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Good Girls, Bad Names

Good Girls, Bad Names

by Myrna Haskel

My seventeen-year-old daughter wanted to show me a cute picture posted on Instagram of some of her classmates at the beach.  The picture could have been on the cover of a Hallmark card.  The beautiful waves, sandy beach, and smiling, tanned teens made me yearn to be near the coast, listening to the waves crash and smelling the salty air.  My mood took a sharp turn, however, when I glanced at the caption below, which read, “All My Bitches.”  

“Are you kidding me?”  I asked my daughter. 

“What’s wrong?” was the innocent reply.

“What does that caption mean?” I asked as if I couldn’t read plain English.

“Oh…that’s just something friends call each other sometimes.  It’s not a bad thing,” she insisted.    

Seriously?  Not a “bad thing”?  I’m very familiar with the generation gap, but this is ridiculous.  Newsflash, adolescents: a bitch is a female dog, ergo a derogatory term.

Here’s the problem: If girls use “bitches” and “hos” as terms of endearment, adolescent boys think it’s just fine to refer to them with the same.  Teenage girls need to realize that their disrespectful banter can have negative consequences.

What are they thinking?

Teens have picked up on this nonsense from the obvious – pop culture.  Rap lyrics, for instance, are laden with demeaning terms for females, and they appear casually in movies as well.  Unfortunately, “bitch” and “ho” have become more mainstream than the terms of yesteryear – chicks, dames, and broads.   Although also considered pejorative for their time, it was not typical for women to refer to their friends this way.  Does this commonplace usage degrade how females are perceived in general?

“I think the girls are doing this because it helps them feel inclusive with their friends,” explains Mary Jo Rapini, LPC, psychotherapist and co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex, or Whatever (Bayou Publishing, 2008).  “However, their casual manner of disgusting names for one another is lowering their sense of self,” she adds.

Losing Respect

Neil McNerney, LPC, family counselor, parent consultant, and author of Homework: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out! (Integrated Press, 2011), agrees that these disparaging names are harmful.  “If we use degrading language, even in jest, about ourselves and our friends, it will be interpreted as degrading by others.”  Although some adolescents believe this name calling is harmless amongst female friends, McNerney believes that teen boys might, in turn, feel compelled to refer to their female peers in the same way.

“Boys are trying to be accepted by the girls, so they are using the lingo that helps them achieve that. Unfortunately, they will begin thinking those words accurately describe not just friends, but all women.  If we want men to be respectful, allowing this type of name calling is not going to help us get that respect,” Rapini warns.

Choosing to Emulate the Positive

“The very nature of teenagers throughout the generations is to like things that their parents don’t like.  We can discourage the negative trends, but be prepared for pushback.  It’s what teenagers do,” McNerney points out.

See Also

Parents should encourage their teens to focus on positive behaviors of the celebrities they admire.  Many top athletes, pop stars, and movie celebrities give back to their communities. 

“For example, PINK, a pop music star, speaks out against bullying,” says Rapini.  She advises parents to point out when they see popular artists doing good deeds and behaving with dignity, and there are plenty of examples.  Lady Gaga founded the Born This Way Foundation to combat bullying.  New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has awesome stats on the field, but his work off of the field is just as inspiring.  His Brees Dream Foundation improves the quality of life for cancer patients, and provides education and opportunities for children and families in need.  Mega star Justin Bieber supports “Pencils of Promise”, which builds schools in third world countries.

Of course, the other side of the coin continues to make headlines.  Miley Cyrus’ obscene performance at the Video Music Awards in August was over-the-top and inappropriate, according to many of her peers and fans.  Rapini suggests parents use events like this as a teaching moment.  “Use the Miley Cyrus incident as an example of what happens when people compete against others for shock value.  If you are authentic, you needn’t compete.  Be yourself.”

Perceptions Matter

Rapini counsels, “Parents should demand ‘word replacement’ and not back down.  In our family the words ‘shut up’ and ‘stupid’ were not allowed.  To this day, my kids still don’t use those words.”

McNerney explains, “I think we should remind our daughters how other people will perceive them when they use degrading language.”  He also points out that teenagers will go on the defensive.  “If she replies with something like, ‘It doesn’t mean that anymore’ or ‘We’re just kidding,’ don’t get into an argument.”  Instead, he suggests that parents reiterate their point of view, explaining why their word choice will likely be misunderstood by others.

Most importantly, Rapini reminds parents of their role.  “Parents have to demand respect.  You cannot be your teen’s buddy and parent.  Be your child’s parent.”

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