Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Teach Your Children Well

This blog seems to be all over the place, but I think I bring it together in the end. Just be patient.  (You will all be happy to know that I am looking into taking some refresher writing courses!)

I have been kicking around this blog topic of the how society views girls and women for 2 months now, when I just recently came across this post.  It broke my heart.  If you did not watch the video, it is sad tale of a young girl who made some poor choices, came across some very disturbed and mean people and she suffered tremendously.  The saddest part is that after she made this video - a plea for help - she took her own life.  

Kids should not be defined by the mistakes they make. Unfortunately, In this day and age, those mistakes stick around for a lot longer due to social media. Digital images are out there, forever.   I have said many times, that I am so thankful that there was no such thing as social media when I was a teen.  It honestly, would have ruined me.  I can not imagine having to relive my past bad choices over and over.  

I am a mother of boys.  Being a woman, I want to raise boys that respect and view girls as their equal.  There are definite differences in boys and girls, and those differences should be acknowledged, respected but not the constant focus.  

Being a girl was not easy.  It was a constant oxymoron, wanting to be thought of as cool and cute, tough and sweet,  hot and fun to hang out with.   Being overly concerned about  appearance and impression.  Wanting to know what others (mostly boys) thought.   Am I pretty? Do they like me?  What can I do to make them like me?  What do boys want? Who can I trust?

In my awkward pre teen years I was not so attractive.  I was off-the-charts short, painfully scrawny and had a big, honkin’ Roman nose. I really wanted to hang out with the guys.  They just seemed to have more fun and laugh a lot more than the girls did.  I acted like one of the guys so that I would fit in.  I cursed like them, I played like them, I tried to be as tough as them. I wanted them to treat me like they treated their guy friends. I wanted them to like me.  Which, as adolescence hit, turned into wanting them to LIKE me. 

I remember feeling alone and extremely self conscious. I also felt very sexual but so conflicted. It is something that girls are trained not to talk about or think about.  Little known fact #1: when girls go through puberty and after, we are just as sexually charged as boys of the same age.  

Society allows boys to constantly be thinking about and wanting sex.  Girls, physically, are going through the same things but are not allowed to show it in any way.  The girls who do, are labeled, and that label does not come off.  I remember thinking how important my reputation was.  Again, worrying about what others thought. Not only my reputation as someone who was not a tramp, but as someone who was fun.  Reputations really stick to girls. 

There is no doubt that girls with bad reputations did have it rough. They were strung along by guys, picked on by girls and ostracized by both.  But it was just an superficial image of who they were.  It was not the whole picture.  

It was the typical double standard. Boys could want sex, get sex and dog many girlfriends at one time.  Girls could not.  Period.  If we did, we had to hide it.  We had to be stealthy.  Make sure they guy would not talk. Only tell the closest of girlfriends.  This is where we found out that girls really had a tough time keeping things to themselves.  We kept any and all sexually related questions/confusions/conflicts to ourselves.  I am not sure much has changed since I was a girl.  

If we could allow girls -from a young age- to stop concentrating on what others think of them and start them focusing on what they think of themselves.  Just being pretty or likable or fuckable is not and should never be, enough.  But for so many it is.  

We are taught to think that attractive “female” attributes, in all forms, whether it’s being pretty, or polite, or submissive, or accommodating, or passive, or sweet, or innocent, are the primary things women should attain in life.  We are taught that our own hopes, dreams, fears and passions are secondary to what others think of us.  

We are told:

Don’t be a bitch (which usually means, Don’t speak your mind.)  

Don’t be pushy. 

Don’t tell people what you really feel.  

Never step on anyones toes.  

Always be helpful. 

Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. 

Don’t be aggressive. 

Be sweet. 

Be kind.  

Be nurturing.

Put others ahead of yourself. 

Don’t be too smart.
It is exhausting. Especially when any these demands are not in your nature.  As females we were not put on this earth only to be of service.   As advanced as society gets this still seems to be an underlying standard.  Women’s lives, our very existence, is put aside so that men and society can shape us into some sort of ideal.  This is an unattainable version of: part Virgin Mary, part super model, part porn star, part girl next door.  

Back to raising boys.  One thing that I try to teach them is to be as respectful of their own bodies as we teach girls to be.  It is often joked about for a teenage boy to be locked in the bathroom for hours doing “god knows what.”  But you would never hear of someone joking the same way about a girl.  It is disrespectful to the boy.  It is an invasion of his privacy.  It also makes him believe that there is nothing sacred or private when it comes to his sexuality.  Which may lead him to show the same disrespect to all sexual encounters. 

We expect young men always to be after sex and admonish young women who show any interest in it, at all.  There has to be a balance.  There is no need to assume that every young man constantly wants sex just as there is no need to assume every young woman abhors it.  We are all sexual beings.  There has to be a healthy respect for physical and emotional needs and boundaries.  One must not outweigh the other.  

My boys are young, but I want them to be able to trust The Hub and I to be able to talk to us about anything.  First Born has already approached us about things he has heard on the bus.  (mostly vulgar names for body parts.) I was very proud that, although he was reluctant at first, when he realized that he would not be in trouble for talking to us about it, he was very open and honest about what he was hearing and the questions he had.  

