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FYI (If you're a mother of teenaged boys)

Dear moms.

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as I often do, I was looking at articles on various news and blogging sites.

I'm a young womanperson, and so naturally on the sites I frequent there are quite a few concerned articles lamenting about the state of Girls Today - and yours is no exception. Wow, you sure seem to be hooked into social media! I grew up in a family full of near-Luddites, so I notice little Millennial details like that.


I think many people notice other things. For one, you appear to be Facebook stalking girls around your sons' age.

I get it - you're trying to protect your teenaged sons from their own sexuality, right? But I can't help but notice that, in the article in which you express concern over scantily clad teenage girls' selfies, you post several photos of your entirely shirtless teenage sons - for seemingly no reason. That doesn't square up well at all to your alleged message of modesty, this I know. Don't you know teenaged girls have sexual thoughts too? Don't you know that a lot of teenaged girls are attracted to teenaged boys, especially the shirtless and well-muscled kind? (Non-sarcastic sidenote: I must commend your middle son on his workout regimen, I wish I had abs like that.) You should take down those photos. Girls your son's age, on seeing those photos, may well have impure thoughts, and heaven knows that we can't infringe upon women's purity.

So, here's the bits that I think are important for you to realize. One, if you are touting this modesty nonsense, in order that you not be a hypocrite, you must tout modesty for everyone. Two, Hypothetical Mom of Teen Boy (not the lady who wrote this article, mind, but any Mom reading this) - listen, he's a teenager. He's going to have sexual thoughts whether his female friends are full-on naked or wearing paper bags over every square inch of skin. He'll have sexual thoughts even if you remove him from all human contact. That's how teenagers - male and female - work. Three, your son(s) might not even like girls and all this fussing could be for naught. Four.... why are you Facebook stalking these teenaged girls over the dinner table? This feels very unhealthy, as though you are aggressing against these girls in order to underline your role as the archetypal Good Woman, and in order to strengthen your bond as a family. That is not a healthy way to bond.

Please understand this: I genuinely think you don't realize what you're doing. It's a product of our culture. But I have to cringe and wonder - what are you trying to do? Speak to teenaged girls (who find your rhetoric condescending and insidiously poisonous) or gain approval from your peer set? Who are you trying to reach - those poor lost teens, or yourself? What are you trying to say? That these girls, dressed in a way you find immodest, are Not Worthy and jezebels, yet your sons can be plastered across a page shirtless and you see nothing wrong with that? Because women don't have sexual feelings (and, I'd assume, gay/bi teen boys don't exist)? Wrong and wrong. If you're really concerned about this "sexual impurity" stuff, I suggest you step up your game here. You don't want your sons to be stumbling blocks to young women trying to live a holier life, do you?


And now - big bummer - I as a chick- not quite a woman, not quite a child - have to live in the world you create for your daughters, your nieces, your goddaughters. Not only is it assumed that I am out for attention from a boy if I look "too" good (and I'm socially punished if I don't look good enough), but the terrible crime of trying to attract male attention on purpose is enough to brand a scarlet S on my chest in the minds of many women just like you. I'm not saying seeking sexual attention - as a teenaged boy OR a teenaged girl - is always a good thing or always done in a healthy way. I'm saying it happens no matter what, on both sides, and you seem to be ignoring a huge swathe of it.

I know you will not be thrilled to know that we as teenagers and young adult-prototypes spend probably eighty per cent of our time in a state of sexual tension because we're walking hormone storms. Sometimes, yes, we do want people our age to think of us sexually. Because we want to do sexual things with them.


If that comes as a shock, please unclutch your pearls and hand in your parenting license immediately. Even if we don't plan to, even if we aren't sexually active, even if we never have sex, we still have sexual feelings, and are experimenting with ways to wear our sexuality and communicate it to others. We do not need to go to Facebook to look at sexay sexay sexay pics of each other. There are other websites on the internet for that, ma'am. Did you know that women can be just as visual as men? Did you know that it is possible to respect someone even though you're sexually attracted to them - but that respect has to be taught, and if you teach your sons to disrespect women who are "whores" or "sluts" or "immodest," then your son will grow to disrespect women in general, because no woman is one thousand per cent pure, one thousand per cent of the time? Did you know that can lead to Madonna/whore complexes? Did you know that can help create a mindset conducive to committing rape?


And so, in my life and in the lives of your own kids, there are no second chances, moms. If you want your kids - girls and boys alike - to grow up with a healthy amount of respect for themselves and other people, you need to stop teaching them that worth is entirely dictated by presentation and perceived "purity."

I know that sounds crazy and liberal (which is a scary, scary word), but that's just the way this world will have to become if we want to make it a better place. This world needs men and women of integrity, and men and women of integrity do not shame their sons for the sexual feelings all boys experience, or shame their daughters for "tempting" boys and trying to find a way to live in a society that objectifies them relentlessly. Men and women of integrity teach their children to respect each other, regardless of cloth present or absent on their body. Men and women of integrity teach their children that sexuality is something they will need to negotiate throughout their lives, and these men and women teach their children safety and respect while acknowledging that, at some point, their children will be sexually active adults. Men and women of integrity accept that, though it is very difficult, and prepare their children for that point - trying to guide them on a healthy, self-respecting path - while both acknowledging their children's autonomy and offering support to their children.


Every day I thank the powers that I believe in that my mother raised me to only present myself in a way I am comfortable with. I thank them for a mother who was and is an excellent model in independence, in self-confidence, and in carrying oneself with pride. My mom's gorgeous (I inherited a lot of her looks, so maybe I'm biased) and there are times where she dresses to accentuate that fact. However, she doesn't draw her whole sense of self-worth from it, and she sure as hell doesn't let how other people perceive her to dictate her self-worth. I thank them that my mom was so open about sex with all her children so we're not going to grow up and be neurotic nutcases about it.

Ever think that maybe the reason girls are posting semi-racy pics on Facebook (and frankly, Mom, what you describe seems... well, tame - oh no, not wearing a bra! What will we do?!) is because the parents cracked down on self-expression when it started, rather than teaching their daughters how to handle themselves? Rebels rebel, after all.


And I wish that all teenaged girls and boys could have a mom like mine, rather than a mom who thinks any sign of "immodesty" is a mark against a girl just learning to negotiate the world, or who teaches her sons that they cannot control their own reactions to sexual feelings.

Moms, it's not too late! If you think you've made a mistake in discussing these matters with your children (every parent does - believe me, it happens), RUN to their bedrooms, grab the smartphone from their hands, sit them down, and have a real, honest conversation about respect and sexuality.


Will you listen? The idea that girls are only good to grow into women to be partners of men is insulting to both genders - we are all individuals, with potential irrespective of who we are partnered with or whether we choose to partner up at all. (I'd also like to add that it's offensive to lesbians and other queer women to assume that women just "go with" men automatically, but that's a topic for a different open letter.) The idea that only boys have impure thoughts is ludicrous and makes genuinely remarkable girls feel like sluts for wanting to make out with the hot kid. The idea that boys cannot control their reactions to "impure thoughts" - and believe me, they'll have them no matter WHAT you do - is ridiculous, and it's dangerous for both boys and girls to teach that.

Your children are valuable human beings not to be judged on nonsensical beauty standards.


Act with that in mind. Speak with that in mind. For the love of everything good, post with that in mind.

It's good that we had this talk.

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