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

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Gift of Generosity Winner: 25 Ways to Share and Pay it Forward

Just before the holidays hit in full swing for our family, I spoke openly about our family's slightly disorganized but nevertheless genuine and effective approach to teaching our kids generosity.

I also offered one winner a $50 Razoo Gift of Giving card for the charity of choice (generously donated by Razoo). I used Random.org to identify (randomly and fairly) the winner, and it is....Candace!

Congratulations, Candace.

Candace writes for Naturally Educational, and she shared these tips for teaching generosity in the comments:

I recently posted a list of 25 ways to give with young children. Pretty much any volunteering or giving I do at this point involves my children...because almost everything I do involves my children *LOL*. 
Every year we...sing/play piano at a home for the elderly, donate toys / stuff stockings, help feed people who are homeless on Thanksgiving, make Valentines for Veterans. Recently we have also, had a beach clean-up with our Daisy troop, organized a food drive and adopted a family affected by the Hurricane with our Daisy troop. 
Later in the year, the girls will make no-sew blankets and dog biscuits for shelter pets.
We also read books about giving and talk about generosity of spirit, like saying something positive, thinking before you speak (is it true, necessary, and kind?), having gratitude, etc.
She recently wrote this great post, "25 Ways to Volunteer with Young Children for #GivingTuesday."

I loved this list -- it is hard to find ways to include kids in actual volunteering. For safety reasons, most charities cannot include children. But this had great ideas of things kids can and will happily do. I can personally vouch for making ornaments for nursing homes, donating toys, and donate books. I do want to try the "birthday in a box" idea.

I really appreciated the other great ideas from

Kim, who suggested creating a family charitable effort (dogs in her family's case) based on a shared family love.
Nicole B, who shared how her family lets her son help choose where donation dollars go.
Teri, who shared how her family gathers around mission trips and community outreach on building and disaster relief.
Maggie, who also has a family get-together to choose which charity to donate to.
Ellen, who takes her caring and sharing to her neighbors, via cookies and singing.

All are such lovely and loving ideas, and I am sure they do bring good models and habits to kids.

Thanks everyone!

So what did we do? We took Maggie's suggestion of the UN Foundation's Nothing but Nets and split our donation between that and Humane Society. Our family also loves animals, as is evidenced by the photo of the gorgeous rescue cat who adopted our family (up at top).