In my previous post, I expressed my feelings about the recent Miley Cyrus incident, and the sexually perverse culture that produced it. Since it’s never helpful to harp on a problem without talking solutions, I wanted to share a few ways that I believe we can make a difference. I welcome any feedback!
I mentioned in my last post that I felt there was nothing more threatening to our generation and the next than the misuse of sex, and yet, many religious people never talk about it. We’d much rather focus on things that aren’t so close to home. If we want our culture to change, we’re going to have to be brave enough to look at ourselves in the mirror.
1. It takes two to tango. Or in this case, twerk. As always, a female put on a slutty performance, and we completely blamed her. We didn’t blame Robin Thicke, the producers, directors, choreographers, or any of the other misguided “master”minds. This is a recurring issue in our culture. The same thing happens in modesty talks at churches. We say things to teenage girls like, “It’s hard enough for guys…don’t make it harder by dressing that way!” Now, clearly, I’m a huge proponent of modesty, and I understand the sentiment expressed in the phrase above. I do think it’s a mindset that sets a damaging precedent. I have had multiple female students over the years who come to me crying because they were molested or raped by their Mom’s boyfriend or husband. If they tell their mothers, they either don’t believe them, or accuse them of acting or dressing in a way that welcomed the advance. While this is extreme, it’s rooted in the same mentality we convey to our teenage girls in churches. If you ask any of my teenagers how I feel about modesty, they’ll giggle and make fun of me. I’m known around these parts as a huge stickler in that regard. Any time I correct a young lady who’s dressed inappropriately, I always say, “Girl, your body is a TREASURE. It’s beautiful and wonderful, and none of these boys deserve to see it.” I may get an eye-roll, but I always see a spark in their eyes. A glimmer of hope that they’re worth more than they thought. It’s amazing how much it sinks in if they hear it enough. During the incident at the water slide that I described in part 1, I one of my girls even yelled cross to the boys, “Boy, you ain’t done NOTHING to deserve this, so you might as well walk on.” I was one proud Mama.
Every year, we have to break up some big drama between girls, and it’s always over one boy. Last year, I think there were literally 10 girls fighting over the same boy. He was talking to them all, telling them they were his girlfriend, and then “cheating” with everyone else. Every time this happens, the girls are mad at the other girls, not him. It sounds juvenile, but you see the same thing happen with adults. Girls are extremely hard on each other. Again, this is not shocking. It’s the scenario that our culture sets up for us. We’re forced to compete with completely unrealistic standards, and trained to believe that our worth lies in our desirability to a man. Instead of standing together in support because of the enormous pressures we face, we go on the attack: criticizing and sizing each other up. This has to stop!
So let’s stop placing blame squarely on female shoulders. Men are responsible for themselves, just like we are. Women and girls are up against it, and we should be linking arms and singing anthems of self-respect. The last thing we should be doing is criticizing and blaming one another.
2. Parents: Don’t be naïve, and don’t compromise. Disclaimer: I’m not a parent. I realize that it’s presumptuous of me in some respects to write about this. I also think, in some ways, it’s easier to be objective if you DON’T have kids. That said, I spend most of my time with teenagers, teach classes to and on parents, and was once parented myself. Hopefully that gives me at least some credibility.
When it comes to parenting, I see two major problems that contribute to this epidemic: many parents are either naïve, or they’re aware, but feel powerless to do anything but compromise. An example of a naïve parenting move: allowing your child, boy OR girl, to have a computer in the privacy of their own room. An example of a parent who feels powerless: allowing their daughter to wear shorts that are too short because they couldn’t find any longer ones at the store.
When it comes to naivety, there’s only one solution: make a concerted effort to be more aware. Don’t implicitly trust your children. Some people don’t like that kind of talk, but don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying your kids are bad, I’m saying that they aren’t yet equipped to handle huge responsibilities, like media intake, by themselves. That’s why they live with you until they’re 18. It’s your job to equip them to make good choices. If you don’t know what they’re watching, who they’re talking to, and the kinds of things they’re talking about, how can you do that job well? It is possible to know these things about your children without stripping them of their autonomy. In fact, they’ll probably resent you more in the long run if you DON’T.
As for parents who compromise, if we’re really serious about making a dent in this huge mountain of a problem, we will have to make some serious sacrifices and unpopular decisions. I recently read a blog by a father explaining his strict rules about technology to his sons. Here’s the link: http://charlesmartinbooks.com/blog/entry/an_open_letter_to_my_boys
He spoke with authority as he explained his strict rules, all the while explaining that they were in place because of how much he loved and valued his sons and their mother. The criticism he received in the comment section was discouraging. It made me sad to see how many people completely missed the point of what he was doing. These days, strict parents are not popular, which is where the sacrifice comes in. Parents have to be bold and daring enough to set strict limits in an unlimited culture. If we set limits that are rooted in love, and are transparent with our children about the reasons behind those limits, they will thank us for it…eventually. Chances are, they recognize how much your limits translate to love long before they admit it.
