Thursday, September 5, 2013

FYI (if you're the mother of teenage boys)

Dear Mrs. Hall,

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as I sometimes do, I sat at my desk and looked through the evening's news feed. Among friends' postings about Syria, marriage equality and silly cats, I noticed your article making more than one appearance, shared by some folks very near and dear to my heart. So I read it.

I've been a teenage girl, and wow, there are a lot of teenage girl selfies of me on my Facebook. Maybe a few of them were even taken in my pajamas (because I'm a slut like that, apparently. It's cool. My bedroom was still cute).


Maybe boys noticed other things when they saw my pictures. Like, that pajamas for me -- at least during my most selfie-prone era -- usually consisted of pants and a top, which can look curiously like regular clothes, but they're for sleeping in.

I get it -- I was in my room, so I was probably heading to bed, in my pajamas, and probably not wearing a bra, since they're uncomfortable and may even cause health problems. When I look at some of my old selfies, I can't help but notice the extra-arched back, the red carpet pose, the sultry pout (I said some, not all!) because hey, that's how America teaches girls to pose. All. The. Time.

So here's the bit that I think is important for you to realize. If you are friends with me on Facebook, then I guess you are welcome to scroll through my selfies with your husband and children at the table as a family activity, on par with playing Sorry! or watching Shrek. Maybe it's a little strange, but I did put that stuff out there, so I can't complain.

Please know that I genuinely like staying connected with you this way! I hope you also enjoy seeing things through my lens (which may or may not be unique and colorful). If we're friends, I'd like to think that means you think I have some winning qualities. But I don't think any "extremely unfortunate" (in your view) self-portraits cancel that out in any way.

That selfie you don't like -- maybe it doesn't reflect the entirety of my being. I would hope not. It's a single picture. But why did you cringe and wonder, "what I was trying to do? Who I was trying to reach? What I was trying to say?"

Maybe I was trying to remind myself I'm a cute human after a long day. Maybe I was trying to reach out to my friends to show them my new haircut. Maybe I was trying to say "hey Facebook world, check out my cute room!" These are only a few of any number of potential reasons. (Truth be told, though, most of my selfies were inspired by plain-and-simple boredom. I know that's underwhelming. Sorry.)

And now -- big bummer (I can tell you're really broken about this) -- you have to block my posts. Because you are apparently unable to reconcile that this person you otherwise enjoy following is also a female entity with certain attributes that female entities tend to have, and she is not hiding in a corner, and you care about your sons, therefore she cannot exist in their cyberworld. (For the sake of this response, I'm going to go with it and pretend that this line of reasoning makes sense.)

This is not to say you don't have a right as a parent to influence what your boys can and can't see. But here's the deal. All these teenage girls (quite literally, ALL of them, according to your title) you're enlightening? They're not your daughters. You, Mrs. Hall, have three teenage sons, and it is them you should be instructing. Not us.

I know everyone is getting kind of sick of a culture that bombards all of us -- men and women -- day and night with hyper-sexualized images. These are images that get stuck in our minds, condition our behavior, and maybe even trickle all the way down into a bedroom selfie or two.

But if you're going to expect every girl to self-censor rather than teach your sons to be discerning in how they look at them, then you have an issue. The second you put the onus of dealing with this sexualized culture solely on teenage girls, while evidently doing little more than just drawing the blinds when it comes to teenage boys, then you, Mrs. Hall, with your earnest "FYI," are not lifting up young girls. In fact, you're pretty much in lockstep with the same hurtful reasoning that says rape victims wearing short skirts are "asking for it."

Again, I get it. It might just seem easier to block every young lady who doesn't pass your litmus test for modesty online. But modesty is a two-way street, Mrs. Hall, and unless you plan on following your sons around for the rest of their lives and pulling the wool over their eyes every time a woman walks by, you need to stop simply blocking and start talking to them. 

Tell your sons how, yeah, sometimes girls look sexy, and sometimes we even like to do it on purpose. Tell them that if it's on purpose, it could be for any number of reasons, and these reasons do not by default include their attention.

