Dear Mrs. Hall,
I work in youth ministry, it’s one of the things I’m most passionate about, so when your blog post directed at teenage girls
showed up in my Facebook feed this morning it caught my attention and curiosity.
I’d like to preface this note by saying I am neither a mother or a married woman. I do not have a family of my own, but I am an Aunt to two precious nieces and four rough and tumble nephews and I hope and pray that I care for the youth I serve as if they were my own children. It is the deepest desire of my heart that the young men and women in my care are ceaselessly pointed towards the God who fearfully and wonderfully made them. And that they come to respect and care for the opposite sex the way God intended. I’d also like to make it clear that I am in NO WAY promoting the use of suggestive facebook (or any other social media for that matter) pictures.
That said, I was more than a little disappointed in your blog post. I respect, applaud, and admire your desire to raise young men who honor God and respect the young women in their lives, however, I’d like to suggest that there might be a better way to do that than the way you’ve chosen. Again, I know I’m not a parent and I’m fully aware that fact might discount my entire opinion for you. But your blog post reflects something I see happening in culture, not simply in parenting, and it concerns me.
First there’s the obvious double-standard that’s presented when you chastise (in a friendly way?) young women for their scantily clad photos on Facebook, while illustrating your blog post with topless photos of your male family members [Edit: Due to the overwhelmingly negative response to these photos Mrs. Hall has recently changed the blog post to only include fully clothed photos of her sons and removed or edited some of the statements commenters voiced concern over. While we appreciate this effort, the concerns we voice in this post remain the same.You can read the post in it's original form here.
] The comment thread on your blog indicates that I am not the only one to notice and be bothered by this mild form of hypocrisy. Let’s hope for the best and assume that we all have common sense and clearly understand that yes, there is a difference between young women imitating poses only naturally assumed by amateur sex-workers and young men enjoying a fun day at the beach, but as other commenters mentioned, given the tone of your blog post this seems like a really poor choice on your part. Especially considering that, for a woman who clearly values protecting the purity of the young male mind, you didn’t give a moments thought to the young men with same sex attractions who may come across these photos of your sons.
But the pictures aren’t even the bigger cause for concern for me. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the strong emphasis on female modesty is one step away from Sha’ria Law, that we live in a country that is about to start yet another war because we’re supposedly against Wahabi Islam and that St. Paul talked about freedom in Christ, not hajeeb. It’s the underlying messaging of your writing that is the problem for me. I realize you may be completely unaware of it and I have to believe for the best and hope that you don’t mean to sound as condescending as you do. Please allow me to explain my perspective.
The biggest problem I have with your post is that you are unwittingly perpetuating the exact messaging that encourages those girls on Facebook to dress and pose provocatively– Value based on performance and behaviors. Culture says, “You are valuable when…” you are sexy, when people are attracted to you, etc. Your blog post sends the same message using a different method– “You are worth my son’s time and attention when you are modest”. In both cases the message is that value is measured by the ability to act a certain way, in neither case is the emphasis on our value as human beings who are loved by God. This is a problem because the consequences of believing you must seek value for yourself versus knowing that you have value are devastating.
You mentioned at one point in your post that the provocative image of a young woman, once seen by a young man, cannot be unseen. While this mentality is frustrating to me because I believe feeding the stereotype that all men are slaves to their sexual impulses is dangerous and relieves them of fully learning the discipline of self-control, I’ll use your comment as an example to say that the same sort of principle can be applied to young women– Once the seed of doubt about their value has been planted, they cannot unlearn to question their value as an instinct. They will fight the rest of their lives to understand how they are valuable and a life lived seeking value will result in a lot of painful lessons, the least of which is not confusion about their personal relationship to God.
Posing in sexually explicit Facebook pictures becomes the least of our worries when we start to pay attention to the young men and women committing suicide because they feel no sense of value or purpose. There are children in the world starving themselves to be thinner, requesting plastic surgery to be considered more attractive and therefore acceptable, having sex and reproducing to feel loved, and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain when they don’t measure up. And all of it extends out beyond youth and into adulthood and then the men and women we have left have no sense of who they are, no sense of who God is, and no sense of what it really means to love or be loved.
I am sure, as a woman, you can appreciate and understand (perhaps have even experienced) how easy it is for teenage girls to feel unworthy and worthless. The self-esteem of most teen girls walks with a limp, they come out of the gate already believing that they have to get enough “likes” to matter in this world.
Dangling your attractive young sons like carrots in front of their female Facebook friends and denying friendship to those who fall below the purity line may well produce results, but I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Modesty motivated by a desire to gain value through someone’s approval isn’t any healthier or beneficial to these young women than provocative Facebook pictures motivated by the desire to have attention and feel valued is. The damage done to the girls through that message will be much greater than the damage your sons will suffer by encountering racy Facebook pictures. What will be truly damaging to your sons, however, is that you are objectifying them and thus teaching them to objectify others by making them bait to get young girls to do what you believe is right. Let’s be brutally honest, your sons are handsome young men, probably a part of the popular crowd, and you know that gives you some leverage with these young ladies. We wouldn’t be writing these blog posts if your sons were acne-prone and awkward and maybe that’s a little shocking of me to write, but we all know it’s true.
Bottom line– As Christian men and women, parents, leaders, and influencers of the young we should not be shaping children around their weaknesses. Reinforcing the idea in young men that they are subject to their sexual urges by putting so much emphasis on female modesty sets them up to fail the very first time they encounter temptation in the real world, and it insures that young women feel like their bodies are their enemies, whether because they attract too much attention or not enough.
If we really want to raise men who are Godly and treat women with respect and women who know their worth and are confident in their God-given beauty, adults MUST make relationships with young people a priority. Truth be told, Mrs. Hall, those girls you are blocking are probably the ones who need young men like your boys as friends the most and they would most definitely benefit from having a woman like yourself invest time in them. We should be trusting God with the youth in our lives and encouraging them to take every opportunity to see beyond sin and to the person. To look for what God sees in spite of what our impulses may draw our attention to and for love of God and other people, choose to recognize true value and build relationships rather than find offense and reasons to separate ourselves from others.
Katie Elizabeth Brown