Today I read this one article that pretty much forced me to throw away all responsibilities and get to writing on this blog again (which is great!). The first thing I thought was “those poor boys”, quickly followed by “OH MY GOD WHAT IF MY NEPHEWS GOT THESE HORRIBLE IDEAS FROM SOMEONE?”, and, while I would like to think they are being and will continue to be raised better than that, I also wanted to write a letter to their future teenage selves.
Granted, I am not a parent. I may or may not become a parent. But I swear to Jimi, my intentions towards those gorgeous, amazing little boys are parent-like. Plus, anyone with half a sense of what is actually wrong with the world can tell what was wrong with that article, with or without having given birth.
Now, for the sake of this letter (and how heteronormative the original one was) I am going to assume my nephews are heterosexual. They are 1 and 3 now, so I have no idea and I don’t really care who or what they do in that respect. I am also being quite sarcastic in how I mimic the original letter’s structure and content. But all in all, it is pretty much what I would say to them.
I have some information that might interest you. I don’t creep on your social media – and really hope your parents don’t either, because that shit’s creepy and wrong and not even beneficial to anyone – but I know we trust each other and so I have seen some of your pictures with your teenage gal friends.
You are teenage boys, and you may or may not have a lot of lady friends – you don’t have to in order to be a man’s man, and there is no “naturally” in how you define your own masculinity and boys will not be “boys” if they don’t want to, I hope you know that. If you do like having a lot of gal friends, though, that is cool too. You own your own body and mind and goddamn Facebook profile.
Anyhoo, back to the pictures. They have cute bedrooms, don’t they? I noticed and you noticed too
because I really hope we are past stupid stereotypes of boys have dirty rooms and don’t even see color and “girls have pink everything and basically smell pink” by the time you are in your teens. They are also really clean rooms, like yours. I don’t even need to say this to you, that hygiene is not a girly thing, it is just good sense, and that having somewhat dirty rooms is not a guy thing, it is a teenager thing.
Look at all the interesting books and magazines and fun things they have, though! I know you notice because, contrary to what media often portrays, men are capable of seeing beyond bra-less breasts. Perhaps she could recommend you a book? She seems really smart and wonderful and I know you know this as well.
Now, you may notice other things – I am not assuming that because you are a boy (hell, I notice breasts too from time to time, although I don’t really look at that in teenage girls’ photos), but because you are into girls (not all girls, of course, like all human beings you have preferences and choices) and there are girls in those pictures. Some pictures have girls posing in their pj’s, some pictures have boys and girls hanging out in their swim suits, some pictures have people dancing at a party.
Now, you may have heard an unhealthy amount of talk about teenage girls and women and how they should act and dress and talk.
So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize: those pictures are not about you. The poses they make and the clothes they wear are completely independent of you, and me, and everyone other than themselves for that matter. As such, they are not yours to judge or try to dictate over. Women are not yours to judge or dictate over.
What you do own and dictate over is your own behavior towards those pictures and towards those women. It is fairly normal that you notice their lack of bra or their curves or their pretty eyes or their pose. You have eyes – we all do. What is not okay is for you to reduce them to their bodies and their poses and choice of attire, because just like you and your parents and me and everyone else, they are complex and whole people and you should respect them and treat them as such.
Speaking of complex and whole people – you are such complex and whole individuals. You have the ability to see someone dressed one or another way and know that that means nothing about their personality, their intentions, their character, their intellect, their sexuality, etc. You have the ability to be attracted to someone – sexually or not – and act or not act on it depending on how appropriate, consensual, convenient (or whatever) it would be. You – as any other human being – have will, reasoning, and self control. To sum this up, and to clarify – given all the ideas that the media and crazy mothers around the internet will have you think – WHAT YOU SAY OR DO OR THINK IN REGARDS TO A WOMAN AND A WOMAN’S BODY IS ON YOU, NOT ON HER. And before another crazy person on the internet says anything: unless a girl/woman comes up to you and verbally, explicitly asks you “can you please view me sexually?”, nothing else she ever does is asking for you to do so. So, I am sorry to break it to you, buddies, but it is on you.
