Emma Raducanu is about to discover that famous teenage girls can't win

Photograph: ZUMA/PA

According to the commentators, Emma Raducanu’s triumph at the US Open is just the start. She has been hailed as a sporting saviour, a model of resilience, an antidote to xenophobia and a potential money-making powerhouse. Her historic victory has unwittingly entered her into a game that she can never win: the cultural obsession with exceptional teenage girls and young women.

Taking teenage girls seriously – beyond their commercial potential – is a shockingly recent phenomenon, a decade old if that. Earlier teen-girl prodigies, from Emily Dickinson to Beyoncé, were accused of being the puppets of powerful men and subject to exploitation. That was until social media gave a generation an unmediated voice to define their own culture, to fight against injustices they cared about and to speak out about the pressures and mistreatment they experienced.

The first wave of coverage of these remarkable young women, from Malala Yousafzai to Tavi Gevinson, marvelled at their distance from the airhead stereotype perpetuated by the industrialised pop culture of the 90s and 00s. That quickly metabolised into the idea of these girls as a corrective to the mistakes of prior generations.

At its most innocent, the attention is the result of the irresistible lure of youth observed by those who feel their own slipping away (as with the recent millennial obsession with 18-year-old pop breakout star Olivia Rodrigo). At its worst, reducing a girl to her most aspirational attributes is dehumanising – particularly for Black girls, who must be hyperexceptional to be deemed worthy of notice in the first place.

In her recent US Vogue cover story, the poet Amanda Gorman, now 23, recounted a collaboration with the toy brand American Girl that came about during her stint as the 18-year-old youth laureate of Los Angeles. The company produced a doll whose biography nakedly borrowed from the most inspiring beats of Gorman’s own story. The experience distorted Gorman’s reality. “I built up this narrative in my head that, you know, I had to be some type of ‘role model’,” she said.

Petrifying teenage girls, still in the earliest stages of working out who they might become, stymies their potential for growth. Billie Eilish has always expressed her displeasure with being held up as a “good” example for concealing her body in baggy clothing, and how it denied her the possibility of change (and slut-shamed her peers). When she revealed more of her figure earlier this year, she was subject to a backlash and claims of hypocrisy from people who were disappointed that she hadn’t lived up to their idea of who she was. The new image prompted more outrage than Your Power, the lead single from her second album, in which Eilish addressed abuses and statutory rape within the entertainment industry.

The close focus on any girl who stands for something usually serves only to obscure her cause, the supposed reason we care about her in the first place. You only have to look at the stacks of unofficial books with Greta Thunberg’s face on the cover to see how misunderstood and misappropriated her stance has become: anyone who cared about the environment would not be printing cash-in books. She knows that politicians treat her like a mascot and then flake on their promises to enact green policies.

The same is true of Malala Yousafzai: in 2015, the writer Ayesha Siddiqi wrote an essay for Vice titled Does America deserve Malala? in response to a film that all but removed its subject from her context as a young Pakistani activist for girls’ education, and avoided acknowledging international responsibility for stoking conflict in the region. “The war on terror is not a feelgood tale of triumph over adversity; yet He Named Me Malala is,” Siddiqi wrote. “How do we evaluate a movie whose central narrative is activated by a reality the film ignores?”

Even those perceived to have social capital and power are often left vulnerable, both to exploitation and bearing the weight of its exposure. In a recent essay for The Cut, Tavi Gevinson, now 25, wrote about being 18 and in a relationship with a much older man who believed, as she did at the time, that her status as an influential editor and actor “cancelled out the power he wielded as an adult man”, providing a cover for his eventual abuses. By concealing his identity to protect his family, she wrote, was she enabling further abuse? Was she responsible for the self-appointed vigilantes online speculating as to his identity?

Simone Biles spoke out about being sexually abused by the former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar in her teens. Now 24, she participated in the Tokyo Olympics – the only squad member to publicly identify as a survivor of his crimes – in part to force accountability within an industry that still accommodates alleged abusers such as the US fencer Alen Hadzic, who travelled to Tokyo despite facing three claims of sexual misconduct – all of which he denies. “I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side,” she told Today prior to the games. After she withdrew to protect her mental health, Biles said that the pressure to represent survivors had weighed on her. Still, she was the one subject to horrendous abuse for not living up to professional expectations and the damaging stereotype of the “strong Black woman”.

Related: The greatest role models in the world? Emma Raducanu and her fellow teenagers

So much of the cultural obsession with exceptional teenage girls insists on the same standards of respectability – self-sacrifice, positivity, composure, “unhysterical grace”, as one unhinged Times editorial wrote of Raducanu – that have always constrained them. The leash is just a bit longer these days. If they blunder – act their age – they’re lambasted. If they defy the limited imagination of the cult that has built up around them, or admit to its pressures, they’re a disappointment, an ingrate, an inconvenience. It suggests that a girl’s “potential” is something best speculated on, a disembodied promise of a better future that we can all feel good about harbouring. It’s not a celebration, but a trap. “Recently when I win I don’t feel happy, I feel more like a relief,” Naomi Osaka said as she announced that she would take a break from tennis this summer. “And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal.”

