What Keeps Me Up At Night

… 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.

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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.

 

22 thoughts on “What Keeps Me Up At Night

      • Much agreed, I think in many ways I am lucky I couldn’t have children because I think if I did the world would be even more frightening for me. The fact that you have created such a non-judgmental healthy relationship with your boys makes me believe they will have the maturity to figure things out the right way. I know sometimes you are hard on yourself but from where I sit I believe you are a great mom and are taking the right path, Viv. I admire you

  1. “No topic is off limits.” That is probably key! I am kind of horrified reading this. I took my 20 month old to the playground yesterday and she was pushed and told by a 3 year old boy that she couldn’t play with them… Sigh. Raising KIDS is hard! The idea of raising a girl in the media saturated environment makes me want to find a cabin in the woods without an internet connection.

  2. Encourage your boys to cultivate and appreciate the company of intelligent, funny, and opinionated women. Use any occasion to prompt frank discussions about sexuality; even if something is awkward, keep at it. Give them advice but let them make their own mistakes. Let them know that there’s nothing wrong about their bodies or how they work, and let them know that it’s perfectly normal to masturbate. Talk to them about porn and how it bears little relation to caring relationships between people who love each other; they’re going to see it some day and if you frame it correctly, they stand a better chance of putting it in a proper perspective. Find ways for them to have friends who are girls. Look out for examples of what I and my wife call “JonBenet Ramsay” horrors–the weird hyper sexualization of girls–and point them out to your boys. Find ways to help them assert themselves, use their judgment, and have respect for themselves; self-loathing men tend to not respect women either. It’s all about love: If they’re raised in a loving environment, that’s what they’ll seek when they’ve left you behind.

      • And yes on encouraging friendships with girls. That’s a tough one. My boys don’t “get” girls. There are a few out there that are on the same wavelength (ie tomboys) but the ones that are already talking about having boyfriends, love, etc. don’t make sense to them.

        • Growing up with girls, or watching them grow up, leads to understanding them, and thereby understanding women. Having a daughter greatly improved my understanding of women, and if there’s “anyone I could be” for a brief spell, it would be a woman, so as to understand that experience better. May I say, that in my opinion persons of both sexes can be disgraceful and abusive; persons of quality are rare, and we should seek them out regardless of which pigeon-hole we find them. It’s also important for boys to learn to distinguish between superficial, manipulative, selfish girls, and the inquisitive, conscientious, and broad-minded girls. That’s Mom’s job, as Dads are frequently out to sea on this score. One thing that seems unwise to me is to see things only from one gender perspective, and to advocate for outcomes based on one’s gender. Dad has to make his daughter wise to the ways of tricky boys, and Mom has to make her sons wise to the ways of tricky girls. Surely there will be a tide of catty shit come junior high. Another non-sequitur: I think peoples’ relationships often mirror their parents’ relationships, even if obliquely, and that the example we set with our spouses are the initial models our kids will employ when first playing house for realsies. Maybe a lot of this sounds like the sophistry of Polonius, and you’re welcome to call me on it, but it’s been at the back of my mind lately and I’m trying to figure out how to raise teenagers…

        • I’ve been having too much fun with cognac lately. In light of your posting about handwritten notes I may just drop you a letter; it would be droll to communicate via snail mail.

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