After reading some of the creepy texts sent to my daughter, or hearing about ‘requests’ made of some of her middle school friends, I have a simple question: What is wrong with us men?
Pretty much for time immemorial boys have been hormonal beasts. Social media however has turned them into raging idiots. Look let’s be clear: I can only speak about the motivations of the average heterosexual male, as I am one; I can only speak from the perspective of a father of two teenage daughters, in his mid-40s. Now that we’ve taken care of full disclosure I will once again ask: what is wrong with these horny little bastards?
At the risk of sounding like some decrepit curmudgeon, what are things coming to when boys between the ages of 11 and 14 think it acceptable to text young women and request photos of their specific body parts, criticize the size and shape of other girl’s body parts, and then reply with “lol” when they are called out on it? Somehow these young men believe that this perceived intimacy created out of cell phones and social media allows for them to ask, no demand, more that they deserve.
The nightmarish part is that this trend does not stop with the 14 year-old alone. These behavioral practices towards girls and young women are exacerbated throughout adolescence and into young adulthood. Unfortunately, some have questioned the legitimacy of the rise in sexual assaults against women on college campuses, and this attempts to minimize the trend of devaluing women in American society.
In recent weeks Rolling Stone’s article profiling an alleged gang rape victim at the University of Virginia fraternity was debunked as shoddy journalism. Unfortunately, this too helps some to argue that the problem of sexual stereotyping of women in our culture does not exist in any greater or lesser degree that it always has. Some such as conservative columnist George Will suggested that the problem isn’t a problem at all.
I know, right?
Technology and the ever-present display of female objectification does not help either. Social media seems to create more frequent opportunities for reductive and derivative attitudes and behaviors to root themselves in public and private discourse. Let’s be clear: I am not a Luddite decrying the scourge of technology. I have said this before — social media is a tool. I cannot blame the ills of society on Facebook anymore that I can lay fault with my hammer for striking my thumb. That being said, I can blame us for the way we choose to use the tool. If I am using the hammer to open walnuts and I hurt myself, well… you get the picture.
Snapchat, for example is a parent’s nightmare. Now for those of you who don’t know, Snapchat is an app through which one can send a photo, text message or both which will then “self destruct” after the recipient opens the message, a la Mission Impossible. The message then leaves no trace. The application fosters the illusion that what is being sent is a secret, somewhat private communication between two parties. Problem is that if the sender leaves a lag time (5 seconds, 10 seconds) allowing the message to stay ‘open’, the recipient can screen shot the image. This is where things can get nuts. Those photos then can take on a life of their own. Parents, you see the dilemma, yes?
Again, Snapchat is not the problem it is merely a symptom. What then is the disease?
America’s relationship with sex, the human body and the relentless objectification of both.
When it was just television and magazines that used sex to sell by offering up unrealistic beauty standards as well as unrealistic portrayals of human sexuality, a parent could construct ways to avoid the visual stimuli and build teachable moments out of exposure to said stimuli. However, today that imagery and messaging exists on multiple platforms and most of them reside in your child’s back pocket. And if your 12-15 year-old is anything like mine, her back pockets are often out of your reach for most of the day.
Consider too the critical distance between sender and receiver of sexually charged communication. The demolition of physical space has led to a misinterpretation of personal space and propriety. If you don’t have to use your voice, actually speak the words to a person’s face, that reduces any hesitancy to ask for that which you desire no matter how inappropriate such a request might be. Decorum becomes non-existent when the lines between public sphere and private space become blurred if not erased altogether by the magic mirror of social media.
In the United States meaningful sex education is virtually non-existent. Ultra-conservatives have established the erroneous argument that by teaching children about sex, they will then have more sex and have babies and this will inevitably lead to the fall of the republic. Or, some feel this to be an over-reach into the private lives of American citizens.
The first argument is bogus. And the second, well honestly, families rarely have the deeper conversations that need to take place. How your children behave in public, at proms and frat parties is everyone’s business especially when our sons decide it’s acceptable to slip Molly into the punch in an attempt to get our daughters to take off their clothes. Perhaps this is a private matter that families should deal with in the home, true, but when the repercussions are seen in the prevailing attitudes that demean women and girls, someone is failing somewhere.
If we did engage in more meaningful, more realistic sexual education then maybe findings such as this would not be so prevalent, or so shocking:
Although adolescents make up less than 10% of the population, an estimated 20% to 50% of all rapes occur against them, and six of 10 forcible rapes occur before the rape survivor reaches age 18.[5-7] Ageton reported 67% of raped adolescent and college-age women involved an acquaintance. Ageton’s findings showed that between 7% and 9% of the adolescent female population has been raped, and 1 million teen-age females are raped each year. This study calculated that 1.5 million rapes occurred in each of the five years of the National Youth Survey.
This same study also seems to suggest that the majority of sexual assaults seem to originate in “sexual stereotyping myths”. So before you dismiss the relevance of a 20 year old study let me ask the following questions:
- do sexual stereotyping myths exist?
- would you consider sexual stereotyping myths more or less pervasive today when compared to 10, 15 or 20 years ago?
- if sexual stereotyping myths exist what mechanisms allow for their persistence and pervasiveness in our culture?
In case you are wondering, here are some examples of SSMs (sexual stereotype myths):
- a man is not a man unless he has sex with multiple partners
- a woman/girl wearing a short skirt and skimpy shirt is asking for it
- a man has a right to demand sex if he buys a woman an expensive dinner
- if a woman/girl is making out with a man and things get out of hand then it is her fault
Still think the findings from 1995 are outdated and old-fashioned?
April is sexual assault awareness month. My wife and one of our friends posted separate posts on Facebook trying to raise awareness. Clearly people saw it but few “liked” it. A cupcake recipe gets more “likes” than something important such as this.
Oh, I’m sorry does the subject of rape bring you down, put a crimp in the seamless texture of one’s falsified, Facebook persona?
All this miraculous technology that people around the globe are using to fuel revolution and dissent, and we are hesitant to use it in order to address an uncomfortable truth that one forcible rape occurs in the U.S. every 6.2 minutes (FBI.gov)?
Any man who assaults a woman disrespects women. He objectifies them. He has not been taught how to desire women without seeing them as objects, or as meat. He has not learned the balance between sexual desire and social decorum; and he certainly has not learned the meaning of respect. This is the middle school boys joking about his classmates flat chest; the fraternity brothers holding a wet t-shirt contest as a fundraiser; the middle aged men cat-calling to the young women downtown on their lunch breaks.
Some will ask, “Well what about the girls? Don’t they share some of the blame too?”
No. No, they don’t.
No one, let me repeat, NO ONE has a right to another person’s body no matter how they dress, look or act. You have no right to demand, to force, to take anything that is not offered. That is common sense. That is respect. My daughter ultimately has the right to decide what to do with her body, but my plan is to build her self respect so that she understands that the images media offers us are not true representations of who we are as human beings. Those images are marketing tools. We are not products; we are people.
Here’s the thing, and I am going to be judgmental here, if you have a son and that son objectifies women he is an ass. When I meet him, when he comes to my house to spend time with my daughter I will turn a hose on him. He wants to be sexual, he wants to express his desire for all our daughters by repeatedly asking for nudes, or seductive selfies then I will put the fear of god in him.
Because if you won’t do it, then I will