This was written in response to an open letter that circulated a few weeks ago, written by a mother of boys to their friends who are girls. Please read that here first.
Dear Mrs. Hall,
I’m going to guess you’ve had a tough week. Here you are, a small-time blogger (like I am) and one of your posts blows up in your face. I’m not going to lie – I have very mixed feelings about you, the open letter you’ve written, and the support/backlash you’ve undoubtedly received as a result. I’m not sure either the praise or the e-lynchings are entirely called for (although I tend to side with the critics on this one) but, hey – that is the risk we take when we write an open letter to the internet public and hit publish.
I’ve never met you, and my only impression of you is this one FYI letter you wrote to the girls in your sons’ lives - just like you have never met some of the girls whose photos you check out, and to whom you address your public letter. I can see from your blog you’ve received hundreds of comments in support, that you’ve got THOUSANDS awaiting moderation (just do yourself a favor, and close the comments) and that you will delete comments you consider rude. Since, however, you have become an internet phenomenon by doling out unsolicited advice, I can only assume you, yourself, would be open to unsolicited advice from a fellow mother, woman, and writer.
In the internet age, you – much like the daughters of others you have taken it upon yourself to advise – are learning that the internet is an unwieldy beast, and it’s possible to give a horrible impression and a reputation that may or may not be deserved. I can see it now – girls getting to know a boy they might like, but then asking, “Your mom’s not a MRS. HALL, is she?”
What will you do with this information? Will you run – RUN! to remedy this? Or do you not care what the impression is you leave? Will you take into account the angry, horrified words of those who disagree with you – and even mock and shame you – and try to glean the wisdom and good intentions from which they sprang? Just as you are hoping the young girls to whom you write will do?
What will you do with the shame? That is, of course, assuming you feel shame about the rape culture and misogynistic tendencies your letter reinforces…do you feel any remorse about it? Can you see value in any of your critics’ points of view?
Will you do as Mike Julianelle suggests in his Huffington Post piece? Though, I notice that you’ve taken down to photo of your sons one the beach, flexing their muscles and sort of looking like the kind of picture you don’t want them to receive from girls. Mr. Julianelle writes,
But I will also tell my son that just because he sees a picture of a naked or half-naked or three-quarters naked or fully naked girl or woman or boy or man online, and just because he can’t “un-see” such a picture, that doesn’t mean he has ownership over that person, or that he has the right to shame that person, or that he has any idea of who she really is based on a photo or that it’s OK for her to be nothing more than a sex object to him.
Will you, along with the extremely sound advice you give to your daughter regarding being careful about what she posts of herself online, also let her know if she is raped or molested by someone with more power than she, that she is not to blame? That she was not asking for it? That she does not deserve to be abused? Even if she posted a picture of herself in her pretty room with skimpy p.j.s on? I think we all know the sort of picture I’m talking about. Is rape, bullying, slut-shaming an ACCEPTABLE natural consequence of kids exercising bad judgement? Because, I guarantee you – regardless of how solidly you parent your children, they WILL exercise bad judgement.
I hope you will. I hope you consider these things and learn – just like you hope young girls will consider your counsel to think carefully about how they conduct themselves online. You should also think carefully about how you conduct yourself online. Are you truly the judgmental, sanctimonious, wolf-in-sheep’s clothing you appear to be in this letter? Or are you simply a well-intentioned friend of the young people, trying to guide them away from potential disaster, albeit in an extremely clueless fashion?
Either way, wherever you fall in that range I describe above, I hope you’ll consider carefully the reaction you’ve engendered with your missive. I hope you won’t write it off as “haters gonna hate” and go on with your life. If you REALLY would like to teach these girls (and most importantly – your own children) an crucial lesson in life, you will apologize and clarify your intentions. You will demonstrate empathy and self-reflection. You will tell the world, “No, no – that’s not who I am.” And you will be grateful for second chances. You know – the second chances you are teaching your children and their friends do not exist.