… This damn cough and this podcast.
It’s an interview with journalist Nancy Jo Sales who says the Internet fosters a kind of sexism that is harmful to teen girls. Her new book is American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.
In a nutshell, girls are pressured into sexualizing themselves via social media, texting, Snapchat, etc. Boys are empowered to demand nude photos and girls are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
If they relent, the photo may be widely shared and they will be slut shamed. If they don’t, fake photos of them may be used to slut shame them anyway.
Their value is based on their sexual desirability yet they will also be condemned for it. Furthermore, in the era of “likes” on Facebook and Instagram, that already powerful adolescent desire for approval is not only magnified, it can be quantified. And this starts earlier than one could ever imagine.
This isn’t exactly news to me but listening to the author speak about social media and the effects of pornography made me feel nothing but sadness and outrage for girls. I feel like the cards are stacked against them.
For a shameful moment I felt relief that I have boys … as if this doesn’t affect them.
Later that day Scratchy bought a song to me that he heard at a friend’s house. I’m not a prude when it comes to music, I’ll dance to just about anything in pole class as long as it isn’t heavy metal. But that’s an adult environment … no kids.
I wasn’t horrified that he heard this song but I was concerned, he will hear and see worse in the near future, it’s clearly already started. I was actually relieved that he brought it to me and wanted to have a conversation about it.
I hope he keeps talking to me about things that confuse or disturb him because I think it’s these conversations that will combat this culture of sexting and porn that is hurting girls and, yes, boys.
I want my guys to grow up respecting girls and women. I want them to fall in love (maybe with a girl, maybe with a boy, it doesn’t matter) and have it be something special, joyful, personal and meaningful. I don’t want them to be the boys that collect and share nude pictures of unwilling girls as if they have a right to another person’s privacy. I don’t want my children to speak disrespectfully of anyone. Nor do I want them to have their sexual expression dictated by pornography.
I want them to understand the importance of consent and care about other people’s feelings. I want them to be the kind of men that wouldn’t imagine treating another human being like a thing.
No topic is off limits. We’ve discussed strip clubs and sex work (without judgement), consensual sex versus rape and the fine line that makes all the difference in the world, dirty lyrics and why a song can be appealing yet offensive. All the reasons people have sex (and no, not just to make babies but because it feels good, and should feel good, but only if both partners are willing and safe). Risk, pleasure, commitment, love, playfulness, joy.
I’m starting them slow and letting them set the pace, but we’re going to talk about all of this. They have a natural curiosity and I’m grateful that they still feel comfortable talking to me, that my opinion still matters to them.
I’ll never shame them for asking questions because I hope that when the time comes for them to decide whether they want to participate in this vile culture of misogyny, they will know exactly where they stand.
Having boys isn’t easier than having girls. It’s just as challenging and imperative to prevent your boys from becoming a monster as is it to protect your girls from them.