Dear Mrs. Hall,
When I was seventeen years old my girlfriends and I were allowed to get a hotel room and followed our boys basketball team to Madison to cheer them on for a state tournament. After finishing checking in we went up to our room, realized it had a giant atrium window and promptly flashed the lobby. The looks on the faces of our classmate below was hilarious. I was a wild child at that age, yet I guarantee you my mom (who was very involved in my life and was a great parent) is going to be pissed when she reads this but I am 35 years old now so I’m hoping her statute of limitations has expired. At seventeen I didn’t need women like you shaming me. I needed women like you mentoring me, caring about me, not throwing me away. I needed women to wink at me at my youthful indiscretions, and then show me how to be a grown up. The only difference between me and the girls you shame is that when I was seventeen, there was no Instagram or facebook. At seventeen, I didn’t flash the lobby because of low self-esteem or to tempt boys or men who linger and lust after high school girls, I flashed the lobby because it was my world and everyone else was just a guest in it.
I wanted to tell you this for two reasons. Oh, I should mention, my friends and I also went skinny dipping. A lot. I wanted to tell you this for two reasons, the first being, I wanted to level the playing field for all of the girls who have to live their adolescence on social media and every mistake is forever captured. I went through those years free of that burden. Second, I wanted to tell you this because my girlfriends and I all grew up to marry nice guys, have cute kids, and balance successful careers. The other two girls who flashed the lobby with me? One is a high school teacher and the other is a director at a communications firm in Washington DC. And me? Well I run a global business and just finished writing a book about how to raise empowered girls. Ironic, no? We didn’t turn out okay because we eventually found nice boys like Hall boys to marry, we turned out okay because there was nothing wrong with us to begin with.
I simply wanted you to know that teenage girls who make mistakes can grow up to be women who do amazing things. I want to share my approach with you, and you may take it or leave it: I don’t believe in shaming people. I believe in teaching and in growth. You write a ton about Christ on your blog and while not a Christian I find many of your posts beautiful. I believe Christ’s approach was teaching, too. Teaching and growth. So I ask you to look into your heart where I can clearly see that you love your children, and look to the children of others with that same love. In love there is not room for shame.
Teach girls, mentor them, show them by your own example what kind of women they can be. And for goodness sake, allow them to make some mistakes. I am also concerned about teen girls, media, messages, and sexualization. The difference between you and I is that I would not kick them off my on-line island and consider them devalued, I would open my arms and say, “Come here, Baby, you and I need to chat.” And then we would talk about school, and goals, and sports or whatever her activities are, who she thinks is cute, and then I would cleverly segue way into the importance of having a personal brand, the value I see in her, and that because she is a teen and perhaps not thinking long range, I would gently explain to her that some of her online behavior doesn’t mesh with the personal brand I see her building in other areas of her life. And we would talk about what messages she might be sending that she might regret, if what she is doing is smart, and if what she is doing is safe. I would leave her with information she can chew on and implement, but most importantly, I would leave her knowing she has someone in her corner. Someone who sees her worth simply because she lives and breaths, no other qualifiers necessary.
Thank you for sparking such a fascinating national conversation. I have learned, and I hope you have too.
Two days ago the internet exploded when a mom of four, Mrs. Hall, shared a letter on her blog to teenage girls who use social media in a way that she does not approve. In that time the woman has received support, mixed feelings from readers, and she has been flamed. Some people tried to give her the benefit of the doubt and saw that her words were coming from a place, the execution was just very off. If you read a little bit into her blog and her bio, Kim Hall comes from a conservative religious background so it is possible that may be the source of her view point for the shaming of female sexuality and professing virtue and purity as the highest form of morality. Those are not values I hold, but the woman is allowed to have her faith and her opinions.
I felt it important to discuss this article with the facebook community, because it brings up so many good points for parents of tweens (and kids of all ages, really). Whether your kids are using social media or not, and whether you are talking to them about sex or not yet, this is a good read to get you thinking ahead. Mostly because it is so misguided.
