Last week an open letter to teenage girls went viral and sent the internet into a tizzy. The blog entry, called FYI (if you’re a teenage girl), begged teen girls to not post pictures of themselves in swimsuits, towels or without a bra on because if her teenage boys see these kinds of photos they’ll think impure thoughts and once a boy sees something like that he “can’t quickly un-see” it. And Mrs. Hall, the conservative Mommy Blogger author, begs teen girls to be aware of their actions because she’s hoping and praying that her sons “don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls” because she wants to raise them to have a “strong moral compass”. At its heart, it’s a call to modesty on a religious blog. But it’s also much more than that. Mrs. Hall may not have meant to do this, but she really wrote a misogynistic piece that contributes to Rape Culture.
The idea behind Hall’s letter is that teenage girls should not be posting provocative pictures on social media. Girls should not make pouty faces or show off their swimsuits or even put up pictures of themselves wearing pajamas if they’re not wearing bras. Why? Because of teenage boys’ hormones. Mrs. Hall places all of the blame for teen girls being sexualized on the girls themselves. Nowhere in her piece does she address the fact that her sons should be raised to respect women or look beyond a seemingly skanky photo of a friend in a bikini. Instead she pleads for teen girls to run to their computers and delete any questionable photos so that her sons cannot be lead into temptation. All of the responsibility for respect, according to Hall’s letter, is squarely on the girls. What is not being said is that if these girls do not conform to her conservative way of thinking then it’s their fault if they’re not respected or treated like human beings. But that’s what’s implied in this blame-dressed-up-as-concern blog entry.
By holding only women responsible for their actions, she lets her sons (and men everywhere) off the hook for leering at girls and only seeing them in a sexual, dehumanizing way. By shaming her sons’ friends for posing with “extra arched back and sultry lips”, this mother is assuming that these photos are posted for male attention only, which may not be the case with some, if not all, of the pictures she’s seen. (The Blog Irritable Reaching asks “Does the girl posting the self-portrait really want to be objectified? Does she really want to capitulate to media standards of beauty and self-worth?”) And by sexualizing these girls based on their swimsuit and bra-less PJ photos and pleading with them to be careful with how they dress and present themselves, Mrs. Hall not only buys into but also supports Rape Culture and its logic that a girl is “asking for it” based on what clothing she is or is not wearing. None of these things are OK.
Mrs. Hall thought she was writing a letter that would inspire teen girls and send them on a path to purity. Instead, she crafted a pearl-clutching, slut-shaming diatribe that blames teenagers who are exploring their identities and sexuality. While many comments on Hall’s blog thank her for the letter and call her “a gift” and say she’s speaking the truth", a litany of response blogs have emerged calling this mother on her hypocrisy and condescension. “It's not up to women to protect men from themselves. And it's certainly not The Teenage Girl's responsibility to help teenage boys, or college guys, or middle-aged men, control their basest instincts…just because a young girl didn't totally think through her decision to post a selfie that inadvertently titillated someone and gave them impure thoughts doesn't remove that someone's responsibility to not be a lecherous asshole and treat that girl like a whore every time they see her,” countered Mike Julianelle.
Every person needs to take responsibility for his or her own actions and reactions. Teenagers need to be taught this by their parents. Why should the onus of control be only on the women? When it is assumed that women alone are responsible for the reactions of men, Rape Culture is strengthened and supported. It shouldn’t be this way—it’s unfair to females and also incredibly insulting to men. They are more then their hormones and instincts. To assume that they can’t control themselves because of a photo of a bra-less teenage girl is to not give them any credit for their self-restraint and humanity. “Boys aren’t led around by their penises, they’re perfectly capable of seeing you in a towel or a bikini or even a short skirt and still being able to string together a sentence," Jessica Gottlieb advised. But with her letter, not only does Hall blame and shame teen girls—she also shares the ways that she buys into Rape Culture, which is not something any mother should be proud of. She gives her sons no credit for any restraint or respect they may show when they spy a bikini-clad photo of a friend. And she takes no responsibility in raising them to be respectful and responsible for their own actions, even though she wants them to be “men of character” who fall in love and marry “women of character”. Mrs. Hall wants the teenage girl friends of her sons to be very careful what they post, but she herself should also be extremely conscientious about what she is saying online. Because her letter not only shames women and insults her own sons—it also says that Rape Culture is fine by her. And that’s something that no person, woman or man, teenager or adult, should be posting publicly.