I recently received an email from a mama who was worried about her sweet middle school daughter who is doing what middle school girls all over the world do – toying with boys, clothes and the intersection of these two things. Here’s what she said:
I am struggling with my middle school daughter wanting to dress older than her age and starting to be interested in boys and coming under cultural pressure to “soften” her edges to be likeable and pleasing to boys. I want to keep talking to her about why it’s not appropriate to look sexy in middle school without sending the message that boys can’t or shouldn’t try to control themselves. Any ideas about how to do this?
I am not at all surprised they are struggling with this – I regularly count my blessings that I don’t have a daughter, partially because of this BS – but what did surprise me is the idea of allowing girls to think, even for a minute, that boys can’t control themselves.
Aren’t we past this? Am I living in a feminist fantasy where everyone knows boys and men can and do “control themselves” all the time? Right now, everywhere on the planet boys and men are actively not raping and pillaging their way through their days. They are “controlling” themselves. As the mother of a young teen boy, I am responsible for educating him about his body, his hormones, horniness and “controlling” it (seriously, it never occurred to me to talk to him about this idea of needing to “control” himself).
Instead of control, I talk about the other “C” word – consent. In my mind, consent is where it’s at – not control. When we talk about consent, we talk about how everyone agrees to whatever it is that’s on the table (or bed or wherever). We talk about how to check in and to confirm consent has been given. We talk about how sometimes people will say “no” but then keep on keeping on and how this can be confusing and create big problems. We talk about communication and openness and waiting until he’s 27 before he has sex.
We talk about how girls sometimes don’t understand what they are doing when they dress in a sexy way. How they are influenced by our sexualized culture and think they need to dress and behave in ways that are beyond their years to fit in or get attention. We talk about how this doesn’t mean they are advertising their availability for sex.
Just like the mom who emailed me does with her daughter, we talk about how it’s those girls’ parents’ responsibility to talk to them about this fucked up world we live in. It’s their responsibility to help their girls navigate all the misguided messages they get about what’s important about being female in our culture.
Finally, and most importantly, we talk about how it’s my son’s responsibility to understand this and to do his best to remember her value is on the inside. What she chooses to wear has little or no bearing on who she is or what makes her fabulous, whether she knows it or not.