Care and Feeding

I Don’t Want My Daughter to Be Objectified

I also want her to be herself.

A young girl walks wearing a short skirt.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo byNalinee Supapornpasupad/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the white mom of a mixed-race black girl who is soon to be 10. Of late I have had friends make comments about her “development” and openly discuss her body with me when she is out of earshot. I typically rebut with “her body is not open for discussion” and point out the well-known fact that black girls are always seen as older and hyper-sexualized in our world and tell them to read Girlhood Interrupted. It is usually met with nods of understanding and the conversation is over. Some variation of this conversation has been happening since she was about two when I asked our close friends and family to not make comments about her size, height, weight, etc.

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I try really hard to stay out of decisions that she makes about what she wears and try to be in direct opposition of what the world is telling her. “You can’t wear short shorts. You shouldn’t be showing your belly. You’re dressing like a teenager, etc.” If she was a skin and bones white girl, no one would care if her shorts were too short or if her belly was showing but because she is black, it is unacceptable, inappropriate, too sexy for her age. When talking about this with a close friend recently she made the passive comment, “I sort of wish my parents had given me more boundaries about what was and was not okay to wear when I was a [white] girl.”

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This has been eating away at me. Am I doing the right thing by letting her dress how every other [white] girl that she sees around in our predominately white neighborhood dresses? Or should I be asking her to dress more conservatively? We talk about the nuances of racism, microaggressions, privilege, differing beauty standards, etc. in our home all of the time. But I feel so hesitant to bring her personal clothing choices and how she represents herself to the world into this conversation. She is so confident in herself and comments all the time on her ‘great style’ and love of fashion–and honestly, she looks amazing and is so beautiful. I do not want to make her self-conscious by telling her that her shorts and dresses are too short or too tight and send the message that she needs to dress a certain way to make other people comfortable. I also don’t want her to be objectified but will asking her to change how she dresses really change that?

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—Deeply Desiring Direction

Dear Deeply Desiring Direction,

I’m a parent of mixed-raced girls (50 percent Black, 25 percent Japanese, 25 percent white) so I understand what you’re going through. My ten-year-old daughter is in the phase now where she wants to show her belly and wear short shorts, and I’ve heard comments from the peanut gallery discussing what she should or shouldn’t wear.

My message to my daughter is very simple: As long as you’re not breaking the dress code at school or anywhere else, do whatever makes you feel happy and comfortable. I’m tired of hearing about women and girls being blamed for putting themselves in potential danger based on what they choose to wear. How about parents teach their sons about consent and raise their them to respect girls and women instead? And while we’re at it, how about we not sexualize ten-year-old girls? We gotta do better, y’all.

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When it comes to your daughter’s wardrobe, it really comes down to her mental toughness. People are always going to say things and offer their opinions, but if she’s strong enough to ignore the haters (which isn’t easy to do for many ten-year-olds), then I wouldn’t change a thing.

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In the meantime, you should continue doing what you’re already doing. Do not allow your daughter’s body to be a topic for discussion at any time or any place because it’s weird and creepy to sexualize a child of that age. You should also have a talk with your daughter about how to handle conversations centered around her body from her peers or anyone else. Again, she should firmly state that her body is not a conversation piece, and end it there. Last, but not least—it’s never too early to talk to your daughter about consent, and how to handle anyone who violates her boundaries, whether it’s to loudly yell “STOP!,” run for help to an adult, or break someone’s nose with a well-placed right cross.

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At the end of the day, it’s not your daughter’s job to make others comfortable. It’s her job to make herself comfortable. You’re doing a damn good job raising your little girl. Keep up the good work.

Dear Care and Feeding,

While changing some settings on our Netflix account, my wife and I accidentally discovered that our daughter (only child, 16) has been secretly watching some R-rated movies. None of them were extremely bad, but they definitely contain mature content (think Boogie Nights). She’s a really good kid, straight-laced and very responsible, which is why we never even thought of her doing anything like this and don’t have any parental controls on anything. We’re not sure if we should talk to her about this or not. One the one hand, this seems low on the scale of risky teenage behavior, and 16 isn’t that young to be watching R-rated movies. On the other hand, we’re concerned about what else she might end up looking at if we don’t have a conversation about this. What say you?

