Flaunting It: Damned if Do, Don’t

Teen-Sexting-image-558X2791Dear girls,

Last night, as we sometimes do, our family sat around the dining table and looked through the summer’s social media photos.

We have teenage sons, and so naturally there are quite a few pictures of you lovely ladies to wade through. Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your skimpy pj’s this summer!  

I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout. What’s up? None of these positions is one I naturally assume before sleep.

That post doesn’t reflect who you are at all! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? 

Girls, if you think you’ve made an on-line mistake (we all do), RUN to your accounts and take down the selfies that makes it too easy for friends to see you in only one dimension.

You are growing into a real beauty, inside and out.

Act like her, speak like her, post like her.

Those are a few lines lifted from a Given Breath blog post that went viral. To read the whole thing, unedited and intact, go here.

Kyoto Redbird responded, focusing less on the girls’ behavior than on our society’s messages. To see her full response, unedited and intact, go here.

Kyoto Redbird is a college-educated 20-something who finds navigating around a contradictory — and too often hostile — view of women difficult and frustrating.

burqa_blueGirls learn that their worth lies in their body, beauty and their ability to attract boys. So flaunt it. Yet their bodies are shameful, dirty and cause men to sin. So hide it. She adds,

This is a TERRIBLE burden to place on young girls, who are, for all their breasts, bralessness, and pouty lips, still children. Children raging with hormones and confusion and the need to be accepted.

And saying “boys will be boys” but girls should know better is terribly unfair and irresponsible. 

It’s why a judge handed down a 30-day sentence to a rapist because his 14-year-old victim “acted older than her age.” It’s why a group of boys can sexually assault an intoxicated girl at a party, take pictures, and get little to no punishment. It’s why teen pregnancy prevention is focused on girls and not boys.

And, boys are capable of giving girls respect and proper treatment, no matter how they dress, she says.

But even as girls are threatened with lost respect for showing skin, boys face no punishment. Given Breath had originally illustrated her warning to girls with photos of her swimsuit-clad sons.

Sadly, whether the contradictory prescription is covering or strutting your stuff, a girls’ worth is too often body-centered.

I agree that it’s best for young women to present their multidimensional selves, and not become mere sex objects. I also believe that boys and men can, and often do, see women as more than their bodies. But more than blaming boys or girls, society needs to change and stop promoting such crappy messages.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
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Sexual Objectification, The Harm

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 2, 2013, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. It makes me so mad to hear that men who rape young girls can get away with it. The “boys will be boys, but girls should know better” is also irritating. Girls should be taught to know better, sure, but letting boys off just because is stupid. Why can’t society teach boys to know better? Knowing that a judge and a jury could all agree on the “fact” that the girl acted mature for her age is ridiculous and unsettling. It’s pathetic how patriarchy really exists in all areas. However, with the whole “girls should know better” mantra who’s to say that a woman wouldn’t have agreed that it was the victim’s fault too? I’m sure there were some women on that jury. Flaunting what you have if you got it isn’t an issue… As long as you don’t turn around and say “men are such pigs, why do they stare?!” well, if you flaunt it, they’ll ogle it.

  2. Sadly I’ve always been told “if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. And is some ways yes I do; I may not be the tiniest girl in town, but I’m defiantly not the biggest. But there are other ways that you can flaunt what you’ve got. You may be smart and wise, flaunt that. There are times when it is appropriate to dress yourself up to go out to the bar, or to a party. But for some those are rare occasions. There’s no reason to go around everyday wearing the most revealing piece of clothing in your closet. And truthfully most people don’t want to see others half naked all the time.

  3. I actually already read Kim Hall’s post in it’s entirety, and was pretty amazed by all of the double standards within it, including but not limited to the original photos of her half naked teenage sons flaunting their muscles that she had sprinkled throughout her post. Spending the evening together judging girls on the internet and ripping them apart is not something a normal, healthy family does. Mrs. Hall mentions in her post that if these girls post photos that could be perceived as “sexy” in any way then they are not allowed to be around her sons because they would no longer be able to see these girls as anything other than a sexual object. That sounds like some terrible parenting to me. Instead perhaps she should raise her boys to have self-control, judge people for who they are instead of what they wear, and respect others.

    The sad part is that it’s not only Mrs. Hall that thinks this way. It is a problem with our society in general. How are teenaged girls supposed to learn that who they are is not about what they look like, but instead about their believes and actions, when every bit of media they are presented with tells them otherwise?

  4. I saw this letter on Facebook a few weeks ago and it seriously annoyed me. This creepy mother is playing into so many really negative and destructive ideals that are so belittling to women. I mean does she not understand that she is a woman herself? She is leading her sons into misogynistic thinking as if she were some old-school woman hating father.
    I think it is pretty simple to understand that basic point that being so hypercritical about another woman’s (well, in this case young girl’s) choice of dress and mannerism, be it overtly sexual, and should not be shamed. The idea of seeing this family literally having weekly slut shaming gatherings of teenage girls is so revolting and devolved. Moreover, showing one’s body should not be shamed either, and if one makes the decision to celebrate her body, why can’t we just celebrate that? I am glad to know that most people in my group are so much more evolved to see sexual expression in a less bitter way.

    • @Ryad…I agree 100%. There is so much about what this lady did that bothers me. I would like to believe that her heart is in the right place, I really would.

      But it reminds me of my first real boyfriend in high school and the way his mother treated me. Back then I wasn’t taking selfies or anything, but I was a young girl who sometimes wore sexy clothes and liked to flirt. Apparently my good grades and polite attitude meant nothing to her because she was nasty to me whenever I was around her. She was also very racist, but that is another conversation.

      I’m also reminded of the 1957 movie “Peyton Place”. There is a character named Betty Anderson who is considered the school slut because she wears low-cut dresses (her favorite is a sexy red one) and she talks openly about sex. The main character, Allison, has a scene where her mother tells her not to invite Betty to her 17th birthday party because she feels Betty is a bad influence.
      Allison refuses to do what her mother says because despite her own status as a virgin, she thinks slut-shaming is wrong.

      It is one thing to tell your kids to respect themselves and others. But slut-shaming is setting a very poor example, in my opinion.

  5. Ashley Steffenson

    It’s a horrible fact that the gendered double standard in society is still very much thriving even today. On one hand, I identify with what Given Breath was saying as far as recognizing our own intellects and realizing that we as young women are worth more than our looks. However, I completely more so agree with Kyoto Redbird on the issue of it being entirely irresponsible to have a standard set for young women today to “know better” and not slip into fads or habits of their generation’s culture(like posting “selfies” on social media) along with the struggle most teenagers go through-dealing with hormones. And then to say in the same breath that men aren’t expected to have set standards of what they should and shouldn’t know. Misogynistic and manipulative men are one of the predominant reasons that women feel this pressure to succumb to being “hot” and “sexy” all the time. They are the reason that these girls on social medias are posting pictures with lots of makeup on or sultry poses. To be a woman and sexually desired in this generation is instilled upon many girls that this is the ultimate achievement. That your worth is how you look on the outside. That you must not be a “slut” but you should also not be a “prude” and even if you’re anywhere in between these two loose terms, you’re still vulnerable at any moment to be called either or depending on how you react to the men and what you say and do for them. It’s an unfair double standard that unfortunately seems to continue rapidly.

  6. It’s so hard for girls. They are told constantly through the media that the way they look is all important, but when they buy in to that and play up their looks, they are slutty. Women’s bodies seem to be put on some sort of pedestal in a way and it’s almost like we tell girls their bodies are there for other people to look at so you better make sure they look good, but if they do look good dont show off to much or you are a slut, but being attractive is all important, so make sure you make that a priority.

    And it really is a double standard. I live near the beach and there are often dudes walking too and from the beach with just a pair of board shorts on. I never hear anyone say “I saw some young men walking around, chest and abs on display for the world to see, I mean really, they should have more self-respect and cover up!”

  7. I agree society needs to stop promoting women as sex objects. There are so many reasons why so many women present themselves as sex objects. One is the media; girls feel like they have to live up to what they think is sexy to please men. Another is women do not have respect for themselves. Parents play a big part in teaching their children how to value themselves. Some women actually like portray themselves as sex objects, its just sad. My brother has dated a woman who likes to let her bust hang out and her thong fly high, I find it very disrespectful. I try not to judge by looks but its obvious she like to present herself very slutty like. Not only does she look like one she talks like one, I mean who wants to her about her brother’s sex life. Why would she joke/talk about how she is the kinky one, who enjoys sex more than her sexual partner in front his father, sisters, and male cousins? The message I get is she does not have manners and does not care to respect others. If she does not want to give respect to others, does she want respect? In her case, I think a lot of it has to do with how she was raised. Her mother had her at 14 and has different fathers for each of her 3 children and has no contact with any of them. She found her self in the same situation at 14 and she too has different fathers for each of her children. Her younger sister was 16 when she had her first kid and has baby daddy issues. Its sad how this just keeps going but can we blame the parents 100%? No, because its up to them to stop the cycle. She let her 14yr old daughter date a 18yr because she wanted to be miss cool mom and what do you know, she loses her virginity. This might be a little off topic but should the guy be the only one getting in trouble? Or should the mother of the daughter also be punished? After all is it not child endangerment?

    I am not saying that we should blame only women or men, because both have played a part in how this society is. Females are not stupid at 14 and men should be strong enough to take responsibility for their actions instead off blaming female presentation. We can start to change it by trying to parent as best we can.

    • @Monique P…I wanted to respond to your comment with some thoughts of my own. You made some valid points, but I wanted to share a different perspective.

      Sometimes we make judgments about people based on the external, without knowing what they might be like on the inside or what their experiences in life have been. And I suppose it is only natural because appearances are the first thing we often see about a person; first impressions matter a lot.
      But you made several statements that jumped out at me.

      You described your brother’s ex-girlfriend as “disrespectful” and “slutty” not only because of her appearance, but also her behavior.
      I understand where you are coming from. It must be uncomfortable for you to be around somebody who looks/acts this way. And I agree, you really don’t want to hear the details of what she does with your brother.

      However, as you stated, she was raised in a home with different values…sometimes people do certain things because they had no positive role models to show them a better way. Or she could be suffering from low self-esteem. It isn’t an excuse, but it might explain why she is the way she is. Have you tried to get to know her beyond judging her clothes and the way she talks? It is easy to judge, but it takes more time to actually show empathy and compassion for a person even if you don’t like their behavior.

      Another issue is that sometimes girls/women who present themselves as sex objects are acting out because they might have been sexually abused in the past. They might feel that their only worth is in being noticed by men and having male attention. I believe it is even worse if a girl grows up without a loving father in her life. I know from experience because I was just like this.
      Maybe that is why I feel a bit sad for this woman you’re judging so harshly. I’m not saying her behavior is OK…I’m just saying that trying to understand a person goes a long way. Calling her “slutty” and “disrespectful” because she doesn’t look/act the way you want her to isn’t right.

      I agree, there is a time and place for a woman to show cleavage. And I agree that showing off underwear in public is inappropriate BUT you can’t control or change what others do. You can only control your reaction and maybe try to see things differently sometimes. There is probably much more to her than what you see.

      *Note…I dated a guy whose mother felt this way about me. I will admit that I looked and acted provocatively sometimes, but I was just a young girl. It is easy for women to disapprove of another female based on appearances but the person being judged might actually be very nice if you give her a chance. I know women who seem “classy” and “lady-like” but they aren’t nice people at all.

  8. Summer Johnson

    There are so many ways now a days for one to share a picture: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. Those with these accounts are rewarded for posting on these social media sites with ‘likes’ or ‘followers.’ Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the things that get the most likes are not always the most appropriate.

    Every time I post on one of these sites, I hate myself a little for it. Why? I am asking for validation of my self worth from hundreds of people I don’t really know by posting personal things about my life or even pictures. The more likes I get the more important and valuable I am. It is society’s way of measuring someone’s importance/social standing.

    EVERYTHING about women is over-sexualized. From the language we use to our body parts. “She’s easy” implies she may give up sex easily while “he’s easy” may mean a professor’s class is easy. What is so great about boobs? I don’t see pecs being drooled over and oogled. Social media profiles only encourage this sort of behavior.

    The best thing girls and women can do is to stay far, far away from the black hole that is attention in all the wrong places. If you want to ask someone how your hair looks today, send the picture to your boyfriend or your best friend, someone who matters in your life. Don’t ask strangers. Once you start feeding off of the negative attention one gets from posting a picture with big eyes, sultry lips and an impressive amount of cleavage, it is hard not to do it again. Ladies, people already objectify you. Don’t help them do it.

  9. Laura Catherine Wolff

    While there’s a lot to explore here with regards to ideas of modesty, one particular section of the original Given Breath post caught my eye. The author wrote of these “sultry” pictures, “That post doesn’t reflect who you are at all! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart.” I’m curious–why does the original author think that “sexiness” and intelligence are mutually exclusive concepts? More importantly, why is this belief so common? I know and am friends with plenty of beautiful women and teenage girls who dress fashionably and revealingly, coat themselves in makeup, and plaster their blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook profiles with selfies, but are still intelligent and interesting people who enjoy studying, reading, activism, debate, performing arts, and social criticism. For example, my senior year of high school, a group of such girls organized and hosted a screening of the documentary Girl Rising (a film about the struggle of teenage girls around the world to obtain equality and an education). Even if a girl dresses and poses in a way other people consider overly revealing, there is no reason to discredit her intelligence or depth because of it.

    • I’m curious–why does the original author think that “sexiness” and intelligence are mutually exclusive concepts? More importantly, why is this belief so common?

      Good point.

  10. Hector Navarro

    I think this is great because young woman often view themselves as alway having to be revealing to get attention. the youth now have the social media as a gift and a curse. Privacy does no exist so this is a good message to deliver about being a responsible young lady and really thinking about your actions. some one has to teach these girls that they are more then just sex and sexy pictures.

  11. It is extremely unfortunate that girls get such conflicting viewpoints from every side. Women literally cannot do a thing without getting judgement in some form. As a society, we often find clothing items like Burqas to be demeaning and unfair towards women. However, if a woman wears clothing that shows her body, she is seen as indecent. There is no way women can satisfy everyone, not that they should have to. All of the institutions in our society need to be seriously restructured in order to eliminate some of these preconceived, and often impossible, notions of women.

  12. It’s not just girls doing selfies…in fact I think I’ve seen an equal amount of guys making selfies. Especially the ones that workout at the gym…even I can admit to making some. So what? Who cares? It’s a new generation…get over it oldies!

  13. The answer is to criticize the people in power, not the pawns. If you want better conditions for workers you attack the corporate board, not the miners and quarrymen who show up just to bring food to the table, who have no power to change the rules except by force.

    The No More Page 3 campaign is doing it right. They don’t criticize the women there, they challenge magazine editors instead (invariably male btw). Cause rather than symptom.

  14. Question: Do you think television promotes girls to dress slutty simply because they got influenced by Social media-“Paris Hilton”? or Kim kardashian?
    Have the parents taught their children to at least dress more decent? rather than dress slutty? In other words, does the media have an influence on today’s teenagers? or is it their friends who pure-pressure their friends into dressing slutty simply because its a trend and a style? or could it be both?

  15. You do know that, women who commit statutory rape as in sex with a minor get much more lenient sentence than men who have sex with a girl who’s a minor. I know, boys look at it differently and how the view is, but the fact of the matter is double standards go both ways and there are some things women get a slap on the wrist with that men don’t. But on to my main point, yeah guy’s should respect or not see women as a body just because she poses herself in a way. The main problem I have with selfies though and I can see a negative view of that, as it’s so attention seeking and vain. It’s sad because there are girls who don’t feel beautiful or maybe aren’t seen that way who don’t do it, it seems like more often it’s the girls who are pretty or hot that do selfies a lot and alot of it seems for more attention and more ego stroking that they get tons of as it is and are full of themselves. It’s one thing to take pics of yourself with a friend, but pics of yourself and just you, especially in the bathroom and from the reflection of the mirror is another thing. Guys do that too and they look like such d bags and tools. They look like they’d want you to ask “which way to the beach?” so they can flex and point the direction for you ha. And double standard with that, girls can do selfies and get away with it much more and well that’s normal. A guy does the same thing and he’s full of himself, vain, cocky, conceited, narcisstic, d bag, etc. I mean I have no desire doing that, but let’s look at things from an objective perspective instead of the male society does everything against wome and that women don’t have their faults either. Just playing devil’s advocate that’s all

    • You’re right, some double standards hurt men more. And yeah, selflies are an ego thing. Sad that self-esteem is so often based on one-dimensional, superficial stuff.

    • I think we need to figure out WHY these girls need attention. Girls are programmed by society that they need to please men. That doesn’t mean all men are bad. But over time, our culture has embedded the footprints of the expectations out there for girls. Girls are often pitted against each other (“cat” fights are often considered “hot”). They feel this need to be the most desired by boys. And ironically, most boys don’t even get it, like it, or care! Irony…

  16. I was pleasantly surprised by your re-blog this morning. Thank you! 🙂

  17. I don’t know. Woman who desire to look good should feel proud and confident. We must teach respect to the kids. I lived all over the world. Some places hide little and there is no rape. I been to Germany where the fear of the body is not. Education is the key. Kids must understand. Rape is crime.

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