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An FYI to a Very Specific Girl

I was bothered by the post telling girls to not post images of themselves in provocative poses online not because of the general statement that was made about teenage girls and the ways they present themselves, but because I was immediately worried about a specific girl; the girl (or girls) described in that post.

She doesn’t name her, but she describes her enough that a savvy reader from her town, a child who knows her sons, could probably figure out exactly which girl’s pictures became the tipping point for that post.  And now, that girl has been shamed in a very public manner.  Cyberbullied in a sense.  By an adult.  Who wanted to make a point about what she allows her child to see on his social media account.

The way to handle concerns about an image is to privately contact her parents.  To contact the child herself (after all, she gives the girl specific instructions to run to her account and delete the pictures — wouldn’t it have been easier to contact the child directly if she wanted that to happen?).

She could have sent a letter, made a phone call, asked the school to do a very non-specific school-wide assembly on Internet postings.  She could have even written the very same post without the focus being on the girls themselves, how they are posing, and what they are wearing.  She could have kept a tighter focus on her own actions as a parent.  If she hadn’t described specific images, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it.

But she did.

And there is a child out there who might be feeling the effects of being discussed online.  There are people who know exactly which girl she is referencing.  And there are people out there who are spending the night trying to guess which girl she’s referencing and shaming other girls along the way.  There’s a bunch of kids in her son’s school who are getting a very hard lesson in what it means to be part of the online world.

That author’s post was judgmental.  Her tone wasn’t concern: “Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your skimpy pj’s this summer!”  It was condescending.  It was shaming.  And that was what got under my skin: because no child is going to respond positively to that type of message.  Especially not done on a public stage.  And adults who care about getting a message across work to deliver it in a way that gets heard.

And frankly, the excuse of “but usually no one reads my blog” doesn’t hold up.  Anything and everything that we place on a public blog has the potential to be seen by a lot of people outside our small circle.  Including this post.  So if it does make it to that girl described in the picture, I just want to tell her that there were better ways for an adult to handle this situation.  And I hope you don’t learn from this that you should take shaming to the Internet rather than discussing problems in private or opening up public discussions with general terms rather than specific details.

After all, the author writes: “I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel.”  She knows them.  She can talk to them directly, rather than talking to all of us about this girl.  So please do.  Please — even now that you’ve publicly shamed this girl — please call her parents and talk about it with them.  If you do that, I’ll believe that you actually care about this girl too.

If you ever need to figure out what you should say publicly and what you should say privately, write the post and then imagine having to read it aloud to the subject of the post.  And if you can do that to their face and not feel embarrassed or pained at the expression they may wear, post it.  But if you gulp over realizing how your words will be heard, leave it in the draft folder or send it to them privately if you feel the words must be read.  By the way, to the author of that original post, I would totally feel comfortable reading this post aloud to your face, and that has everything to do with tone.

18 comments

1 loribeth { 09.05.13 at 9:45 pm }
2 a { 09.05.13 at 9:53 pm }

Amen! I think you’ve picked out the main reason why I found that post so unpleasant to read. There was no real concern for the girls involved – they were already judged and found wanting. But they’re teenage girls, and teenage girls do stupid things sometimes. So do teenage boys. Our job as fellow citizens is, at least a little bit, to guide teenagers that we encounter toward proper actions…not by shaming them, but by showing them the right thing to do.

I also thought the BlogHer round-up of responses was a really excellent cross-sampling of the many ways the post was lacking.

http://www.blogher.com/10-bloggers-respond-mrs-halls-letter-thoughts-slut-shaming-respect-and-selfies?page=0%2C0

(This is why I have nothing to blog about. Because everything in my life involves other people and they do not want me writing about them, unless it is 100% complimentary.)

3 Josey { 09.05.13 at 9:56 pm }
4 luna { 09.05.13 at 10:03 pm }

this –> “adults who care about getting a message across work to deliver it in a way that gets heard.”
but this woman was interested only in judgment and shaming. not in conveying her message.

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.05.13 at 10:08 pm }

I hadn’t been able to pinpoint why the post made me uneasy, but you did.

Like so much here in your blog, your last paragraph is very wise.

6 Alicia { 09.05.13 at 10:35 pm }

Yep, I agree. I’ve recently done a culling of my own posts, taking reverting many to draft after realizing that my daughter’s stories are not mine to share. It took 5 months, but I think I get it now. I may one day share these posts with J, but until that day comes, the intimate details of our adoption triad are not for public eyes. Thanks for the reminder and reinforcement!

7 lifeineden { 09.05.13 at 11:00 pm }

Oh Melissa, I’ve been away and for some reason came back to visit and remember why I always loved you. So smart. That post pulled me back into blogging too. It just rubbed, and rubbed and rubbed the wrong way. For me, a big part was also laying all the responsibility at the girls’ feet. Like her son’s have no responsibility to learn to value women regardless of their dress or selfies. It was just so sad. And sad how current events (the VMAs thing) pushed it viral. I think had it occurred in a few weeks, no one would have even noticed.

