In the article, the problem with "sexting", which the article defines roughly as sending sexual pictures via cell phone, is addressed.
The biggest issue, according to the article, is that young girls are sending boys nude and sexually explicit photos of themselves at the boys' request. These photos are then distributed around school, around the internet, and eventually many of them end up on websites frequented by pedophiles. It is not a small number of girls who are sending these pictures. And it is not a small number that go viral. One girl said that her sexualized photograph is the first one of her to appear when doing a Google search of her name.
This is all very sad. Extremely sad.
But it's not why I'm furious.
I'm furious because this article talks about how we need to talk to our daughters. About how we need to tell our young women that this is inappropriate, wrong, bad, vulnerable... that it could affect their futures. And it says nothing about what we need to tell our young men.
I find it wrong on many levels.
First of all, young women who do this are not wrong or bad or horrible people. They are girls who want acceptance, love, popularity, kindness, value, and affection. They are after something real. Something that at the age of 13 or 14 they feel can only come from a cute boy. I know, because I was one of those girls. I would absolutely, positively, have had these types of pictures of me out there. And it has nothing to do with my parents or how they "failed" me. And it had nothing to do with me being "that kind of girl". It had everything to do with the fact that boys in this age group are taught that they are owed something. It had everything to do with the fact that there is some kind of sick rite of passage that allows boys to think they have a right to act as conqueror. And girls are taught that this is acceptable. And boys are taught that they are owed. And that it is appropriate. And that there will be no repercussions for them. In fact, there might be kudos, raised status, and praise.
When we are very young women sitting in kindergarten class and a boy is pulling our pigtails or pushing us on the playground or calling us names or stealing our swing and we come crying to an authority - be it a parents, teacher, or other adult - so often we are told "he picks on you because he likes you". "He pulls your hair because he likes you." "Oh, it's cute, you have a little boyfriend." And we internalize this. But we don't understand flirtation. To us, it looks like boys are mean because they like me. Boys hurt me when they like me. Boys humiliate me when they like me. And the boy is not punished because they are so cute. And we girls are taught that the cute boys are the valuable boys. It's a cute boy you want to catch. And so a cycle begins. And there are victims. And there are conquerors.
And in middle school and high school our hormones kick in and there is a whole other type of victim and a whole other type of conqueror and we are still young and we do not see this change and we do not see the difference between the hair pulling and the name calling and the boy telling us that he loves us and because he loves us he wants to have these pictures of us. He wants us to perform this sexual favor, this sexual act... he wants us to write him a steamy letter. We think it is normal for our asses to be grabbed and our breasts to be fondled in the hallway. And we do not expect that he will share the picture with our peers or that he will pass the letter around the lunch table because somehow things are twisted in our minds - we see marriage as a place where men treat women with some kind of sanctity but we see this abuse as the rite of passage we must wade through in order to get there. We believe at this stage that these young boys really like us and that they want these things because someday we will be married and it will be okay and YES we believe that.
And we leave the nice guys in the dust because we've been socialized to fall in love with the jerk.
Some of us end up marrying the jerk.
Some of us date a jerk and then we wake up and shift our paradigm and decide that society has lied to us and we pursue the boy who will treat us with kindness.
Some of us are lucky and see through the lie before we lose our dignity or our parents' trust - but we are often ridiculed for it by our peers and it is hard to see it through to a pleasant end.
I don't think that girls should send these pictures to their boyfriends. Ever. And girls need to be told that it is okay to say NO. Girls need to be taught that their value is not wrapped up in their boyfriend or their popularity at school or their "reputation". Girls need to be told that they are beautiful and awesome and powerful and that they don't need to have a boyfriend to prove it. Girls need to be valued for their personalities and their intellect and their achievements. Girls need to know that the boy treating them like dirt on the playground is not cute. And that bullying is bullying is bullying no matter what your gender identification. Girls need to know that they are not a prize to be won but a person with whom to have a relationship and that relationships are not based upon physical affection or the amount of information or body parts you reveal and anyone who thinks otherwise is not worth your time.
And it's about time we stop talking about girls and what they need to to and their responsibilities in an already victim blaming culture where boys think it's okay to take photographs of their rape victims and post them online as a disgusting rite of passage trophy piece to prove to their friends something about society's twisted image of masculinity.
It's time that we told boys that it is not okay to pull a girls pigtails. It is not okay to hurt someone, period. It is not okay to ask your girlfriend to pose for pornography.
It is important and very much okay to value women. To protect them when they are smaller or weaker than you might be. That a good boyfriend and a great man is someone who stands up for girls. Who treats them with kindness. Who understands consent and that consent isn't always about yes or no but about an intelligent assessment of a situation in which everyone is comfortable - and yes, it is your responsibility to recognize if a girl is actually interested vs. terrified and no matter what is going on in your pants you need to understand feelings, emotions, and tone of voice and if you can't do that yet, then you have no business in the bedroom with a woman. I don't care how old you are.
We need to teach boys the consequences of asking a girl for a picture like this. Explain what it will do to her and why that isn't okay: It's not okay to ruin someone's life as your rite of passage.
Of course we need to explain that to girls too. But we also need to understand that for young people who go to school the school environment is their world and survival there is much more important at this stage than survival in "the real world.". Young people would much rather go through a school day upheld as valuable and beautiful by their peers without bullying and pain than be respected by a circle of adults. They will do what it takes to survive in that environment even to their future detriment.
I wrote in my diary when I was 14 years old:
"A note to my future self when I am a teacher - remember that right now, getting a boy to like you is the most important thing. Having a boyfriend is really important and you really feel like you are in love with them."
And I don't want to let that young girl down.
She wrote that there for a reason. For posterity. To remember.
Let us not fail her.
Let us empower her. Let us help her to understand what real love looks like. What real men look like. How to say no. How to see the difference between affection and victimization. Give her tools. Give her words to say. Give her social value outside of a boyfriend.
And let us empower our young men. Even through the bullying they might encounter on their end when they say this is wrong and refuse to share the photo of the naked young girl or even refuse to look at it. Explain to them the value of other people. The value of women in our society and culture. The value of standing up for others.
It is a cold and difficult world in our school system. There are not enough teachers to see every action, move, note, and text message. Kids are on their own for the majority of the day. They need more tools to navigate the harsh realities of crowded hallways and clique-filled lunch tables and social anxiety and peer pressure. Help them. Have the hard conversations. Value the things that are truly valuable. Be happy when your daughter dates someone who isn't necessarily cute, but who treats her with respect and integrity.
And remember that it all starts with how we see their behavior on the playground.