Using Your Big Voice
The current discussion about speaking up for sexual harassment with the campaigns like #MeToo are very empowering for everyone. However, I do believe that those campaigns only go on for so long and our cultural norms sneak back in, poisoning our society, the way we feel about ourselves and of course how we look and feel about others.
In a world full of constant media messaging bombardment of who we should be, definitions of what “power and prestige” look like; we are all constantly rattled with how to make the best decisions; for our selves, our loved ones and even our children. We have become subject to the media defining our cultural norms, which impacts our ability to teach children how to listen to their inner voice and feel ok to say “No. This is not ok for me.”
After speaking with Darcy Flierl, LCSW who specializes in teaching sexual harassment prevention to women, she pointed out how young we are when exposed to some of these common messages, especially for girls. She said, “From a very early age we teach and push young girls to be ‘polite and friendly’, even when some of those behaviors like hugging someone you don’t want to, doesn’t feel right for you. Let’s be honest, we all know that ‘Stranger Danger’ is a myth. It’s often the people closest to us who can do some of the most horrible, life altering acts to us.” And this can create even more confusion with the messaging we are teaching young children about trust, faith, mindfulness and listening to your inner voice. We need to continue to teach all children to listen to their inner voice. “It’s OK to say ‘No, that doesn’t feel right” and know that does not make you “rude, impolite, or stiff and rigid”. It’s OK to believe and live by your values, even when you feel like you are fighting for them everyday against society as a whole.
One of the greatest issues I see is that these conversations are hard to have with our children, and sometimes it causes the adults to become uncomfortable—not wanting to have these essential conversations, or worse, thinking we had them once and therefore we don't need to continue to have them, again and again, with our children throughout their lives—is false. The message with our children around boundaries, inner voice, values and speaking their truth does NOT change—but the circumstances as children grow into teenagers and then adults does change. We need to continue to sit down and have these conversations—it’s critical for their mental and emotional health, physical wellbeing and safety.
If children are being raised in a society where porn is glamorized, 1/3 of marriages have a cheating partner (over 60% being the male) (Trustify 2017), 1 in every 6 American Women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, the majority of sexual assault victims are under 30;54% are between the ages of 18-34 and every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted (RAINN 2017), then how do we teach our young to grow into healthy, happy adults seeking a real relationship and know when to speak up. Media has made it more and more difficult for teens to practice true conflict resolution, it has changed perception of reality—to posts people “like”, friending people we don’t know, engaging in flirtatious conversations with complete strangers that might feel really scary to do in real life—and the worst part—most of society is accepting this, turning their heads and chalking it up as our new norm. Women are constantly being bombarded with images and expectations that are very confusing. In one message we tell young women to “be free”, “liberate yourself sexually”, “seek power in the Man’s World”, which all causes a blur of boundaries, safety and expectations that equates to the poor sexual relations. The other message is “Man up and don't speak your truth.” These beliefs are formed at a very young age and develop into adulthood. These messages also blur the lines for many about defining sexual harassment and when someone “should” speak up. So many women wonder, “Was it my falut?” “Did I bring this upon myself—I dressed a certain way—or drank at the party—and maybe if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be in this situation.” And the reality is our social norms contribute to this behavior as well. It all goes full circle to are we truly teaching our kids to listen to their inner voice, what to do when something doesn't feel right and how to validate that it’s ok to act against the norm. Part of the reason I founded Stand UP Foundation was to create a teen led organization that focused on the values so many young kids have, that they struggle with on a daily basis because of society—and for them to have somewhere to go where the “peer influence” mirrored how they feel about themselves and the world around them. A place where other teens could validate that they do belong for living a life based on how they feel in their inner cores. It is common and often expected developmentally for teens to change the voice of reason from parental influence to their peers and society—and let’s be honest—the messages they are receiving are horrific. Not just for their expectations of what relationships should look like, reality of struggles and perfection, but all of this also greatly impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we show up in our daily lives.
The messages from online and marketing never say “no”, but we want our children to know how to say “no”. People are comparing reality with their virtual world and we are creating a completely unrealistic competition for a healthy, happy life. And even if we teach this virtual reality can’t exist we are giving and creating the desire to seek it.
According to an article by the National Review, “Boys feel entitled to sex on demand—and that it would always be amazing.” The messages continue to push them to “grow bored of the same old thing and to entice seeking new adventures.” It continues with stating that the messages we are teaching young boys are, “Monogamy is confining, promiscuity is liberating and women should always be hot. The female form is no longer enough. It had to be enhanced, sculpted and waxed.” (2017)
We are raising kids in a world where teaching integrity and character is increasingly difficult because they see the contrasting messages everywhere before them—so how could it really be “bad” or “unhealthy”? The most rich and powerful people in society often embrace these values; mocking our entire belief around the family system.
The solution? More education and constant communication with both our young men and women. Break shame cycles and teach our youth to listen to their gut and inner truth—and most importantly know that is OK.
Watch the special on CBS 12 and Our Director HERE!
Darcy Flierl, LCSW http://www.darcyflierl.com (November 16, 2017)
RAINN.org https://www.rainn.org/about-rainn (November 16, 2017)
Hugh Hefner’s Legacy of Despair: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451955/hugh-hefner-playboy-legacy-despair-pornography-marriage-family (September 28, 2017)