8 Amy { 09.06.13 at 12:01 am }

Great post! I hadn’t seen the original until now, but I agree with you. I appreciate that she is trying to raise her sons in a respectable manner, but “calling out” a child online is not respectable, either, even if her heart was in the right place. Honestly, I got a “holier-than-thou” vibe from her post. That bothers me, too. I’m almost positive her sons are not perfect. I’m sure they’ve probably watched “inappropriate YouTube videos” at their friends’ homes. If they’re really sneaky, they might even have private Facebook profiles where Mom and Dad are blocked.

I’m 30 years old and the oldest of eight kids (the youngest just turned 15 in May). My parents have worked their butts off to keep them appropriate online, including viewing their Facebooks, etc. I cannot COUNT the number of times that we’ve caught my sisters or brother with fake accounts or viewing something they know are against the rules. They were punished every time, yet they were caught again.

While I agree with her that a teenager shouldn’t post pictures like that (just look at all the stories about creepers!), she might not want to be so judgmental. Chances are, someone has “dirt” on her own kids.

9 Kimberly { 09.06.13 at 3:16 am }

Wonderful post Mel! I think you managed to convey my thoughts on her post when I didn’t quite have the right words to voice it. I was heading that way, but your words helped me finally pinpoint my discomfort. I agree completely with you on this.

10 Kasey { 09.06.13 at 8:05 am }

Wonderful post. I can’t help but worry about that girl. It seems as if the author forgot what it’s like to be a teenage girl- it’s hard and now add the Internet and camera phones and times how difficult it was for you times a trillion. And she just added to it by making this girl public.

11 Katie { 09.06.13 at 8:49 am }

YES. Thank you, Mel. You hit the nail on the head.

12 Peg { 09.06.13 at 9:23 am }

It was the shaming that got to me also. To be honest, having girls in the house, we’ve had problems with boys sending pictures of themselves with their shirts up in “sexy” positions. After a brief time of Molly having an instagram account and texting without us knowing, we have had to install very strict rules about social media. The 17 year old has a facebook and twitter account because she came into our house with it and we monitor her activity (she is also the most “holy” kid in the house) but we don’t let our 13 year olds even text. They just don’t have the social maturity to handle it. Our son doesn’t care. Molly struggles with it because “all her friends” are doing it.

The whole post also had the tinge of blame the flirty girl who might tempt my snow white angel sons. Just very condescending.

13 Elana Kahn { 09.06.13 at 12:10 pm }

I agree with the previous commenter. The pictures she posted of her boys without shirts on and flexing their muscles didn’t really help her point. Maybe I don’t want my daughters ogling over that????

14 Mina { 09.06.13 at 3:20 pm }

The patronising tone while blaming an adolescent girl is hardly mature. I thought I was too hard and seeing stuff where there wasn’t, but apparently I WAS right about the pointing out of a specific girl…

I doubt Mrs. Hall was the purest of teenagers there have ever been. I think she too had to do whatever she had to do to get some boy’s attention, to fit in, to make and keep friends, to be liked. Just like the rest of us. We all have learned best from our mistakes. The difference is that our poses were in front of the mirror, who thankfully forgot instantly our horror ideas of chic (I am looking at you, padded shoulders, high hair, extrahuge shirts worn with leggings, poofy skirts and massive jewelery. And thank you, mum, for never letting me go out with my Lambada skirt.), and our mistakes have not been recorded on the internet for everyone else to see. Social media is putting a lot of evil pressure on adolescence, which already is hard as heck.

I also think that Renegade Mama went a bit too far by addressing the Hall boys, saying that every family had a crazy one, and they knew who theirs was. Dude, no matter what, she IS their mother. Even if she hypocritically posts photos of her partially dressed sons while complaining about partially dressed girls. Tell HER that, leave the boys out. Children should not pay for their parents’ mistakes. I know, because I had to, and it sucked.

15 Kristin { 09.07.13 at 2:38 am }

Honestly, my first reaction when I read that post was way to go Mama. But, I was thinking as a mom who has three boys she wants to protect from the extremely forward behavior of many girls.

But, the more I thought about it and the more I read about it, the worse I felt about my original reaction. I get the reasoning behind her post but, like Mel, I object to the author’s method. This kind of shaming can have all kinds of negative repercussions. I feel for the young ladies mentioned and described in that post. A far more effective method of encouraging appropriate online behavior is found in this brilliant piece by my friend Dana http://www.dragynally.com/2013/09/fyi-if-youre-teen-girl-dragyn-style.html

All I can say is my initial reaction to that post was wrong.

16 Battynurse { 09.07.13 at 11:02 am }

Very well said.

