I recently came across a blog post in which a mother of four (three boys, one girl) addresses The Teenage Girl and begs them to stop being skanks.
That’s not quite how she says it, but that’s clearly what she means. Actually, what she means is something more like, “Boys can’t control themselves, so you have to stop tempting them.” Which sounds like something a Republican congressman would say.
Apparently, this point of view is reasonable to many people, judging by all the “likes” and “shares” and positive comments her post is getting. People agree with her loving message to today’s young females.
I wish I agreed, since it’s a convenient way to get out of some difficult parenting.
I don’t know if her post counts as slut-shaming, partially because I don’t totally understand what slut-shaming is and partially because she isn’t taking the girls she’s addressing to task for being sluts. She’s taking them to task for posting online photos of themselves in states of near-undress… the implication of which is that such behavior leads to sluttiness and – worse! – causes good men like her sons to lose their integrity.
In her open letter, she pleads with The Teenage Girl – the post was apparently spurred on by one particular girl’s photos but is meant to address all teenage girls – to stop tempting her sons. Because, and I quote, “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it?” This is technically true, because unless you took a shitload of acid in the 60s or are frequently black-out drunk, it’s pretty much impossible to un-see anything. I know, because I have been trying like hell to un-see this woman’s post to no avail.
Excerpt: I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?
I don’t have a teenage daughter. I don’t have any daughter. But if I did have a daughter, I would agree with this woman that it’s not a good idea for her to post photos of herself naked or half-naked or three-quarters naked or fully naked on social media outlets. Because once the internet has them, everyone does. But I have an almost three-year-old son, and I will tell my son the same thing, once he’s old enough to post photos online (probably next week).
But I will also tell my son that just because he sees a picture of a naked or half-naked or three-quarters naked or fully naked girl or woman or boy or man online, and just because he can’t “un-see” such a picture, that doesn’t mean he has ownership over that person, or that he has the right to shame that person, or that he has any idea of who she really is based on a photo or that it’s okay for her to be nothing more than a sex object to him. To borrow a phrase often used to justify this kind of sexism, she’s not “asking for it.”
Most importantly, it doesn’t mean that he suddenly sacrifices his own agency and self-control and morals and understanding of right and wrong and personal responsibility in the face of something that gets his hormones raging.
Excerpt: We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.
(Does the contradiction in this statement remind anyone else of the “grave danger” conundrum that sinks Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men?)
Here’s the thing: It’s not up to women to protect men from themselves. And it’s certainly not The Teenage Girl’s responsibility to help teenage boys, or college guys, or middle-aged men, control their basest instincts. Teenagers can hardly be responsible for anything, and just because a young girl didn’t totally think through her decision to post a selfie that inadvertently titillated someone gave them impure thoughts doesn’t remove that someone’s responsibility to not be a lecherous asshole and treat that girl like a whore every time they see her.
No, it’s up to this woman, and her husband, and me, and my wife, and parents everywhere, to teach our children – our boys and our girls – to respect others and take responsibility for their own actions. Why did this woman feel the need to write an open letter to someone else’s children? Why didn’t she write one to her own sons, stressing the need to respect the opposite sex, no matter how much they might disapprove of their actions?
Excerpt: Will you trust me? There are boys out there waiting and hoping for women of character. Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure, and their thoughts praiseworthy.
Newsflash, lady: there are girls out there waiting and hoping for men of character too. It sounds to me like you’re dropping the ball on raising some.