Thursday, January 7, 2010

More of Dear Prudence's Sexist Advice

A particularly obnoxious bit of advice from The Slate's advice columnist was the sexist straw that broke the feminist's back last summer, when I decided to launch this blog to air my grievances with her advice column and any other media I felt compelled to write about, and had time to write about.

You don't have to dig particularly far to expose "Prudie's" slut shaming, heteronormative, woman-hating advice for what it is, but I still read her column most Thursdays for the surprise grand slams. Every once in a while, "Prudie" just drops some bullshit into my lap. It hardly even needs analyzing, it's so preposterous as-is. In today's column, I got lucky.

Dear Prudence,
I'm a new teacher at a private tutoring firm. We give one-on-one lessons to kids ages 13 to 18. I've twice had the experience of sitting at a table with a male student and seeing the student "adjust" himself. Both times, the student actually put his hand down his pants. The first time, I was so shocked I couldn't hide the expression on my face, and the 17-year-old asked what was wrong. I told him firmly but kindly that it was not appropriate to do that in public and that if he was ever uncomfortable, he should use the bathroom. The second time was with a 14-year-old student. I tried not to say anything, but then he started typing on my computer, so I had to say, "It's not appropriate to put your hands down your pants in public." He protested, "Well, it itches!" I replied that scratching there in public, especially going inside the pants, was still inappropriate. When he left, I broke out the Lysol and germ wipes. Did I handle this
in an acceptable manner? What should I do if it happens again? And shouldn't teenage boys already know not to do this?
—Desperate for a Public Service Announcement to Teenage Boys

Dear Desperate,
For insight into "adjustments," I talked to my resident expert on the intricacies of teenage-male behavior, my 14-year-old daughter. She observed: "If boys don't understand something in class, or if during P.E. they need an extra boost of confidence, you can see them putting their hand in their pants. Some of the boys, every time they're going to throw a ball, they put their hand in their pants first! It's so funny. But it's not like they're 26 years old and perverts; they're
just boys. None of the teachers say anything. Sometimes if the girls see them and they're being really gross, we'll say, 'Get your hand out of your pants!' " (My daughter also explained that females have a more socially acceptable outlet: "If you're a girl and you're nervous, you flip your hair.") One-on-one tutoring with an adult woman puts a boy in a high-stress situation, and I'm surprised so few of them have grabbed for some comfort. If you have a student who spends the entire session holding on for dear life, you should have a male co-worker pull him aside for a little chat. But some teenage boys, in need of a brief shot of reassurance, are occasionally going to seek out something handy. Eventually, the taunts from their peers should wean them off this habit—after all, you aren't complaining that your male colleagues are drifting pantsward when they need a lift. Ignore the occasional adjustment, and if supporting the disinfectant industry makes you feel more secure, wipe away.
This exchange left me totally baffled. So first, there's the classic "boys will be boys" excuse for this, admittedly, unhygenic and bizarre behavior. Yes, I'm aware that sometimes adjustment is necessary, but I can't help but think about what would happen if a young woman's hands wandered down her pants or into her bra in public--people wouldn't assume it was for a confidence boost. And since when is one teenager's bizarre interpretation of this phenomena a universal truth? Why would making sure your penis is still intact equate to self-assurance? It's probably partially pleasure-seeking behavior, which is typically acceptable for men and not women. Babies play with their genitals, and young men get a free pass for being immature and inappropriate, while young women do not. Sounds like some sexual privilege to me.

Oh, but then there's the notion that girls also have a universal nervous tick: hair-flipping. I love the very clear distinction between boys' behavior and girls' here, and that the boys' is tied to their physical sex while girls' is tied to the socially constructed gender, and specifically the beauty standard of long, white hair (the better to flip with, my dear!). And the fact is, that's not really comparing apples to apples. That's comparing head-hair to genitals. A real equivalency would be exploring the idea of a social reaction to girls grabbing crotch constantly. But we wouldn't want to make "Prudie" think too hard on sex, would we? Let's just ask the nearest teenager what he or she thinks.

Fellow blogger Liz also points out that the hair-flipping is not only a beauty standard and gender-identity assumption for all females, it's also not a biological response like genital-grabbing. At least we can say that the boys' behavior is well-documented in babies, and thus not necessarily taught and learned, whereas hair-flipping is absolutely a learned behavior associated with flirting. It's another way young girls are supposed to be fun and sexy, but not sexual.

And I always love the "girls have it so much better than boys!"canards that pop up in media. In this case, assuming that all girls flip their hair to ease stress, that's a much more acceptable way of boosting confidence than grabbing one's genitals. Teenage girls are so lucky to have this universally feminine pep-talk-in-a-can. Forget the fact that teen girls' self-confidence takes a much more thorough lashing than boys' at that age, through media and social expectations.

1 comment:

  1. The dismissive "boys will be boys" response to inappropriate and entitled behavior really gets to me. I can't believe this tripe is printed as advice!

    Also, dudes can adjust without going into their pants. Sheesh.