Please know that I genuinely get what you see in those pictures and all of that. We are sexual beings, and you boys are raised (hopefully not too much) to think that sexualizing and objectifying women is what boys do, and that it is a woman’s fault when you do it. I believe in you, though, because you are insightful, smart, and very, very funny. It is a unique lens you have, that of a teenage boy, because your hormones are all over the place and you think of things you don’t know much about yet. It is okay, it is even fun! But that does not mean that your teenage gal friends are responsible for your erection.
Which is what makes this such an important topic to discuss.
Those messages in the media don’t reflect who you are at all, though! I think you guys are lovely and interesting and usually very smart. I cringe and wonder what the people saying these things are trying to do or who you are trying to reach by blaming women for men’s behavior. What are they trying to say? That you are incapable of discerning between clothing and character? That you lack self-restraint? That you are a primitive monkey who is governed by his boners and who cannot unsee nakedness? I know you would be insulted by this, and I know you are more than that.
And now – big bummer – we have to sit here and talk about crappy messages being said to you. Because, the reason we have these (hopefully not too awkard) family conversations around the table is that we are not sex-negative slut-shaming assholes (assholes are actually very smart organs, but that is another subject for another future time) like so many people all over the world. I would never block any of those messages from you though, because that is a violation of your right to information (as false and ridiculous as it may be) and because I trust you to make your own decisions regarding the messages you get. I can only hope you continue to trust me enough to bring those messages to the table to discuss openly about.
I care about you deeply, just as I know that teenage girls’ families care about them and would like their friends to be decent human beings who take responsibility for their own behaviours.
I know their family would not be thrilled at the thought of you teenage boys making inappropriate jokes or comments about these girls’ bodies. Did you know that once you see a role model slut-shaming or making horrible jokes about women, you start thinking it is okay? And that once you say one such thing and no one calls you on it, they start rolling off your tongue? You don’t want people you care deeply for to see you as an ignorant, sexist, dudebro, do you?
Neither do I. I know you are much more than that.
And so, in this house, in our relationship with each other, there are always second chances, even if you say something you’ve heard somewhere that is kind of sexist or demeaning of other people in any way. But we would talk about it, and talk about it a lot. I know, so lame. But, if you want to be a decent and respectable human being, you will listen and keep an open mind. Or maybe you won’t, but I will say these things anyway, because I care. I also hope you grow up to know your privilege as a guy and know that with great power comes great responsibility – is that still a reference for you? I hope it is – so, yeah.
I know this sounds weird because I might (hopefull not) be the first one to tell you these things, but I am hoping to help you guys be great men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger endlessly over pictures of women, and if they do, they take responsibility for it.
Every day I
pray – nah, I don’t pray, who are we kidding – think about the women or men or whomever (because love is not just romantic love) that you will love and who will love you. I hope you are drawn to people who are beautiful and who know beauty is everywhere, not only on the outside and especially not only in clothing. I hope that you complement each other and make each other the best each of you wants to be. I don’t like the term “worthy” because it assumes some people aren’t , but I hope that you inspire respect because you give it too.
Guys, it is not too late to unlearn shitty messages! If you think you’ve made an online mistake – telling a girl she is a slut or that she looks fat or joking with your friends that her ass looked a certain way and that she is better/worse for that – you don’t have to run and take it down “before I see it”. I am not the CIA, a creepy mother, or the boss of you. Just acknowledge that it was wrong and apologize if necessary, and learn about ways you can become a better man in those respects. You don’t want to make comments or remarks that make it easy for people to assume you are a disrespectful human being, and see you in that dimension alone.
Will you trust me? There are girls out there waiting and hoping for men of character. Plenty of young men and women are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds free of sexist, slut-shaming BS, and their thoughts praiseworthy – just like you.
You are growing into a real beauty, inside and out.
Act like that, speak like that, post like that.
Your loving aunt Lui