My husband was walking into the grocery store the other day carrying our one year old daughter and holding hands with our four year old daughter. High school cheerleaders from an upper class school district close to our home were hosting a car wash in the parking lot.
As my husband and my children walked past the group of high school students, most of them bikini clad sixteen year old girls, a young boy called out to him, "How about a car wash when you're done shopping, sir?"
Kurt ignored them and kept walking, carrying a wiggling almost-toddler and guiding our preschooler towards the store.
The high school boy and one of the cheerleaders kind of followed my family for a few steps and the boy called out, "How about a picture of her?" The boy had his arm around one of the half clothed sixteen year old girls. "I'll sell you a picture of her for ten bucks," he joked.
Let me take a breath.
This is SO totally NOT okay.
It is not okay that I am bringing girl children up in a world where a teenage male would a.) feel comfortable with making a joke that sexualizes an under age girl, especially a girl who is his friend, to an adult stranger. b.) That he felt comfortable making that joke in the presence of two little girls. c.) That he found it appropriate to approach a father of two little girls in the first place. d.) Most of all, it is SO not okay that this sixteen year old girl laughed and accepted this joke.
Something is wrong with the way we teach girls to be girls and boys to be boys.
The fact that these girls agree to stand around outside of a store in their bathing suits is sad and troubling and despicable. The fact that the parents of these girls allow this is despicable. The fact that the institution of cheerleading exists in the first place is despicable.
My first impulse is to be disappointed in and disgusted with the boys who are making these kinds of jokes, but really... what do I expect?
These boys are male children who are given all kinds of damaging input about what it means to be a man, as opposed to what it means to be a woman. They are expected to treat girls, especially girls who submit to societal expectations about how their bodies are supposed to look and how they're supposed to present themselves; dressed in little skirts with matching panties who are willing to put time and effort into "cheering" for boys while the boys Think and Act and Do...
Boys are expected to treat these girls like sexual property with no value higher than being something stimulating to look at or something to bolster the ego of a man. We model this way of thinking all the time, especially by doing something like encouraging our young girls to stand around waiting for a boy to do something impressive, upon which instance they're supposed to bend their bodies, crawl all over each other and jump around doing splits to celebrate.
I don't care if it's fun for girls, or if it's a way to help them fit in and make friends. I don't believe you when you say cheer is a sport, too. I don't care if your teenage girl begs you, threatens to run away and hate you forever if you won't let her do it. It simply isn't okay to support our girls in devaluing, prematurely sexualizing and humiliating themselves, simply because they were born female.
Why wouldn't a young man take us all up on the offer to be superior, to have power over girls, to possess them sexually and use girls to feel better about themselves? How are they supposed to even know this kind of thing is unacceptable when we're acting it out, or at least condoning it ALL THE TIME? How are they supposed to know it's wrong when women themselves don't speak up to acknowledge how poisonous and damaging it is?
I don't know. I'm sure I have severe reactions to this kind of thing. I don't live in the same world where this kind of thing happens. I am used to sharing my life with liberal, capable, proud, accomplished women and their partners and families. Maybe lots of people wouldn't even notice a joke like, "I'll sell you a picture of a half-naked teenager so that you can exploit her for your own pleasure, sir, har har." Maybe I'm just not suited for the general public, but I can tell you, I'm not wrong about this.
My girls do not exist to be bought and sold and used up and put on display. That's not even sort of a funny thing to joke about, and I'll do everything I can to make sure I am modeling something better for them.