Why is TV obsessed with the malicious potential of teenage girls?
Teenage girls are scary, which I know because I used to be one. The most scathing and devastating criticism you will ever receive will probably come from a young girl. It will be devastating because they will be accurate and specific in what they said about you. You will put it in such a way that you will secretly remember it until the day you die. (I wasn’t a particularly insightful teenage girl, to put it mildly. More of a “thinks she discovered The Cure on her own” teen.)
The thing is, society finds the concept of teenage girls terrifying while at the same time kind of resents them. Teenage girls are restrained in many learned ways: learning to calm themselves, protecting their sexuality rather than understanding and enjoying it in a healthy way, being approachable, and navigating hormonal changes with grace. Young men are not taught to shrink or monitored in the same way. Perhaps that’s why pop culture is particularly obsessed with the idea of the malevolent potential of young women.
Amazon Prime recently celebrated its premiere The power, a series based on the science fiction novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman. The first episode follows the stories of some teenagers scattered around the world who discover that some form of electrical current runs through them, meaning they can electrocute people (and streetlights, just for fun). More and more girls in the UK, US and Nigeria are developing this power, leading them to move out of their secret teenage circles and into the open.
Almost immediately, we see how young women’s lives change when they have an unassailable ability to defend themselves against men who wish them harm, though soon the adults in their lives (including Toni Collette and John Leguizamo) begin to exploit this growing to fear matriarchal power. What happens when these young women not only use their powers in self-defense, but proactively level a historically unequal balance of power?
It’s nothing new in television that focuses on supernatural teenage girls — you think Buffy the vampire slayer, Sabrina the teenager Witch (the original in the ’90s and the remake in 2018), the iterations of The craft and the recent Netflix hit, Wednesday. One of the reasons these shows are so exciting — aside from being cool to see people levitating and slamming into things — is that they play out a fantasy of female autonomy. In these sci-fi and fantasy worlds, magic has evaporated old world orders, allowing young women full agency in a world that often disempowers them and treats them as trivial.
I like it when television treats these characters as complexly as it does male ones. A young girl with supernatural abilities is not necessarily going to use those powers to save the world and better herself. Teenage girls can go power crazy too! They have ambition and desire and sometimes it goes to their heads. Input: Yellow jackets.
Yellow jackets was a hit in 2021 after a plane crash left an all-female high school football team stranded in the wilderness. (A male trainer, a teenager, and a younger boy also survive the crash.) Flashforwards to the adult Yellowjackets — including the brilliant Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, and Tawny Cypress — confirm that something terrible happened after the plane crash and all next All team members did not make it out of the forest alive, although we don’t know why.
There’s a strong hint that something supernatural is going on in the wild and in one of the stranded characters, Lottie (Courtney Eaton). Lottie begins the show as a shy teammate who doesn’t talk much and often crouches down like tall teenagers sometimes do to push herself to be less ubiquitous. She keeps a low profile at first and is worried when she runs out of psychiatric drugs. As the first season progresses, Lottie gains confidence.