If I was being less charitable, I would say it was sinister.
The wider point is about celebrity culture. We accept things that happen in celebrity culture that we don’t in our own society. Having a hit track shouldn’t exempt you from scrutiny when your behaviour is suspicious. Here’s a screenshot from a group chat that was discussing this topic:
It’s easy to make jokes about Drake. His music and persona make for funny memes. And I’m not saying that he is the same as Jimmy Saville. However, I do believe that there is a link in the way that they are perceived. That, combined with the way that society rushes to sexualise children, is a dangerous concoction. It is easy to make jokes about Drake, but when those jokes normalise behaviour that are unacceptable in other walks of life, it stops being funny.