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 the world with compassion and openness and understanding, might now and then look too bedroomy (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, because God forbid I should waste the precious time He has given me on earth 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."