Yesterday, along with about a million other people, I read this blog post. In it, “Mrs. Hall”, a Christian mother of teenage boys, cautions teenage girls against posting pictures of themselves on social media wearing “skimpy PJs” or “only a towel”. And by “cautions”, I mean patronizes, berates, and shames.
The post, thankfully, was subject to a swift and glorious backlash. Some friends and I posted a series of photos on Facebook and twitter in protest (see below - then make your own - #solidarityselfie).
I was pleased to see other bloggers writing thoughtful responses, many of which emphasized the idea that it’s not a young woman’s job to keep young men from thinking about her in a sexual way; it’s a young man’s job to learn how to look at women without objectifying them. Although I think that’s a valid position, and certainly less damaging than the original post, I don’t think it addresses my biggest problem with this all-too-common worldview. I will attempt to do that here.
I think both arguments (“girls shouldn’t wear skimpy clothing” and “boys should control their lustful feelings for girls”) stem from a shared paradigm: “Sexuality is dangerous, and we must protect our children from it.”
Here’s how I hear it:
- Mrs. Hall: Women’s sexuality is dangerous to men. “Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure.”
- Nate Pyle: Men’s sexuality is dangerous to women. “Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body.”
- Me: Sexuality is not dangerous.
Yes, I understand that bad things happen to people because of sex. Rape, sexual abuse and molestation, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, physical and emotional damage of every flavor and variety are real and present dangers of unchecked sexuality. I’m not interested in sugar-coating the issue.
I’m interested in this idea: the experience of ourselves and other people as sexual beings is not inherently dangerous. Nor is it shameful, or shallow, nor does it rob us of the ability or opportunity to engage with people in other ways. The act of expressing our sexual selves can be empowering, fun, and pleasurable. The act of experiencing someone else’s sexual expression can also be empowering, fun, and pleasurable.
Furthermore: sexuality is a built-in part of the human experience, and there is no avoiding it. It doesn’t matter how conservatively you dress, how hard you pray, how much “discipline” you have, or how many teenage girls you block on Facebook. Sexuality is everywhere – within you and without you.
So, here’s what I want to say to teenage girls, and boys, and people of all ages:
Your sexuality is a superpower. It can be a force for good in your life, and in the lives of others. Just like your intelligence, your ambition, your talent, and every other aspect of yourself, it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. It’s not a weapon; it’s a gift. From there, we still need to do our damnedest to educate our children about how their actions affect those around them.
Just like it’s wrong to use your intelligence to harm someone else, it’s wrong to use your sexuality to harm someone else.
We have to teach our kids about kindness, compassion, and personal responsibility, and how those values relate to every area of life.
I’m not saying these lessons will be simple; I’m saying just the opposite. Unfortunately for Mrs. Hall, these lessons will be messy, uncomfortable, and complicated - there are no shortcuts.
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