What it's really like to deal with picture pressure as a teenage girl
I was sitting at my lunch table when the topic of sending nudes came up.
Our table is fairly split on the gender front, with four girls and three boys, so disagreements aren’t exactly rare. My best friend is in a fairly new relationship with a boy who goes to another school and she mentioned that he asked her for nudes.
“What’d you say?” We all had asked.
Disapproval laced the boys’ faces as if she had done something wrong. They scowled as if my friend, as a girl, was clearly held accountable for pleasing her man. THEY were mad because a girl refused to do something she didn’t feel comfortable doing. I was infuriated. The conversation left me bothered and immediately prompted me to question why they believed this was right. They claimed that her answer was mean, that saying no hurt her boyfriend’s feelings. I was astounded at these boys’ backwards way of thinking.
Unfortunately for me, I live in a small town where gender equality and respect for women isn’t exactly accepted by everyone. Incidents like this are as common as the sun rising and setting. When teenage boys behave in misogynistic and selfish ways, the response, time and time again, is “boys will be boys.” Their behaviors are excused as just typical actions that come from a general lack of respect for the other gender. This response, which implies that what they’re saying and doing is excusable, needs to be stopped. The problem here, of course, isn’t just about the act of sending naked pictures; it’s about a woman’s personal comfort and the men’s tendency to disregard her comfort for their own benefit. It’s this kind of thinking that leads to a quarter of women being victims of sexual harassment or violence.
This pressure put upon young women is one that is completely new and to this generation. Although there has always been this looming emotional burden to please your man to keep him interested, the unrealistic picture-sending standards set by young men are completely ludicrous and specific to the new generation of adolescents.
Soon after this incident, coincidentally, a woman came to our school from the police department to lecture us about sending nude pictures. She stood in front of us and argued that just a simple “no” was enough to prevent the pictures being sent. My friend grabbed my arm the moment she said it. I was so ready to roast the woman and tell her to stop victimizing us and instead start teaching the boys to not objectify us, but I knew it would do more harm than good since we had ten teachers looming over our every move, so I stayed quiet and gritted my teeth.
They don’t get it and worse they aren’t even trying to get it. They disappoint me; they are supposed to be the logical thinkers and the ones who are mature and understand situations like this one, but it’s not the case. Obviously, we as teenage girls do control our own actions and we hold the power to say “yes” or “no,” but the consequences that follow saying no aren’t as simple as the retort.
I’ve been pressured. I’ve been asked for pictures and fortunately I possess a very stable self comfort and I know exactly when someone is crossing the line. But even me, even loud, outgoing me, felt this sick twisted feeling in my stomach when the question popped up on my messages. I felt my face get hot and although I instantly typed the word no, I felt a storm of emotions.
When we say no, the boy responds and says things like “Why do you hate me?” or, “If you love me you’ll send it” to make us feel guilty and like we did something wrong. As if we are required to please them. I can only imagine what a terrible position someone who had troubles saying no would be in if they were asked the same question.
And there are terrible consequences for saying yes too. If you do send the picture and you’re under 18, you can be charged with possession of child pornography. If you send the pcture, you might be instantly called a “slut”or a “whore,” despite what’s true. It feels like, either way, teenage girls are in the wrong. It’s so easy for adults to claim that saying no is as simple as it sounds, but really we should be starting at the root of the problem: the boys asking for the pictures.
Teaching boys an overall respect and courtesy for a women’s personal comforts and limits will help overwhelmingly with not only the problem of teenagers sending pictures, but with instances of sexual harassment and violation. A friend of mine told me a story about her personal experience with a boy who pushed his limits. He was her close friend and he took advantage of her body and trust when he pushed his hand down her shirt while forcing himself on top of her. What struck me most about her story was that while she was pleading him to stop, he kept asking “Why? What I am doing wrong? I thought you wanted it?” Worst of all, the boy had the sickening audacity to make her apologize when she had kicked him in the shin to make him stop.
This idea that women exist strictly to please men must be eliminated. When I said this to my table they snorted and countered that “You know, you don’t have to send the pictures. No one’s making you choose to be a whore.” I felt sick to my stomach.
I couldn’t believe the irony of the statement. Not only were they completely contradicting their previous stance, that the girls were going to hurt the boys feelings if they didn’t send pictures, but they were shaming girls for the simple act of sending a picture. A picture they had asked for.
“So if they don’t send it they’re a bitch, but if they do send it they’re a whore? I’m missing the logic. Why don’t you just not ask her for a picture? Or you could respect her, now there’s an idea.”
They shrugged and replied, “but we want the picture,” and laughed. As if the respect for women was something to laugh about. It doesn’t feel good. Boys and men make out it to be this political conversation whether to treat women equally or to give her equal pay but what they don’t understand is that it’s much deeper than that. It’s our livelihood, we are people not just a political debate.
When you ask a girl for pictures, make sure to take into account that you are asking something huge from her. Our bodies are incredibly private and we choose what we do with them. If she isn’t comfortable, you cannot blame her for refusing since you are the one asking her for a favor. If she does want to send the picture, she can send however many she wants too and should not be shamed for her personal decisions. Above all else, the respect for privacy and security that all women are (or, at least, should be) born with, teenagers to women of all ages, is something that needs to be a natural reaction. My hope is that one day in the near future, articles discussing feminism like this will be rare, that one day I will be sitting at my computer writing an article on how fantastic the respect for women feels. I’ll be looking forward to that day.
(Image via here.)