Thursday, October 31st, 2013
National Bullying Prevention Month wasn’t around when I was a kid. And no one called what happened to me bullying back then—when a “friend” started talking about me behind my back and actively excluding me from our group of friends. The kind of bullying that girls tend to engage in—emotional bullying—was just something you were meant to suffer through in silence, until graduation got you (hopefully) out of harm’s way.
Back then, schools often looked the other way on physical bullying, too. When my brother repeatedly came home with cuts and bruises from being shoved and punched, the school’s vice principal told my mother that my brother needed to just punch back. And when my mother asked, incredulous, if the vice principal was actually encouraging physical violence in his school, he simply shrugged. (That’s when my parents made the decision to move to a different town to keep my brother safe.)
But what no one really talks about is the lasting damage bullying can do, long after the cuts have healed and the remarks have cleared the air. I can feel its shadow in my friendships even now, more than 20 years after I last saw my bully. (Which makes me wonder how kids today manage to keep going, when the insults and nastiness are captured forever on the internet.) I catch myself worrying when a friend turns down an invite and analyzing what was said when we get together—even though I know that the friends I have now are true friends, and that the days of bullying are over for me.
Except that it isn’t entirely, because I have to shepherd my own children through it. I’ve worked with my kids on strategies for fighting bullies, and stressed that our kids should try to befriend the kids who are being picked on, and develop empathy for everyone in their class (even the bullies). And they learn these social skills in a weekly class with their guidance counselor, now mandated by our state.
But that clearly isn’t quite enough. The boys in my daughter’s class recently started making trouble with her, mocking her with racially-tinted taunts. I’m fortunate that the school has taken it very seriously—the principal, the guidance counselor and the teacher are all working together to keep it from happening. But even then, they have to walk a fine line, as calling the kids out on it directly may just lead to more anguish for my daughter. The bullies never like a tattletale.
I know that a lot of bullying comes from the parents themselves. My brother created a documentary about bullying, and went back to our old neighborhood to interview some of his former tormentors. (A few of them, it turns out, were in jail.) One of them said that he bullied my brother because he was envious of what he had: a stable home, loving parents, and a promising future. And in retrospect, I can see how my bully’s mother may have influenced her decision to treat me that way. My only hope is that I can teach my kids to be kind, so that they don’t inflict this pain on other kids—and give enough strength to deal with the kids whose parents won’t.
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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
If you’re asking “What is slut shaming?,” let me first illustrate what slut shaming does:
September 9, 2013: Rebecca Sedwick, 12, jumped to her death after being tormented relentlessly about how far she’d gone with a boy she had dated.
December 9, 2012: Jessica Laney, 16, hung herself after being called a slut and whore online.
October 24, 2012: Felicia Garcia, 15, threw herself in front of a speeding train after rumors spread about her having sex with members of the school’s football team.
October 10, 2012: Amanda Todd, 15, hung herself after being blackmailed and called a slut over revealing photos an adult had pressured her to take years before.
April 29, 2012: Rachel Ehmke, 13, hung herself after the word “slut” was scrawled across her locker and other kids at school repeatedly called her a “prostitute.”
The list could go on and on, but it’s frankly too depressing for me to continue. These are children we’re talking about. Children who could have—and should have—had bright futures. What is going on here? Some call it bullying, but it’s actually something far more specific. It’s slut-shaming, the practice of making a girl or woman feel guilty for expressing one of the most natural human traits—her sexuality.
The name-calling (and trust me, “slut” is only the tip of the iceberg there) usually begins in junior high or high school among students and then goes digital via social networks and group texts. That said, the seeds of slut-shaming are all too often planted well before their children reach the confusion of their teen years—and it all has to do with our society’s expectations of girls and women.
The truth is, we’re setting our daughters up to be “sexy” from the time they’re in grade school. According to a study by psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, when 60 girls age six through nine were given the choice of looking like a doll wearing revealing “sexy” clothing or another doll wearing trendy, but less provocative clothing, an overwhelming number of girls chose the sexier doll. Why? Well, perhaps that’s because, as the researchers found, “sexy” translates to “popular.” Picture these top grossing female pop stars: Beyoncé, Britney, Mariah, Lady Gaga, Miley, and Katy Perry—I think you get my point.
Even if you limit your child’s media exposure to family and children’s films and TV, they’re still getting the same message. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media revealed that nearly one in three female characters in family films wears “sexy attire,” whereas not even one in ten male characters is dressed provocatively. The message is clear: Girls are valued for their looks and their bodies, whereas boys can be valued for any number of things ranging from their bravery to their brains.
It’s the teen years where this message gets more confusing. Girls try to emulate the girls and women they’ve grown up idolizing by wearing revealing clothing or posting sexy images online. This upsets and worries parents, who often end up slut-shaming their kids as a result. A big news story from last month comes to mind: A teenage girl in Utah got dressed—in short shorts—to go mini-golfing with her family. Cue the mom calling her daughter’s shorts “slutty,” the girl refusing to change her outfit, and the dad cutting off his own jeans into short shorts that he wore on the family outing to “humiliate” his daughter and remind her and all girls of their “great worth.” Say what?! I have so many questions here. Who bought her the shorts? What does wearing shorts have to do with this girl’s worth? I’m pretty sure that her body is her own and that wearing short shorts hurts no one, except for maybe the parents who can’t handle the idea of their baby growing up and becoming a sexual being with her own identity.
Then we have mommyblogger Kimberly Hall whose slut-shaming blog post also went viral last month. Here’s just one quote from her tirade on the provocative she-demons who tempt her sons: “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress [in a sexy picture online], he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” Wow, Ms. Hall. Why not raise your boys to see women and girls as three-dimensional people with many facets, many traits, and many awesome qualities? Why not teach them that women can be both smart and sexy? That women aren’t objects? That sexual expression is a healthy, normal part of growing up? Maybe if she did that, her sons would be more likely to talk to her about safe sex when they’re ready to take that step, and they’d be more likely to have respectful, healthy relationships with women through their lives. But I guess it’s easier for Ms. Hall to slut-shame random teenage girls than to focus on teaching her sons to be respectful of women and their bodies.
Obviously, we don’t want to see our daughters fall prey to predators, we want them to respect themselves, and to express themselves in a way that’s true to who they are—but slut-shaming them or other girls isn’t the answer. If you want to help stop the cycle of slut-shaming, try these four things:
* Talk to your children (yes, girls and boys!) about sex from an early age so that it’s never seen as bad, dirty, shameful, or something to torment another person over—but just a healthy part of life.
* Resist the urge to label other women or girls as “slutty.” How someone else dresses or who she sleeps with really has nothing to do with you, and putting down other women sets a bad example for your kiddos (even if you think they’re not listening, they are!).
* Show your children as many examples of accomplished, smart, driven, adventurous and outspoken girls and women as you can. It’ll help show both your boys and girls that girls and women can be a whole lot more than just sexy—and teach your girls a lot of other ways to get positive attention.
* If you hear your child or another child calling a girl “slutty,” don’t just stand by, thinking it’s harmless girl talk. Find out what’s going on and see how you can help. That girl’s life might be on the line.
If you’ve got more ideas on how parents can help stop slut-shaming, leave them in the comments.
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Image of girl crying via Shutterstock.
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bullying, confidence, gender roles, parenting, raising girls, self worth, sex, sexism, slut shaming, suicide, teen suicide | Categories:
Child Development, The Parents Perspective