Sunday, April 03, 2005

Trash cans in the daylight.

I overheard something on Oprah's show the other day that's stuck with me. The show was about self-esteem problems in teenage girls. One effect is having sex early and often. The overall theme of the show didn't bother me, but some of the specific comments gave me pause.
Dr. SMITH: You know, the truth of the matter, Melissa—I call it hunger pains. You know, people may say slut, whore. What they're not saying is you're hungry for something.

Ms. SMITH: Love.

Dr. SMITH: And you're trying to get your hunger needs met. So what are you hungry for? To be loved? To be cared for? To feel special? Those are not things to be ashamed of.
Seeking love: nothing to be ashamed of. No argument there!
WINFREY: Dr. Smith, what do you—I know you have a powerful thing to say about what girls are doing with their bodies today.

Dr. SMITH: Yes. Trash cans. You guys say, `What? What about a trash can?' A lot of young girls are treating their bodies like trash cans. Trash cans for what? For boys' sperm, for boys' insecurities, that boys come and drop their trash in our bodies.
Whoa! Boys' insecurities are trash? The trash can metaphor shows the lack of self-respect some young women have for themselves, but the implication that a boy's feelings of insecurity are, shall we say, without worth, is frankly offensive.
WINFREY: So if you're a mother and your daughter's overweight and you want her to lose the weight, you want her to not to have that as another thing to have to overcome in the world, what is the best way to deal with that?

Dr. SMITH: Two things: one, shame never creates change. Never. Never creates change. [...] Get rid of all of the shaming behaviors. [...]

WINFREY: Oh, that's good. See, the little hairs on my head just rose so I know when that happens, that was really good. Shame never creates change.

Dr. SMITH: But—never. Never creates change. And so what you do is get creative. You start thinking about what can we do together. But don't make weight the issue.
This comes after a discussion of a girl's insecurity, and it's a good observation. Shame does not create change. Couple that with calling adolescent male insecurity "trash," and I'd say you have a recipe for more trash.

The guests spent the whole episode talking about female insecurities and trying to build up the self-esteem of girls. They acknowledge that boys have a problem with insecurity too, but that's just trash. When a girl is looking to reduce her insecurity with sex, it's "hunger," but when a boy does it, it's "trash."

The image I really have in my head is a boy who's not feeling too good about himself pressuring a girl for sex. She can tell him "no" gently and firmly, but instead she tells him she's not his trash can, and he's shamed as a result. Him hurting her is replaced with her hurting him. I can see the advantage here (there's no chance of pregnancy or disease), but it still looks like poor interpersonal relations.

This is just a step up from telling girls that boys are evil. The girls who believe it are protected from certain mistakes (again, pregnancy and disease in particular). It's much simpler to understand and to teach than any truth about the opposite sex. It's efficient, but it's wrong, and it leads to women who have to recover from the lie in later life (if they recover).

The whole point of the show was to help girls and the parents of girls, and it did that. It's a noble cause, and I'm glad they're doing it. I'm just offended by this lousy idea (the trash can) and the double standard that goes along with it. Those things have no place being used toward the show's worthwhile purpose.
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