BEFORE last autumn, most of the world was unaware of 13-year-old Danielle Bregoli. Then, back in September, footage of her went viral in the United States after she was hauled onto the Dr Phil show by her mother, in an episode of the talk show hosted by Phil McGraw that was titled I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried To Frame Me For A Crime.

The web went wild when Danielle Bregoli threatened the Dr Phil audience, saying, in a drawl that she would "catch them outside". She became an internet meme, known as the “Cash Me Ousside” girl.

But it was only in the past week that UK newspapers felt the need to catch up and explain what the fuss is about. Partly this is because Bregoli is no longer just famous for “Cash Me Ousside”, but also for her online pouting and provocative dance moves, and most of all for turning a profit out of selling her own merchandise and staying a "bad girl".

Part of the fascination with Bregoli, of course, lies in her youth, and the fact that she looks and acts like a white caricature of a black hip hop act twice her age. When you look at Bregoli’s online presence, you have to keep reminding oneself that she is a child. The nauseating fact is that everyone watching her on Instagram Live knows this, as messages scroll up the screen, mostly inciting or making lascivious comments. Occasionally one will pop up saying. “She 13”, yet the prurience continues.

Bregoli's story illustrates the dysfunctionality of female empowerment culture. Girls learn early what it is to be humiliated and shamed, but also that sex is where power lies, so they find a way to take control of it and commercialise that shame. It’s a lesson they are learning, online, and young. Some, like Bregoli, are doing it even at 13 – which is hardly surprising since we live in a culture that not only constantly objectifies women, but increasingly sexualises children.

Bregoli stood out because she didn’t behave as she was meant to. She was hauled onto television, given a spot on the Dr Phil show so that the programme-makers could tell a story of a teen gone wild, partly to drive up the moral panic, but also to provide a tale of rehabilitation, in which she would emerge as a nice, well-behaved white teen. But that’s not what happened. Instead, as Scaachi Koul writes on Buzzfeed: “She became an unexpected hit and has been wielding her personality for profit instead of Dr Phil using it for his gain.”

The Bregoli story reminded me of a line in Peggy Orenstein’s exhaustively researched book on contemporary American teenagers, Girls & Sex. “Young women,” she writes, “grow up in a porn-saturated, image-centred, commercialised culture in which ‘empowerment’ is just a feeling, consumption trumps connection, ‘hot’ is an imperative, fame is the ultimate achievement, and the quickest way for a woman to get ahead is to serve up her body before someone else does.”

That’s what Bregoli seems to be doing. Having seen that Dr Phil, his production company, and a host of other interests, are keen to use her body, sexuality and transgressions for their own interests and profit, she has clearly decided to “get ahead”, own the situation and make what she can of it.

And who can blame her? The culture that made her wanted to shame and laugh at her, yet also to keep ogling over her. Nor has her life been easy. Her mother was willing to put her on the show. Her estranged father has set up a GoFundMe page to “save her”. Is it any surprise that she is going to make the most of whatever power she can get from this?

Society has always had a dysfunctional attitude to teenage girls, obsessing over them, perving over them, shaming them, trying, fearfully, to control their fertility and sexuality. But that has intensified in this age of internet fame and social media.

We live in an age when a teenage girl is more likely to get a "like" for a selfie that involves a pout, some cleavage, a twerk (provocative dance), or anything vaguely sexual. Yet, at the same time, she is more likely to be shamed, condemned and ogled over in a way that she might not always feel in control of.

A great deal of online teen culture echoes this attitude. It reflects the world these young women have grown up in, which delivers a clear message about who succeeds and where female power lies. When girls look out there, who do they see making money? They see Kim Kardashian, the selfie queen, a role model of the day without any distinctive talent. They see Farrah Abraham, former girl-in-trouble in the American documentaries, 16 And Pregnant and Teen Mom, creating a celebrity career out of her moment as young mother in the reality show limelight. And now they see Danielle Bregoli. No wonder they think their bodies are their power.