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Letter to a teenage girl

We were inspired and challenged by Dr. Hugo Schwyzer’s “Letter to a teenage girl” on his site, Healthy is the New Skinny. Marko and I sit on nearly opposite ends of the adolescent daughter spectrum as Marko’s daughter is a senior in high school and mine is a 5th grader.

Here are some highlights:

Dear Rachel,

I wish that I could offer you specific fashion tips that would guarantee that creepy older guys wouldn’t hit on you. For that matter, I wish I could share with you how to dress in a manner that would assure that your peers wouldn’t frequently judge you, either to your face or behind your back. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to ensure those things — because the sad truth is that no matter how you dress, no matter what you wear, you will be perceived by some men as a target for their unwanted advances.

You may have heard people say things like “girls who wear short skirts are asking for ‘it’”. By “it” they may mean anything from rape to crude comments and penetrating stares. But as you may already have noticed, girls aren’t immune from harassment when they’re wearing simple or “modest” garb either. I’ve had plenty of students who’ve been accosted while wearing sweatpants or long dresses. I’ve had Muslim students who chose to wear head coverings, and they’ve been harassed both religiously and sexually. The bottom line is that there’s nothing you can wear that will guarantee respect from others. And the reason is that the root of this problem isn’t skin or clothing, it’s our cultural contempt for women and girls.

The advice I’m going to give may sound clichéd, but it’s important nonetheless: you should dress in a style that makes you comfortable.

Here’s a key point: As a father and a teacher and a youth leader and a feminist man who has been around a while (and worked with thousands of young people), I want you to know that while not all men are safe and trustworthy, men’s bad behavior is never, ever, ever, ever, ever “your” fault. Your miniskirt doesn’t cause guys (of any age) to do anything they don’t choose to do (no matter what they say to the contrary). It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men.

Read the rest

Question: What do you think about Hugo’s advice? What would you add?

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1 thought on “Letter to a teenage girl

  1. I completely agree with the closing statement; to blame girls for the treatment they receive from others is equivalent to blaming a child for the abuse s/he receives from their parents. Nobody is responsible for the choices of others.
    HOWEVER, it’s important to follow up this statement with the thought that honoring God in all circumstances must prevail over current fashions or attitudes towards women. This applies to clothing choices, habits like smoking, drinking, spending or eating, vernacular, or just about anything. No, it is not the girls’ job to dress to keep themselves safe from men. However, it IS their job to keep themselves God-fearing, modest in all things, and pure in appearances as well as in heart. What the world decides to do with this is the world’s problem, but then at least they can have a clear conscience before the Lord and focus on suffering through the consequences of a strong faith instead of what they’re wearing.

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