I want to frame our conversation carefully, because I don’t want this to turn into us piling on the author of this post. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with various parts of the post, and I think it came from a good place, it just didn’t get to where it was going. Namely, boys can control their urges and girls are not responsible for boy’s behavior. Second to this is, girls are allowed to express their sexuality, even if we feel it is in a way that may not be the best thought out demonstration.
You may agree or disagree with Mrs. Hall’s sentiments, but what I’d like you to think about while reading and then discuss are:
1. Can slut-shaming be a two-way street? Can boys be on the receiving end?
2. Is nudity/partial nudity the same as sexualized self-objectification? Is that the point Mrs. Hall is trying to make with the shirtless photos of her sons in a post that slut-shames girls? Or is she being simultaneously obtuse and preachy? Would it bother you if the Hall boys were posting shirtless pics that your daughter was exposed to?
3. Does one (or 80) sexy selfies ruin a girl, so that no “good man” will want her? Did you experiment with your sexuality in ways that you are grateful are not forever captured on social media?
4. Is Mrs. Hall doing the right thing by openly discussing sex with her children, and their use of social media?
5. How do you feel about the comment, “If you are friends with a Hall boy, you are friends with the Hall family”? Should tweens/teens be allowed some privacy online, or is it all an open book?
6. If you were the parent of one of these girls Mrs. Hall is talking about, how would you feel after reading this? Is there more to your daughter than one sexy facebook towel pose?
7. How does the line about “once a male sees you naked he can never unsee it” grab you? Are their bigger implications at play there on how we validate male sexuality/desire but invalidate female sexuality?
8. And finally, is Mrs. Hall onto something? Why are so many young girls and women posting sexy, duck lipped photos of themselves? Are boys doing the same thing and we aren’t paying attention because our culture loves to be hyper-vigilant over the sexuality of young girls?
As always, the PPBB facebook community delivered with a conversation thread that reached just over 10,600 people. The comments were thoughtful and productive. Not everyone agree with each other (those are the best conversations, yes?) but everyone did a great job of expressing concern for their children, concern for the self worth of girls they do not know, and concern at a macro level on what messages girls are getting from society and how this impacts their behavior and thinking. These sentiments were echoed in posts that popped up during the day in reply to Mrs. Hall, my three favorites will be linked at the end of this post.
Here are my favorite replies from PPBB community members to the questions I asked above:
Ashley Chenard: Nice to see this opened for discussion here. I’ve seen friends sharing this like crazy and while I can agree with parts of it, I also found it to be rather focused on blaming the female. And her ironic photo choice of her sons. Just didn’t settle entirely right with me. Sounded like the kind of moms I have dealt with in person that you just grit your teeth and can’t wait to be done with. I commend the effort, but could be better executed. I trust both my son and daughter to make decisions for themselves and that they’ll either embrace the morals I impart on them or they’ll mess up regardless because that is what humans do. It is my job to be there for them, but not to helicopter over them. The way this came across to me is that boys are animals but its the girls job to prevent them from being pigs. My son is not an animal, and its not my daughters job to keep your sons from being pigs.
Tanya Roe: I think that what bothers me the most here is that she focuses on what girls should be doing to snag a decent man. I would rather talk about having respect for our own bodies and characters, how focusing so much on what boys think of them needs to be changed. I want my daughters to grow up and find loving healthy relationships with people of integrity–with themselves first and then a partner if they so choose. I want my daughters posting pictures of all the cool EXPERIENCES they are having rather than focusing only on how their bodies look to boys/peers.
Amanda Elisabeth: What she is falling to address is WHY so many teenage girls feel the need to have pictures like that. Media and society teaches our girls that their only value is their sexuality, and then we condemn them for acting out the way our society wants? I don’t like this article. She is using the same logic people use for rape victims: I.e. her skirt was too short. Why not have a discussion with your son regarding the pressures his female peers feel from society and the possible reasons they post those pictures? Why not talk about an appropriate action your sons can take while interacting with their female friends instead of just blocking the young girls.
