Growing up, I knew that I, as a child, was acutely responsible for warding off rapists and molesters. In the same strain, I was acutely responsible for ensuring that my reputation as a “good girl” remained unblemished. Each one hinged on the other— making growing up black and female outrageously difficult.
To ward off rapists and molesters I was supposed to be mindful of my surroundings, be careful not to be too talkative or attentive to older males (including family and friends), not to wear anything that may be perceived as sexy because, “that thang (penis) can’t tell the difference.”
That meant no biker shorts when they were considered fashionable because I had a big booty for an 8-, 9-, 10-year-old. It meant getting in trouble when I spoke too long to male visitors because I was, “being all in their face.” It meant constantly navigating unwritten rules that no kid would ever know about unless they were broken. It meant preserving your family’s reputation and avoiding being branded a “fast tail girl.”
Fast. It meant you were sexually aware. Vixen. Lolita. Interchangeable with “hot tail” and “too grown.”
There were no concrete signs of a fast tail girl and there were no clear ways to avoid being branded. It all hinged on a feeling. A feeling a neighborhood woman would get if she saw you hanging out on the front porch with other neighborhood kids. A feeling a cousin would get if she saw you dancing a little too well—“How does she know how to move like that?” A feeling someone else would get if you returned a male’s smile and said hello a little too warmly.
You could be branded “fast” as young as two or three years old. Dancing, admiring yourself, having crushes, masturbating, or simply walking. It didn’t matter. In fact, the branding was more often than not used as a weapon instead of a ham-fisted means of protection against a larger world that still held black female bodies as sexual commodities.
Think too highly of yourself? The rumors of being fast would follow you. Neighborly spat between adults that had nothing to do with you? You were branded as fast as a means to insult the adult associated with you. And the consequences of being fast were dire.
Once branded you could lose friends and gain the attention of predatory men, but the worst thing was, you lost protection. As a good girl if you were hurt, the community would rally to your aid. If you were a “fast tail girl,” you deserved it. Fast tail girls didn’t get raped; they asked for it. Their opinions didn’t matter; their voices were silenced.
There was also no set rollover date where you could move from being a “good girl” to being a prude. Countless women in committed relationships and marriages still fight the “good girl” rules in their heads, trying to strike the balance between adult intimacy and long-standing childhood shame.
I wish this was an antiquated tale of days gone by, but the subject rears it’s ugly head again and again. Most recently online photos of Willow Smith were shared as, “sexy pics with a 20-year-old man.” Immediately, women—WOMEN—everywhere commented on the 13-year-old being “too fast” and called on her parents to “calm her ‘hot tail’ down.”
The photos, clad in a faux artsy filter, depicts Willow laying on a bed, fully clothed, looking slightly bored while a young man of 20 sits on the side of the bed looking at something out of frame and in a second photo cracking up. And he’s shirtless. The horror. There are kids in Cali not wearing shirts indoors.
It’s the tabloid’s job to make a big deal out of absolutely nothing. It’s the job of thinking adults to recognize it for what it is. Nothing. Kids hang out with each other and newsflash, they aren’t all the same age.
But here we are. She’s a hot tail girl and I call B.S.
In this latest slut-shaming exercise, we are continuing to send a dangerous message to girls: “Follow by our random, ignorant, rules governing your behavior, dress and sexuality or else.”
Instead of calling into question why adults project sexuality on innocent situations, we blame the children. Instead of recognizing the 3-year-old is popping her booty because she’s mimicking what she sees, we worry a dormant sexual beast is ready to burst forth in preschool.
Instead of recognizing the middle school girl in revealing clothes is crying for help, and/or just trying to figure out where she is in her body as its changing, we ignore her or treat her with disdain. It is our blind adherence to vague indicators of propriety that continues to put girls in danger. Sex trafficking—a cause close to the heart of Willow’s mom, Jada—is in part made possible because adults turn a blind eye to girls in distress. In a 2012 USA Today article, a young girl explained how perception left her vulnerable:
“For some of the time, Graves herself remained in high school, attending classes sporadically in boy shorts, small tank tops and worn heels.
“In the schools, they thought I just dressed provocatively,” Graves said of the teachers and staff who missed chances to help her. “Now, people are actually understanding that these girls are victims.”
This isn’t about permissive parenting or celebrity indulgence. It’s about our community’s attitudes toward young girls and their bodies and who has the right to control them (hint: it’s not you).
Let’s start right now by acknowledging there is no such thing as a fast tail girl. There is a such thing as girls who need guidance. Girls who need positive adult role models. There most certainly, too, are girls who don’t need anything but an end to adults being lecherous predators. How about we try some of that for a change?
Terreece M. Clarke is a freelance writer/journalist for a variety of magazines, newspapers and websites and a rocking’ wife and mother of three. She is also a My Black is Beautiful Ambassador Search Semi-Finalist. Follow her on Twitter: @terreece!
Photo credit: from Tumblr’s 490tx