Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sexting + Sex + Slut Shaming = Looming Catastrophe

Last night, my 11 year old daughter and I were running errands and caught this story on NPR, "Online 'Shaming' A New Level Of Cyberbullying For Girls." We listened silently  My own internal horror and anger grew with each passing second of the story.

This part made the bile raise past the back of my throat:

"That's not fair that a guy can actually hide his phone, have sex with you and record you, and then show it to his friends," one girl says.
When I was talking to the girl this happened to, she said she didn't know she was being recorded. "I kind of had a feeling that something was wrong, but I didn't want to believe it," she says.
At school, she was hoping that it wouldn't be too big of a deal, but even the principal knew about the video. He brought her to his office and called her mom.
"I couldn't even look at my mother because I felt hurt and I also felt that I disrespected her," she says. "I didn't want kids in the school to look at my mother and be like, 'Wow, she raised nothing.' "

Nothing. She is feeling something. And it is that she is nothing.

The printed version doesn't include the unrepentant guy who did this to a girl. It made him cool. He got a lot of attention. And that was worth it, okay for him, even though it involved destroying a girl and an arrest.

My husband and I are trying to raise empowered, confident daughters. We've been open about bodies and their function. We've increased our talks recently about puberty and being a teen, including developing sexuality.

We do not want to raise girls who are afraid of their bodies or their sexuality. We do not want to portray boys -- your boys, your sons -- as predators.

But as a woman, as a mom of a girl...I am sorry, but a huge part of my gut, heart and soul thinks maybe I really need to. Because someone's sons, a lot of someone's sons, are predators.

Asking young girls to take sexy photos, or secretly taking sexy photos or videos, and sharing those widely is predatory. It is a thousand times worse than locker room talk, though the feeling in the moment is probably the same. But it is a thousand times worse because Rizzo graduated from high school and moved on with her life, whereas a young girl today may walk into an office and find some enterprising male coworker has dug up that photo of her and hung it in the break room.

Believe me, I've worked with guys like that.

They are someone's sons.

I found myself wondering how many moms have tried to set a good example of a woman to respect for their sons. I wondered how many moms told their sons to respect girls. I wondered how many got more specific than that.

How many moms of boys specifically looked at their sons and said, "All girls deserve respect. You do not have a right to a girl or her body just because you desire it. You may have a crush on a girl and she may not like you back. That does not make her a bitch. You do not get to take revenge on her. A girl may have had sex with someone. That does not make her a slut or available to anyone else for sex. You may not ask a girl for a sexy photo. You may not secretly photograph or record a girl in a private situation. If a girl does take and share a sexy photo, you may not share it. She does not deserve it. Not at all. If you disrespect a girl, that makes you an ass. It does not make the girl stupid. It makes you an ass. If your friends disrespect a girl and you laugh and make him feel cool, that makes you an ass too. If you hear people slut shaming a girl, you not only do not join in, you call it out as seriously uncool."

These are hard conversations to have. We get focused on teaching our kids about themselves. We get focused on teaching them how to have confidence and good esteem...of themselves. We tell them to respect others, but do we really explain, specifically, what that means? Especially in romantic situations?

When they are little, we teach them to be kind and share and be nice. We teach them to get along.

When they are teens, this may come back to bite them, and us, in a bad way.

They want space, especially socially, and we want to respect that. It gets busy. They need us less.

GET IN THERE ANYWAY. This story is why.

And then the story ended and after a moment of silence my daughter said, "Those girls are so stupid, why did they do that?"

And I died inside because as a society, as parents, we have FAILED.

Despite trying so hard to help build perspective, she and I and our society still blame the women.

I was hyper aware of it because I had been sitting there furious with boys and boy culture that enables bad behavior like this.

"The girls are stupid? Oh no, the boys are wrong. W. R.O.N.G wrong," I said to her, forcefully. Then I elaborated.

By the time I finished, she understood that she (girls) need to make good choices and sexy photos are not good choices (and are illegal) but the fault lies with the perpetrator: the boy who breached trust, respect and courtesy and the law by sharing a private photo or stealing and sharing a private moment.

I took the opportunity to once again emphasize that sex is okay but it is very, very personal and should be with someone you truly love and are deeply involved with, that you've built trust with, in a time in your life when you can make good judgment calls and deal with potential long-term results.

I am not trying to raise a Good Girl. I am trying to raise a confident, respectful, self-respecting, and SAFE girl. Sadly, part of her safety involves keeping her safe from boys who are predators.

