I can’t be friends with Kim Hall’s sons. Not because we live in a different state; not because they’re younger than me; not even because of any insurmountable personality differences we might have.
No, I can’t be friends with her sons because this Texas mother won’t approve of some of my Facebook pictures. In a blog post that went viral this week, Hall condemned many of the teenage girls her sons know for uploading pictures of themselves in skimpy outfits or “sexy” poses.
Hall doesn’t include examples of these pictures, but from her descriptions, they don’t sound like anything out of the ordinary. What teenage girl doesn’t have at least one or two pictures of herself on a beach in a swimsuit or striking a red-carpet pose?
I know I do, and I’m willing to bet you do too. It’s perfectly natural to want to look good in pictures, just as it is in the rest of life. Why not dress in a way that flatters your body and accentuates your best features?
Because, Hall argues, her teenage sons and any other men who see them will immediately think of your cleavage or legs or ankles or whatever other obviously provocative image you’re sharing on Instagram. It doesn’t matter how successful or talented or wise you are — all men will think of you after they see these pictures is “Heh. Boobies.”
This way of thinking is harmful for everyone, both men and women. It belittles the capabilities of men to think about anything other than sex, treating half of society as nothing more than Neanderthals obsessed with fulfilling primal urges. Hall describes young men as “fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure and their thoughts praiseworthy.”
For girls, the message is even worse. It propagates the far-too-common idea that young women are responsible for how others see us and what actions they take.
This misguided idea is promoted by the Christian modesty movement. As described in an Atlantic article from mid-August, this push sounds great on paper: Women can take control of their own sexuality by covering up.
But by tying the way we dress to male desires, whether by telling us to dress in a sexy way to get attention or to don conservative clothing to prevent objectification, we perpetuate the concept that we as young girls have innately dirty and sexual bodies.
On its own, Hall’s decision to block these girls from her son’s social media feeds and write a blog about it isn’t so bad. Sure, she makes me feel immensely grateful that my mom is a wonderful, intelligent, feminist woman who doesn’t meddle in my friendships, but these decisions wouldn’t affect anyone outside of her immediate circle.
However, the sheer number of people, whom I respect and admire, who have shared this post and commented about how it contains great messages for pre-teen and teen girls is endemic to a larger problem with the way we treat women in general and teenage girls in particular.
It’s been more than 15 years since the Italian Supreme Court overthrew a rapist’s conviction because the girl he attacked was wearing tight jeans, and more than five since the court reversed that decision.
And yet we’re still blaming women for inciting desires in men. Just last week, a Montana court handed down a 30-day prison sentence to a 54-year-old teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student. The judge presiding over the case has since apologized for his comments about the victim being “older than her chronological age,” something he viewed as a mitigating factor.
How someone dresses or how adult she acts does not have any bearing on how society should treat her. Whether it’s a gross misuse of the justice system or a mother who disguises sexism with friendly language in an open letter, it’s not acceptable.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at @JMShumway