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—Is Dirk Diggler Really That Bad?

Dear Dirk,

On the surface, this is just a blip on the radar. Because of social media and the internet, there’s hardly anything a 16-year-old kid could see in an R-rated movie that they haven’t seen before. Kids are first exposed to pornography at a very young age—statistics vary, but this expert says on average girls are exposed by age 14. So a movie like Boogie Nights pales in comparison.

The bigger issue is that she’s being shady about it, which rightfully makes you question what else could she be hiding from you. I definitely think this warrants a conversation about being open and honest about things, because the main reason she hid it from you is because she thought you would be upset with her. If you said something like, “Hey honey, I noticed you’ve been watching some R-rated movies without us knowing. I’m not upset with you, but in the future I want you to be able to come to me and ask for permission first, OK?” Most kids would love to have a parent who wouldn’t judge them harshly for doing some common exploration. Not to mention, it can open the door to a conversation about pornography (hopefully you’ve already had several by this point) and can set the stage for her to come to you with bigger things (sex, substance usage, etc.) that you can handle early before it spirals out of control.

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Lastly, if you feel like you want to keep an eye on her social media and internet usage, there are plenty of great monitoring apps you can use. Personally, I like Bark. Again, this is totally common stuff for teenager to do, because I bet you did similar things back in the day (I know I did).

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the primary breadwinner for my family and work full=time virtually during the week while my husband cares for our two kids, Gemma (3 1/2 years) and Melissa (18 months), with assistance from his parents a few days a week. My husband struggles with mental health issues that have led to borderline abusive behavior. Think yelling, swearing, punching walls, self-harm, holes in doors, etc. Before our youngest was born, at my insistence, he finally sought mental health treatment and medication. We also started marriage counseling. (I’ve personally been in therapy for years).

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The work has paid off, and in the past 6 months or so, things have generally become much better, and I no longer feel quite so nervous and egg-shelly in my home. But things are generally OK, until they’re not. Gemma can be challenging and spirited, but nothing too out of the ordinary for a child her age. My husband does not always handle her behavior well, and I cringe when I hear the way he responds to her—yelling, shaming, “tattling” to me about it, etc. I find myself often trying to smooth things over. Recently, after listening through the walls to screaming, yelling, thumping, crying, etc., he stormed into my office. He shouted F-bombs at Gemma, then proceeded to slam the doors around the house. Gemma then told me that my husband choked her and hurt her neck. My husband says Gemma was actually choking him, and he had to push her off. I don’t really know if it matters who did what—she’s a small child and my husband is the one who is supposed to be the responsible one! The good example! The caregiver! I am worried about the mental toll on my kids with this kind of behavior from my husband. When he’s feeling good, he is a great dad, but this is… horrible.

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At this point, I don’t know what to do. I have already raised the issue of part-time daycare or preschool for Gemma, just to get her out of the house and away from him on the days she’s not with his parents. My husband thinks I am being controlling and insensitive to his mental health issues by even making this suggestion. However, I think that part time daycare is *the least I should do* for Gemma’s safety, their mental health and my own piece of mind. Can you help me put this into perspective? What do I need to do here?

—Seeking a Second Opinion

Dear Seeking,

Let’s be clear — there’s nothing “borderline abusive” about what your husband is doing. Yelling, cursing, punching walls, and allegedly choking a toddler are ridiculously abusive behaviors. If I were you, instead of writing into an advice column, I’d be packing my bags and contacting the proper authorities to protect you and your young children until he gets proper help (more on this later).

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I don’t care how spirited your kid is, there’s no situation I can think of when it would be OK to drop F-bombs on a three-year-old. Not to mention, do you honestly think your daughter is lying when she says that your husband choked her? And even if your daughter was “choking” your husband, we’re talking about a grown-ass man versus a toddler—he can defend himself without getting violent, and there is no reason for him to put his hands on her.

