On Slut-Shaming Teenage Girls

You know how sometimes you get so violently angry about something that you just kind of throw your hands up in the air and shake your fists at nothing in particular? Yeah, that.

Sep 6, 2013 at 11:30am | Leave a comment

A post has been popping up in my Facebook feed the last couple of days in some pretty surprising places -- surprising because I find the content ridiculous and abhorrent (ridiculously abhorrent, if you will!), and I’m actually shocked at the number of people who’ve been sharing it with virtual high fives and “Amen!”s.
 
Kim Hall, a Texas mother of three boys (and one girl), wrote an open letter of sorts to her sons’ female friends, whose social media photos she apparently took offense to.
“We have teenage sons, and so naturally there are quite a few pictures of you lovely ladies to wade through. Wow — you sure took a bunch of selfies in your pajamas this summer! … It appears that you are not wearing a bra.”
 
Well, hello there, Mrs. Hall! A little creepy, but thanks for checking a bunch of clothed underage girls’ photos for visible evidence of undergarments, I guess?
 
There are so many ways this woman’s letter is uncomfortable and offensive, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s talk about this little gem:
“I get it — you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout. What’s up? None of these positions is one I naturally assume before sleep, this I know.”
 
image

Lookin' sexy circa 1988. 

 
Correct. Most adults probably don’t take vanity shots and assess their best photo angle before going to bed. However, these are teenage girls. Teenage girls who are consistently inundated with varying messages about what their bodies should look like and what they should be doing with them. Teenage girls who, on any given day -- on a good day, at that -- receive a 50/50 mix of positive and negative reviews of their bodies. Teenage girls who receive conflicting messages about whether to take pride in their appearance or to feel shameful about it. Teenage girls newly figuring out what their bodies are going to turn into as they get older and what they can and can’t do with them.
 
I grew up in the age of Prodigy and America Online, so I have no idea what it’s like as a teenager to have something like Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram available (I was more likely to be hanging out in a Tori Amos fan forum). But had I had even a modicum of confidence in my body at that age, it’s entirely likely social media is where I would’ve turned to test the waters. And if I’d done so, I’d hope that my friends’ parents wouldn’t be peering over their shoulders to get a glimpse of me in my pajamas.
 
image

The kind of photo I'm likely to post as an adult. It's like my head is a table, guys! Hilarious!

 
Hall’s letter goes on to admonish these young girls for displaying their bodies in a way their parents certainly wouldn’t be happy with:
“Those posts don’t reflect who you are! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. … I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel.” [Emphasis mine.]
You know how sometimes you get so violently angry about something that you just kind of throw your hands up in the air and shake your fists at nothing in particular? Yeah, that.
 
So not only are these standard teenage girls, doing standard teenage things, proving themselves to be actually quite stupid, but they also are clearly disappointing their families. I wish I could wrap my head around the condescension here. It’s astounding. 
 
There are so many bits and pieces to Hall’s letter that get me -- like the fact that she admits she, a fully grown, mature, adult woman, is sitting around the dinner table with her family going through her sons’ friends’ photos and slut-shaming them for the pictures they choose to share. Or the part where she says this: 
“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?”
 
image

Nipples - on my Facebook! Also, they were delicious. 

 
But the best -- the best! -- part is the fact that her whole purpose with this letter is to impress upon these misguided young women how pure and innocent her teenage sons are, and that these harlots best not be trying to tempt them away from this righteous path. 
 
Here’s the problem, Mrs. Hall: There are these things called hormones. Most teenage boys experience them -- like, a lot. Good luck fighting biology, because I guarantee you it takes way less than these photos to excite your sons’ imaginations. In fact, I’m fairly certain they’ve imagined their hooded-sweatshirt-wearing, female chemistry lab partner in various states of un-sweatshirtedness. And they probably -- gasp! -- haven’t even told you they’ve had these thoughts!
“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.” [Emphasis not even mine!] 
 
I mean…
 
I really hope you meant to use this as a teachable moment in some way. I really hope that in your heart of hearts you thought you were sending a message to your sons’ female friends to love and respect their bodies, and to be careful about the intimate content of things they post on the Internet. Certainly that is a message we can all get behind.
 
However, if that was your intent, you have failed miserably. What you have done instead is further the notion that women are somehow at fault for the potentially harmful thoughts and actions of the men around them -- which is essentially the old “She was asking for it” argument. See also: “Look what she was wearing; what did she expect was going to happen?” 
 
If you want your kid not to do drugs, you’re probably not going to track down all the neighborhood dealers and tell them not to sell to your child; you’re going to tell your kid not to do drugs. If you don’t want your kid watching Internet porn, you’re probably not going to go on a crusade to have every porn site on the web shut down; you’re going to block porn sites on your home computer.
 
If you think these lusty teenage ladies are attempting to dirty your poor, innocent sons’ minds, how does it make sense to you to take any possible responsibility your boys might shoulder for their own feelings and toss it all onto the backs of these young women, your sons’ own friends, simply figuring themselves out?
“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.”
Mrs. Hall, here’s how you raise men with a strong moral compass: Teach them to respect women. Teach them to respect people in general. Teach them not to sit around the dinner table picking apart their peers. Teach them not to make people feel ashamed of themselves and their bodies. Teach them not to judge a person’s morals and character by their outward appearance or something as meaningless as a selfie. 
 
Even better: Try learning these things yourself and setting an example.