If you know about Neekolul, you probably already know how you feel about her. Like so many objects of male attention before her, her mere presence as a human being will either cause you to simp or to shun. But she's just followed a formula that's been thrust upon young, attractive women since men have been able to gawk at them.
Neekolul, whose first name is Nicole, rose to popularity through a single TikTok video. In it, she's dancing to a song by YouTuber Senzawa called, "OK, Boomer." She smiles, winks and dances at the camera, lip syncing along, "Whatever you say, Boomer." Her tweet of this video was retweeted 20,000, and has more than 100,000. Wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt she's cut into a crop top, she is at once adorable and a little sleazy. She knows what bag she's chasing—horny lefties—and she is not hiding it. It doesn't seem insincere or anything, just a little craven, in the way that watching anyone try to turn themself into a brand feels craven.
Since Neekolul released this TikTok, I have not known peace. If it isn't straight men getting a little too horny for a girl in her early twenties in public, it's (usually straight) women questioning her motivations. Like a lot of women who try to earn some money by being young and attractive, in Neekolul's videos, she's acting in a way that is immediately recognizable and a little bit annoying. Some of her critics say that by wearing a cosplay school uniform, dancing, and talking like a sexy baby, she is reinforcing negative stereotypes about women and encouraging men attracted to women to indulge in a fetish for seeing them infantilized.
That is a lot to place at the feet of a single 22-year-old girl. If she wants to take money from people with a stupid fetish, I say that a fool and their money are soon parted. Neekolul did not invent the dynamics at play here.
A 1999 Rolling Stone Britney Spears cover story caused a recurrence of the age-old epidemic of being too horny. "Britney Spears extends a honeyed thigh across the length of the sofa, keeping one foot on the floor as she does so," it begins. "Her blond-streaked hair is piled high, exposing two little diamond earrings on each ear lobe; her face is fully made-up, down to carefully applied lip liner. The Baby Phat logo of Spears’ pink T-shirt is distended by her ample chest, and her silky white shorts—with dark blue piping—cling snugly to her hips. She cocks her head and smiles receptively."
At the time, Spears was 18 years old. On the cover of the issue, she's laying on her back on pink satin sheets, her pajama top open, a purple Teletubby plush nestled under her arm. The cover story then states outright the central scandal of the then-teenage Spears: people thought the "Baby One More Time" video was too sexy, that her body is too sexy, that she is too young to be looking like that. Not long after that, the author pointedly mentions that Spears only has an eleventh grade education.
Spears stardom, and her treatment by the press and society at large, followed on a familiar model of female stardom. Before her, Marilyn Monroe was sexualized and infantilized. After Spears, Neekolul has leaned into the schtick.
In John Berger's seminal art history book Ways of Seeing, he dedicates an entire chapter to the presence of women as figures in paintings. He argues that women in art are often also a canvas for the men who paint them to project their feelings about women onto.
"The mirror was often used [in the Renaissance] as a symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical," Berger writes. "You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting
Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure. The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight."
There is nothing Spears could have done to stop looking like that, or being looked at like that. The same is true for Neekolul. The same is true for every woman, everywhere. You can't help how men will see you—you just try to figure out how to react to it.
The leering had started too young for me to see it as any more annoying that a fly that's come through the kitchen window.
I remember the first time I realized my body could get me things I wanted. I was 16, secretly smoking cigarettes, and my 18-year-old friends were nowhere to be found. A friend told me that if I wore a low cut shirt to a particular gas station, the guy behind the counter wouldn't ID me. That turned out to be true. I showed up to the gas station, wearing my only low cut top and my only lipstick. "Very sexy," the man behind the counter said as he rang me up. I never wore the top again.
For a while I blamed myself for my own disgust. I invited it, didn't I? I wore a low cut top because I knew it would get me cigarettes. But that doesn't make any sense. Did I make this guy stare down my top, lick his lips, ask me how old I was? No. By simply existing, he saw my body as something to consume.
Later in life I didn't react with such revulsion—it started being funny to me, to see how much I could get from men who were willing to have their entire life structured by their libido. The leering had started too young for me to see it as any more annoying that a fly that's come through the kitchen window. Shoo, you dumbass. Of course I wish it weren't like this, but it is. There is only so much I can do to make it not so, and I'm already doing it. If someone wanted to buy me a drink because he mistakenly thought that he could get some, I truly did not care.
Twitch and YouTube as platforms are already slanted such that it's easier to blame a woman for having breasts and showing cleavage than it is to blame those who are eager to stare at them. The subreddit LivestreamFail collates examples of women who they feel show too much skin; famous YouTubers like PewDiePie call them "Twitch Thots" in their widely circulated videos. Even the rules of Twitch as a platform have stronger guidelines on how much of a boob you can show on air than they do for discrimination and harassment. Female streamers and YouTubers are harassed with the explicit goal of having their channels removed. Women on the internet, and in society at large, face so much resistance when they make themselves seen or heard. It can be even more confusing if you're conventionally attractive. Or if you're willing to play into the societal expectations of women, that they are demure and sexually available. Success in that arena, the one where Neekoul plays, can feel like an insult. You're being rewarded for easily digestible and nice to look at. Blaming Neekolul for the rock and the hard place she's placed between feels myopic.
Making Neekolul responsible for the way that she is looked at misses what makes Neekolul the object of so many people's affection. She's willing to act out the fantasy of a sweet, giggly, girly girl, and considering the attention that her "OK Boomer" video got, she has no reason to stop. If it's upsetting to you that her onscreen personality is a put on, I'm really sorry this was how you had to find out. Sorry Boomer—we live in a world where women are, first and foremost, a sight.