So I’m sure you’ve all read that open letter that has almost certainly by this point mortified the teenaged sons of the mother who wrote it (side note – as the kids get older, they’ll appear here less . . . this is the reason). A number of folks have written their own reflections on it, and as I lay awake at 5:15 this morning waiting for my alarm to go off, my own reflections were running through my head, and since the husband is back in town and I have adult help getting the kids ready and my morning is not so pressed, I am writing them out for you. (Later I will write about my birthday weekend, which was awesome, but requires the processing and uploading of many pictures and with my slow internet that takes more time than I have.)
This writer – we’ll call her Mom – managed to infuriate many a feminist in the world because they think she blamed skimpily clad teenaged girls’ facebook selfies for her sons’ impure thoughts. And she totally did – and also used the word “pure” way too many times, which was just creepy. But . . . I think that about 3/4 of her message was valid.
The first half of her message was – I want my sons to value you for more than your body, I want them to grow up to love a whole woman and not objectify women (a good goal!) The second half of her message was – you make it more difficult for me to teach my sons to see you as a whole woman when you are an active participant in your objectification and do not demand more of them (undeniably true), aaaaaaand so I cut you out of our lives you slutty bitches so my boys’ minds stay pure (Mayday! Mayday!).
That last quarter of the message undeniably blows, and I won’t defend it. But the other parts I totally get, and I agree with.
It’s undeniable that we are all swimming in a sea of crappy media messages about women’s bodies. After much reflection and soul searching, I myself have strived for, and almost reached, body . . . not really acceptance, but a rejection of the notion that my body is important at all except as a vehicle for my self. I want to be well and strong and made up of working parts that let me do the things I want to do and feel good, and I no longer worry so much about looking slim and hot and youthful. I reached this decision after years of maturity. It ain’t easy to maintain, but I am a grown up woman and I can mostly keep my thinking on track. In fact, it wasn’t so much the Wisdom of My Years as the Death of My Thyroid and Subsequent Fatness Despite Much Exercise and Calorie Counting that caused me to reach this epiphany. Without that problem, I’d probably be a little more insufferable about weight, a little more smug about how my running and my food choices and my exercise kept me thin and maybe if you overweight folks tried that once in a while you’d be thin, too. (Thank you, thyroid, for dying so that I could grow a heart.)
Like me and you and everybody, today’s teenagers have also grown up saturated in media messages about hottness and ladeeez and perky bewbs and how awesome and laudable it is to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans the day you take New Baby home from the hospital. These darlings undeniably need some seasoning before they can come to their own healthier conclusions about what is truly important (and what is appropriate for the Eternal Hall of Internet Perpetuity). I (obviously, and perhaps a bit smugly) think I have a fairly mature and advanced view about all of this stuff – I also have twenty years on these kids. Until they get through twenty more years of life, they are probably, for the most part, going to reflect the values that they see the adults around them embracing. They will, without doubt, do dumb things, and given today’s world they will post pictures of it all on the internet for everyone in the world to see.
So, in conclusion, the Open Letter shouldn’t go to the girls. It should go to all of the adults in this country, all of us, who keep beating them around the head with the message that sexxxy is all girls are good for. I mean, right? Blame the mature and adult messengers, not the hormonal kids reflecting the message with a predictably teenaged lack of discretion.
Sexy teen girls with perky boobs will do what they do, and young heterosexual boys will look whether Mom makes Sons unfriend them on facebook or not. The point Mom missed is that you can do all the unfriending you want, those skimpily clad bodies are everywhere – in perfume ads, ads for trucks and Hardees burgers and sports, endless tv shows, all over the place. Hiding your boys’ eyes from ladeez is not only not possible, it is also not the way to make them love women for more than their bodies. You have to work harder than that, Mom. You have to have the majorly awkward conversation about how to control or manage the Feelings that towel-girl’s selfie pic stir up. You have to do that, because in college some or other towel girl will almost certainly SHOW UP IN SON’S ROOM, and you ain’t gonna be there to manage how your son handles that. There is no internet blocker that will keep college (or whatever adult experiences he ends up having) from happening. He has to have practiced the right way to treat women before that day comes.
It’s do-able though. Hey man, I am a decade away from twenty-five, but my husband has not left me for someone younger and hotter and perkier. Despite the havoc that two point five babies have wreaked on my bod, he’s still picking up what I’m putting down, if you know what I’m sayin’, and hallelujah for that. My boys see him, see us, see how we are and how we treat each other and how we talk about these sorts of things. As sure as I am that my boys will one day (soon, too soon!!!) be looking at inappropriate pictures of girls on the internet, I am also sure that they will learn from their father and I and myriad other good adult influences that there is more to girls than all of that, more to relationships.
So, Mom who wrote the mortifying blog post using your real name that will have your sons contemplating a long walk off a short pier – be the values you want them to reflect. Live the life you want them to live. They’re watching you. They’ll see. That’s the only way to cut through the noise, which is in more places than just facebook (oh, how naive, to think that defriending people on facebook spares your boys those images!), and reflected by more voices than just teenaged girl children who don’t know any better and don’t need you publicly shaming them for doing exactly what media tells them they should be doing in order to feel value.
*climbing down off of high horse*