How to Talk With Your Sons About Robin Thicke

If you have ears, you’ve heard Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” If you’ve had any amount of spare time in the past few days and have access to the internets, you’ve heard about Thicke’s performance at the VMA’s with Miley Cyrus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations! You must have looked past the headlines on CNN’s main page in order to read about “secondary” news like Egypt or Syria. You can find a video of the performance here.

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter with any kind of regularity over the past few days, you’ve probably heard countless friends or followers sounding off on any number of objectionable things about the performance. Undoubtedly, 99% of things written about it throw around words like “obscene”, “offensive”, and the like.

There have been a number of different parenting websites or blog posts who have come up with good ways to talk to your daughter about Miley. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents talking to their daughters about sexuality.

But is no one going to hold anyone else on stage or behind the scenes accountable for that performance? Are we really going to have another one-sided conversation where we only talk to the girls about their sexuality while we completely ignore the boys in the room about their standards of behavior too?

There are next to no commentaries, articles, or blog posts that talk about how Robin Thicke was on stage with a woman young enough to be his daughter while thrusting his pelvis and repeating the line “I know you want it” while T.I. non-chalantly raps about much more graphic stuff. As Shelli Latham astutely points out:

Girls’ sexuality is so much the focus of our ire. Women who have sex are dirty. Men who have sex are men. Girls who dress to be ogled are hoes. Men who ogle are just doing what comes naturally. This is the kind of reinforced behavior that makes it perfectly acceptable to legislate a woman’s access to birth control and reproductive health care without engaging in balanced conversations about covering Viagra and vasectomies. Our girls cannot win in this environment, not when they are tots in tiaras, not in their teens or when they are coming into adulthood.

Issues of misogynistic attitudes and acts of violence toward women aren’t going anywhere until us men make some very intentional decisions about our behavior and about the way we act toward women. There are certain things that Robin Thicke and “Blurred Lines” re-inforce in our culture.

For instance… Studies have shown that viewing images of objectified women gives men “greater tolerance for sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance,” and helps them view women as “less competent” and “less human“. Certainly singing about “blurred lines” will at the very least reinforce a culture that already trivializes the importance of consent.*

There’s nothing blurry about Robin Thicke’s role in the VMA debacle. Even though he’s come out and defended his song, going so far as to call it a “feminist movement,” it’s pretty plain to see that’s far from the case.

Here’s where it starts

So what can we do? In order to change the way we view women culturally, we need to change the way we view women individually. We need to call bullshit on attempts to end domestic violence and misogyny towards women by only talking to our daughters. We need to talk to our sons and our brothers about respecting women and respecting themselves.

It starts in homes. It starts in small conversations that treat all people as worthy and equal. It starts with having the courage to speak out against the wide variety of forces in our society that objectify women.

It starts with understanding that as men, our value does not come from how much power we hold over women. Our value comes from being respected and being loved as we respect and love the people who matter to us.

Be brave enough to tell a different story. Be courageous enough to rise above the lies that our culture tells you about how to treat women. In doing so, you’ll help create a better world for your sons. And for your sons’ sons. And that’s something to which we should all aspire.

Cheers,
Eric

* = Thank you to policymic.com for these links

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Why Talking About Bullying Doesn’t Work

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that
we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

When I was younger, I used to get bullied quite a bit. In elementary school I was taller than most, bigger than many. I stuck out. And when you stick out, you become a target. And it sucked. But there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. I told one of the moms on the playground that these kids were making fun of me and I wish they’d stop and she said I should “grow a thicker skin.”

I was 8 years old.

Flash forward a few years and here we are. We see anti-bullying campaigns left and right. Too many teenagers have decided they couldn’t stand being bullied and so they decided it would be better to be dead than alive, and they killed themselves. It’s tragic. So we keep talking about bullying. We tell teenagers they shouldn’t be bullies. We also tell them that if they’re being bullied, the solution to that problem is to tell an adult. But here’s the problem…

Nobody uses the term “bully” inside a high school.

In the high school social setting, nobody uses the term bully and bullied. Once someone is tagged with that label, they stick out. And when you stick out, you become a target. No matter what people do, one thing they will refuse to accept is the title of bully. Listen to a high schooler talk about all the “drama” going on in their school day. Often times it’ll be trivialized. As in, “Oh don’t worry about that. It’s just some drama.”

By using the term “drama” the people involved are exempt from moving up or down the social ladder as would surely happen if they were stuck with the label “bully” or “bullied”.

This is why all kinds of anti-bullying efforts don’t work. Nobody is willing to stop being something that nobody will own up to being in the first place. You can tell me to stop being a bully all you want, but if I don’t see myself as a bully, your pleas will fall on deaf ears. This is why anti-bullying doesn’t work.

Instead…

Don’t focus on what people shouldn’t be. Focus on what they should be.

Instead of telling people to not be a bully, it would be much more effective to teach respect. Mother Theresa was once asked why she never participates in anti-war rallies. Her response was telling. She said she would keep her promise to never participate in an anti-war rally, but as soon as someone hosted a pro-peace rally, she’d be the first to sign up. It’s an interesting way to tilt the conversation.