You may be trying to raise a good son...but are you raising a gentleman?

Are you raising a boy who not only won't be a predator but who also will not be a part of the culture that rewards predators who abuse and shame girls?

Are you doing it out loud?

These are real questions because stories like these terrify me, and there are too many of them. I lived through one myself -- a toxic sexual harassment in the workplace one -- and it killed my career and nearly destroyed me. It was easier to pay off the woman and get rid of her (me) than change the culture and deal with the predatory man.

Just like it is easier to keep blaming girls and telling them to be safe than to expect better of boys and change our culture.

This is the world my daughter and I live in with your sons:

“Margaret Atwood, the Canadian novelist, once asked a group of women at a university why they felt threatened by men. The women said they were afraid of being beaten, raped, or killed by men. She then asked a group of men why they felt threatened by women. They said they were afraid women would laugh at them.”
― Molly Ivins, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?

What are you doing about it?

More to read:
The Dangers of Teen Sexting
Where There's 'Sexting,' There May Be Sex
Online 'Shaming' A New Level Of Cyberbullying For Girls

14 comments:

Donna said...

First of all, I think your girls are so lucky to have you as parents. The ability to secretly record and distribute videos is a sad new wrinkle our teens need to navigate in the age-old adolescent journey. Thank you.

Karen Bayne said...

Hi friend,
I hear you loud and clear, I do. I was a teen girl. In New York City. I lived the pedestrian life of a teen girl. The boys I knew had no cell phones and cameras then, so yes, things have gotten complicated by technology - and the stakes feel much, much higher. As a woman who was once a teen girl, as a woman who is an auntie, friend and godmother to many a girl, I hear you loud and clear.

As a momma to three boys, well, I cannot help but feel a little hit in the gut. "How many moms?" That felt, to be honest, a little like we are just going to blame a different group of women. I ain't running this rodeo alone. I have a partner - my kids have a dad, some kids have two moms or two dads. I am also partnering with teachers, coaches, counselors, parents of other children we know, older kids who are on my kids' sports team. I am partnering with all of you.

I am fighting the good fight here, Julie. Our world has not made it easy for me. Boys are told to be less sensitive, to not be "cry-babies' in so many ways -
yes by other boys, but also by other adults and by girls. Our society wants to turn down the volume of their feelings and then we wonder why they lack empathy. It is no mystery.

My boys are being raised to be gentleman. They have empathy -what that means for my younger ones is that the pay a high price socially. We need to start younger than they teen years to fix this.

I will keep you posted on my current 13 year old. At the moment he is more interested in watching Dr.Who with his friends (a good many of whom are girls). He knows we have very high expectations for him. He is properly intimidated by them as he knows we expect way more than a bare minimum "stay out of trouble" when it comes to his behavior and relationship.

Julie Pippert said...

Karen, I LOVE your comment. That is even more than I hoped to hear. And boy did I hope to hear along those lines.

Really quick: with "how many moms" I meant a woman teaching a son (not to exclude the role of dads) because female point of view is important to represent to sons (the male point of view is also important). But my "how many moms" also meant -- actually -- that I think most moms do talk with their sons, and I figure parents are shocked when their kids are involved in this stuff. Because they either think they have or have discussed it. That's how I meant the next bit of we've discussed it but have we rally specifically prepared them.

What mattered to me was hearing from the people who are parenting and what they're doing because this stuff terrifies me and I want to be allies. KWIM?

So thank you. I'll try to get specific here shortly.

Sherri said...

As the aunt to three boys, I find the fact that so much blame and responsibility is placed on girls/women in these situations to be insulting. the underlying implication is that we (as a society) just can't or shouldn't expect more from boys/men.

Also, from monitoring my nephew's facebook page, i can tell you, girls can be just as guilty of inappropriate use of social media as boys can. I've seen girls ridicule each other and boys. Posts about which boys kiss, how long it takes for them to try for the first kiss, if they are good kissers or bad kissers (and really, how much does a 7th grade boy or girl know about good/bad kissing?)

Julie Pippert said...

I agree, Sherri. I have a husband, nephews, brother, and father. My husband is straight on the same page with me -- this behavior would never, ever have occurred to him. That's not how you treat people. He's solid.

At the same time, culture is a powerful force.

Many boys and girls are dealing with really tough social pressures and making bad decisions.

It's so hard, and Karen adds a good point about how the pressure doesn't positively reward "good guys."

