Should girls be prohibited from wearing outfits to school because they are deemed distracting for the boys? Wow! What a loaded issue. While treading gingerly on this issue, I would like to put a few ideas out there for discussion because it’s only through open, nonjudgmental dialogue that we will get to win-win solutions.
I certainly don’t subscribe to the “boys will be boys” mentality that puts full responsibility and oftentimes shame onto girls. And I don’t think all boys are just hormonally driven predators out there trying to get into girl’s pants. But I also know from a lot of reading that boys are wired differently than girls, and have been since the dawn of civilization. The sexual pursuit circuits in boy’s brains are 2X’s as large as girls, and evolutionarily speaking, males are wired to have sex ASAP and often in order to get their genes passed onto the next generation; a greater amount of sex meant more offspring and thus greater chances to have your gene pool survive. There is credence to the thought that boys, because of their wiring and their surging levels of testosterone, think about sex a lot and don’t have a mature prefrontal cortex to allow good control of their aggressive impulses. It doesn’t give them permission to cross girl’s boundaries, but it does mean that they are primed sexually.
Girls need to understand that when they walk into a party, boys unconsciously get a read on whether or not she is confident and has good boundaries. They also need to become aware of and trust their intuition: if their radar is screaming “Creep!” believe it and act on it to take care of themselves. If they dress in a top that shows cleavage or wear really short shorts, it’s not wrong or slutty. But I want them to understand that they ARE going to be provoking a response in some guys, and so be prepared to set good boundaries. I don’t think that’s sexist; I think it’s being smart and real.
Teen boys and girls need to be able to have open discussions about sexism, discrimination, body image, the male and female brain and hormones at puberty, self-control, sexuality, boundary setting, and respect. Boys need to learn to control their impulses and to be able to be in classroom settings with girls and maintain their focus. Girls have a responsibility to develop good body image and not give into objectification and unhealthy messages rampant in the culture.
We can also do a better job of teaching teens how to connect in non-physical or non-sexual ways. Teens could also have open discussions about what mutual respect looks like in both friendship and dating relationships.
Candid dialogue would also allow both parties to drop a lot of their judgments and biases about each other. Deep down, guys want the same thing as girls: closeness, respect, to be heard and understood, deep connections. Education and greater awareness will allow both sides to overcome cultural stereotypes and create ways to connect and collaborate because they will be rubbing shoulders, literally, with each other throughout their schooling and in the workplace.
I have facilitated discussions between adolescent boys and girls many times over the years, and they have always been productive, enlightening, real, and fun. I trust that if we give teens the opportunity to face issues like this head on, they will create good solutions that meet everyone’s needs.