FYI: A reply to Mrs. Hall

As a father with 2 boys and 3 girls in my care, I feel I have to respond to FYI (if you’re a teenage girl). If you haven’t read it, and don’t care to click through, let me give you a quick breakdown.

This is a mother who loves her kids. She clearly understands that she needs to be involved in their social lives, and monitors their social media, looking with them at posts made by their friends. The thing is that she is putting on notice the young girls who are friends with her sons: if mom thinks a post is too provocative, the friend is blocked. No warning and no second chance. She doesn’t initiate a conversation. She doesn’t tell her sons that she has high expectations of them. She puts it on the girls not to temp her boys. And she does it in a post that features pictures of her sons, topless, in their bathing suits.

I applaud the effort. I thank her for being a concerned and involved parent. I question her assertion that a teenaged girl bares the responsibility for her sons’ impure thoughts. I disagree, strongly, with her assertion that one picture that she finds mildly offensive is grounds for ending a friendship, or even just an on-line connection. I dispute her claim that “once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it”.

Girls do not owe it to the world to hide their bodies. You are allowed to find it offensive or appealing, but they do not owe you their modesty any more than they owe the world their nudity. Each of us has a body, and it can be argued that it is the only thing that we truly own. I’m sure that you are teaching your boys to respect women, but they need to know that every woman, and every man, deserves respect. Even the scantily clad woman on the street corner could be an  addict in need of health care she can’t afford, a single mother trying to keep food on the table, or even an undercover police officer. Who are you to judge any of them? It isn’t the job of a woman to guard herself against the impulses of men. That is the job of society as sure as the need to guard one person against the murderous rage or the felonious greed of others. We teach that it is wrong, we instill responsibility and respect in our kids, and we prosecute those who act on their impulses.

As I have said before, though never written into a full post, this is the kind of misogyny that is as damaging to men as to women; it claims that men can’t help themselves, and that they shouldn’t be blamed when they act on impulses that they were never told to control. I can see a woman in a towel, in a hospital gown, or a burqa, and still get to know her as a person of inherent worth and dignity who deserves the chance to earn my respect. And a second chance. And if the second goes badly, there are always opportunities to earn another by embracing your inherent worth and being good for the world. But, unlike Mother Hall, I not only believe people can change for the better, and that teenagers can do so in a very short time, but that you can change the world for the better while wearing a bikini. That’s what I teach my kids, too.

If you just can’t get through those two points, though, please remember that people do change. People learn from their mistakes, and they do it faster and more effectively when the people around them help them, lovingly, to see the errors that they have made and support the effort to fix the problem. Everyone can be better today than yesterday, but they have to believe that there is a reason to try. We all have inherent value, as humans, to one another. Each of us has experiences that we can share with the rest of the world. When we recognize that and nurture it in those around us, we gain so much more than we ever could through shame or derision. These young women might be the ones most in need of good boys in their lives, who will value them for more than their appearance. They may be looking for validation, and by refusing to let your sons communicate with them, they might continue down a road of self doubt and manipulation when all they really needed was a good friend. Then again, they might just be that self-aware, which could make them excellent influences on your own kids.

In short, congratulations; you are a good mother who clearly wants the best for her kids and who hopes to instill in them a sense of self confidence and self respect. Your heart is in the right place, and I am sure that you are doing many things well. This policy, though, is not one of those things. I doubt you will read my reply, with over 600 comments on your blog already. I couldn’t ignore the core of your message, though, because I think the consequences of your actions will be at odds with the intent, and I hope that writing this will help someone, if not you, see that there is a better way to teach your boys to respect women than by telling them that these young girls are unworthy of their friendship.

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7 Responses

  1. Lovely post, well said.

  2. As a mom of 2 girls and 2 boys, I think this is spot on and covers everything I was feeling about that article. Thank you!!!

    • Thank you for saying so. I really hope that we can stop shaming young girls (and women of all ages) for taking possession of their own bodies, just because boys and men are never taught to take possession of their own feelings. Still you have to admire a parent who cares enough to be so involved. It is easy to shirk the responsibility.

  3. As a sophomore in college, I say – thank you! This letter to teenage girls upset me so much, and I’m so thankful to see people refuting it in such knowledgeable, eloquent ways and standing up for the teenage girls (and, as you said, boys too!) targetted by this letter. I know first hand that growing into a young woman is difficult and extremely confusing in a society as obsessed with the media and objectification as ours, and messages like yours are the positive ones that need to be heard.

    • You are welcome. I’m glad that you are able to appreciate what I was trying to say, as so many young adults have had messages like the one Mrs. Hall was sharing worked into their brains growing up. Some of them have been made part of that culture, and we have a long way to go if we are going to change the way we think about sex, gender, and personal responsibility. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, as I am a man, nearing middle age (slowly) and I can never be entirely sure if the things I am saying will come across the way I mean them to the people I am trying to support.

  4. I don’t think I remembered to tell you that I loved this post. You were so much more generous to this mother than I could have been. I get very angry about sexism being so woven into our societal norms that women don’t even realize when they become guilty of it themselves. I hope that she does read some of the more constructive criticisms in place of the hateful ones. If she reads a few like this, she may actually begin to understand what she was doing. Thank you for being the kind of man who can see all the ways in which Mrs. Hall was wrong and still give her credit for her intentions.

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