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic about Raducanu, who has said she feels no pressure post-win. She’s allowing herself to live in the moment in the way that the rabid prognosticators, fixated on her future glories and earning potential, are not. “I’m still only 18 years old,” she said. “I’m just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That’s how I faced every match here in the States. It got me this trophy, so I don’t think I should change anything.” She deserves her freedom; anyone sincerely fixated on her potential should focus on holding to account the structural forces that might stand in its way.

  • Laura Snapes is the Guardian’s deputy music editor

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related

OTHER NEWS

Apple exec defends MacBook Pro notch calling it ‘smart' and ‘seamless'

The new MacBook Pros came with a somewhat controversial addition – namely the notch, as previously seen on the iPhone – and an Apple exec has been defending this particular ... Read more »

Samsung drops a big hint that the Galaxy S21 FE is still on the way

The story of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a saga that has run and run and run all year – but there are signs that the phone is finally ... Read more »

Dragging your feet? Lack of sleep affects your walk, new study finds

Periodically catching up on sleep can improve gait control for the chronically sleep-deprived. Read more »

General Motors gives its U.S. dealers 40,000 EV charging outlets for public use

GM will enable its dealers to install up to 40,000 EV charging outlets throughout the U.S. Owners of all-electric cars, including non-GM brands, will be able to use the chargers ... Read more »

The world-first experiment capturing CO2 from air and turning it to stone

Orca, the world’s largest CO2 removal machine, is located in Iceland (Sigurður Ólafur Sigurðsson) According to Icelandic folklore, the country’s other-worldly rock formations are the remnants of pesky trolls caught ... Read more »

Police, Firefighters Join March Against Vaccine Mandate in New York City

Thousands of New York City municipal workers, including firefighters, police officer, teachers and sanitation workers, marched on Monday, October 25, in protest against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees. ... Read more »

Hackers are abusing a Craigslist security flaw to infect devices

A new email phishing campaign is seeing malicious actors abusing a vulnerability in the Craigslist mailing system to distribute malware. According to the report from INKY, a malicious actor (or ... Read more »

Strictly's Giovanni Pernice addresses Maura Higgins split: ‘There was no wrongdoing'

Giovanni Pernice has talked about his split from Maura Higgins. (Getty) Strictly Come Dancing star Giovanni Pernice has addressed rumours about his split from Maura Higgins, insisting there was “absolutely ... Read more »

'I felt like I was dying': Patient's anger after doctor 'removed womb without proper consent'

Nottingham Treatment Centre and the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. (Reach) A doctor has been accused of failing to obtain proper consent from a patient before removing their womb. Martin ... Read more »

Next week on 'EastEnders': Corrie's Maria and Tracy guest star, plus Gray proposes to Chelsea (spoilers)

Next week on EastEnders (BBC) So, this is the week when EastEnders will be joining forces with the competition to save the planet. Full info on the big soap crossover ... Read more »

UN: Net zero pledges on climate give hope, but still vague

1 / 2Germany ClimateIn this long time exposure photo, trucks and cars roll on a highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) BERLIN (AP) — The ... Read more »

Climate change: UN emissions gap report a 'thundering wake up call'

Current plans to cut carbon emissions don’t work quickly enough, says the UN National plans to cut carbon fall far short of what's needed to avert dangerous climate change, according ... Read more »

Japanese start-up wants supercar users to trade in their vehicle for a $680,000 hoverbike

A Japanese start-up wants to persuade wealthy consumers to trade their supercar for a $680,000 hoverbike that went on sale on Tuesday October 26. Read more »

World's first postage stamp goes to auction

‘The Penny Black’ is the world’s first postage stamp It was introduced in 1840 featuring a profile of Britain’s Queen Victoria Location: London, England This is one of three Penny ... Read more »

Mozilla removes popular Firefox add-ons used by nearly 500 million people

Mozilla’s Firefox browser team has cracked the whip on malicious add-ons, blocking access to them despite their large user base of about 455,000 installations. Mozilla hasn’t shared what led them ... Read more »

Adobe reveals new time-saving AI features for Lightroom powered by Nvidia

The Adobe Max virtual creativity conference has just kicked off, with the revelation that a pair of smart new AI masking features are coming to Adobe Lightroom and Lightroom Classic. ... Read more »

Farewell to Walter Smith, the humble legend who led Rangers during golden era

Farewell to Walter Smith, the legendary Rangers manager who led club during golden era – PA Former Scotland, Rangers and Everton manager Walter Smith has died aged 73. Smith won ... Read more »

Oura challenges Fitbit with next-gen fitness-tracking smart ring

Smart ring company Oura has announced a new version of its tiny fitness tracker, with big upgrades that should make it a viable alternative to wrist-worn fitness trackers from the ... Read more »

Photoshop comes to the web browser – and gets 4 other big new tools

Photoshop has been given a generous set of upgrades during the Adobe Max 2021 conference – and the big news is that Adobe is bringing its photo-editing beast to web ... Read more »

SMIC's new Shenzhen semiconductor plant offers glimpse at China's effort to fight global chip shortage