Elaine Fleschner: I certainly don’t want my daughter, once she’s old enough to think of such things, to post those sexy poses/photos online. But I think this article is obnoxious. How about instead of posting this blanket “We like you, but we won’t be your friend if you do blank”, she have a frank discussion with the specific girls she’s concerned about–if in fact they are family friends. I think it’s good that the family talk about sex and social media together, but a real nuanced understanding would also require them to note the social pressures girls are under, which do not face them as boys. Mrs. Hall comes across as sanctimonious and obnoxious.
Florence Vaccaro Michel: Thank you for posting these questions! Two fb friends have already posted this thing, and while I think it’s a good place to START a conversation about social media, it is far from the whole conversation. I think reducing a girl to a few poorly-thought-out instagram posts does that girl a disservice. I also think the idea put forth here reduces ALL girls to “sacred vessels”- their modesty becomes their biggest virtue (which naturally leads into their purity being the most important thing about them). It frames all girls as madonna/whore- either you post modest, wholesome pictures of yourself (and you’re a good girl) or you post duck face, arched back pictures in a towel (and you’re a bad girl). So now we’re teaching boys that all girls fall into one category or the other.
That being said, I think that every parent needs to help their kids manage social media in their own way. The fact that this mom is having open conversations with her boys about the items posted on social media is commendable. And she is, in some respects, encouraging her boys to see and recognize that girls are more than just their image (even if it’s done in a clumsy and somewhat reductive way).
Tanya Burns: “We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.” Then teach your boys not to do so. I am not arguing that I want my daughter posting pics like she speaks of. She is 12, shy, and not a selfie kind of gal. But when she is 16, and has all these years of media literacy under her belt, I’d like to hope she still has better things to do in life. In this post, Mrs. Hall speaks of no second chances, and puts the onus on girls not to show her boys things they should not linger over. I can promise you that out of all the kids mine knows on instagram, there are just as many 12 year old boys doing the “pull your shirt up and try to contort your little body to look like you have abs” pose as there are girls with duck face. But everyone does seem to focus on the girls. Why does a 12 year old boy think he needs to “look ripped”? Are hormones not flowing on both sides of the equation in puberty? As one friend pointed out, what if it’s not the “sexy, duck lipped girls” that a young man is checking out on instagram, but your son and his abs? Sadly, this is not just teenagers now. The “tweens” are in on it too. I’ve seen girls as young as 9 on youtube posing and pouting because they’ve seen others do it. Do we not come back full circle to the oversexualization of childhood we talk about every day?
Mandy McManus Emedi: I applaud the intent of this post, but I do not think it was fully thought-out. The group picture of the author’s boys at the beach just makes me sad. I don’t have any issue with kids in swimsuits if they’re running and jumping and playing at the beach…but the poses of the two older boys, in particular, seem meant (by them) to show off their bodies. Sadly, by using this photo, I think the article illustrates the double standard for boys versus girls. The author is talking about the responsible use of social media (among other, larger topics), but she doesn’t seem to realize she’s violating the same ideas she’s presenting.
Marisa Winegar: Where’s the empathy for the girls who are growing up in a culture that says they have to compete to be the hottest to have value? There’s no acknowledgment that girls don’t post sexy selfies in a vaccum. I don’t want my daughter doing that, but I can see why girls feel that way. It’s a societal problem, not a “bad girl” problem. And the solution has to acknowledge that girls are judged on their sex appeal everyday, perhaps even by the sons referenced in this post. Is she hot or not? That’s what FB was invented for! I don’t like it, but it’s not the girls who created this climate. They are the victims, not the perpetrators.
