The “FYI: If You’re A Teenage Girl” Debate.

Fellow bloggers:

I ask, if you are interested in feminism, or if you just have some spare time, to read both of these blog posts:

1. http://givenbreath.com/2013/09/03/fyi-if-youre-a-teenage-girl/

2. http://viewsfromthecouch.com/2013/09/04/re-fyi-if-youre-a-teenage-girl/

So…

Initially reading the first, I was like “Oh, good for you, Mom, encouraging your boys to not objectify ladies.”

Then reading the second post: “Oh.. wait.. Mom.. are you slut-shaming?”

Alas my head had to do a bit of a pong battle between these two ideas. But I guess what I find funniest is how black and white these posts are made out to be in reference to each other. One is, “Oh, ladies are good people, women are good, boys can’t keep it in their pants though so don’t dress sexily and put it on Facebook.” Two is, “Oh, this mother is saying girls are sluts if they wear what they wanna wear because her boys are horndogs so it’s chicks’ faults if they’re objectified.”

Nuh-uh.

I am a super sensitive emotional person. I have written about this before. But it still fascinates me when people want to jump to such black and white conclusions about something that is such a grey topic. That someone wants to take something as a comment SMALLER than its face value.

The Original

If you read into the first, I know I personally I am glad that this woman is trying to get the notion out of her impressionable boys’ heads that girls (who may or may not exactly know the consequences of what they’re posting on FB for the sake of attention) that girls are to be objectified and WANT to be objectified given the matter of their posts. Good on her for, in her own way, realizing that women are worth more than that. Good on her for also making comments to the ladies in question, such as “We enjoy seeing things through your unique and colorful lens – you are insightful, and often very, very funny… That post doesn’t reflect who you are at all! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart,” as well as “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 – just like you. You are growing into a real beauty, inside and out.”

So perhaps there is a tad of sarcasm laced through this post as well as some layers of conservatism. But is this post attacking young girls? I don’t think so. Is it slut shaming? I don’t think so. I think that this post is either successfully or unsuccessfully (and the “success” part of it I think is all some people see) trying to tell these girls, “Hey, look, you’re lovely, and smart, and interesting, and funny, and we don’t need to see your skimpy pj posts to know you’re a worthwhile person.” I dunno. Perhaps this is just my interpretation.

The Response

Hm. It was interesting that after reading this post I felt slightly guilty for advocating the first. But at the same time, is such satiric anger a way to emphasize your point? Having said that, this person of course has a right to get angry at what she feels is unacceptable… but to what effect? Does your satire do justice to the point you are trying to emphasize, while just shaming the other poster?

I understand that the first post can come off as slut-shaming. But this response is a bit over the top. No one needs to zoom in 250,000 whatever percent to see if a girl is wearing or not wearing a bra. No one needs to get so angry as to ignore the fact that sadly some teenagers, a LOT of teenagers, put so much effort into looking sexy for attention. I think whoever wrote this post forgot that these self esteem issues are real – especially in teenage girls. I’m not saying all teenagers dress skimpily have self esteem issues, and I’m not saying all teenagers who have self esteem issues dress skimpily. But sometimes there is a connection there — OFTEN there is a connection. And that’s sad.

Overall, I don’t think there needs to be such a black and white judgment here. Not all teenagers are slutty chicks. Not all teenagers who dress in light clothing are doing it for attention. Not all teenagers who dress in light clothing know what they’re posting, or AREN’T doing it for attention, or SHOULD be dressing so skimpily for everyone to see over Facebook.

Personally? I don’t think girls need to downgrade themselves by putting their physical assets as their only visual impression of themselves on Facebook. Unfortunately, all the funny intelligent posts do get lost in the midst of photos – that’s just how visuals work. Also unfortunately, a lot of teenage boys have raging hormones. I’m sure a lot of teenage boys DON’T. I’m NOT saying these girls are sluts. I’m NOT saying slut-shaming is good.

So many assumptions string throughout these posts… Not sure what else to say at this point.

Thoughts?

Jo

Other Responses:

9 thoughts on “The “FYI: If You’re A Teenage Girl” Debate.

  1. Thanks for the pingback!

    I felt enormously shamed reading her post. I am a nearly thirty-year-old woman who pretty much only posts cat and dog pictures to Facebook these days, but I spent my high school years entrenched in a culture where Mrs. Hall’s ideals were the norm. In that world, the teenage boys were taken aside in our youth group and talked to about the dangers of porn. The women were taken aside and talked to about how we need to make sure we dress so our brothers don’t stumble.

