Punishing the Conditioning of Gender

Recently on my Facebook feed, a friend posted a link to the blog post “FYI (if you’re a teenage girl),” written by Kimberly Hall, a Presbyterian women’s minister from Texas. In this particular blog post, she advises young girls – in an irritatingly friendly tone of voice – to be more cautious about which pictures of themselves they put online. Otherwise, they would be blocked from being friends with Hall’s three sons.

Apparently, the Hall family routinely monitors their sons’ Facebook friends to determine whom their sons can befriend. 

I had an immediate and visceral reaction to this blog, because it echoes a sentiment I hear almost everywhere, everyday — “Why are girls (teenaged or college-aged) so slutty?” In the blog, one of the pictures in question features a girl in her bedroom, striking a sexy pose with no bra underneath her pajamas.

Hall comments that the young woman in particular is above that, worth more than that, and doesn’t deserve to be thought of in only a sexual way by the Hall sons.

“You are beautiful. You are valuable. You are your physical body and you are so very much more.” This is a wonderful sentiment, but it’s not enough to dispel the rest of our society’s rampant misogyny evidenced by the blog post.

I’m sorry, but what? Misogyny, did I say? Yes. The problem with this blog post is that teenagers of both sexes are constantly barraged with how they SHOULDbehave as well as how they are perceived to behave. It’s really disconcerting for me as an individual to hear what I’m supposedly doing, as a young woman, as a Millennial, yada yada yada.

Mrs. Hall and people writing similar articles don’t know me from Adam or Eve, and they don’t know these girls. Why, then, do we act like the decision to do something as simple as not wear a bra under our pajamas or wear leggings as pants, is inherently tied to sexuality and the desire for a male gaze? 

Personally, I get more compliments on my looks when I wear makeup or wear a pretty dress (particularly if it doesn’t include my usual black clothes, black eyeliner, and boots — a different rant for a different time); they may not be as deep or meaningful as a compliment on a well-done exam or when I killed it in discussion — but there are simply MORE of them. On the flip side, my significant other is always surprised when I tell him how cute he is, but not how brilliant I find him to be.

Is it wrong that he is trained to respond to compliments on his strength and intellect while I’m conditioned to respond to compliments on my appearance or my nurturing personality? (Just kidding, I don’t have one.)

Yes! It’s wrong! And it’s even more wrong to be lectured on being a good girl when I endeavor for one of those compliments toward my looks. That’s really the problem with Mrs. Hall’s article — in essence, she shames girls for behaving the way society has taught women to garner attention — by being slutty. In all its forms, slut-shaming is a repressive and inefficient form of social reconditioning, and it ignores the role that men and the male gaze play in the creation of so-called “slutty girls.” Why do girls dress that way? Because they know that’s what gets them attention from men — and even more importantly — from other women. Even negative attention is better than no attention. The good girl doesn’t always get the respect from the outside community that she deserves. But a bad girl who reforms gets lots of praise, on more than just her looks and her potential future as a good mother.

This isn’t to say that all girls are bad girls who need to reform. But if people like Mrs. Hall really want to improve the “plight of the slutty teenage girl,” then she should start by disregarding the outward. Praise the teenage girl for her intellect, her generosity, or her interests. The only way to stop girls from acting to attract the male gaze (the most important part of patriarchal society) is to stop rewarding it or punishing it.