If you are a mother, you know that you are always trying to find teachable moments for your children. Sometimes these moments will present themselves and sometimes we have to create them. We start teaching from the day our babies are born and never stop. We teach them their first words. We read to them so them develop a love of books. We tell them not to touch the stove because it’s hot. We teach them self help skills like getting dressed, eating with a spoon, using the potty. And, even as they become adults, we go on teaching by imparting the lessons and wisdom we have learned throughout our lifetimes.
This morning I woke up thinking about this because last night I watched a two and a half minute video/advertisement for feminism that had five little girls in it using the “F” word. I know they did this to make a point and for shock value. Everyone is probably talking about this video today. It was all over the news last night. But no one is talking about their topic of “feminism” and inequality of pay. Everyone is talking about how offensive this ad is and how they exploited these little girls. They are trying to understand how the parents could allow their daughters to be used in this way. The video is supposed to be about the power of women, but is anyone getting that message when all we can focus on is the young girls using profanity? What are we trying to teach our girls? Vulgarity equals power?
I recall years ago riding the bus with my husband and my girls, who were about 7 and 9 at the time. A teachable moment presented itself. Diagonally across from us were four or five teenage boys and girls. They were laughing and talking loudly so we couldn’t help but hear them. Every other word they used was the “F” word. They used it in every part of speech possible: verb, noun, adjective, adverb. I was appalled because I didn’t want my girls listening to this vulgarity. Then I realized that as much as I wanted to, I could not protect them from the realities of life. There were going to be times they were going to hear the “F” word when I wasn’t around, and I didn’t want them to think it was okay. So, I used this as a teachable moment. I asked them if they heard what these teenagers were saying. They quietly nodded with eyes wide open. I told them this kind of talk is not appropriate, it’s not cool, it’s not funny. People who have to talk like that have a limited vocabulary. It shows a lack of intelligence. Our language comes with thousands of words we can use to express how we think and feel. The “F” word never has to be used at all. It’s not nice. It’s offensive. We don’t use that word. The girls seemed to understand my point and I was satisfied that I had turned a negative experience into a positive lesson.
Years later, when my older daughter was about 15, the word “whore” was being used a lot. It was used in conjunction with other words like “attention whore,” “shoe whore,” “food whore,” etc. I don’t know how this fad got started or why. Even Mario Cantone had a Broadway Show called, “Laugh Whore.” One day my daughter came home and told me she is being called a “- - - whore” at school, and she thinks it’s funny. I don’t happen to recall what word they placed in front of “whore” because all I could hear was the word whore. I was stunned for a second. I told her I didn’t find it funny. She explained how it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just what people do now. Everything is followed by the word “whore.” I told her I had never heard of this before and didn’t like it. I went on to tell her she needs to put a stop to it and now allow herself to be addressed by any form of the word “whore.“ Of course, she thought I was making a big deal out of nothing, it was all fun and games. If you know anything about teenagers, you know that they know everything and parents know nothing. It’s harder to get through to them at this age, if you can get through to them at all. I decided I needed to have a serious little chat with my daughter about this new trendy usage of the word “whore.” First of all, I explained to her, that the word “whore” has been a derogatory and vulgar way to address women since the beginning of time. This word is not funny. It has a long history of being offensive to women. It doesn’t make it okay to use now because it’s attached to another word and meant to be funny. It’s not funny. It’s not a joke. Secondly, you should respect yourself enough not to allow anyone to address you by any term using the word “whore.” What starts out being funny can sometimes stick, like nicknames. I asked, “Is this the way you want people to think of you?” By your allowing them to refer to you in that way and laughing at it, you are condoning it and saying it’s okay. It’s not okay, it’s sickening. Just because other kids think it’s funny, doesn’t mean you have to go along with it. Maybe they aren’t old enough to appreciate the degrading meaning this word has for women. But, I’m telling you and now you know it’s unacceptable. You should tell anyone who calls you that to stop, you don’t like it.
My daughter listened to my lecture. I didn’t know if I had gotten through to her or not. I couldn’t be with her at school to see if my words had any impact. I know I gave her something to think about. She had a decision to make. I just had to hope she was going to learn something from what I said and correct the situation. She did. A couple of days later she came home from school. She told me that this boy was referring to her as “- - whore,” and she told him to stop because she didn’t like to be called that. I told her I was proud of her, it was the right thing to do. More importantly though, I believe she really understood why it wasn’t a joking matter. She understood that she had to value herself enough not to allow herself to be degraded, even if it was supposed to be "all in fun."