    In my opinion, placing the burden of averting teen boy lust upon the shoulders of teen girls is unfair and is inextricably tied into slut shaming, even though I’m well aware she wasn’t calling these girls sluts. In our culture, girls don’t have to actually be promiscuous to be called slutty. If that wasn’t true, I would have taken her article in a very different way. Additionally, it was her reaction to these girls and the actions she felt necessary to take that induced my deep feeling of anger. Had she simply opened the discussion about the nature of these photos she found objectionable in regards to her family and her teen boys, it would have been very different. Instead, she decided to block all their posts. As I mentioned in my response, that sends a very clear message. To me this is absolutely slut shaming tied with a bow of double standards because regardless of these girls’ sexual experience, instead of engaging with those self-esteem issues that might be causing their behavior, she shuns them and tells them they’re not welcome on her family’s island. And that, to me, is very sad.

    There are also a lot of double standards in that post, some due to a few other things she’s posted on her website. One of her posts has a video of her sons gyrating and pelvic thrusting to a song while they clean up after dinner. Their movements were undeniably sexual — learned from music videos maybe, but the video just goes to show cultural influence has a long arm. But she not only thought it made for a good blog post, but didn’t stop to think about what image of her own sons she was putting forward. You can probably find that post if you really want to. I’m not going to link to it.

    Our culture fills a pool with expectations for women’s looks, with what constitutes beauty and sexiness — and then drowns them in it when they try to swim. What angered me so much about her post is that it’s a lose-lose situation for the girls. While boys lusting is just “boys being boys who can’t ever unsee things ever,” girls posting pictures they want to be attractive for whatever reason is something that is a mistake for them to be shamed for, ostracized from her family, and only allowed back in if they take it down and come back contrite and covered up. That is distinctly skewed. The male gaze itself in this case somehow damages their purity and worth. I also have a very strong reaction to the guilt-laden purity culture — which applies to both teen girls and boys, but girls bear the brunt of it because teenage boys are assumed to be sexual beings, which makes girls who have those feelings almost an aberration by purity culture’s estimation before they’ve ever even acted on it.

    I also didn’t feel that her words to the teen girls were kind or welcoming. I felt them to be condescending and belittling. Again, had she opened up the conversation without the extreme action of blocking these girls with no dialogue, it might have been different. As it was, she was offering no conversation to the teenage girls at all. If they’d stepped over her line in the sand, she’d already banished them. Her side of the conversation was already closed. What I’d really, really love to hear is responses from teenage girls. All my words are built from a decade living with that sort of standard waved above my head and feeling bad every time I wanted to feel attractive because I might induce someone to sin. There are better ways to discuss sexuality with teens.

    If you haven’t read this post yet, I would highly recommend it. It talks about this very thing in regards to adult men. (Also, yeesh. Sorry for the very long comment.)

    http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/patriarchy-modesty-and-training-up-children-who-are-the-babies/

    1. Thank you so much for your reply! Also thanks for a good argument – Don’t be sorry for the longevity of it!

      I hear what you’re saying. I guess out of context it is hard for me to judge this woman’s character as a mother, etc, and thus even more difficult to read the tone of her post. There is the double standard there that I now feel guilty for falling into – that boys can’t control themselves, that girls need to cover up for their sake. It is sad that dressing down is an excuse for someone (men specifically) to judge a woman as nothing but a body. I guess there are biological roots in this, but at the same time, we as a human race have overcome our biology in so many other ways – hence why there is such thing as society in the first place.

      I think Mrs. Hall had decent intentions. But I see that there is the controversy of her shutting these girls out, especially if she does claim for them to be smart, lovely, etc. Why the body has to be such an end-all for her family, I’m not sure… but that is her choice. There is the irony inherent in feminism, that feminism is for the free choices of women, but that not all of these choices are going to be approved by feminists. There have got to be other ways to battle these stereotypes than to bash these women that are exercising their right to mother, or than to bash these girls whose Facebook activities and fashion senses are less-than-accepted. And I do agree that perhaps talking to these teenagers directly, both the boys and the girls, and hearing what they have to say, would be one method of doing so.

      I’ll read that post you linked. Thanks again for your reply!

      1. I definitely think she was well-intentioned. I think part of my reaction was because of the over-arching wider sub-cultural context out of which her words came. Before I left the church, I can’t count the number of times someone wounded me or a friend out of “love” and good intentions. I think all humans could stand to learn some empathy, myself included.