Anonymous said...

I don't think most people blame the girl, but the girl is/should be partially blamed. You stated that it IS illegal for the girl to take the photo, but then the boy is the one to blame! What? We need to teach our girls to respect THEMSELVES, because no one else will if they don't start. I have a daughter that just died at 14 years old from Leukemia, and I have 3 boys that protected her their whole lives. And my constant fear for them is a girl doing something dumb and them getting the blame. Boys have been sent to jail just for having a picture of a girl on their phone, not even sharing it, because it was illegal, and yet the girl doesn't get sent to jail when she is the one that took it and sent it! Girls must be responsible for their actions, we can't sit back and say it's the guys fault for everything that happens, if a girl doesn't send a naked photo, nothing can happen, if they are only having sex in a committed, trusting relationship, nothing will happen. If they are choosing to have sex, get validation by sending naked photos to boys they barely know, that is where the problem starts, not with the boys. They both have issues, and if they are not BOTH addressed, this stuff will never stop. It's time to stop looking at what the other sex is doing, and start looking at our own choices. Your daughter was right, the girl WAS stupid. That doesn't make the boys choice right, it's not one or the other, we have to look at both and address both.

Spacemom said...

Was the boy in this case arrested? In my state, that is a class 1 sex offense. He would have to register for the rest of his life.

I have to agree with Karen that we need to hold dads responsible too. They know how their boys feel.

I actually just talked to my 5th grader about sexting yesterday. She didn't understand why anyone would do it, but she did get that it is forever. Once a photo is emailed, it is gone. ANYONE could have a copy.

Yet, we still blame the girl/woman Sigh

Julie Pippert said...

Anonymous, what is an example of this:

"And my constant fear for them is a girl doing something dumb and them getting the blame."

What dumb thing?

Sending a sexy photo, sexting?

Your boy tells you and deletes it.

What dumb thing do you worry some girl will do to your boy?

I see statistics of how many men victimize women, and they worry me tremendously, because the odds seems stacked against girls.

In the sexting case, both the boys and girls had legal action (the rare times it was taken) and both were held equally responsible, but the way it got "found out" is because the boy shared it far and wide, so the girls also got slut shamed and many committed suicide.

What are the statistics etc that worry you about how girls will victimize your boys?

I'm sorry but no, what you said is all part and parcel of the ongoing blame the victim and slut shaming I advocate against in this post.

A girl taking a sexy photo to please a boy (whether asked or not) makes a bad choice.

But it is NOT her responsibility when a boy shares that out. No. It is his fault.

It is not a level playing field where both boys and girls have equal issues and all is fair. Boys have issues to deal with, as Karen's comment above eloquently outlines. Girls have issues to deal with.

But it's not the same.

A boy shares a sexted photo an he's a hero to peers. A girl takes one and she is cyberbullied, sometimes to death.

I am terrified and horrified for my girls and their safety.

I am concerned for boys in this culture, especially the gentlemanly ones.

Like the Margaret Atwood quote said, women fear for their safety, men fear for their ego. It's a pint worth pondering.

Karen Bayne said...

Thanks, Julie. Conversation at your place is always worth having. I agree. It is worth encouraging moms to speak as women to their sons.

I wonder if some hesitancy might be the idea of that we could be introducing some idea or thought that does not already exist - like at what point do I tell him that boys do this? That he might see things on his friends phones that are totally not okay.

In way deep over my head, as you can, but wanting so much to do what it right.

As for empathy, yes, I admit. I get upset, even bitter, because it seems the world around me wants the results of empathetic gentleman but would like to skip through empathetic boyhood. People want the pay-off without the pain on the front end. How about a few birthday party invitations for the odd ball boys in the class who cry when they are sad? How about if they feel like sitting with the girls at lunch because the bigger boys are bullying them, the girls welcome them as fellow beings making a tough way through elementary school?
Help me out, parents everywhere!

I need the world to have room for empathetic little boys if we want empathetic teen boys and empathetic men. Any ideas?


Coco Rogers said...

How many moms of boys specifically looked at their sons and said, "All girls deserve respect. You do not have a right to a girl or her body just because you desire it. You may have a crush on a girl and she may not like you back. That does not make her a bitch. You do not get to take revenge on her. A girl may have had sex with someone. That does not make her a slut or available to anyone else for sex. You may not ask a girl for a sexy photo. You may not secretly photograph or record a girl in a private situation. If a girl does take and share a sexy photo, you may not share it. She does not deserve it. Not at all. If you disrespect a girl, that makes you an ass. It does not make the girl stupid. It makes you an ass. If your friends disrespect a girl and you laugh and make him feel cool, that makes you an ass too. If you hear people slut shaming a girl, you not only do not join in, you call it out as seriously uncool."