17 MB { 09.20.13 at 12:25 pm }

My thoughts on this…

while Mrs. Hall does have the right as a mother to be concerned about what goes on with her sons, she doesn’t have the right to “slut-shame” their female friends. She might not like their pictures or the way they carry themselves but it isn’t her place to shame them. I say this as a now 30-year-old woman who was once a young girl and experienced slut-shaming from both my peers and adults…due to a number of things, whether it was simply wearing lip gloss or my supposed “bad” reputation. When I was 16, a male friend (whom I had no interest in sexually) told me how one day his mother made catty remarks about me because I wore a short skirt. No business of hers, but she passed judgment on me anyway, a girl she didn’t even know.

As a parent, I care more about whether my kid has friends who are decent people…not about the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, whether they attend church, etc. I’m not trying to make an enormous leap here but I do believe that as parents we need to be careful when making certain judgments about others. Some parents won’t allow their children to be friends with anyone who is “different” in any way, sort of like the lady who didn’t want me dating her son because of my race or the grandmother who wouldn’t allow Black children inside her home to play with her granddaughter.
I don’t want my kids to associate with racists, bullies, kids who steal, drink, hurt others, or do drugs…but the difference is that there is danger in associating with people like this. However, a young girl making pouty faces at the camera and pushing her boobs up isn’t hurting anyone, even if it offends some people’s delicate sensibilities. To “unfriend” or block her on Facebook for that reason seems harsh and isn’t sending a good message. Maybe an honest conversation with the boys is all that would be necessary, or in the worst case scenario, talk to the girl’s parents.

I agree that in this time of Internet popularity, it isn’t a smart move to post “sexy” videos and pictures. It can definitely bring unwanted repercussions. But there must be a better way than judgment/shame disguised as concern for young girls. How about telling your sons that it is important to have self-control and to respect women, even those that don’t “seem” to respect themselves? And instead of shaming and judging these girls harshly, try to be more understanding. I feel like Mrs. Hall means well but on the other hand, something about it bothered me. I also found it weird that she is talking about what she wants her sons’ future wives to be like…saintly, pure girls who are the complete opposite of dirty sluts! I know she didn’t say that but it had that vibe. I mean, you can choose your kid’s friends, but wanting to choose their partner when they become an adult seems a bit controlling.

Why did she even have to go there? Her sons and their female friends are kids…they are having fun, being silly, and at that age it is natural to take notice of the opposite sex. What does marriage have to do with anything? And why is she so sure that the girls are out to corrupt her innocent boys? She should also know that looking a certain way or in some instances, acting a certain way doesn’t equate to being a bad person…a picture doesn’t tell the whole story. There are girls who look very innocent and sweet but their behavior is not. Sorry to anyone I may have offended by saying all of this, I’m just really tired of slut-shaming and harsh judgments being thrown around.

18 MB { 09.20.13 at 1:09 pm }

Some more thoughts, then I’ll stop…;)

it seems more often than not, the more a parent objects to something, the more attractive it is to a kid. As much as we all want kids to remain innocent, they can’t. That is just reality. No matter how conservative or protective or old-fashioned some parents may be, their son(s) will eventually see some type of porn. Their daughter(s) will develop curves or take an interest in boys or want to try makeup/clothes the parents disapprove of. It seems that the key is to accept this reality and to try healthier ways of guiding kids as they grow up. No one can live in a bubble and keep their children sheltered their whole lives.

I was shamed for asking questions about sex as a young girl, shamed for having prominent hips on a thin frame, shamed for liking makeup and sometimes flirting with boys. This is problematic because it promotes the idea that 1) girls/women who are sexual beings (or appear that way) are “dirty” and “bad”; 2) society needs to be protected from girls like that because they will surely contaminate everyone around them; 3) having an interest in sex or looking sexy makes one a bad person unworthy of friendship or love.

Slut-shaming is a problem because it devalues people. I believe that Mrs. Hall could have pointed out that the girls were objectifying themselves and why it made her uncomfortable, but telling her sons not to be friends with them anymore is a bit much. If she really finds them smart/interesting/lovely as she says, then why “unfriend” them? Simply use that as time to educate your sons about safe sex, abstinence, making wise decisions, and respect for themselves and others.

Another issue with slut-shaming is that it seems to limit expression in so many ways…not simply about sex, but even little things like nail polish or a hairstyle. I’ve observed that a lot of people seem very uncomfortable when a woman wears something red, because it’s supposedly a “slutty” color. And tight jeans on a woman with hips and a butt is also offensive to some folks because they can see her curves and they draw conclusions about who she is, kind of like how some busty women are stereotyped unfairly. There have been times when I was afraid to wear something (no matter how “modest”) because I *knew* that somewhere, there would be a Mrs. Hall or somebody like her looking down on me.

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