Trash talk is at an all time low and girls are bearing the brunt of it. A new "top 25" list was made public which rated the girls at a particular high school, and the evidence should be frightening.
The crudely sexual "Top 25" list of girls at Mt. Lebanon High School certainly reflects the way teenage boys have talked about girls in locker rooms for generations. The list isn't much different from the commonplace "slam books" that mock students for their looks or behavior.
But numerous experts on teens, gender issues and sexuality believe the Mt. Lebanon list is a sign of a more recent phenomenon: a "just say anything" culture that normalizes the trash talk of Howard Stern and "South Park," crossed with the language of ESPN and sports talk radio.
The authors of the list -- which grades girls' breasts, buttocks and faces and uses pornographic and scatological terms along with ethnic slurs -- are still unidentified, so it's not known if they were athletes and thus part of a pervasive "jock culture," which has come under renewed scrutiny in recent rape allegations against members of Duke University's lacrosse team.
It's a distinction without a difference, said Dr. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at SUNY Stony Brook and an expert on masculinity. Whether it's a member of the football team or someone on the wannabe fringe, this kind of verbal violence toward women is part of "guy culture" today, one that young boys are pressured to be a part of lest they be thought less than manly.
Some people are outraged, and so they're attacking ... the present curriculum.
If anything, the Mt. Lebanon incident is a depressing reminder of how far we have not come in teaching our young people about sexual harassment and its emotional consequences, despite universal policies banning it in schools and workplaces, said Dr. Irene Frederick, a gynecologist and women's health activist based in East Liberty.
"As a female gynecologist, I've seen the effects on women of 'boys will be boys' again and again," she said. "For these young women, this could have a devastating effect, especially for those on the bottom of the list, who are going to feel particularly violated. It sends a very negative message to a young woman who does not have the perfect face or figure or hair about how they should respond around young men to get attention."
But young men will suffer, too, "if they are allowed to believe that this is the appropriate manner in which to think about young women."
Gee, where on earth would they get that idea?? Maybe they need more time in school to talk about how to process all the sex in the media, says Eleanore Childs, founder of The Heartwood Institute in Oakland, a nationally recognized character education program that is used in Mt. Lebanon's elementary grades:
Ideally, there should have been an active, ongoing program about sexual harassment in place before this happened, she and other experts noted, but in this era of "No Child Left Behind," such initiatives are crowded out of the high school curriculum in favor of bread-and-butter courses like math, English and science.
No, Eleanor. How about an active, ongoing program to take the toxic waste off the airwaves. All the character development in the world cannot compensate for the constant barrage that is destroying these kids. There is one childhood per child; one latent period which should not be violated. "Woe to those who scandalise the little ones."
The vocabulary used on the list was taught outside the classroom, and that needs to be curbed in a communal effort -- by parents, schools, pastors, and elected officials. What good is parsing this vocabulary inside the classroom, with a tsk tsk?? Sure there have always been less attractive girls who didn't make Homecoming Court, but now everyone has to compete with airbrushed porn stars and is rated accordingly. Whatever No Child Left Behind aspires to, it has to reach out to children floating on the flotsam of depravity. Until the faucet is turned off, the toxicity will poison any chance of success -- no matter how much math, English, science -- or sexual harassment guidelines are taught.