dusting off the archives: Girls Beware . . . of victim-blaming
Yesterday I was visiting sites and YouTube channels for various archives, since my work is figuring out how to develop a greater presence online. In the course of looking at how other archives monitor comments and tagging, I stumbled on the following girl-related video via the Internet Archive.
Released in 1951 by Sid Davis Productions, Girls Beware is an “informational” film that addresses various dangers the real world poses for girls. Directing these messages to teen girl audiences, the film presents different scenarios in which white girls end up murdered, raped, abused by their partners, and pregnant – all because they didn’t use good judgment. Offering up strange observations and dialogue, such as this line – “You can never find the right words to tell a mother that her daughter’s been murdered” – Girls Beware is certainly an odd film. See for yourself:
I think it’s interesting that the film highlights babysitting and romantic involvement with older boys/men as the two primary pitfalls for white middle-class girls. There is no mention of girls of color, working-class girls, or queer girls and the types of (sexual) violence they encounter in their daily lives. Still well-to-do, white girls don’t necessarily have it easy in this film, especially when the overall message relies on victim-blaming. The narrator even notes: “You see it’s often the things done without thinking that get young people into trouble,” suggesting that white girls with privilege can prevent sexual violence and murder if they use their heads and make better choices.
I also find it interesting that the film never mentions the words “rape,” “statutory rape,” “partner abuse,” or “pedophilia.” Yet, the film focuses on all these issues. In the Mary/Robert scenario, instead of calling Robert out as a pedophile, the film mentions (twice!) that he prefers younger girls because he cannot hook up with females his own age. I think we can read the film’s depiction of Robert as excusing the predatory behavior of older boys and men towards younger girls, especially when in the end, Mary is labeled a juvenile delinquent and sent to a facility for becoming pregnant in her abusive relationship. As far as we know nothing happens to Robert.
I think it’s easy for us to step back and poke fun at, or even mock, these types of films and the messages they convey. Yet, reports such as this one from The Nation that argue that reproductive coercion is overlooked and under-reported make it hard for me to laugh at how this film handles Mary’s situation . . . or any of the scenarios for that matter. It’s moments like these when I wish I could travel back in time to tell teen girls to beware of Girls Beware – the world is hard enough without some seemingly objective film blaming girls for the actions of rapists and murderers.
I’ll be sure to post any other interesting videos I find while trolling through online archives. Also if anyone has any girl-related videos they’d like to recommend, please leave some suggestions in the comments section.