Another contributor to this conversation was the “It Gets Better” campaign. Check this link out for more info about that campaign. It is specifically geared toward GLBTQ youth who have been/are being bullied. The more I thought about “It Gets Better”, I liked the initiative, but something was lacking. It essentially tells people who are being bullied to weather the storm and trust that it gets better. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Enter the Make It Better project. This is the “pro-peace” alternative to It Gets Better’s “anti-war” stance. Don’t get me wrong, both campaigns have great goals and strategies to work toward. But there’s a disconnect.

Instead of going back and forth on the topic of bullying, why don’t we tackle these “dramatic” situations, name what is actually happening, and then promote a move toward empathy and compassion? Is this overly-simplistic? Perhaps. But when we are so dead set against bullying, we miss out on all the things we can be encouraging and promoting in our schools, churches, and neighborhoods.

Talking about bullying doesn’t work because nobody recognizes their behavior [or identity for that matter] as falling in line with the “bully” or “bullied”. We need to empower people to speak out and name what is happening in their own experience before it’s too late.

It might also be helpful for adults to abolish the suggestion to “grow a thicker skin”. But that might just be a personal preference.

Cheers,
Eric

A Great New Yorker Piece on Bullying & Teen Suicide

In the latest New Yorker there’s a great article about a very sad situation. It’s about a Rutgers freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after being harassed by his roommate and another friend. It’s a tragic story, but I won’t sum it up here. I wanted to share a paragraph from this article that represents some of the best stuff I’ve read to come out of research around adolescent relationships and bullying. Again, the full article can be found here.

A recent paper by two scholars of new media—Alice Marwick, of Harvard, and Danah Boyd, of N.Y.U.—describes the tendency of teen-age girls to categorize even quite aggressive behavior as mere “drama,” in the same category as online gossip and jokes. Policy-makers and television anchors talk of “bullies” and the “bullied,” but teen-agers tend not to, in part because “teens gain little by identifying as either,” the scholars explain. “Social stigmas prevent teens from recognizing that they are weak, and few people are willing to admit that they purposefully hurt others. . . . ‘Drama’ also implies something not to be taken seriously, to be risen above, while the adult-defined ‘bullying’ connotes childishness or immaturity to teenagers.

How is “drama” defined for a new generation of young adults? It seems to me that young adults use the term “drama” almost as a way to rationalize some of the horrible things that are either said about them or done to them.

The key question I’d like to see from this study is… What can be done about this? How can we join adolescents in moving forward through the “drama” and into a meaningful life?

These are the million dollar questions of the people, like us, who work with youth. I wish I had those answers.

Cheers,
Eric

The Anatomy of a Tantrum

This past weekend, we had a Christmas party for the youth at the church I work at. Lots of food, games, ugly Christmas sweater contests, Christmas songs, a White Elephant gift exchange… All the makings of a wonderful party. And it really was a great time. But there was something I noticed in the wake of the White Elephant gift exchange. People were pissed. Like go-in-the-corner-and-pout, throw-things-at-other-people-because-they-got-the-present-that-I-wanted pissed. This said something loud and clear to me.

We’ve completely lost what Christmas means. And this is NOT going to be a “he’s the reason for the season” post because God knows we have enough of that [stuff] around. If we didn’t happen to live in a country where Christianity was normative for so long, we’d be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter solstice or any other of the many holidays that are celebrated worldwide.

So when we hear all of this Fox News “War on Christmas”, how-dare-anyone-wish-me-happy-holidays [stuff] going on in the adult realm of things, it’s not hard to see where these kids get it. Not indicting any particular kid or parent, just painting in broad strokes here. But it’s basic psychology that kids pattern behavior off the adults they witness. So when kids are literally beating each other because they didn’t get what they wanted out of a gift exchange at church, it has to make you wonder if we’ve lost our way completely.

SO… in place of entitlement and belligerence this holiday season, I’m proposing something a little different. Humility and gratitude. Christmas is a time when God goes so entirely outside of the box and, in such a game-changing act of humility, would dare to become human in order to suffer with us. This took place long ago and still has power to impact anyone, regardless of nationality or birthplace.

The most important thing to remember, nobody is “taking the Christ out of Christmas” for antagonistic or malicious reasons. They’re merely mentioning other December celebrations as a way of including everyone in the festivities.

And that’s okay.

Cheers,
Eric

[The ideas for this post were prompted by my own reflection on my experience this past Friday, while also coming across a great post from Rachel Held Evans. Check it out for a slightly different approach to what I’m talking about here]

Great Argument for Marriage Equality

Last February, a video began circulating around the internet that showed a man speaking in an Iowa court defending the right for same sex couples to be married. I didn’t get a chance to post or comment on it back then. It’s now making a resurgence around Facebook and Twitter, so I want to post it and say just how much I appreciate his articulation of his experience of family. Check out the video below.

It’s well articulated. Persuasive. And I already agreed with him before watching the video.

This guy used a courtroom to tell his story. It’s a story that still needs to be heard.

How can we help kids who are being victimized or struggling with these issues of sexuality (whether their own or with their parents) so that they don’t take the route so many have by harming themselves? How can we, as a society, foster an environment for growth and holistic health for everyone in our communities? Not just white, heterosexual males with proper documentation of citizenship.

These are the questions that keep me up at night. And probably will continue to.

Cheers,
Eric

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