FYI (If You’re a Human Being)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably by now seen the cocky, controlling, pretty weird letter written by Kim Hall to all teenage girls her teenage boys may ever come into contact with online.

There have already been a number of amazing responses, including my favorite one by Iron Daisy Writes, in which she uses the exact tone and phrasing of the letter to show how this message really sounds, and addresses her letter, instead, to teenage boys.

There’s also this piece by Put Down the Urinal Cake (amazing blog title, by the way), which goes the compassionate, friendly, educational, gentle route, kindly explaining all the things wrong with this piece (and doing well to separate the words from the “scantily clad” pictures of Hall’s boys that she chose to post with her piece shaming girls who don’t wear bras to bed.)

Jezebel also wrote a typical but well done piece taking the letter apart bit by bit so that people could actually see what really was written there.

With all of this writing back and forth, I’ve only got one thing to add.

Ahem.

Dear Human Beings,

Letters like the one Mrs. Hall wrote to teenage girls are a prime example of how rape culture perpetuates itself in today’s society in an insidious and innocent-looking way. Let’s start with the small stuff, shall we? The whole letter is a practice in condescension, really, which is something we ought not be teaching either our girls or our boys.

In it, Mrs. Hall writes in a patronizing tone, “Wow — you sure took a lot of selfies in your pajamas this summer!” (Translation – Those are so fucking stupid.) She follows that up with, “I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout.” (Translation: You little whore, I know all about you.)

I mean, sure, maybe Mrs. Hall is not saying what’s in the translations, but you can see how one might read her words in such a manner. The all-knowing adult half-playing along with a child’s game all while accusing her of a siren-like power over men.

Which really is two-steps away from victim blaming. Maybe one step away. Sounds an awful lot like, “look at how she’s dressed, she was asking for it,” to me.

And you know what? At 14 and 15? She is asking for it.

It being attention. It being the security she would like to expect from a world that will not accost her, assault her or harass her for being…her.

Because she’s learning. She just got this new body, her whole life is changing, she doesn’t quite yet know what it all means, but she likes attention, she likes being pretty, she likes exploring who she may eventually become. And that isn’t wrong.

And your boys paying attention to that isn’t wrong, either. They are growing, too. This is a natural step in the boy-girl process and rather than shield your poor, innocent sons from the brazen, wanton come-on of the duck-face pose, perhaps you could empower your boys, use those creepy, family-stalking-the-Facebook moments to instill in them the notion that they can be attracted to a girl or woman, and they can still treat her with respect and obey certain boundaries.

Like picturing them in their school clothes as they talk to your sons in their school clothes.

A statement like this: “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it?” is not only false, it’s harmful.

First of all, I’ve never been a young teenage boy, but I’m guessing neither have you, and before I hop on the “it cannot be unseen” train, I’d like to see some researched citation that this is a fact. Because, otherwise, how would husbands talk to wives? More to the point, how could your boys even stand themselves at the beach (where they clearly are a lot, based on your photos) with bikini-clad women flouncing about? If your line of thought does happen to be true for your boys, I think you might want to consider forbidding them to go to the beach, or swimming, or dancing. May as well cut out that devil pop music, too. And television. All of it. Actually, the Internet, too. Why are your boys even on Facebook? It’s too dangerous, ma’am. They cannot un-see.

As an interesting sidenote when you ask this patronizing question,”You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” you totally already know the answer. And that answer is yes.

And this is not a bad thing. They are learning.

Think of it like training wheels on a bike. Only instead of these harmless photos being training for these girls’ eventual fall into sin, think of them as training for your sons on how to be upright human beings and treat all the people in their lives with the respect they deserve simply for being people.

Finally, as a parent of five-year-old girls, and as a former 14-year-old girl, I would like to ask you politely to step off. It’s not your place to parent other people’s teenagers, and shaming other parents into pruding up their daughters is simply not a long-term solution to the “impurity” in this world. It’s like abstinence-only education. (Look it up for its mind-boggling success rates.) If your letter actually does what you’d hoped it would do, all you are doing is taking the training wheels off the bike of life. So that when these girls hit their late teens and twenties, their own parents haven’t been able to have the wholesome, respectful talks about sex and image they would have otherwise had, because they’re all too busy setting up concrete walls around their daughters and burning any offensive clothing. (I’d like to see someone burn the absence of a bra, actually. Can we make that happen?)

All I know is that my mom didn’t need someone like you telling her passive-aggressively what a little slut I was because I snuck short skirts into school. She was handling it. Appropriately and individually, and through her kind, loving guidance, I was able to figure life out. Thank God it was her and not you.

The parents of those Facebook girls are handling it. Kindly step off.

Oh, and just because I feel like this post needs a totally inappropriate picture to offset its points, here’s a toddler making her first duckface, for your time. Try not to let your boys see it. I don’t want them to have to picture my daughter as a two year old with that silly look on her face for the rest of their lives.

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About parentwin

Parent of twins, blogger, writer and journalist. I write things. Sometimes people even read them.
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5 Responses to FYI (If You’re a Human Being)

  1. Julie says:

    YES!!! Thank you!! I was thinking that I should write a response myself, but saw your link in the comments of Beth’s post, and this is exactly what I was going to write. The “asking for it” connection is precisely what was troubling me about the original post, but it took me awhile to name it.
    Also, I have twins too! Will look forward to reading more of your blog. 🙂

  2. Caller of Shenanigans says:

    It begs the question, if boys can’t unsee a female in a towel or think of her in a non-sexual way afterward, how in the world do those boys live with themselves. Because it’s not possible they haven’t seen Mrs. Hall in a towel in their lives.

  3. Well said. The duck face was icing on the cake. 🙂

  4. Nick Papa says:

    Great post… Like, really great!

    The only point I slightly disagreed with – probably for reasons that are more about me than the point itself – was this:

    “A statement like this: “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it?” is not only false, it’s harmful.”

    …only because, while it’s definitely a harmful sentiment, I’m not entirely sure that in all cases it’s actually “false”. It’s pretty much a matter of semantics, but it’s similar to stuff I’ve heard elsewhere and it always causes the tiniest bit of friction for me, because it almost undermines what I think are the most important points.

    The way I see it is, it isn’t actually RELEVANT what a boy (or anyone) can or can’t unsee when he looks at a girl (or anyone); the whole world is potentially a frenzy of confusing and frustrating arousal to a teen boy anyway, in the way that it is to a dog or a chimpanzee, and I’m not sure most of us ever actually grow out of it. If he’s got any imagination at all, he’s as likely to not be able to un-think a moment when a pretty girl showed him some kindness or a smile, without their being any sexual undercurrent.

    A boy – or anyone’s! – ability to function in a society/community, or function as a human being at all – isn’t about whether they imagine or want something, it’s about understanding that those wants and thoughts aren’t/shouldn’t be anybody else’s problem, and aren’t something you should impose on others without consent. Nobody deserves a medal for this restraint… it’s the cover charge for being human.

    Actually, you totally nail how I feel about this throughout the rest of the post – that it’s normal for girls (and boys) to feel “wanted”, and it’s normal for boys (and girls) to “want” them.

    (I think maybe I’m reacting like this because I’ve always felt that like me, most people find that once they’re attracted to someone it’s always in there somewhere, and it makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m a bit of an outlier when people suggest otherwise!)

    I guess I just wanted to clarify that one bit, because in line with the tone of everything else you say, it feels to me like the insidious emotional issues we end up carrying around for the rest of our lives tend to be the ones around these small bits of negative reinforcement against the things we might be thinking, when all that’s really important to our community is what we’re doing.

  5. Pingback: “Boys will be boys” | We Have Twins?!

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