Thursday, September 5, 2013

On selfies and social media: Raising boys to respect girls doesn't mean forbidding them to be friends

Miley Cyrus’s VMA twerking exhibition has triggered a wave of helpful and not-so-helpful advice aimed at America’s teenage sons and daughters. Most of it has been levied at the girls, with messages that pretty much all boil down to “You don’t need to make a spectacle of yourself to get attention”; far fewer have reached out to boys to tell them “Please don’t treat women like that.”

So when this post from Givenbreath.com popped up in my Facebook feed multiple times, I clicked through. Titled “FYI: If You’re a Teenage Girl,” it’s written by Kim Hall, a mom of four (three boys, one girl) telling her son’s female friends that they really need to watch what they post on social media.

“If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole Hall family,” she writes, after noting that her sons’ friends sure do seem to share a lot of photos of themselves in their bedrooms, posing in pajamas (or less) and obviously not wearing their bras.

She shares a few photos of her own, pictures of her strapping teenage boys and their sweet little sister, making muscles and posing in bathing suits on the beach. Which seems fine and wholesome until you keep reading: If she sees an inappropriate, half-naked picture of a girl among her son’s friends, she's sorry to have to say, that girl is getting blocked.

“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?” she writes. “Neither do we. And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.”

“I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way it is under this roof for a while,” she continues. “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.”

Hypocrisy aside – featuring half-naked pictures of your sons in a post in which you tell their female friends to cover up? -- it's interesting that she holds the girls responsible for posting the unacceptable pictures, but isn't holding the boys responsible for looking at them. It's like saying that girls shouldn't wear miniskirts while giving boys a pass for ogling at them -- the old "boys will be boys" excuse that blames women when men behave badly.



Rather than force your sons to block their friends, teach them to tell these girls that they’re more than just sexual objects, that they don’t need to pose provocatively in their bedrooms in order to catch a young man’s eye. Teach your sons that they are in control of their own reaction to these photos, that they can tell their female friends “I care about you and want you to be safe, and I think you should take that selfie down.” Teach them that men of integrity not only “don’t linger” over half-naked pictures high-school girls, they actively choose not to objectify women that way.

Mrs. Hall followed up with a second post in which all of her own children are fully clothed, which shows that while she recognizes one of the issues with her original post, she still doesn't see how her advice only addresses half the problem.

Yes, plenty of young women are publishing immodest pictures of themselves online, publicizing things that, a few years from now, they’ll probably regret. But by blocking these girls on her sons’ social media accounts, she’s not just teaching her boys to be “men of integrity” or “men with a strong moral compass.” She’s also teaching them that only certain women deserve respect. She’s teaching them that, if they can’t control themselves, it’s not their fault – those slutty girls shouldn't have posted those pictures to begin with. She’s teaching her sons to judge and shame others, rather than to forgive and inspire. And she’s teaching her young daughter that if a boy treats her badly, it’s probably her own fault.

2 comments:

Arne said...

I have some issues with the conclusions of your last paragraph.

"But by blocking these girls on her sons’ social media accounts, she’s not just teaching her boys to be 'men of integrity' or 'men with a strong moral compass.'"

I agree.

"She’s also teaching them that only certain women deserve respect."

I agree 100%, and she's wrong in doing so.

"She’s teaching them that, if they can’t control themselves, it’s not their fault – those slutty girls shouldn't have posted those pictures to begin with."

I disagree, and don't see the premise for this statement. She explicitly said "I also pray that my sons will be worthy of this kind of woman, that they will be patient – and act honorably – while they wait for her." This implies that she 100% expects her sons to act honorably, and I think it's more likely that failing to control themselves would be considered "dishonorable" or being "unworthy of this kind of woman." I don't believe the article in question assesses blame in the case of boys behaving badly, and if it does, the only meager evidence we have is that it would be the boys' fault, since such actions would be dishonorable. I suppose it's possible that the author believes that boys that are unable to control themselves are honorable and worthy (in which case your conclusion could be true), but I think that's counter-intuitive and unlikely. On that basis, I don't think your statement above is correct.

"She’s teaching her sons to judge and shame others, rather than to forgive and inspire."

100% agree again, and she's wrong in doing so. If anything, this is your strongest and most valuable conclusion (and you've buried the lede, oops).

"And she’s teaching her young daughter that if a boy treats her badly, it’s probably her own fault."

This one's iffy, given that I'm agreeing with you in some cases, but not others. What if the statement she wants to give her daughter is "if boys have less respect for you because you posted slutty pictures of yourself online, it's probably your own fault." Is that a true statement? Boys treating her badly is the BOYS fault, but boys having less respect for her because of poor decisions... wouldn't that be her own fault?

Lylah at Write. Edit. Repeat. said...

Those are good points, Arne. And I do have a tendency to bury the lede...

She did say that she prays that her sons be patient and act honorably, but she also said "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?” Which, to me, seems to say that it's the girls' actions, not her sons', that she considers the root of the problem. If the boys view the girls as a sexual object, it's the girl's fault for posting the pictures and forcing him to view her as a sexual object (He can't help it -- he can't "unsee" these things). My POV is that one has to address both the boys and the girls in order to solve the problem. You can't say "girls, don't treat yourselves like sex objects" without also saying "boys, don't treat girls like sex objects."

My point about her daughter is an extension of that. Yes, I agree that "if boys have less respect for you because you posted slutty pictures of yourself online, it's probably your own fault." But nowhere in her post does she say that. She talks about boys seeing girls in a sexual way, and if a girl posts a questionable picture just once, anywhere, any time, she's branded by her sexuality rather than her personality or her accomplishments. To me, that's like saying that the girl is responsible for the boy's actions (not just his level of respect) toward her.