One night when I was bored and on Facebook and I was actually paying attention to that annoying real-time feed on the right side, I saw that a friend of mine had commented on her teenage step-daughter's photo. It was a photo of her tagged with her brother on vacation or something like that and I hadn't seen a picture of the kids in several years, so I opened it. Then, because I was bored (and, okay, I am nosy), I clicked to the next photo and was shocked to see that it was a picture of the girl side-by-side with a photo of another girl with a bunch of people tagged and the caption, "Who's Hotter??" across the bottom. The next several photos were the same thing, only with different girls. And they all had multiple comments voting for one or the other, often making derogatory comments about the one they didn't think was "hotter." There was only one girl who had consistently commented on each of the photo pairs, stating that it was sick that people were even doing this. And her peers pretty much told her to eff off.
I closed out my browser window, but I kept thinking about it. Sure, I've heard and read about these kinds of things, but to actually see it on a real person's Facebook page made it so much more than something mean rich kids do on smut television. I so wished that I could have commented.... said something to make all those kids think about what they were doing and feel bad for treating their peers like some kind of rate-a-girl pastime.
Then, a few days ago, my friend Jenny posted this link right here that you should go and watch right now (unless you are very easily offended, as it does contain some mildly explicit material). I know some of it was a little over-the-top, (for example, perhaps some smart women purposely choose to stay out of politics because they realize there are better ways to affect social change). However, they really do make quite a point. Why do we just accept the way women are so often portrayed in media? And why does it have to be so difficult for young girls to go against this cultural phenomenon? I do think that as women we need to support other women and help young girls to see their potential goes so much farther than some guy's fantasy or some model's photo shoot.
Only I don't have daughters. I have sons. Certainly girls need to be empowered to buck stereotypes and to embrace the talents and gifts they have that have nothing to do with their looks. But I think that another big part of this is what boys are being taught. How do I raise boys who would realize that it is not okay to participate in a "Who's Hotter??" poll on Facebook?
Gender stereotypes are so ingrained in our culture that just being different from the norm is not enough. My husband and I both work full time, but one of us is always home with the boys. I work Monday through Friday and Ryan works Friday through Sunday. I work from home on Friday and my sister comes over to help me out. Working opposite schedules like that, we both have to share responsibilities for the boys, for cooking, for housework, and whatever else needs to be done. I still cannot believe how many times my boys have told me that I can't do something because "girls can't [fill in the blank]." What the heck?? Where is that even coming from? They are only in first grade and preschool and we strictly monitor their media consumption.
Clearly, teaching boys to respect girls has to be intentional. I can't just sit back and think that because my husband his very respectful of me or that he and I share responsibility so evenly, that my boys will automatically pick up on it and act accordingly. Sure, kids learn by example, but there are some lessons that need additional reinforcement. And this is one of them. Now all I need is a strategy.