        Thanks for engaging in these things and for your kind reply. 🙂

  2. I appreciate you reading my blog and for the pingback to the discussion. Let me begin by saying that my response wasn’t “angry”, per se, though “frustrated” isn’t quite strong enough a word to describe how I felt about Mrs. Hall’s post either. Satire, sarcasm and hyperbole, however, are more or less a signature or theme throughout my blog but I digress.
    Mrs. Hall’s blog caught my attention when I saw a few friends and family sharing it on Facebook. I read it and reread it and the more I read it the more frustrated I became with the message that she was conveying. I don’t believe that Mrs. Hall composed her open letter with malice, or anything but good intentions but, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What I took home from the message was a very polite finger wag; just more slut shaming. Now, I realize that you take issue with my approach, specifically that I employ literary tools, such as satire, sarcasm and hyperbole, quite liberally. As I said, that is my typical MO, because I think it is an effective way to get my point across with regards to situations like this. Do I think that Mrs. Hall intended to maliciously admonish young girls and womankind? No. Not at all. What prompted my response, however, was that, intentional or not, the message that she was conveying was that a girl’s worth is, not only, conditional on presumptive and subjective impressions drawn from social media posts, but also that the game that she seems to have created with her family in determining said worth is a zero sum game, with the losers being banished from the “island” via the block function. As a mother to a daughter and 3 sons, I consider her viewpoint, which is the norm, mind you, to be disheartening because it hurts boys and girls. It shifts much of the responsibility associated with sexuality from the boys to girls. The underlying message that it teaches boys is that they lack a relevant level of self control that would render them capable of exercising control. It teaches girls that they must suppress their own sexuality, as they are responsible for mitigating male sexuality directed toward them, as well as to be deemed worthy of respect and dignity. Males are accepted to be sexual beings. They are permitted to “peacock” about, or post “selfies” of them flexing or holding up their shirts to show off their abs. It isn’t frowned upon if they have casual sex. No one says they have “mommy issues”. They are just being boys. Male sexual agency is accepted and respected as normal. If a female exercises sexual agency, other than to appease the agency of a man, she is denigrated as a slut or assumed to be the product of incompetent upbringing, causing her to “act out”.

    In the same vein, girls are brought up from birth on, with the focus on the aesthetics. When friends, family or even strangers converse with young girls, the interaction almost always involves some comment and/or commendation on their physical attributes. “You sure are beautiful”, “What a pretty girl you are”, “I bet you have a lot of boyfriends”, etc. Their academic or athletic interests are almost an afterthought. On the other hand, boys are brought up being commended for their accomplishments, whether that is in regards to their intelligence or their athletic prowess. Someone might say, “you sure are handsome” but that is most often just an accessory to questions about their interests, whether in school or sports. We teach our girls from a very young age, whether we realize it or not, that their value is tied into their physical appeal. Not to mention the messages they are inundated with through the media. Subliminally, we tell them that their perceived value is directly proportionate to being perceived as beautiful, which is largely determined by whether or not they are sexually desired. We tell ourselves that we are empowering girls when we tell them that they their sexuality gives them control, that it is, in a sense, a weapon. Then we push them down on their swords when if they dare think about wielding their “power”. We teach our sons to objectify girls, since they aren’t in control. They are just a slave to the whims of their penis. When we tell girls that they are in control of male sexuality, we are teaching them, as well, to objectify themselves. Girls that have spent their childhood on being validated on the basis of their looks, won’t, one day, suddenly stop experiencing the psychological “reward” that comes along with the compliments and attention. Society ingrains that from an early, early age, it is important to be attractive. Extremely so. Then when girls objectify themselves, because they’ve been validated through societies objectification of them, we denigrate them as immoral, calling them sluts and whores.

    My point being, I want the conversation to change. I want for those that might not realize that they are perpetuating a double standard to take a step back. In the case of Mrs. Hall’s blog, for instance, the double standard was peppered throughout. As Emmie had mentioned, one of her posts contained a video of her shirtless husband sons dancing around to an ABBA song, complete with pelvic thrusts, humping motions, even finger licking and nipple rubbing. I couldn’t help but wonder why she seemed to feel that was acceptable behavior to share on the internet, considering the standards she set forth for their female peers in her blog. I’m assuming it is because they are boys and that makes it somehow different. I want these people to see that the double standard is not just hurtful to girls but to boys, as well. My sons aren’t just mindless vats of testosterone, powerless to resist feminine whiles or control their sexual thoughts and urges. My sons are thoughtful and intelligent. I hold them and my daughter to the same standard and want them to judge others for their character, not their looks. as I hope others do for them.

    1. Well said. I’m not trying to say that satire isn’t an effective literary tool, but I guess my first impression of your post was that it seemed more of a quick, heated emotional reaction than a commentary on the actual issues you had with this subject in general. I by far learned a lot more about your concerns with Mrs. Hall’s post via this reply to my blog, than in your satire. But perhaps that is a fault in my own reading and literary skills…

      No matter. I agree with you in that the conversation should change – I wish I knew HOW to get the conversation to change. Perhaps we should start with younger generations… it’s hard to believe many people that have grown past adolescence are capable of change in their views toward men and women, and other sociopolitical issues in general. That said, I don’t wanna give up hope.

      By the way, I found your original post because UniteWomen.org’s Facebook page linked to it in a comment on my newsfeed. Just to let you know if you didn’t already. I’m glad I was able to read it, and thanks so much for replying.

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