I’ve always loved literature, reading stories that are completely unlike my life and living vicariously through the characters on the pages, getting the chance to understand why people make the choices they do even though they might not make the choices I’d make. Because of that love for stories that imitate life, even if it’s not my own life that is being imitated, I’ve had a fairly reasonable tolerance for reading or seeing topics on a movie screen that push the envelope. However, last week I was reminded of where I draw my line.
Last week GQ published a photo shoot with three of the stars from the hit show Glee. The young man and women in that photo shoot posed rather suggestively, sexualizing the high schools characters whom they portray. And while I found the pictures distasteful, I reminded myself that this man and these women were grown, not the teenagers that they portray on TV, and that GQ is a magazine for men.
I read some blogs that had posts on this topic and the comments that followed, and I found myself drawing my line, my standard for what is acceptable and what is not. I can’t say that I completely disagreed with those who didn’t find a problem with the photos, or at least with those who had participated in the photo shoot. Where I did find myself in sharp contrast with some of these individuals was in their rationale as to why these photos didn’t bother them.
Over and over again I read that we shouldn’t act so naively–there is nothing suggested in those photos that kids aren’t already doing in high school and that teenagers haven’t been doing for years. And while this point may be true, I had to ask myself whether or not these photos were an example of art imitating life or life imitating art.
No, I do not believe that teenagers who see these photos will be suddenly convinced to have sex, but I do believe that as a society we have lost faith in our children. We have lowered the standard so far that our children are meeting our set expectations.
Rather than accepting the constant bombardment of sexualized messages on TV, in the clothing choices for our children, through advertisements, and elsewhere, we can tell our children a different message. Even if we didn’t follow through with our own advice as a teenager, we can speak from experience. Isn’t that what being a parent is about, guiding our children and helping them avoid the mistakes we made?
We can tell our children that they should treasure their bodies, that they are not merely sexual creatures who operate solely on instinct. They were given emotions and a moral compass to guide them, and they shouldn’t discount those parts of their beings. We can tell our children, even if we didn’t practice sexual purity, that they can, they are able, and we have confidence in them. We believe that they are above the images thrown at them daily and that they will be the generation who says, “Enough. We’re tired of how society and the media treat sex as something that doesn’t matter.”
I remember a couple of years ago, I picked up a TIME magazine off the table in the doctor’s office. I was intrigued by an article on purity balls and the debate surrounding them having not been all that familiar with the concept. While there were a plethora of critiques against these father/daughter dances where daughters pledge to guard their virginity until they marry, the author of the article asked one question that has remained with me for the last two years: “Parents won’t necessarily say this out loud, but isn’t it better to set the bar high and miss than not even try?” (Gibbs, 17 July 2008).
Raising the bar isn’t about denying our children information regarding sex or pressuring them to keep a standard that we have set for them. Instead, it’s about giving our children value, showing them that even if the world doesn’t value their whole person, we do, and they don’t have to fit the pattern of the world. Raising the bar is about fighting for their purity and not accepting a decline in morals in our society simply because ‘everybody does it.’
We owe it to our children to have a better answer for why sex is everywhere in our society, why sex sells. Rather than blaming them, we should admit that we didn’t fight against it. But they can with their decisions. We’re raising the bar for them, and if they don’t reach it, we will still love them. But if they do reach the bar, or if they come closer, waiting to have sex a little longer than if perhaps we never set that standard, think how their life could be different!
Our children wouldn’t have to live with regret or the emotional scars that come with many of those early sexual experiences. They wouldn’t lament what they had lost, but instead, they could treasure what they had gained–self-respect.
Raising the bar for our children might not change the world–cheap, sexual images may continue to bombard us–but it might change one life. I’d rather raise the bar and my children fail than insult the capable people that they are by setting the standard too low. They are worth the high expectations, as are all children. Let’s set the bar high, and give them the opportunity to surprise us.
The TIME article I read was actually a print version, but the following link can take you to the on-line article for Gibbs, Nancy. “The Pursuit of Teen Girl Purity.” TIME. 17 July 2008.