Wednesday, September 4, 2013

To Mrs. Hall: On Slut-Shaming and Friend-Denying

Mrs. Hall's letter to teenage girls on Facebook has gone viral. A lot of people have been cheering this woman on for "speaking the truth" about girls on social media. How dare they?! With their breasts? Their pouty lips? Their bare midriffs?

Don't they know that Mrs. Hall is trying to raise "men with a strong moral compass" and that "men of integrity don't linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls." (A pretty weak argument in and of itself, if you ask me. If you say that you don't have a gambling problem so you must close all the casinos, I'd actually say you're admitting to a very big gambling problem.) Apparently her sons can't "unsee" a sexy picture once they've seen it. Once it becomes apparent to them that a girl might be sexually attractive, they are incapable of seeing her as anything else. Sounds like a recipe for "strong moral compass" to me!

But the main problem is that Mrs. Hall is, as a grown woman, critiquing these girls' expressions of self, passing moral judgment on them, and then forcing her sons to de-friend them, after which they have a big old self-aggrandizing dinner party to pat their own backs for their moral high ground:
And now – big bummer – we have to block your posts. Because, the reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons, just as we know your parents care about you.
Plenty of people have pointed out Mrs. Hall's utter hypocrisy in illustrating this post with pictures of her sons clad only in swim trunks and flexing on a beach (the teenage male equivalent of "duck face").  If you want to read more about the double standard she's enacting, this is a thoughtfully and much more kindly written post than my own that examines the claims. Rebecca Hains also has a great response. And, through a heart-breaking story within her own family, Danielle of Tales from the Mamaside examines how this kind of thinking contributes to rape culture.

These writers have done a great job of pointing out problems with Mrs. Hall's stance toward her sons' friends and the way it is getting shared with such enthusiasm.

But I do have one more thing to add.



I have a story.

When I was a teenager, as I've revealed here before, I suffered from clinically diagnosed depression following my parents' divorce and subsequent poverty and unstable living situation. One manifestation of this depression was a deep feeling of disconnectedness from my peers.

I'm sure that a lot of social outcasts can relate. We tend to find each other in high schools because we are usually few. When I found a group to which I could belong, I--as human beings tend to do--took up their habits and tried to make myself fit. I wore black extra large t-shirts and JNCO Jeans nearly every day. I was quiet, sullen, and withdrawn. I listened to angry music and sulked a lot.

During this time, on two separate occasions, concerned mothers of girls who had been my friends told them they couldn't talk to me anymore. I was, they said, "clearly" on drugs (I wasn't). I was, they said, "clearly" disturbed (I was).

At a time when I needed good friends more than I ever have in my entire life (and to this day thank the ones I did have for seeing me through), these grown women were demanding their children "delete" me.

This is what I really want to question in Mrs. Hall's stance. She says she wants to raise boys with a "strong moral compass," but apparently that compass means turning your back on people who don't fit your arbitrary standards of respectability, literally deleting from your (online) life their very presence.

I, too, hope my daughter has a strong moral compass, but mine's defined quite differently. I hope that she learns to judge her peers' worthiness for friendship not by their clothes, but by their mutual building of trust, love, and fun. I hope that she learns to recognize when someone needs support, not dismissal. I hope, above all, that she is kind.

Judging, shaming, and then "deleting" someone for arching her back and pouting her lips is not kind. It is a moral grandstanding that reeks of insecurity.

4 comments:

  1. I was having so much trouble putting into words why Mrs. Hall's blog made me sick to my stomach. Thank you for doing it for me. Kindness and compassion over self righteous sanctimony!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Laura@myinternalworldSeptember 6, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    Check out this lovely post from another viewpoint http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/

    ReplyDelete
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