I’ve been a fan of Lisa Belkin’s for a while. The writer of the New York Time’s blog Motherlode recently reported on the seemingly increasing objectification and exploitation of women on college campuses across our nation. In her latest Sunday Times blog, “Gender Roles On Campus”, Belkin points out many instances when college (mainly fraternity) men publicly and aggressively harassed women. Belkin’s first example is an emailed invitation from a Duke University fraternity to hundreds of women on campus asking them to attend their Halloween party dressed in slutty costumes. Some on campus protested, but in the end, many girls attended in nurse good-body attire. Is this shocking, in and of itself? Not really. I’m more concerned by the example Belkin gave of a University of Southern California frat boy who emailed many men on campus last year recruiting them to target women for sex, rank them within a particular system, and then to remember when hunting these women that they weren’t “really people like us men.” This is not just good ole fun as the Duke University Halloween party invitation seemed to be. This young man has to be deeply troubled and I don’t think he’s the norm on college campuses across the nation. (At least, I hope not!)
Surprisingly, I tend to agree with many points Amanda Marcotte of Slate wrote in her retort Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too. She argues that women aren’t to blame for this exploitation just because they want to wear sexy clothes and enjoy the attention they receive from men. Her main argument is that women don’t hold it against a man if he is sexy, goes to bars on weekends, dates more than one woman, and also earns As in the classroom. In fact, we applaud it. There’s a double standard there.
I think both Marcotte and Belkin make good points. Yes it seems that female exploitation is wide spread on American campuses and elsewhere (Think Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger for instance.) While Belkin and some of her readers ask where the parents went wrong, I tend to think that the problem is much larger than that of just parental example, or lack thereof. Yes, if a young man sees his father treat his mother poorly or cheat on her, it will leave indelible scars. (At the same token, the same can be said if the young man’s mother divorces many times or consistently dates many men.) But by and large, I think the biggest influence on this type of male behavior is our media-driven society today and how women utilize social networking to garner attention and tip the scales of gender power. If men do truly rule the college campus and the social agenda—where women wait to be invited or are pursued and then submit—than what better way to get an invitation or to get pursued than by posting promiscuous pictures online? Heck, girls, in junior high school begin utilizing social networking in this way. It may be harmless, as perhaps Marcotte may argue, but I tend to think that it can create a clouded perception in young boys’ minds.
If you have middle or high school age children on Facebook, friend their friends and look at their profiles. You’re likely to see many young ladies posting pictures wearing barely any clothing or appearing in a provocative stance—perhaps even boasting about their latest party. A former colleague who is conducting research for a new book about sex today (that she plans to write with a pen name), created an online profile using pictures of a young woman in provocative clothing. One picture is of her lying on a bed with another woman (both fully dressed). She friended several local bars and clubs and watched as the friend requests came flooding in. And she didn’t just get friend requests, she got propositioned time and time again by all types of men.
“I didn’t even know this world existed! One married man actually asked me to meet him in a hotel room and said he’d pay me $500 for the encounter! I was really shocked,” she said.
She insisted that her profile was PG—with a few pictures of her alter ego partying with friends on the beach wearing a bikini, but no where on the site would it lead anyone to believe that she was a prostitute.
Initially, the idea for this profile was created when she realized many men she knew had hundreds of “friends” online that they didn’t know personally. All of these friends were women wearing skimpy clothing or bikinis and pictured in provocative positions—like bending over a car hood. She started to wonder if these men were using social networking like they would online soft porn. But unlike porn, Facebook friends can be communicated with, so she wondered if it was a vehicle for cyber sex via the personal messages that can be sent to your “friends”. To find out, she created a sexy pretend profile, friended several people, and waiting to see how they’d respond. And respond they did.
“I never imagined how many men—young, old, college educated—reached out to me soliciting sex. If you aren’t in this world, you’d never know it existed,” she warned.
So what does that mean? Experts such as Pat Allen, PhD, behavioral marriage therapist and bestselling author of several books including “Getting to I Do” say men, by nature, are just predators. I had the privilege of working with Allen in 2009 and read her books, including her latest: “The Truth About Men Will Set You Free … But First It Will Piss You Off.” What both books point out is that men instinctually want to hunt and be with many women. Not all men act on their instincts, however. But women need to understand that these instincts are there biologically. That’s where nature and nurture may come in and instilling ethics and morality in our children can help tip the scales. But some things cannot be controlled by good parenting alone. Sexual addiction, for instance, is one of them. And good men can become addicted to cyber sex and the old fashioned kind as well. But objectification of women like the USC frat boy’s claim that women aren’t like men, is quite terrifying.
As the single mom of two young boys, I wonder what I can do. Most parents of young boys don’t want them growing up to be sociopathic predators like that USC frat boy. I don’t know what the answer is, but untethered access to the Internet at an early age can’t help. I’ve explored this issue somewhat in the past when Parenting Editor of DivineCaroline.com. In my articles Internet Safety and The Real Online Threat I interviewed experts who exhorted parents to monitor children’s online lives. The seeds of mysogyny or objectification of women start in middle school. We shouldn’t allow our children to create profiles online before they are 15, they say. Surprisingly many of my nine-year-old’s friends in Los Angeles have Facebook pages. To read the rest of this article, please visit my blog: NavigatingVita.