I’m not sure where to start, here. I guess I’ll begin with the post that got me thinking about abuse several years ago. Skepchick, one of my favorite websites, has a regular feature called Ask Surly Amy. In this post, somebody asked her for advice about helping an abused woman he knows:

I finally got her to leave him. It was tough for her at first, but I did everything I could to help. Things paid off: she got a job and a house. She was proud of herself and had plans for the future. And then she gave up all that and came back with him. Because she wanted to. All this happened TWICE.

He went on to ask why she had done this, and explained that he was frustrated with the situation. I can completely understand how he must have felt: betrayed, helpless, hurt, and frustrated. I would feel the same way in a similar situation. People gave him very good advice, and he decided not to give up on her. The piece of information that resonated with me the most was in the very first comment:

One thing I’d like to add is that most women who leave abusive relationships leave a BUNCH of times and go back before they leave for good. I think the statistic I learned when I was training to work with women in crisis was that most women leave eight times.

Eight times? I looked it up.

That is staggering. I cannot imagine getting up the courage to leave an abusive situation once, let alone more than half a dozen times.

Later, a friend posted a story about young actress, Afshan Azad, who played Padma Patil in the Harry Potter movies. She was attacked and threatened by her father and brother for dating a non-Muslim man, and she did not testify against them in court.

I, of course, can only speculate as to why she didn’t show up to testify against them in court. Perhaps she felt guilty about turning them in. Maybe they threatened her. Maybe she thought it would make things worse for her if she testified. It makes me sad, in any case, that she has gone through this. It’s not the exact same thing as having an abusive partner, but the core situation is the same: somebody who is supposed to love you is causing you harm, on purpose, even if they think they are trying to protect you.

I have heard stories about battered women, from Patrick Stewart’s accounts of his mother’s abuse to a good friend who recently left her abuser. It’s a situation that happens to women and men who never think it will happen to them. There are photographic accounts such as this one and this one. People see and hear about it all the time but know very little about the nature of abuse.

The truth is that every case of domestic violence is different. To judge and assume is not only unhelpful, it can be harmful. Remember this if you are ever found in this situation or faced with a friend who is being abused: it is never the victim’s fault. Get help. Be the help that somebody else needs. Spread information about domestic violence that can give others the tools to offer the right kind of assistance. It is important to understand how to help without making the situation more dangerous for the victim or yourself.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

Sex sells… even to little girls

This is an old argument – the sexualization of little girls. Where does it come from? Why is it encouraged? How can we stop it?

A quiz on PBS (“Is Love in Our DNA?”) referencing another article (named below), makes a good point:

Beautiful young women are sexually attractive to men because beauty and youth are closely linked with fertility and reproductive value. In evolutionary history, males who were able to identify and mate with fertile females had the greatest reproductive success … A 14-year-old woman has a higher reproductive value than a 24-year-old woman, because her future contribution to the gene pool is higher on average.
–David Buss, “The Strategies of Human Mating,” American Scientist, 1994

It’s not a pleasant thought, but if you think about it scientifically, it makes sense. A 14 year old girl is (typically) sexually mature… in nature, that’s usually good enough. So, if you look at it that way, it’s pretty much going against nature to say being attracted to young girls is wrong.

Does this mean we need to encourage it? Of course, not. It’s an evolutionary thing that has, like pinky toes and the appendix, become obsolete in the human race. Why? It’s not like we’re hurting for people, here – there is no immediate, urgent need to perpetuate the species. So, while there are reasons why men are attracted to younger females, there aren’t really any good reasons to act on it.

So, then, we tend to view men with this attraction as evil predators. While I agree that men who actively pursue underage girls against their will are wrong, I do have issues with this. It’s perfectly natural for men to be attracted to young girls. It’s how they act (or don’t act) on that attraction that makes the difference.

Dressing little girls up in “sexy” clothes and putting all the responsibility on men is a problem. Again, there are some men that actively pursue young girls… but the girls aren’t always innocent in the matter. Today, I heard a story about a group of fifth grade girls who saw their teacher’s IM window, in which she had been talking to her boyfriend during downtime. A few days later, said teacher gets a call from her boyfriend, asking her who all these girls are who are IMing him. Apparently, they were having a sleepover, and one of them remembered his name, so they IMed him pretending to be adult women and hit on him. He was smart enough to know that something wasn’t right, but I’m sure that this isn’t the only time that men have been pursued by underage women. Just because these girls wouldn’t have known what to do in the event this man really did show up at their house ready to have sex, doesn’t take the blame off of them completely.

So, who is to blame? Mothers? Fathers? Advertising? All of the above?

Parents need to pay attention to their kids. Easier said than done, but still true. They need to say no, and enforce it, when girls want to do/wear/watch things that aren’t appropriate. They need to be honest and open with their kids about sex (boys and girls), so that they learn more from their parents than from a porn site. And, they need to stop letting their little girls wear things like this:
Abercrombie & Fitch thongs for girls
(Yeah, that says “wink, wink” and “eye candy” – and they’re sized for girls ages 10-16)

and this:
Sexy toddler clothes
It’s not “cute”.

There are others, but I (obviously) can’t find pictures on the ‘net without going through some rather unsavory channels. And, quite frankly, I don’t want to see little girls who could be my students wearing skin tight ass pants, shirts with phrases like “little hottie” and “sexy princess”, and padded bras for six year olds.

Alright, so what does this have to do with education? All this came from an experience I had with my fourth graders. They are all learning how to write letters for a purpose – they’re writing to somebody to ask for something. One girl is writing the president to ask for peace, a boy is writing his apartment manager to ask them to clean up the apartment complex he lives in, and several are writing celebrities to ask for autographs.

A rather large group of girls has decided to write Hannah Montana (warning: link goes to a Disney.com site) (or, more correctly, they’re writing to Miley Cyrus, the actress that plays her). I had no idea who she was (I really should brush up on my pop culture to keep up with the kids), but I learned very quickly that finding her address was hard.

Actually, it was impossible.

The Disney website says on its FAQs page that they can’t “…provide contact information, forward e-mail, or grant meetings or interviews on their behalf…” because “the performers you are referring to are not permanent employees of The Walt Disney Company…” and, instead, they recommend you “start your search [with the] Internet Movie Database.” So, knowing the joy of imdb, I decided to go there. I had to click on the link to her official site pretty quickly, though, because at the bottom of the page, where the discussion forums are, there happened to be a topic titled “She’s Got a Really Great Ass!!!” This girl is 15.

But, when you dress her up like she’s 18+:
Miley Cyrus, Hannah MontanaMiley Cyrus, Hannah Montana
I can see how people might be confused.

So, yeah, I finally got so frustrated with having to tell the girls, repeatedly, “no, that’s not really her address” and “that’s not really her website… you really shouldn’t send your letter there” that I gave up.

I’m not really surprised that Disney is using sex to sell its kids’ shows… I mean, look at The Cheetah Girls:
The Cheetah GirlsCheetah Girls
So, yeah… anyway. This post has been entirely too long, already… mostly, I’m angry because (1) the girls in my class deserve better female role models than that (2) Disney should take some responsibility and at least give an address to send mail to the studio – I wonder how many little girls have written letters to creepy pedophiles trying to get to “Hannah Montana” (3) viewing women as sex objects is already a problem – do we really need to shift this pressure to 10 year olds?

I do hate to sound prudish, but seriously, this is a problem. My 10 year old girls are wearing ass-pants and writing letters to girls who look like they should be starring in porn. What ever happened to characters like Clarissa?