Tell your sons they are young men with self-control who can treat girls like humans regardless of how "modestly" they appear.

Tell your sons not to believe the lie that they are entirely enslaved to their hormones. Like animals. Mrs. Hall, do you really believe your sons are animals?

When Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to stumble," he did not follow it with "tell that slut to take down her sexy photo or you'll have to unfriend her." He said, "gouge it out and throw it away." He said it is better to literally mutilate yourself than allow yourself to treat another person as less-than because of your own lack of self-control. Because in this world, you cannot always change how people perceive you. The only thing you can reliably change is how you choose to perceive others, and that includes being able to control yourself when it comes to images you find tempting. I hope your sons are learning to do this rather than to simply block every girl you deem too "sexy" for them to process.

I share a lot of things on Facebook. I think it's a great tool to keep in touch with friends, family, classmates, coworkers and maybe even a few random folks I just think post interesting things. I enjoy sharing articles I find insightful, quotes I find inspiring, bits of music or art that I like. The occasional selfie (which may or may not be deemed "sexy") might be one in every 100 posts or so.

Unfortunately, when we live in a world where women are objects first and people later, there is little I can do to prevent people from deciding I am trying to get attention or want to look sexy simply by existing. My God-given breasts, which may someday nurture my future children, might now and then look too visible (for your taste). My God-given lips, which sometimes smile, sometimes frown, and always try to speak truth, might now and then look too pouty (for your taste). My God-given eyes, which change color depending on the light and try always to see with true compassion informed by suffering, might now and then look too sultry (for your taste).

But according to your "zero tolerance policy," Mrs. Hall, a single "unacceptable" selfie (for your taste) would automatically discount anything else I've ever had to share or say. It breaks my heart that these God-given physical attributes would potentially cancel out every other quality I have, should I dare to arch my back too much or pout my lips too much, unless I spend my life trying to assuage the sexist expectations of people like you.

Mrs. Hall, it's not too late! If you think you've made an on-line mistake (we all do -- don't fret -- I've made some doozies), RUN to your accounts and take down the unfortunately-viral blog posts that make it too easy for me only to see you as a slut-shamer disguising her problematic views on girls as genuine concern for boys.

Will you trust me? There are girls out there waiting and hoping to be seen as women of character and not have to hide the fact that they are also sexual beings and should not be made ashamed of that. Some young women are fighting the daily uphill battle to be able to confidently be who they are, and not have to pick a side on some Madonna-whore dichotomy created in the minds of teenage boys' moms -- just like you.

We are real beauties, inside and out.

And we do not need your self-righteous "advice."

11 comments:

  1. beautifully written. thank you for your contribution towards ending rape culture. you are beautiful. :) keep smiling.

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  2. I love this! From the mom of two teen boys

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  3. Wonderfully thoughtful, and articulate. Thank you!

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  4. Sexuality is not wrong, but may be inappropriate at certain times. I am a wife and mother of a son. My sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, but not something that needs to be displayed to the world. I don't really understand why sensual photos are a cool thing for girls to post on social media. You are right in saying that women are beautiful and their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of! However, a picture displaying the look that says "come and get me" does send the wrong signal. That is a primal urge for men, and they SHOULD feel that way when a woman gives them that non-verbal que. Women shouldn't be ashamed of that part of themselves, but need to save it for the proper context. Use your sexuality to its FULLEST in a godly marriage. That is where pouty lips, arched backs and the lack of a bra are completely appropriate.

    As for the boys...my son will be raised to respect women regardless of how they market themselves. He is ultimately responsible for his own choices. I do not think that "unfriending" girls on social media is helpful. Maybe we should teach our sons to communicate with their friends. "That picture of you on FB seems to be sending a sensual message, would you mind taking it down? I care about you as a person, and I don't know if you realize the signals that you are sending." I would love to hear my son say that when he is old enough to have female friends and a FB account.