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Getting a part-time caretaker seems akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to me. Don’t get me wrong, I think you should do it to keep your kids safe in the short term, but you’re floating on a rapidly sinking ship. You need to address the root cause before you end up dealing with a ton of pain and regret.

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I’m worried about the violent behavior you’ve described. The ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline is an excellent resource. Call them. Does he ever put his hands on you? The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help, too.

Finally, marriage counseling is a great start, but speaking as someone who suffers from mental illness (clinical depression), it seems like your husband needs a more aggressive form of treatment. I would look into psychiatric care, possibly in-patient—or at the very least changing up his medication. Otherwise, it could be a matter of time before he harms your children or you.

You and your kids deserve a man who won’t resort to violent outbursts on a regular basis. If he loves you, he should be onboard with doing whatever it takes to get well in the long-term.

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Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

I don’t really like children (to put it very mildly). I know that most people love them, so I usually keep my dislike to myself, unless someone pries about why I don’t want kids or insists that I’ll change my mind. So far I’ve managed the pregnancy announcements and baby pictures from coworkers and distant family by giving congratulations and politely smiling when appropriate. I otherwise do my best to limit interactions with young children as much as possible However, some friends (who don’t live nearby) have had children during the pandemic. I’ve congratulated them, try not to shudder at the pictures they send me and ask from time to time if they need baby clothes, as that’s an easy thing I can do to be supportive.

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How should I handle meeting the babies face-to-face when I see my friends again? How much should I lie and pretend? Is it too rude to refuse to hold a baby? What if I fail to hide my disgust when a toddler smiles at me? Should I just avoid seeing them for the next few years and lose the friendships? My friends are obviously ecstatic to have become parents, and I wish I could be happy for them without making it all about my unpleasant feelings.

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—Baby Hater

Dear Baby Hater,

I’ve been on this planet for decades and I’ve never come across someone who’s completely repulsed by human babies. Sure, I know plenty of people who have no desire to be parents, and I totally get that point of view—but being disgusted when an innocent baby smiles at you? That’s a new one for me.

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Even though I haven’t personally encountered someone who suffers from it, I’ve come to learn that paedophobia is a thing. Don’t you want to figure out why you feel that way or find a way to address it? Hatred of anything is not a natural emotion, and it certainly isn’t natural in this case. I have an irrational fear of frogs known as ranidaphobia—so I decided to tackle it with my therapist, because I didn’t want to live the rest of my life hating tiny amphibians. The chances of you being around babies is far more likely than me being around frogs, so why don’t you do the same?

Assuming you have no desire to end your baby hating ways, dealing with your friends is pretty simple. Just be honest with them by saying something along the lines of “Nothing personal, but I really don’t like holding babies.” If a friend of mine told me that when I asked them to hold my baby, I would never ask them again. Additionally, I wouldn’t want anyone near my child who doesn’t like babies—and quite frankly, I would start to wonder if that friend had a screw loose.

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It really comes down to this—either you get professional help for your disdain of babies, or you’re right that you risk losing friends. Because no matter how you slice it, your friends’ babies are more important to them than their relationship with you.

If your friends are valuable to you, I would suggest doing whatever it takes to be a good friend. That doesn’t mean hiding your disgust of babies, it means getting professional help for your issues.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I love my husband. We’ve been together for 14 years. The issue is before we were together, I had an avid sex life. He has never really cared about sex. We haven’t had any in five years (he has a bad back and no sex drive). I’ve tried talking to him; we’ve tried therapy. No changes. Last year, I started sleeping with someone else. It’s amazing. Husband has no clue. My issue is that I don’t feel guilty. I don’t want to leave my husband, but I refuse to live without sex. Am I a bad person? I sleep with this guy about once a week, and to be honest, I’m much happier now and a better wife because I no longer am resentful.

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