The pre teen and teen years scare me.  I am not looking forward to heartbreaks and angst. But throughout it all, I want my boys to make the best choices about those they allow into their inner circle and those that they don’t.   I want them to surround themselves with those that make them happy, and allow them to fully be themselves, even when they don’t know who “themselves” are yet. And I want my boys to do the same in return.  I also want them to view girls and boys in the same light.  I don’t want them to put unrealistic expectations on girls, or think of them as a separate class.

Back to that poor young girl Amanda Todd, from the begining of this piece.  She needed people to stand with her.  She needed boys and girls, who knew what it felt like to be scared and to have made bad choices, to have her back.  If those that are on the fringe, bound together, maybe less bad choices would be made.  Maybe there wouldn’t be a need for young girls to crave and do anything for attention and love.  

Maybe if we as a society did not expect the worst of boys and men, but held them to a higher standard, they would not do the things that - not only - ruin other’s lives, but also ruin their own.  Maybe if we as a society did not make girls feel, less than, because they are not living up to some ideal, they would not do things that - not only - ruin other’s lives but also ruin their own.  Maybe.  I could be wrong, but I think it is worth a try.   


Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle. Nice blog and interesting thoughts. My daughter is almost 22, and what she and I have observed, sadly, is that so many young women value themselves so little, especially when it comes to their bodies. Young men these days often quickly move onto the next girl if the first one won't "put out". It's easy to find a girl who will. I have tried repeatedly to reinforce to my 18-year old son not to take advantage of a girl who doesn't value herself. He has to do the right thing and respect her, even if she doesn't respect herself. It's an uphill battle raising our children these days. You're a good mommy, though, and I have a feeling your boys will be just fine :-) Val G.

Momma O said...

Like I said, I am not necessarily looking forward to the teen years! Thank you so much for reading and commenting, and thanks for the compliment.

Becky said...

My daughter is 11 and in the fifth grade. And I have been able to tell since she was in kindergarten which girls crave attention and go about getting it anyway they can, and which ones have healthy self-attitudes. I can also already tell you which boys respect girls, which boys are jerks and which ones will say and do anything to just go along with the crowd. It really does start that young. The parents are key - if children see their parents treating themselves and each other with respect, they tend to do the same. There are exceptions to the rule of course. But the girl who's mother is on her 4 or 5th husband (and jokes about it) has been openly desperate for a boyfriend, stopping at almost nothing already, for the last 2 years. The mother thinks 'it's cute'. Which is sad.
Good post. Who cares if you are all over the place? My blog is the same way.

Momma O said...

Thank you Becky. It does start young. I get very upset when people, especially parents, sexualize young children, by dressing them in provocative or adult clothes. Or assigning attributes to them that are of an adult nature. It is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. The parenting or lack there of is the key. We are drawn to those who closely replicate the relationships we see when growing up. Thanks as always for reading and commenting on my blog. Oh and for 'liking' me on fb! I appreciate it.

F said...

Boy, you hit the nail on the head. To feel sexual or not feel sexual. Is it ok, or not ok or in the middle. I remember feeling super intensely sexual (not the same thing as being sexy, AT ALL) when I was young. Oh. To feel. I grew up with pretty healthy ideas of sex (Thank God), as my parents had a great relationship and made no efforts to conceal that they loved each other and wanted each other. It was a good thing. In my twenties, I FELT. I wasn't loose or with tons of guys but I felt. I loved and love sex. Now? For so damn long, I have put this away. I reasoned that I was married for so long that this was the new normal. I wasn't supposed to have that anymore. I am old(er) and this is life.
Oh, hell no. I am bent on feeling good about my life, sexual and otherwise, in a healthy manner and not be self defeating.
As for the kids, I am really trying to let them just be kids and play. It is hard when you can't shelter them from outside influences (friends). My daughter is a freebird but I worry. She has friends who want boys, want makeup, and to lose weight, all to look beautiful. Another friend only wants to hang around girls who dress well. At age 5. So help me, I will do whatever I can to teach her that what is important is not this whirlwind of crazy and to just be. To play, to love her family, and to expand her mind.
For George, he is starting to see cartoons which sexualize woman (though we don't have cable), and hear songs which have some sort of reference to sex. He notices. We haven't had the birds and bees talk (next year?) but oh. OH.
I am going to stop (this is way longer than the post I just did but I have family who read my blog and I can't be as open about the sex as I can be with friends.).
I miss you and wish we were closer to go through this parenting thing together.

Momma O said...

I do so wish that teleportation was possible! It would be grand if PA and TX were closer! I am so saddened when I hear of FIVE year old little girls worrying about weight! and boys! and fashion! It is disturbing, to say the least. And yes, sex is a good thing, and something that is difficult to come by when there are young ones in the house! Especially, as I write this, my 4 yr old Little One is asleep next to me in my bed. While the Hub is reading with First Born downstairs! The Hub and I don't get much alone time! We have to sneak it in where we can! But I have felt like a sexual being since puberty and we, as females, are taught that only boys feel these feelings. It made me feel dirty and wrong to be HUMAN! It was great hearing your comments as usual! Hope we can see each other soon before the kids graduate HS!