Yesterday I attended a conference for youth workers working with teenage girls and thought I’d be there with my literacy hat on. Instead, I found myself listening and questioning and thinking simply as a woman – though one with various qualifying subtitles: mum, educator, “woman of the village”. I think I even described myself as a “child of Germaine Greer”.
I came away with more questions than answers but two main streams of thought have stuck with me. The first is that sexualisation, sexuality, sexual behaviour, gender (in)equality and everyday sexism each exist on a continuum, and everyone has to choose where they place themselves on those lines that stretch from relatively harmless to outrageously harmful.
I think there are some points on the continuums that are no-brainer-absolutes (“equal pay for equal work” and “no means no” spring to mind), but there are other points that are more nuanced and will garner a variety of opinions even amongst my own friends and family.
Where do you draw the line on a girl looking sexy? Is it ok for a 9 year old to dress like a 19 year old? Or a 14 year old to dress like a 19 year old? Who decides what “sexy” looks like? Is it showing an ankle? a thigh? a face?
What’s the connection between what a women wears and what a man thinks? Where on the “who’s responsible” continuum do you put yourself? If women cover themselves completely, they are doing men a big favour but, well, exactly….. you see why we need to have this discussion before the 17 year old is running out the door to meet her friends in town.
Where’s the line on comments from men to women? Is it before or after flirty banter? Is it ever ok to make a comment to a stranger about her appearance even if you think it’s a compliment? Does it matter what the woman thinks? How are we raising our boys? (If you want to be enlightened, go to twitter and follow @everydaysexism. If you want to be dismayed search #grabbed.)
Do we raise both girls and boys to simply not tolerate sexism at all ever, or do we raise girls to tough it out because that’s just the way the world is?
Some Christians will allow things that other Christians absolutely forbid. Yeah, I know, don’t go there just for the moment…but,
how do we in the church teach our daughters to be comfortable with their sexuality? How do we crush the myth of “Jezebel the whore” while maintaining the truth of Jezebel the powerful woman who, while faithful to her husband, was unfaithful to God? She’s a bad woman, but not because of her strength or her eye shadow!
In the end, most parents just muddle through their children’s transitions from innocence to sexually aware to sexually active. It’s not something – especially in the Christian community – that we’re helped to think through. But – and this is the focus of part 2 – we can’t ignore the fact that the combination of technology and social media have hijacked the timing of those transitions. “Lock up your daughters” is not a good strategy at the best of times – but utterly useless in the presence of a smartphone.
I’m very aware that I’m speaking as someone who’s pretty much finished with parental muddling but I still want to think these things through – and pray for and support those who are in the middle of it or can see it peeking over the horizon. Thanks to marketers, you don’t get much time to breathe between toddler and tween.
Part 2: The differences between “In the Light” & “Public” and “In the Dark” and “Intimate”.