OMG - I am going to print this out. I worry so much about raising a son in this world. I want to be sure my son understands that girls and women are human beings, equal in importance to boys/men, and deserving of kindness and respect as such. The constant barrage of societal messages that place so much emphasis on being a "stud", and portray women as property, as conquests, as objects, are hard to counteract.

I hope I can have these hard conversations, and do it well and wisely.

Nicole B. said...

wow, this is good food for thought for me, since i'm raising a boy and we haven't gone much beyond the birds and the bees (and literally, we still haven't discussed the specific mechanics..he's 6). as a woman and someone who has always worked with girls, i know i need to raise a boy who respects girls and women, but i haven't really thought about it much more than the abstract. i must admit i have a bit of a reaction to raising him specifically to treat *girls* with respect (instead, to treat everyone with respect?) but given that this is out there, happening, it's certainly something i need to think about more. thanks for writing about this and bringing it to my attention.

Julie Pippert said...

Nicole, I hear you on the reaction but believe me, when he gets older, you'll see how dealing with "how to treat girls" is not optional. In the early years, as you are now, yes, we teach to be kind and courteous in general, and we keep up with that, but as the kids get older the romantic line pops up, and it needs different handling. Same ethics and principles, different handling.

You'll find it's not mutually exclusive.

I am so glad you picked up on the abstract part. I think as parents a lot of do that pretty often. We get stuck in abstract, even more so on uncomfortable or tough topics.

I caught myself telling my daughter repeatedly -- to use a simpler example -- that she needed to get organized. That's super abstract. It was a bad approach and it failed.

So instead I bought a weekly planner and instituted Family Scheduling night. We all sit down with our calendars and schedules and we get organized and plan out what needs doing, when and how. That's specific.

I can tell my daughter she needs to respect herself and treat others respectfully but unless I define that, it's left abstract.

And worse, left to her to figure it...often with her peers (aka the last people I want explaining things to her LOL).

Thank you back to you for helping me wrap my mind better around abstract versus concrete!

Julie Pippert said...

Coco, amen friend. I pray daily for that! Maybe we can trade notes.

Claire said...

I wish someone had the guts or wisdom to explain this to me a long time ago.

I'm a 22 year old woman now, but I feel like the deeply entrenched guilt and anxiety that grew from slut shaming at a very young age, and the entire culture surrounding it, is something that I still struggle with.

Girls are equally culpable in slut shaming, even at my age, and that breaks my heart the most. But I know that it's cyclical, and based on all the insecurities built up around the impossible task of remaining "pure" yet upholding the standards of beauty and behavior that social acceptance seems to demand. The most difficult part is deciding which standards you believe in and want to adopt as your own, and which standards are imposed by forces you should actively question.

My stomach sank when I read the line about the girl feeling like "nothing." I'm still young enough to remember the painful and emotionally chaotic process of determining my own sexual identity, and the choices I wanted to make. For a long time I dealt with oppressive guilt and depression for the sexual relationship I had with my high school boyfriend, even though it was within a long-term, trusting, loving and respectful relationship. I was shaming myself, because I didn't understand other options. I kept everything a secret from almost everyone I knew, and often felt just as worthless around my church group and family members that I felt I could never be open with.

That guilt sprang from my parents' narrow attitude toward sex as wrong and shameful regardless of scenario, and lack of real dialogue about a woman's relationship to and ownership of her own body. Even though I was finally making choices based on my own beliefs, I wasn't empowered enough to overcome the shame of letting people down, even abstractly. These are the topics I hope I can be brave enough to discuss with my own children, regardless of gender.

I hope your daughter realizes how lucky she is to have a mom like you, and I hope she is confident enough to influence her peers with the ideas you share with her. Every strong woman I encounter feels like a step forward in combating the self-hatred that slut shaming breeds.

Thank you so much for your voice.

And to all parents reading this -- trust me, it's NEVER too early to bring these things up to your kids. I had to learn what sex was on my elementary school playground, and boy was I confused for a long time. Open up the dialogue before they get old enough for the influence of shame to make them unable to talk to you about it, and trust that together you can make sense of things. Your point about specificity could not be more spot-on.