How Excusing Tyga And Kylie Jenner's Relationship Validates The Sexualization of Young Girls

No matter how mature a 17-year-old is, she's still 17.
Mike Windle via Getty Images

In a Complex interview released July 27, Khloe Kardashian came to the defense of her 17-year-old sister Kylie Jenner's relationship with 25-year-old rapper Tyga, after being asked whether criticisms of the couple's age difference are fair. Her answer:

"I think at 16 I was probably f*****g someone that was in their 20s, for sure. I wouldn’t say I was even dating, probably just sleeping with them. But again Kylie is not a normal 17-year-old. You’re not gonna say, “Hey, so what are you doing this weekend?” and have her say, “Having a slumber party at my girlfriend’s,” or “Going to prom.” That’s not what Kylie does. Kylie is taking business meetings and bought her first house, or she’s going on a private plane with Karl Lagerfeld to take a meeting. That’s not even what people do in their 30s. It’s a rare circumstance, so let’s treat this as a special case."

"Kylie is not a normal 17-year-old... So let's treat this as a special case."

Right there, in that simple, seemingly innocuous statement, lies everything that is wrong with how we react to underaged girls dating older men. And it needs to stop.

The rumors of Jenner and Tyga's alleged romanced were confirmed in March of this year via an Instagram post from Tyga himself, where the rapper shared a picture of Jenner with his 6.2 million Instagram followers accompanied by the caption, "Certain things catch your eye, but only few capture the heart."

Scrutiny about the rumored couple and their eight-year age difference (Jenner was allegedly 16 when they began dating) started in early 2014, as photos of them together first emerged. Initially, Tyga and Jenner denied the romance, with the rapper tweeting in September 2014 that he and the Kardashian family were "all just friends."

But at this point it's common knowledge that he and Jenner are not just friends, and that their romantic relationship is a known and accepted fact amongst those they are closest to. Khloe is not the only member of the Kardashian family who has expressed approval, and ignored the moral and ethical implications of the relationship -- Kanye West went on record in a February radio interview (before Tyga actually admitted he was dating Jenner) to say that he believed the couple were "in love."

He added, "I think he got in early. I think he was smart."

Certain things catch your eye, but only few capture the heart.

A photo posted by Tyga / T-Raww (@kinggoldchains) on

There's always been an obvious double standard when it comes to older men dating younger women. And in Hollywood, there's also a disturbingly long history of older men openly dating underage girls. As Bustle writer Amy McCarthy pointed out, these "illicit, and potentially illegal relationships with underage girls are ignored, and often celebrated."

Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, Sonny Bono, Jerry Seinfeld, Wilmer Valderrama, Chad Michael Murray, R. Kelly, Doug Hutchinson, and the late Paul Walker, are just a few of the male stars known to have dated girls under the age of consent with very little scrutiny and virtually no legal ramifications. Most of them are known or remembered best for their legacies as artists. Even R. Kelly, who was prosecuted for sleeping with an underage teen -- he also married singer Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27 -- went on to enjoy a thriving music career afterward. And the outrage that did exist about the scandal was tied to the fact that Kelly urinated on his victim -- not the fact that she was underage.

In the case of Jenner and Tyga, their coupling has resulted in some raised eyebrows, but mostly it's just been juicy tabloid fodder, yet another salacious addition to the spectacle that is all things Kardashian.

It's generated drama that includes Instagram battles between Jenner and Tyga's ex-girlfriend Blac Chynna, and a Twitter spat between Khloe Kardashian and Amber Rose, who called out Tyga for dating an underaged girl. But any initial shock and public disapproval that first met reports of the illegal relationship (the age of consent in California is 18), has largely dissipated. On Tumblr, there's even a "Kylie and Tyga" blog dedicated to celebrating the couple.

What's so disturbing about the idea that Jenner and Tyga are a "special case" because of her maturity, is that maturity level has long been used to justify older men indulging in the sexuality of young girls. (Even the fact that phrases like "jailbait," and "barely legal" are fetishized across every mainstream porn site demonstrates this.) Because a girl supposedly looks or acts like a woman, an older man's interest in her should be accepted, and even expected.

To put it bluntly: these older men aren't having sex with 16-year-olds because these young women are mature. They're sleeping with them because they're young, and in a culture that's obsessed with youth, virginity and the perceived sexual "purity" of women, to "get in early" is the ultimate win.

This is a dynamic implicit in every one of these relationships, but it's rarely discussed. Tyga may get a diss on a Drake track for dating Jenner, but he has yet to be truly challenged for his desire to date an underage girl. He has yet to be challenged on the questionable power dynamic that inevitably arises when an older man, especially a famous one, dates a teenage girl.

It's impossible to speculate on the particulars of any one couple's relationship, but there is evidence that suggests these type of relationships could be negative for the younger party involved in them. A 2012 study by University of Minnesota sociologist Ann Meier compared the mental health of teens who had sex with a partner at least two years older than them with teens who had sex with partners of about the same age. The research revealed the potentially damaging effects of underaged girls dating older men.

"We did in fact find that teens who had sex with an older partner reported higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem," Meir told MPR News.

What might be seen as "maturity" could in fact be tied to a desperate need to please someone with power and influence, someone who holds all (or at least more) of the cards.

But we also need to challenge ourselves. Why do these relationships keep happening, and why are they generally regarded as scandalous but never as the crimes, legally speaking, that they are? There is certainly an argument for reforming age of consent laws -- but that's another discussion for another piece. The real question is, why do we culturally give a pass to these types of relationships in particular?

Khloe Kardashian admitted that when she was 16 she was surely sleeping with men in their twenties -- something that many women can probably relate to. But that doesn't necessarily make it OK. These relationships -- so often marked by their uneven power dynamics -- are products of a society that sees younger women as playthings and older women not at all. These "special cases" aren't really so special.

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