A new chip fabrication plant from Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) will cover a land area equal to about five football fields and mainly produce display driver and power management ... Read more »

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 is out now with a big display and thinner bezels

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 is finally out, with a handful of aesthetic upgrades and a few long-awaited improvements to one of the best ereaders on the market, which hasn’t ... Read more »

Kingslim D5 4K Dash Cam: Unboxing Review

Check out this unboxing and review of the Kingslim D5 4K Dash Cam. Enjoy! DISCLAIMER: This video description contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of ... Read more »

Princess Unleashes on Japan's Media in Furious Statement Hours After Marrying Commoner Sweetheart

Getty Japan’s Princess Mako married her college sweetheart in a muted ceremony that saw her give up her royal status Tuesday—then she almost immediately unleashed years of pent-up fury against ... Read more »

Prezi Video update targets the most common video conferencing complaints

Visual communications company Prezi has rolled out a range of new features for its video presentation software in an effort to combat issues encountered by remote employees during the pandemic. ... Read more »

Call of Duty: Vanguard nutzt die DualSense-Funktionen der PS5, damit sich jede Waffe anders anfühlt

Call of Duty: Vanguard will die Funktionen des PS5 DualSense-Controllers nutzen, um “das Abzugsgewicht echter Waffen zu simulieren”. In einem neuen PlayStation Blog-Beitrag erklärt Chris Fowler, Principal Engineer bei Entwickler ... Read more »

Facebook whistleblower testifies before Parliament: Talking Tech podcast

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current ... Read more »

As Grammy voting begins, Gen Z acts are favorites. But could a 95-year-old take the top prize?

You can almost picture it: Tony Bennett, beaming and crinkly-eyed at age 95, shuffling slowly to the podium with help from Lady Gaga as the in-house band strikes up one ... Read more »

Razer plans to boost S'pore staff count to 1,000 by 2023 to support South-east Asia expansion

As part of Razer’s hiring spree, new roles will be created for businesses the company is looking to strengthen. SINGAPORE – Gaming technology company Razer plans to increase its staff ... Read more »

Samsung Galaxy S21FE support page goes live in select regions

Samsung Galaxy S21FE is among one of the most anticipated smartphones from Samsung. The smartphone has already managed to create a buzz in the smartphone market for both right and ... Read more »

Samsung Galaxy Book, Galaxy Book Odyssey, Galaxy Book Pro 360 5G with 11th Gen Intel CPUs, Windows 11 Launched

Samsung has officially unveiled new Galaxy laptops in the US. The new Samsung Galaxy Book, Galaxy Book Odyssey, and the Galaxy Book Pro 360 5G arrive with 11th Gen Intel ... Read more »

Cyber attack closes Iran's petrol stations

A cyber attack has targeted petrol stations across Iran, shutting down a government system managing fuel subsidies and leaving angry motorists stranded in long lines at shuttered stations. No group ... Read more »

Astronomers spot first possible exoplanet outside our galaxy

A possible Saturn-sized planet identified in the distant Whirlpool Galaxy could be the first exoplanet to be detected outside our home galaxy, the Milky Way. The exoplanet candidate appears to ... Read more »

Diwali with Mi: Xiaomi announces exclusive offline offers on smartphones, smart TVs and more

NEW DELHI: Xiaomi has announced ‘Diwali with Mi’, exclusive offline offers valid till November 6. Along with this, Xiaomi India also unveiled an exclusive initiative – “Har din Diwali” where ... Read more »

NASA telescope discovers first possible planet outside of Milky Way galaxy

The exoplanet, which is roughly the size of Saturn, has been detected more than 28 million light years away from Earth. The discovery has been hailed as a breakthrough in the hunt for distant planets. Read more »

How to VALORANT: Sentinels characters and roles explained

Previously, we covered the other roles that Riot Games' first-person shooter VALORANT has to offer, the Duelist, the Initiator and the Controller. In this article, we will be talking about ... Read more »

Kourtney Kardashian Went Pants-less While Wearing Gen Z's #1 Shoe Trend

I'm sure you heard the news that Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker got engaged. Of course, all eyes have been on her stunning oval-shaped ring, but now I'm zeroing in ... Read more »

Met Police officer accused of rape ‘said he thought woman was playing hard to get'

A serving Metropolitan Police officer accused of raping a woman told her he thought she was “playing hard to get” and being “flirty” when she told him to stop, a ... Read more »

Quinton de Kock withdraws from South Africa-West Indies match after refusing to take knee

South Africa‘s Quinton de Kock walks from the field after he was dismissed during the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup match between South Africa and Australia in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday, ... Read more »

Woman and newborn baby ‘saved by her Ring cam' as heavily armed marshals raid wrong home

Heavily armed US marshals allegedly entered the wrong apartment (TikTok/ @yungkadaa) Heavily armed United States marshals entered the wrong house in Florida’s Bradenton city without a warrant, frightening a woman ... Read more »

Carabao Cup live stream 2021/22: how to watch every EFL Cup game from anywhere

It’s the competition that most clubs and coaches consider the easiest to win, which is precisely what makes the Carabao Cup such a fun ride. Can anyone loosen Man City’s ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic