On facebook my posts tend to either be cute quotes from my daughters (ages 8 and 10) or links to articles discussing feminist, race, or human rights issues. You can guess which posts get the most attention. Without fail the cute kid quotes get a massive response (50 likes! 10 comments (all of them nice)!). The response to the human rights articles tends to be more like 3 likes (from those faithful same people who give a shit) and 0 comments. The articles dealing with feminism or race generate a bit more response with a smattering of comments, some encouraging, but always some disgruntled. It’s as if everyone is fine with, though disinterested by, human rights, until we are talking about women’s rights or Black people’s rights, and then it becomes controversial?!
I am particularly interested in the phenomena of a person liking the quotes from my daughters, maybe even saying how cute or smart they are, and then turning around to resist all of my attempts to shine a light on misogyny–they deny rape culture, deny male privilege, deny that porn is harmful, deny that there are any sexism-related problems at all, or purport that all of our problems are just from sin and not the above list (so by gum, there’s nothing we can do???)(I’ve never understood that argument).
I understand that when people sit down to look at facebook, they usually want funny memes, pictures of kids, cat videos, and generally positive and harmless content. I understand that that is the main reason cute kid quotes get more attention than bummer articles.
However, I think something else is going on, too. I think that most people have not connected the dots that those cute little girls in their leotards or their soccer jerseys or their tiaras or their Girls on the Run T-shirts that everyone cares about and values are the same girls who in just a few years will be date raped and then called a slut. They are the same girls who will get cat-called on the street at such an early age they will feel dirty. They are the same girls who will have to fight twice as hard to be taken seriously in interviews, meetings, or social settings. They are the same girls who will be relentlessly told through social interaction, TV, magazines, video games, movies, music videos, pop music lyrics, porn, and most boys they know, that their only worth is in how they look (to please men) and what they will do sexually (to please men).
So there–I connected the dots. They’re there. They’re real. And my point is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You don’t get to value little girls when they’re little and then view them merely as sex objects when they reach adolescence or their twenties. You also don’t get to value little girls while also consuming media (regularly, on purpose) that treats women at best as ornamental and at worst as vehicles to satisfy the formidable male sex appetite.
You can’t value my daughters and turn around and watch porn, much of which depicts underage, coerced girls as objects to be used, however roughly, however callously, to get guys (and women) off, while perpetuating the lie that this is how women like to be treated. You can’t value my daughters if you have any part in minimizing famous athletes who beat their significant others. Or if you minimize the rapes that college athletes perpetrate. Or if you ask, “what was she doing at that party?” or “where were the parents?” or “had she been drinking?” or “why was she dressed like that?” Or if you say “those poor boys’ lives are going to be ruined,” or “that’s really going to look bad for that college, or that team.”
The good news is there is a way to value my daughters or other little girls. Here’s how. 1) Don’t do the things I just mentioned. 2) Picture my daughters all grown up, with boobs, with curves, with dreams, with goals, with feelings, with original ideas, with ambition, with empathy, at job interviews, in classrooms, at their house watching TV, doing volunteer work, eating cheetos, challenging assumptions, socializing. If you still care about them at that stage, you’re almost ready to care about my daughters. 3) Now, picture the woman who is running for president, the woman walking in front of you with the revealing dress, the girls who will play that video game and wonder why she can’t find a game that doesn’t sexualize and minimize women, the middle-aged moms who have much more important things to worry about than their appearance, the women who “dress like boys.” Can you picture them? Do you care about them, too? Do you value them as people of worth apart from anything they can do for you?
You get to care about my daughters. I mean really care. If you didn’t pass that little test, sorry but you don’t care about my daughters–or anyone else’s daughter. You’ve got work to do. Godspeed.