I have been having a multitude of conversations with my 14 year old lately dealing with behavior, morality, human sexuality, sexual orientation, social acceptance, bullying etc. More than I ever seemed to have with my oldest at that stage of her life. Times have gotten tougher everywhere. These times, they are a changing – or are they? Its not that my youngest doesn’t get it, or is having trouble socially – it’s just that what’s out there is so darned overwhelming. She starts high school in the fall. It’s a whole different world – even more so than when her sister went to high school – and CERTAINLY much different socially than when her dad and I attended, way back in the “olden” days. (and it’s a whole ‘nother planet when you think of the differences between now and her grandmother’s generation – who probably graduated in the 50’s or 60’s) But perhaps not. There is so much further we still have to go in terms of inclusion, equality, and respectful social interaction.
I read this online today at www.aholyexperience.com and while my prevailing thinking does not generally run toward a religious bent – something she said really resonated: “When the prevailing thinking is ‘boys will be boys’ – then girls will be garbage.” And I went: “Wow…” since I have those two girls of my own. Being young – and female, in today’s society comes with enormous challenges; and becoming a successful, self assured, independent female adult requires great sacrifice, a strong steady moral compass, sheer cussed stubbornness – and a big mouth. Raising such women has been supremely difficult – and supremely rewarding. Raising girls sure is tough. Girls are, well….girls. There are days when I feel extremely sorry for The Viking – trapped in an unending sea storm of estrogen.
We’re up against it aren’t we, after all? That glass ceiling – career-wise. A woman earns 70 cents for the dollar that a man earns to do the same job. Hypersexualization of women in our culture from an early age Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone? Jon-Benet? . Madonna provided a hypersexualized portrait of women in their early 20’s. Brittney Spears brought the age level down to 17/18 and Miley Cyrus – 14/15. This society we live in, with its severely delinated and defined gender roles that allow no room for people to just be people. Outdated patriarchal thinking that allows women to be objectified; and is more concerned with blaming a woman for her clothing choices on a Saturday night out with friends – rather than blaming the drunken lout who assaulted her. “Boys will be boys” after all. Boys are not accountable simply by virtue of their gender?… Wait, what? Yeah, I went there. The “rape culture” that blames the victim and elicits sympathy for the offenders. Witness Steubenville, Ohio.The media laments about “promising football careers lost” while simultaneously – and gleefully – reporting that the underage victim had been drinking. Witness Delhi, and Datia Province – both in India – where one only need be female in order to be assaulted, defiled, and murdered. Witness Elmont, NY – where a 15 yr old special needs student was gang raped beneath her desk while class was in session – with a teacher only feet away. They were all asking for it? By being drunk? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Being developmentally disabled? Or merely by being female? Oh I think not! Things like this make me want to keep my girls home permanently. Only I didn’t… haven’t… won’t.
My daughters both have minds of their own – quite intelligent and compassionate ones. The 14 year old is particularly sensitive to social issues and is not shy about expressing her opinions even if they differ with mine. (The older one is even more vocal, hahaha) My views at this point in life are somewhat jaded (I guess that would be the most apt word). “It is what it is, my friend – and life’s not fair – so get used to it.” That’s not to say I won’t pick any battles, but I have seen the futility of tilting at the proverbial windmills.
As my youngest starts to establish her adult identity she is of course interested in self expression. Hairstyles, clothing styles etc. I have always encouraged my girls to choose for themselves, – but within limits. The conversation we had the other night is a good example. There seems to be a fashion fad going around of people wearing informal style pants where the crotch hangs down around the knees by design. The waist is not pulled down manually – as has been the gangsta style (underwear showing) that’s been so popular. Below the knee, the pants (t shirt or sweatpants material) fit tightly to the calf. I did not hesitate to tell her what I thought: 1. Looks like pajamas, which are NOT acceptable to wear in public 2. Looks like the person wearing it has a full diaper and needs to be changed – again, not acceptable in public.
Like it or not, people will be judged by their appearance. If you walk out of the house to do business in public in your pajamas – you will be perceived as lazy, period. If you are dressed like a two dollar hooker – please do not be surprised when you are treated like one. Is it right or fair? – NO. But its not going to change anytime soon. How do I teach the fine line between self-expression and immodesty? Or sloppiness? or laziness? Hopefully it began long ago, when their father and I (again hopefully) instilled a sense of pride in themselves. By demonstrating that we do things the right way, not necessarily the easy way. And, by treating each other with respect and tolerance. Walking the talk, as it were.
No one has the right to harm another person, no matter how they are dressed, what their IQ is, where they are from, or how inebriated they are. That said, however – it is also important that women remember to be proactive, self protective, and self aware. This means understanding that choosing to wear the belly shirt and the micro mini-skirt may bring unwanted attention. It means being responsible – and response-able, making smart choices. We cannot control how others behave; we can only control our own behavior. We can hold others accountable for their behavior, but ONLY after the fact. And by then – Damage Done. Damage in the form of teasing or bullying, harassment, or outright physical harm.
The teenage years are horrid at best – so why would anyone deliberately make extravagant choices that would paint a target on their back? What about that self expression? Well, living in adult society often means compartmentalizing and role-playing. For instance – I’m a jeans and tee shirt kind of girl – who also happens to be tattooed. However, I work in an office that has a dress code and I have to wear business casual attire Monday-Thursday and cannot go sleeveless even in the summertime. Do I feel stunted or my freedom of expression impinged upon? Not really – because who I am inside is always there and I don’t need to show it on the outside all the time in order to feel I’m living authentically. I know I can go home and change when I get out of work. I have developed a public identity to go along with my private one. My personal friends and family see a more complex me than my acquaintances do. My professional contacts see me only superficially. Their opinion of me on a personal level means little. I merely have to do my job and be pleasant. I have a bigger obligation to be “real” to my acquaintances and even more so with my friends and family. This is the process teens are working through – developing their adult identities and coming to terms with the fact that our public and private faces do not necessarily have to match in order for us to live happily. Finding the balance, becoming OK with the layers.
Another issue is that we tend to over share these days. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that unless we are acting uninhibitedly we are being untrue to ourselves. NOT SO. Just because we can do something does not mean we should. A bit of inhibition is a good thing. Self-restraint is a sign of maturity whether you’re male or female. It’s a fine line to walk, and a big challenge to impart that lesson. (The brain’s judgment center is not fully developed until the mid-twenties) Teen females also need to learn to navigate the patriarchy and carve out their own niche – not settle for whatever society determines is right for them ie: The Trophy, or The Bitch.
So I’ve told my girls: Be authentic – do what feels right, provided it doesn’t hurt anyone. Be respectful, and expect to be respected in return. Harm none. Speak up against injustice and unfairness. But, recognize that as a female they will have to do it better than the boys to even be considered half as good. And that by speaking up, by demanding that respect – they’ll be thought of as Bitches. And that’s OK – a strong Bitch is hard to push around, isn’t she? I want my girls to be happy and successful. I have tried to make sure they have the tools to excel in today’s world, while also striving to assure that they have the dreams and vision to aspire to something better for themselves. So in the end, they can choose to be someone other than a Trophy or a Bitch. And THEIR daughters won’t even have to think about it.