Today we take a step away from medicine. But maybe not. A number of patients I saw this week made comments about the Super Bowl, both about the game and the half time show. It’s safe to say the two of them generated lasting impressions.
An older gentleman spoke about Beyonce’s outfit. I said that she was a beautiful woman. He agreed, but he wondered if women who dress “provocatively” were “asking for it.” I was more than a bit shocked, because this man has been a devoted husband and father for many years. I explained to him that no woman ever should be assumed to be “asking for it” unless she very clearly agrees to “it.”
This encounter made me think. I solicited opinions from women I respect and trust. A hospital executive agreed that “no” means “no” no matter how a woman dresses, but she expressed some concerns. She feels that many little girls see Beyonce on stage and dream of looking and dancing like she does. She thinks that often this is their major wish; that their drive is focused on somehow acquiring this outfit and their time is spent learning seductive dance moves. In other words, that if you asked them what will you be when you grow up they would answer a sexy singer.
There is some truth to this. Outfits that are designed to make little girls look much older (and sexy) sell fast. There is a whole industry based on pitting girls against each other to see which one is prettiest, and best dressed. On its face there’s nothing wrong with teaching your children how to look nice, but this should not come at the expense of studies and healthy behavior.
My friend worried that these girls are too young to understand that there are misguided people out there that will assume that the nice outfit means that they’re asking for sex. That they may place themselves in risky situations not fully knowing how evil some people can be.
I did some reading. A recent opinion piece on a leading medical journal says that two thirds of women in this country have been raped or sexually coerced. Yes; that many. They talk about date rape, and the use of drugs and alcohol to render a girl incapable of resistance. About men who demand sex because they paid for a meal, or who refuse to drive a date home unless they agree to intimacy.
I was shocked. My friend’s remarks hammered away at my conscience. I talked to a patient, a woman who has been very successful in a man’s world. The first thing I think about whenever I see her is “tough as nails.” I asked her about the outfits; about raising our girls; about priorities.
“It’s just as much about how we raise our boys, doctor.” That made sense.
“I don’t know what it is about men: they feel entitled. It doesn’t matter what a woman wears. They should all be treated with kindness and respect. No one should ever assume that we’re out there advertising. It’s about how we educate the boys.” There was an undercurrent of sadness and exasperation in her speech.
I don’t know that I’m qualified to give advice on this problem, which has turned out to be a lot bigger than I anticipated (yes, I’ve been too sheltered). But I’ll go ahead anyway. Girls should be allowed to be little girls for at least a decade. Parents should strictly control what they wear and what they see on TV. There should be two major goals for a parent: keeping your child healthy and educating him/her. The home atmosphere should be one of peace, quiet, and conversation.
Boys, it turns out, may be a tougher problem. Most parents already look at a boy as someone who’ll need to be trained for a job. But many parents assume that a boy has to run wild, and healthy behavior plus respect for young women is not emphasized with the same priority. In many circles courteous and respectful boys are accused of being, shall we say, not masculine enough.
I know better than most people how powerful the reproductive urge is. In nature we see numerous examples of animals that put themselves at risk of predators because of the reproductive mandate. I taught my daughters not to ever be surprised by what a man will do in order to “get” sex. They learned this lesson well.
We need to have a nationwide conversation about how we raise our kids. They should be held to an inflexible standard of courtesy and decency. We need to put pressure on the media to make good health and educational achievement more important than good looks and seduction. We should have an iron grip on the media our little ones are exposed to. Most importantly, we should reflect our beliefs in our behavior. After all, most of them will do what we do.
Even one mistreated woman is too much. Let’s all get together and try.