Recently Jezebel picked up this post from a blogger on The FBomb, and posted it to their main page; I was shocked to see this posted. I’m inclined to go easy on the poster since she is a teenager who didn’t write this expecting Jezebel-level publicity… but, honestly, something has to be said because it is disgusting that this type of slut-shaming narrative would be allowed on a website that proclaims itself to be a feminist resource [Jezebel is the site I am referring to; I understand the FBomb has different standards because it is a community blog meant for young feminists to “test the waters” so to speak, this post fit just fine there and had it stayed there what I am about to say would be unnecessary.] So, without further adieu, I’d like to have a conversation about teenage sexuality, using this piece as a backdrop and a jumping-off point.
At my high school, I have sat through the numerous internet safety lectures. “Once it’s out there you can never get it back.” This doesn’t seem to stop many girls from taking pictures of themselves topless or lying spread eagle while their boyfriend snaps pictures. I don’t mean to insult the numerous organizations and police departments who send speakers to scare us straight, but it simply isn’t working. If a girl is in “love” and they are going to be together “forever” I doubt she is thinking of the consequences it will have on her future. So if scaring us straight doesn’t work what will?
I was surprised to read this form of condescending language directed towards teenage relationships, considering this piece was coming from a teenager. Sure, teenage relationships can be volatile, they can be superficial… but they can also be loving and based on mutual respect. Same goes for sex, it can be superficial and used to manipulate and either party can lie about feelings or intentions to get the other to have sex with them, but that’s not true in all cases. Plenty of teenage relationships and sex are based on mutual respect and love. Mocking the reader’s relationships by insinuating that their “love” is not real is just the kind of thing that’s going to make people not listen to you; it’s the sort of thing many adults do when they’re talking down to teenagers about sex and love… in short, it’s not something I’d expect from another teen.
I’ve been with my partner since we were fifteen, and I’ll be twenty in just a month, so I’m practically an expert on this. This approach will not work if you’re trying to help someone; it works fine if your intention is just to judge, but that doesn’t seem to be what the author was going for. The advice that I am willing to listen to has always come from the friends and mentors in my life who were willing to take my feelings and my relationship seriously, and not just assume that what I had going on was shallow, superficial, and doomed to fail.
I decided to put this initial annoyance aside, however, and try to hear the author out because this piece was on Jezebel and, thus, I felt it deserved the benefit of the doubt.
Oh, how wrong I was…
How about teaching girl to have a little self respect? In today’s society many girls are left with the thought lust equals love, and how do we expect them not to think that way? When we look at the role models for today’s females it is scary. We don’t see the good girls in the spotlight, being praised for their morals, we see the party girls. Party girls who are popular, who are depicted as beautiful and desirable. They are wanted. Is it any wonder we want to be like that? Who doesn’t want to feel beautiful and accepted?
There it is, the Virgin/Wore Dichotomy. The idea that women only come in two flavors: good or bad. Obviously, this is bullshit.
I’m a straight A student who likes to drink with her friends on weekends. I’m a former girl scout who enjoys physically expressing myself with my partner. I don’t fit the mold for pure virginal princess; I don’t fit the mold for out-of-control reckless party-girl either. I’m not unique: most women are like me. Most women fall somewhere between the virgin-whore extremes and so, when you’re talking about a problem that you claim plagues so many teenagers… you need to talk about us, the girls in between, or else you’re leaving most women out of the conversation.
Too many girls think that lust equals love; that by making themselves desirable sexually someone will come along and treat them with the love they crave and they will be happy. Unfortunately, they fail to see that when they objectify themselves, that is exactly what they are becoming — objects. Most of the guys who are looking at these pictures don’t care about who you are , only what you can give. Girls are putting themselves out to be blow up dolls and no one seems to notice a problem here?
Lust does not equal love, that is true, but by depicting expressions of sexuality that can be very healthily integrated into a relationship as something that causes women to “[put] themselves out to be blow up dolls” is bullshit. Objectification is not cool but it is more than possible to send sexy pictures to a partner without being objectified. It is possible to have sex without being objectified. All it takes is a partner who respects you.
My biggest problem with this narrative is that it takes all of the responsibility for objectification off of the parties doing the objectifying [the receivers of these images, usually male] and puts it onto the parties who are being objectified and disrespected [the subject of the pictures, usually female.] Instead of vilifying women for taking these pictures and sending them to people who they believe they can trust and love, why don’t we single out the young men who take advantage of their partner’s trust by taking an image meant just for them within the context of that relationship, and broadcasting it to the community. *
This is where the problem lies, this is where the objectification occurs… the woman has nothing to do with it. The problem exists within men who see women as disposable because they have been socialized into this idea that doing whatever it takes to get a woman into bed is perfectly acceptable; in fact, it’s a strategy that is necessary if you want to sleep with as many women as possible, thus proving yourself as a “real man.”
The Virgin/Whore complex plays into this socialization by dehumanizing women, which makes them easier to disrespect. One a girl has sex with you, or sends you a dirty photo, or whatever… well, she’s no longer virginal and pure; according to this dichotomy, that makes her a whore. As the author of thise piece has demonstrated, whores are bad girls who we do not want other teenage girls to emulate and, thus, men feel free to disrespect these “impure” women. And why shouldn’t they feel free? It’s not like anyone calls them out on it… how could we when we’re too busy worrying about the bad example these “bad girls” are setting?
Maybe I’ve sexted, maybe I haven’t. No one will ever know for sure unless I tell them; not because I am better than any woman who has had her pictures and texts exploited and passed around, nor is it because I have more self-respect than they do. The only thing that sets me apart from these women, is that I am lucky enough to have a truly respectful partner. Teaching women to respect themselves is all well and good… but teaching men to respect women as unique individuals, not just virgins to be conquered or whores to be tossed aside, that’s how we’re really going to change our culture for the better.
How about instead of telling girls that colleges will see these pictures, that they could go to jail, let’s tell them how wonderful they are. How they are worth more than just a one night stand or a picture for some guy to masturbate to. Girls need to see that they are beautiful and complete within themselves and they don’t need to be sold off as anything less than that. Instead of calling them stupid sluts lets tell them how beautiful and valuable they are. Let’s combat this issue of self-esteem that is making girls feel like they have nothing to give but their bodies. Let’s raise the bar for relationships and raise the bar for ourselves. We are beautiful woman and should be treated accordingly.
The author ends this on a beautiful message, provided that we are sending this message to all young women and not just the “pure” ones who have yet to be publicly objectified. Furthermore, let’s include men into this and send them the message that they are worth more than just how much “game” they have. Let’s encourage men and women to see one another as equals, as individuals, because this is the way to encourage nuanced relationships that grow out of a genuine desire to spend time with another person. Relationships based on mutual respect. If we lived in that culture, than even one night stands would not be a problem because both parties would be aware of what the other was looking for, and both parties would have enough respect not to publicly shame the other in the morning.
I think this quote from the always amazing Kathleen Hanna is the perfect way to conclude this post:
“If I am a role model, I want to be one who is unafraid to make mistakes and learn from them and also who is adventurous, problematic and three-dimensional. “
* I’m really uncomfortable with how hetero-normative this whole conversation was but, as far as I know, there is no “sexting plague” being freaked out about when it comes to queer teens… perhaps this is because queer students are more likely to look critically at gendered expectations? I don’t know because I never identified as queer as a teenager, but please… if you have something to add about this aspect of the conversation I want to know!