Slut-Shaming on the Playground

My older son is now 11 and wow… the sex negativity is increasing exponentially. It’s a sneaky value system, like a creeping vine or oozing pore. My son is getting anxious about when he is going to have his first kiss. He thinks about it a lot.  I wasn’t sure exactly how much it mattered to him that some of his friends are at the kissing phase while he obviously is not.

“Mom, I’m a nerd.” He said to me as he climbed in the backseat of our car. He sounded resolute. Like, some deal had been sealed and all there was left to do was accept the consequences. But, really, being a nerd has never bothered him before. His version of nerd has a lil swagger to it. But today there was none of that, “girls don’t like me. I’m too nerdy. I’m not cool enough. Not dangerous. Not s…” and that is when the gush of words stopped abruptly.

“Were you about to say sexy? You’re worried about not being sexy? Really, E, are you supposed to be sexy in the 5th grade?”

“Some people are!”

“Ya? Like who?”

After making me promise I wouldn’t call the school and make a deal about it, he confided in me that some of his classmates were kissing after school. He then told me about a girl in his class, Z, and how she had kissed 3 boys this year, “3, Mom! Can you imagine? And everybody knows. She just kisses whoever she wants and her sister is so embarrassed. I don’t blame her, I would be ashamed to have my sister act like that! Sheesh.”

Wait? What? This is where it gets interesting for me as a sex positive parent. My son just went from wishing he was sexy to shaming a girl for being just that? I rolled up my sleeves and got ready to do some unpacking.

“Um, so what about the boys she is kissing, should they be ashamed too? She’s not kissing herself…”

“Well, no, uh, they just go with it. It’s like she comes after them. She’s forceful.”

“So you don’t think they want to kiss her. Do they seem uncomfortable? Do they say no but she does it anyway?”

“Uh, no, they seem happy about it. The first two boys stopped being friends after she kissed the second guy.”

Try not to roll your eyes. Try not to roll your eyes. Try really really hard to NOT roll your eyes. Deep breath. I continue, “So, ok, it doesn’t sound like she’s pushing them into kissing her, so can we assume they want to kiss her as much as she wants to kiss them? Unless, you’ve heard or seen different?”

“Ya, I guess so, ok. But still, Mom, don’t you think 3 is a lot for a girl? Her sister even said so.”

“Honey, I’m not concerned about the sister, I’m concerned that you are judging someone for doing something that you yourself wish you were doing, and I’m also a little upset that you’re making this about her being a girl.”

“Oh.”

“People develop at different speeds. People are comfortable with their bodies and with intimacy at different stages. You’re not there yet and that’s totally ok. You will be when the time is right for you. If I was her mom would I be a little worries about this behavior? Yes, but not because she is a girl, but because she is young. I would want to make sure I had all the talks with her that you and I have had.”

“So, it’s obvious I am jealous?” cue the ego deflation.

“Uh, yes. Majorly. You’re anxious about when you’re going to be ready, you’re anxious for a girl to like you, and you’re angry that this person in your class is doing what you can’t, and you’re probably a little pissed that she isn’t doing it with you.” Did I just unpack slut-shaming for the 11 year old? Yes, I think I did.

It would have been easy for me to  demonize this girl’s behavior in order to make him feel better and also to try to control his future sexual behavior. Slut-shaming is a time tested tool in our culture. We use it under the guises of keeping kids from doing some sexually inappropriate thing. But does that work? No. Does it cause a lot more harm than good? Yes. I don’t want to raise a hypocritical judgmental misogynist. Which means I have to have these conversations with him NOW, not when he’s 21 and in college.

I’m learning that what goes down in the dorm room starts on the playground. And mama ain’t havin’ it.

Airial Clark

As of May 2012, I will have completed my Master’s Degree in Human Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University. Prior to attending graduate school, I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007 with a double major BA in English Literature and Anthropology while raising two young sons as a single parent. At Cal, I was President of the Student Parent Association. I am a regular contributor to the Sex Positive Photo Project of the SF Bay Area and Shades Magazine. I have presented my original research at multiple academic conferences and symposiums. I will be presenting my Master’s Thesis Study at the OpenSF Conference this June. I have trained with Community at Work to be a group facilitator and am fully committed to the participatory process of decision making.

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3 Responses

  1. jd says:

    You’re an awesome parent and this gives me a lot of hope. I was raised religion-based sex-negative and “hypocritical judgmental misogynist” takes a lot of hard work to chip away.

    I would just like to point out that a little girl might have the same attitudes at your son’s age.

  2. KYouell says:

    That was amazing. I’m tossing this in my Evernote folder on Parenting because my kids aren’t there yet, but I want to be just as present and conscious of this in that moment as you were. Love it!

  1. 06/06/2013

    […] Clark has great advice here on how to talk about slut-shaming with your primary schooler (thanks blue milk for the link), […]