Lisa Mohl Kaplin: It’s very difficult for me to find the good in this article because it is so sanctimonious and judgmental. The idea of a family sitting down to view and judge the pictures of other children makes me sad and discouraged. Also, if we want our children to dress more appropriately, shaming them will never be the right answer. Helping them feel good about themselves so they don’t feel the need to get attention through their physical appearance will work far better. I also worry for the young girl in this family who has now observed her brothers and parents critiquing girls based on very limited information. Thank goodness we didn’t have the internet when I was a teen, I’m pretty sure Mrs. Hall wouldn’t have been too pleased with me.
Lucinda Robbins: While I think it’s important for girls to understand the image they are portraying on social media, I also think the idea that she would teach her boys that one suggestive selfie makes a girl unworthy to talk with is troublesome to me. (especially when her boys are posing half nude throughout the post). I think there’s an overemphasis on girls’ purity, which also bothers me. Girls need to be careful, but boys also need to recognize that both girls and boys are sexual being and both girls and boys are responsible for their thoughts and behavior. Girls do not bear responsibility for boys’ behavior, and this seems to be what she’s implying. I would think she would think better of her boys than to think they cannot be friends with or control themselves around a girl who (OMG!) posts pics of herself in her jammies.
Jennifer Wade Shewmaker: I read this yesterday and had so many of these same questions! My first thought is that these girls aren’t taking selfies in a vacuum, there is a culture of Sexualization that promotes it. They aren’t “bad or unsafe girls.” They’re girls who are feeling two things: 1.) their own developing sexual desires and feelings and 2.) the pressure to gain power through it.
Since I’m the mother of 3 daughters, I would tell Mrs. Hall that I am teaching my girls to think about how they dress and what they post in terms of the message they want to send to the world about themselves. I want them to focus on their own agency in that scenario. It is not their job to account for every sexual thought a boy may have. It is their job to make respectful, thoughtful choices about who they are and what they want to share about that with the world. And, their developing sexuality shouldn’t be any more threatening than a boys developing sexuality. These are natural, normal feelings and parents need to help kids learn how to process them in safe, healthy, respectful ways rather then through shaming them.
Kelsey’s N Reilleys Mommy: And so begins the subtle underpinnings of rape culture.
In support of what Mrs. Hall had to say:
Melissa Vaclavicek Murray: I don’t know. I didn’t see this as a “bad girl” issue, so much as a stupid girl issue. When my kids are older (both girls under the age of 6), I intend to point out potential red flags and encourage them to look for positive attributes when considering someone to date/marry. A person who posts multiple selfies a day and sexually suggestive pics gives off red flags. While those red flags don’t necessarily point to “slut” (the author never said that), they do point to lack of self-esteem, self-respect, and self-control. Not great attributes for a significant other. That’s not slut shaming. That’s just being smart. That’s a mother who cares about her sons imparting wisdom that they don’t have in their hormone-filled teenage bodies. She’s helping them look past the bedroom eyes and glossy duck lips, and find a person with substance. The author may have been clumsy in her execution (ridiculous picture to go with the article), but I think this is advice that most involved parents give to their kids.
Kathy Onufer Krapf: I didn’t take it negatively like many here did. I took it as a reminder that social media is public and that what is posted “can’t be unseen”. We are all leaving digital imprints that we don’t realize and we ALL need to be more accountable for ourselves and our children. I think she was coming from the right place, regardless of whether or not we agree with how she framed it.
Lisa Hollander Parente: I’m torn on this one. While I do agree that tweens and teens need to be more aware of what they are posting and putting into cyberspace, this feels a bit like slut shaming to me. The author posts pictures of her sons posing in what can be considered provocative ways and yet that is okay? Why because they are boys and don’t have boobs? And this part trouble me the most: ” Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” Why not instead of chastising the girl she teaches the “Hall Boys” to respect a woman regardless of what she is or is not wearing? How about teaching those boys that a woman is not an object for them to gawk at? Like I said, there are parts of this that I do agree with, but I don’t think she’s thought it through completely.
Other blog posts I loved on this subject: