Monday, February 9, 2015

Ask Her

My lover and I laid post-coital as you do, when his text messages began to go off. There was a recent Instagram photo in question and the mother of the daughter they shared was concerned and wanted his opinion on whether the photograph the daughter had posted was too provocative.

He and his ex were co-parenting, as you do, getting along, constantly in touch about the logistics of raising a girl (I will call Taylor), and monitoring her social media activity. 

Making judgement calls on Taylor's choices was another responsibility they shared together. I can attest that this sometimes goes under the umbrella of co-parenting.

Before replying, he shows me the photo-in-question; she is a beautiful, tall, 13 year-old and she's taken a selfie through the mirror in what appears to be a girl's washroom.

"What do you think?  You can see a little bit of her cleavage and her t-shirt's a bit tight. Do you think it's too sexy?"

I admit I am baffled by the whole sequence of this event.  I look at him and I sense he wants me to take the easy way: 

Agree with him. Make a wise-crack. Judge the outfit on a slut-factor-scale.

But I'm not that kind of girl, and I suspect he knows that. 

As a person living in this world I am not so interested in the rights or wrongs of policy and protocol because those are impermenenant and dependant on perspective.  I'm interested in how those policies and protocols make us feel, as individuals. Right now.

Policing girls' bodies and the attire they choose to wear has been normalized and enforced in schools, at home, at work, in religion, from the beginning of time and it raises very confused emotions. Overly-exposed young bodies may provoke concern from a well-intentioned society. The same society that objectifies women and girls from a very young age, and teaches girls to self-objectify.

Consider the motivation behind the "selfie"; conscious or unconscious, this is a move we make on social media to be seen as a beautiful object by the eyes of others. The photo is in the individual's control. I choose the angle, I choose the lighting, I choose the duck-face. I know how to make myself look the hottest -- I mean, I've been practicing in the mirror since ....well, since as long as I can remember.  

The paradox is this: when parents or institutions put dress restrictions in place to "avoid being sexualized" they are contributing to the problem they aim to solve. When you tell a girl what to wear or to cover up, you control her body. You take away her autonomy, you tell her that her body is not her own, which oh-god-so-ironically is what it feels like to be sexually assaulted.

Not only this, but it creates shame about her body, that looking 'sexy' is her fault. Gentleman, these breasts and hips are just part of being me. Like my cracked elbows and my stinky feet. Shame feels similar to embarrassment but it's deeper, more long-lasting, and it's the feeling that there is something WRONG with you. 

This is how policy makes her feel

Shame is the worst. Ugh. The worst.  If I could describe how shame feels to me when I close my eyes, it looks like a green sludgy muddy puddle, feels like being pulled through a jagged tight tunnel and it smells like farts.

Telling our girls to not dress a certain way, shaming them about their bodies makes me feel disheartened and frustrated

I'm not interested in going into a hefty rant with my lover while we lay there still-naked and twisted in sheets. These things take time and he's not open to hearing it, I can tell.

When I finally open my mouth to speak, I gently ask him how it makes him feel to see a picture of her like this one circulating Internet-land; and he says worried, threatened and protective. This is understandable. I hold his hand tighter.

I ask him how it makes Taylor feel when he asks her to take down a photo or change an outfit. He reports he doesn't know.    

This makes me feel disheartened and frustrated. I maintain my grip.  

You could ask her.  

How does it feel when your mom and I tell you to take down a photo or change your outfit?

How does it feel when you choose to wear whatever you want and no one says a word?  
How does it feel when you make a choice and I tell you to change it?
How do you feel when you get attention from boys because of the way you look?  
How does it feel when you say something clever and people listen?  
How does it feel when you make a boy laugh with your wit?   

Ask her casually in a comfortable moment together.

Don't answer. Don't talk. Don't judge her. Don't punish her. Don't try to talk her out of the feelings. Don't try to argue with her. Don't tell her she's wrong. Just listen. What she says may surprise you and it may change the way you view this.  It may change the way you discipline her about her choices.

Whatever you decide to do as a parent after that, go ahead and do it, the choice is yours.  Ground her, make rules, enforce policy.  I'm not going to tell you how to parent your daughter, Fuck knows we are all doing the best we can and I am the first to admit I have many times not taken my child's feelings or opinions into consideration.  

"You're over-thinking this. It's just about rules in the home. She's not allowed to do certain things, like expose too much skin, just like I'm sure you don't let your boys hunch over at the table with their food."

A woman's right to have control over her body and table manners are two very different things. I reach deep down and pull out an oldie-but-a-goodie: "I have to teach my boys table manners, yes, and I have to teach them to not rape."

This is how policy makes her feel

We don't need to teach girls to dress more responsibly, we need to teach boys how to not assult and objectify women.

We need to teach boys that the rights and opinions of girls matter, table manners, not so much.

Sure, it's easier when parents decide. It's easier to say "It's my way or the highway" to our daughters, but I promise you this: A disempowered girl at 13 is likely to be a disempowered woman at 33 and they'll be a lot of work to break a pattern of living in a world where it is His-Way-or-the-Highway.

I understand this preceived need to protect our young but if we're following protocol and policy, the current parental bond instrument indicates that the best kind of parents are the "High Care & Low Protection" type, not the "High Care & High Protection" type that seems to be running rampant in our community of white middle-class. 

This is how policy makes her feel

There was very little I could do to comfort him about how NOT easy this all is.

I sense he is the one who is disheartened and frustrated now. Yes, this would be a whole lot easier if I had just agreed with him that his daughter is too young to look this way.

But before I could ask him, he stands up, pulls on his pants, leans down and kisses my forehead and then makes his easy exodus.

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