Messages To Teenage Girls (And Boys)

Those of us who spend a lot of time on the internet will have seen this “letter to teenage girls” that has been circulating. The author, a mother, is basically telling teenage girls to stop taking sexy-looking self photos and putting them online, because it’s not good for the innocent eyes of her chaste sons. Or something like that.

There’ve been a number of responses, pointing out that this upholds the idea that women are responsible for managing men’s sexuality (which they are most certainly not!), or the notion that girls need to be modest (an idea that varies by time period and culture) while boys do not. Personally, I was struck by how much the letter demonizes sexual self-expression, arousal, and, well, sexual stuff in general.

By far, though, my favorite response is Angi Stevens’s RoleReboot post containing another letter to teenage girls, but this one far more affirming. It’s so brilliant, I’ll quote it at length:

I also want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel sexy. I want your idea of sexiness to be grounded in what makes you feel awesome and comfortable and excited inside of your own awesome and unique body, whatever shape or size that body might be. I don’t want you to feel forced to conform yourself to anyone else’s idea of what sexiness is. But you have nothing—absolutely nothing—to be ashamed of if you want boys or girls to find you attractive. It is normal and natural and OK for you to find other people sexy, too, and to have sexual desire. This does not make you a slut. It makes you a perfectly typical teenager.

When it comes to your sexuality, I want very much for you to feel empowered to say no to anything you are not comfortable with—and that includes posting sexy pictures of yourself on the Internet. But I want just as badly for you to feel empowered to say yes to the things you are comfortable with. I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to give in to anyone’s pressure to do anything sexually that you don’t want to do. But I also don’t want you to ever feel ashamed of the things you do want. I want you to have exactly the amount and kind of sexual experiences you authentically want to be having, with the people you want to be having them with. And I want you to be comfortable enough with your own sexuality to be able to assert your desires and your preferences, to educate yourself, and to be safe. These things are all more important to me than whether I can see the shape of your nipples through your pajama top on Facebook.

Yes, yes, so much yes. The author recognizes that we live in a world of complex social pressures, such that teenage girls might get the idea that their only self-worth lies in being sexy. And if they want to explore what it’s like to feel/look sexy, they should by all means go for it, and not listen to people who try to put the blame on them for arousing sexual desire in others (you can refer to the wallet metaphor for why blame-placing arguments are faulty).

We should be doing better with these conversations. We owe it to our young people, to not let them grow up in a miasma of sexual confusion and blame.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.