Today our question is as follows: How do we protect our daughters from sexism in the media and how do we educate our sons?
It’s a tall order, no question about it. In spite of the gains that women have made in the public arena, when it comes to the private sphere, they are, unfortunately, still treated as sexual objects–less that human. Why is this so? I believe it is a question we need to answer if we are to address the onslaught of Internet porn and other sad and even horrifying practices that still abound such as sexual slavery, human trafficking and the like.
Human beings are complicated creatures. Anyone disagree? We, most of us, anyway, know how to put up a good front. We know how to appear polite, kind, compassionate even. We want to be likable, charitable and fair in our dealings with everyone. We have a public persona and in that realm everyone—males, females, gays and heterosexuals, rich and poor, people of all races and ethnic groups should be treated as equals. Justice is blind or so we say.
But everyone knows we don’t always act according to these glowing principles. That is because we have a darker side—a side that is selfish or bigoted or maybe far worse. It is in that darker underbelly of the human race that sexism, I believe, still prevails. It is so tough to eradicate because, like any other form of bigotry, it is based on an “us versus them” mentality. As I said last week it lies in the need that all humans have to be the dominant “in” group while defining another subset—in this case, women—as the vanquished outgroup. Since women and men interact in powerful sexual ways, it is in and through sexual stimuli that men achieve their subjugation of women.
When we try to eliminate an “us versus them” mentality we are dealing with a problem as old as time. As I have said many times before, if we want to achieve this with our children we have to begin with ourselves as parents. If girls are to feel equal to boys in every way they must be treated as equals by the people who matter to them—parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches and so on. By the same token, boys learn their attitudes about women from the men who are around them. If the men in their world make demeaning remarks about women or treat women disrespectfully in their presence, we can bet that those boys will follow suit.
The Internet is a perfect venue in which to express the darker sides of our nature because it is anonymous. Furthermore the limitations on its use are still being determined and are not perfectly enforceable, by any means. For those reasons, it is our own inner controls–both for ourselves and our children—that are going to be the most effective tools that we have for managing its potentially destructive use. Teaching our children to respect themselves and their bodies and doing so by precept and example is, by far, the most reliable means that we have to bring about a change in the ways in which women are seen on the Internet.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.