We all said problematic things as teenagers—at least, I know I did. When I was 13, I used the word “gay” as a derogatory term for the first time (super ironic now, by the way). My mother, who was within earshot, stopped me in my tracks and explained why using the word in that context was *not* okay. She didn’t yell at me, she didn’t get mad, but she made it very clear that it was a serious issue, and that it would not be tolerated.
That’s a conversation Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown has been having recently, too. On January 15th, Brown posted an Instagram story about the popular Netflix drama You, which follows Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a bookstore owner and legit sociopath who becomes obsessed with Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a woman he first spots at his store. After their meet cute, he stalks her on- and offline, going to extreme measures to “protect her” from the people in her life that he views as toxic. I don’t think I need to tell you how incredibly problematic Joe is, but Brown seemed to disagree. In her (now-deleted) story, she defended him, saying, “He’s not creepy, he’s in love with her.”
Joe literally hit a man over the head with a mallet because he was casually sleeping with Beck and therefore an obstacle to their relationship, so… Brown is objectively wrong about the creepiness. But, it’s easy to see how she could think possessiveness is the same as love. The writers of the show deliberately interspersed murder scenes with annoyingly cute scenes of Joe and Beck. And the story is told from Joe’s perspective, which makes it much easier to justify his actions. For an impressionable young person like Brown, the exciting newness of romance can be enough to overlook anything—even murder, apparently.
But Brown wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Lots of grown adults were also fooled by the cute montages and intimate scenes on the show, taking to Twitter to show their support of their murderous man-crush.
just finished watching YOU on Netflix. am I crazy for being on Joe’s side 😅
— Lauren Bradley (@lolitzlauren) January 23, 2019
— Melissa Luther (@Luth025) January 18, 2019
Luckily, Badgely soon swooped in to politely, yet hilariously, set people straight.
A: He is a murderer https://t.co/g2g4f3JvaF
— Penn Badgley (@PennBadgley) January 9, 2019
But you’re supposed to see past my face TO the crazy shit! It’s the other way! The other wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyhhyyyyggg 🙂
— Penn Badgley (@PennBadgley) January 9, 2019
Even before Badgely went on his Twitter crusade to set the stans straight, most of the people who were thirsting after his character at least felt guilty about it, though. Or they recognized that they shouldn’t crush on the murderous stalker, at least—something that was distinctly lacking in MBB’s Instagram story.
But are we doing her a disservice by even expecting that level of maturity? Young women like Emma Gonzales and Malala are increasingly at the forefront of social activism, so it’s easy to have high expectations. And teenage girls have more of a voice than ever, which means they’re finally being given the opportunity to make a difference. But, it seems as though we’re forgetting that while young women are becoming leaders/running the world, they’re also still learning how to operate within it. And it’s important to let these teens *be* teens—they have to make mistakes, so that they can learn from them and become better people. And publicly shaming them isn’t exactly conducive to this goal.
there's nothing wrong w her she's literally just a 14 year old girl and that's it like, she's been raised in a society that romanticises toxic behaviour from men and y'all expect her to be "woke" like she's an adult https://t.co/JVTDc9zNKA
— indie (@INDIEWASHERE) January 16, 2019
she's a 14 year old girl who has been raised in the industry surrounded by creepy men, if anything, you should be concerned about her, not calling her stupid and trying to drag her like you weren't 14 year old girls yourselves reading abusive boyfriend stories on wattpad https://t.co/1tjRJcc1Td
— ramona (@gothforbid) January 15, 2019
I don’t think she’s stupid, but this is why it’s so important to always be a proactive parent. She is the definition of a pre-teen. And may seem mature and dress well, but this goes to show that 14-year olds romanticize literally everything and need guidance lol https://t.co/VOsfa0eJ8y
— Mariah Leonard (@mariahlleonard) January 16, 2019
This isn’t the first time Brown has been critiqued. Recently, she posted a cute pic of herself in a chic, form-fitting dress… to which the people in the comments promptly called for her to “act her own age.” So, when it comes to policing a young girl on her clothes, she’s still a child, but when it comes to understanding the politics of a manipulative relationship, she’s expected to have the emotional maturity of an adult? Something doesn’t quite add up there.
Sure, Brown’s comments were shortsighted. And of course it’s important for her to be a positive role model for her younger fans. However, it’s not fair to expect her to have the maturity—or context—that an adult would have. Show biz may have allowed her to see more of the world than your typical 14-year-old, but at the end of the day, she’s still… a 14-year-old. There is an increasing amount of pressure on celebrities, and specifically women, to wear a million different hats. It’s not enough that at fourteen, MBB has already made a name for herself in the acting industry. She is unfairly positioned as a role model, without actually having signed up to be one.
For better or for worse, we’ve become increasingly quick to cancel celebs, and I think that makes it even more important to question who we’re criticizing and for what reason. Millie Bobby Brown already faces a lot more scrutiny than the average teenager. Instead of shaming her for her actions, we should be encouraging her to grow, and celebrating her once she does so. Because as I learned from my mom, it’s often more impactful to educate a person about how they can be better than to yell at them about what they did wrong.