As I said previously, I’m not a parent, but I spend most of my time with teenagers. Soulsville, where I teach, runs a very tight ship. We set very strict limits, and hold students to incredibly high behavioral standards. However, we have a good reason to back up every rule…a reason that is ultimately life-giving for the kids. We don’t hide our reasons either. Every year, students get frustrated with our rules and transfer to other schools. In almost every case, those students come right back. They see what goes on in schools where there are no limits, and run back to Soulsville as someone might run to a shelter in a storm. I believe firmly that it works the same way with strict parents.
Let me reiterate: I believe strict rules should always have a purpose. If you can’t think of one, the rule shouldn’t exist. “Because I said so” should be removed from the parenting repertoire. Your child should obey you immediately, yes, but they should have an appropriate time to ask you the “why” behind the rule, and you should be able to tell them.
My parents were pretty strict about certain things. My short shorts example comes from my own experience. If the stores weren’t selling modestly cut shorts one summer, we just didn’t wear shorts. When it came time for prom, my Mom said, “We will not compromise our standards of modesty, but we will search for as long as it takes to find something you feel beautiful in.” I love the Cosby Show for this reason. They rarely said “no” without saying “yes” to something else. They told Vanessa she couldn’t attend that sketchy Halloween party, but pulled out all the stops to throw an awesome alternative party at their house. In fact, we can get lots of great advice from the Huxtables. Here’s the thing: being a strict parent who sets limits is actually much more work. I can see why parents don’t want to do it! If we truly care about breaking these negative cycles in our culture, we won’t compromise our standards regardless of the additional work or scrutiny it may place on us.
3. We can broaden our definition of “fidelity.” This is a really important solution to me. If we want to combat an oversexed culture, we have to think hard about the way we honor our partners. It’s a running joke in my family that my parents will never even comment on the physical attractiveness of another person other than each other. Sarah and I like to tell the story of the time we were watching Meet Joe Black, a movie devoted entirely to providing lusty shots of Brad Pitt. In our minds, no one could possibly deny his sexiness. Mom was in the kitchen during one particularly sexy scene, and we turned around and said, “Okay, Mom…seriously…you HAVE to admit that he’s hot.” She came back with her usual response: “I think DAD’S hot.” “Ugh,” we both said, rolling our eyes. Mom came over and sat on the couch with us as she muted the TV. “Please understand,” she said, “I’m not blind. I know it might seem silly, but Dad and I make the intentional decision every day to honor each other to the fullest degree, even in matters that might seem harmless to the rest of the world.” That really stuck with me. Ever since, I cringe when I hear a husband or wife make remarks about how hot or attractive someone else is. Harmless? Maybe…but if I don’t allow myself to sexualize another person in ANY way, doesn’t that show honor to my partner in the fullest sense? If my husband and I could honor each other just a little more, wouldn’t we want to do that? Our culture is so incredibly oversexed, and we are so desensitized to it. Much like an alcoholic can never take a drink again, it seems that we should be going to extreme measures to protect ourselves from harmful sexual narratives that can damage our relationships in both subtle and obvious ways. I obviously used one very specific example here that you may or may not agree with. The point is, “fidelity” is a loaded term that means so much more than just not having sex with someone else. Another disclaimer here: it might be easy to read what I have just written and assume that I have reduced “fidelity” to a purely physical context. I am focusing on that aspect of fidelity because of the nature of the blog, but could write a whole separate blog on how concentration on the physical aspect of relationships is very damaging to them.
Conclusion: If you read to this point, wow. I know I wrote a lot, and expressed many strong opinions. As they say in the 12-Step community, “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions if you’d like to share them. I recognize that these are highly sensitive issues with many different, complex, and valid perspectives. There have been several experiences in my own life that have forced me to face realities about the way sex is portrayed in our culture, and what I have discovered is devastating. My personal hope is that solution-oriented conversations on this topic will become much more prevalent in our culture than they are now, whether they’re happening in TV network board rooms or inside of our church auditoriums. This stuff is important. Incredibly important. We have to talk about it, and we have to be part of a solution in our culture at large. Even more importantly, these conversations should be happening regularly in our own homes. May we all find the support and courage we need to make that happen.