    It is not the responsibility of one sex or the other, but a joint effort that will end sexism. Girls, stop marketing yourself as sex kitten. Boys, stop sexualizing anything with two X chromosomes.

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    1. Dear person commenting as "Unknown",

      Why should a boy (or anyone other than an under-aged girl's parent) suggest to a girl that she take down a photo because it sends a "sensual message"? We are sensual creatures. Sensual does not equal sexual; and even if you are using "sensual" as a euphemism for "sexual", it is still not his place to make this suggestion.

      Sensualness and sexiness are not things to be ashamed of; they are often how we get someone to want to talk to us; if that is all there is to a girl, that is sad, but most of these girls posting the sensual/sexy pics probably have a lot more to them, the pic is just their way of trying to get the initial notice. It is the job of parents of boys to teach them to look inside after noticing the outside; it is the job of parents of girls to teach them to develop the inside as well as decorating the outside.

      Signed,
      Not Afraid to Use My Sex-appeal

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    2. Thank you so much for your comment. I do agree that there are appropriate and inappropriate venues for sexual expression -- I just think that these are two separate conversations to have. The important thing to remember is that the way a woman looks to say "come and get me" can vary tremendously -- and often this intention is assumed of women just for existing. In my own experience, the days when I've been most brutally harassed were days when I personally didn't think I looked "alluring" at all.

      The day I learned that sometimes there is nothing I can do to stop myself from being sexualized by other people was when I was 18 years old and a freshman at an evangelical university in Chicago. I had been studying all day in my dorm room, hadn't showered, hair in a ponytail, just wearing jeans, a t-shirt and cardigan, etc. I had missed the dinner window for the campus dining hall, so I decided to walk the maybe 100 feet to Subway across the street. In the span of those 100 feet and about 20 minutes, I was crudely harassed by four different groups of men. I was so mortified, I ran back to my room and burst into tears. Was it my fault? I looked in the mirror and felt I looked utterly underwhelming. Suffice it to say that, if I had been looking for male attention, this was definitely not how I would have dressed for the occasion.

      So yes, I do agree that young girls should be taught that they do not need to post intentionally sexual images of themselves in order to gain attention or acceptance or anything like that. But this is not because of what people might think of it, it is because they have worth as human beings and should be empowered to present themselves how they actually want to, and not how society tells them to.

      But I do not think that a girl should be made to hide her sexuality completely until she is married. And if she does choose to express her sexuality, she should not be shamed for that, because it is a totally natural and important part of who she is! Again, there are levels of expressing that that are more appropriate for certain situations, but she should be free to make those decisions for herself based on her own worth as a human being, not as her "responsibility" to others whose perceptions of her can vary so widely. A girl who feels she is dressed totally "modestly" may still cause someone to "stumble" -- so it's definitely not all on her.

      Like you said, mutual respect is something that both boys and girls should be taught -- and that is why I wish Mrs. Hall had addressed a letter to her boys rather than lecturing all of teenage girldom for intentions that, at the end of the day, she can only assume.

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  5. Great response to that very annoying blog post. The whole "boys/men can't help themselves" thing disgusts me. I hate the idea that girls/women should have to hide the fact that they are sexy/desirable/female because some men are pigs. Rape is about power at least as much as it is about sex or old ladies in nursing homes wouldn't ever be rape and "revenge" rapes wouldn't happen.

    btw - I love your background image; tangines are awesome!

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  6. This post is excellent. Thanks for responding so poignantly on behalf of women everywhere who are sick and tired of being blamed and shamed for the degrading over-sexualization of women and destructive, persistent cultural patriarchy.

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  7. Saw this on Facebook: loved it! I shared it with a friend who was praising the original blog post to teenage girls and a friend of hers wanted me to tell you that you're her new hero. So... way to go :)

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  8. Yay, Erin! You hit a home run with this one. This is the reply I was waiting to see. Thanks for naming the shaming and for standing up for every woman's right to be beautiful and sexy and complete.

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