Why Are We Sexualizing the Youngest Oscar Nominee?

Nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis was nominated for Best Actress in the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, making her the youngest person to ever be nominated for that award. Sadly, it appears that some adults were too immature to handle her nomination.

I thought that the buck would stop with the show’s host Seth MacFarlane, who had a bunch of sexist, racist and homophobic “jokes” last night. After introducing the young star he said, “…To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be sixteen years before she’s too old for [George] Clooney.” Apparently, it never occurred to MacFarlane that Wallis is too young to be subjected to that kind of sexualization. If it did, he clearly didn’t care.

As off-color and wrong as MacFarlane’s comment was, it was not the worst of the night for Wallis. The Onion, a satirical publication called Wallis a c*nt in a particularly vulgar tweet.

Even more heartbreaking than the tweet itself are the hundreds of favorites and re-tweets that it got in the few hours that it was available online. The Onion deleted the tweet early this morning.

Thankfully, there were many who were outraged. I was one of them, and I read The Onion all the time. The writers at The Onion are known for pushing the envelope, but despite their smart writing, they clearly lack common sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that using arguably the most vulgar gendered word in the English language to describe a nine-year-old is not satire, it’s simply morally wrong.

Thankfully, The Onion caught on, or at least their CEO Steve Hannah did. He issued a public apology to Wallis this morning saying that the tweet was a “mistake” and calling it, “crude and offensive.”

The apology is certainly welcome, but the damage by MacFarlane and The Onion has already been done. On what should have been a flawless night for Wallis, she was sexualized and humiliated in ways that I am not even sure she is old enough to fully understand. While this kind of sexualization is unacceptable for women of all ages, the fact that members of our society are so comfortable targeting girls at such a young age speaks volumes.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” If we believe what Bonhoefer said to be true, and I believe that it is, then we are an immoral society indeed.

 Leigh Ann Renzulli is a senior journalism major and women’s studies minor at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a feminist with a blog and is on Twitter @lerenzulli.

Image via official Beasts of the Southern Wild website

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