By Susie Kroll
My husband and I went to the movies last Friday. It isn’t something we do often as Netflix makes movie watching at home more desirable, even if we have to wait for new releases. Back to the topic at hand, what I heard.
As my husband and I walked toward the theatre, we were surrounded by hordes of teenagers. Most of them were on cell phones, some were laughing and talking in groups, and still others were horsing around in the landscaping of the mall and theatre. It was all typical behavior in my book. Then I heard some guy yell, “Hey Hoochie Mama!” I looked in his general direction and saw that he was a teenager and was approaching a group of girls. When I was a teen, I would have told that guy to, well not appropriate language for this blog. Nevertheless, I would have been insulted and walked away from him. At the very least he would have been told not to address me in that manner.
Surprise of surprise, one of the teen girls giggled joyfully and ran to him. He slapped her on her butt while she gushed and hugged him. Her girlfriends didn’t seem alarmed or surprised by her behavior. For the sake of being thorough, I checked with the Urban Dictionary regarding “Hoochie Mama”. A summation of definitions include, slut, girl having multiple babies with different fathers, wearer of tight clothing, trashy makeup, and gaudy jewelry. Additionally, a Hoochie Mama wears dark, thick, and slutty makeup. The Urban Dictionary also says that a man can label a woman with this name as well as a group of jealous women. So what’s my point? First, this is not a positive or humorous word or label. Even the Urban Dictionary paints it in a derogatory light. Second, it is meant as an insult to the bearer. The girl that was called this name was not dressed slutty or trashy and she didn't have a train-load of babies with her. She was a typical American teen, clad in jeans and a t-shirt.
Why did the teen girl giggle and willingly accept the label from the boy? And, why is that a bad thing? I have a few theories on this matter. I have noticed that there has been a shift in the attention girls are willing to accept from boys, say from the 1950’s until now. It may be culturally, pop-culturally, and media induced. Long gone are the days of girls wearing their guy’s letterman’s jackets or fraternity pins. Teens are bombarded with images of singers, rappers, reality TV stars, and various celebrities’ objectifying women. There has been a transition from femininity as an asset to sex and the female body as a woman’s only asset. How said asset is used and displayed has also changed.
Recognition and attention from an admirer is wonderful. It feels good. Someone telling you that you are beautiful or asking you out on a date are some of the things that makes ones heart flutter. Finding ways to foster that are natural and should be a normal part of life. However, I am saddened and struggle daily with the reality that most teenage girls now believe that any attention from an admirer is positive. Hence why the girl at the theatre was so gleeful at the name that guy called her. He may have been joking but I still deem it unacceptable. I also struggle with the either deliberate or unconscious acceptance of the “sex is your only asset” attitude and the degree to which girls are living up to it. I see that girls are embodying this attitude in their appearance, attitudes, and acceptance of treatment by other people both male and female.
So why is this bad? In addition to it teaching our teens that their self-worth is devalued, it plants the seeds for further denigration. If I was a teen and I was comfortable with being called a Hoochie Mama or a slut, would I then be comfortable with a partner calling me stupid or worthless? If I wasn’t could I become comfortable with those labels? It is a slippery slope. It easily makes an abuser’s behavior acceptable and camouflaged to the receiver and bystanders. If everyone thinks the name-calling is funny or not serious, then they are more likely to miss the signs of dating violence. I am not saying that the guy at the theatre is an abuser. I am just saying that teenager’s acceptance of seemingly minor name-calling or labels open the door to a potentially harmful future situation. They could be victims or blind bystanders to someone else’s victimization. A change needs to be made in our teenager’s minds and attitudes. To make this change the responsibility lies with both parties. The seeker of the admiration needs to draw a line in the sand and decide what attention they are willing to acknowledge and what they will not. It is also the responsibility of the giver of attention to decide what behaviors are respectful, positive, and should be fostered. Calling someone a Hoochie Mama isn’t positive or desirable. Telling someone they are smart or funny or cute is.
It is easy to say that teachers, celebrities, parents, and the government should do something. If we take that attitude then the problem becomes too overwhelming to solve as there are so many factors and facets to it. So let’s start small. Each of us should decide within ourselves what attention we are willing to accept. Once that decision is made we can tell our friends or partners. Hopefully it will get everyone thinking about what they want or don’t want. Slowly mindsets will change. Attitudes will change. I would hope that all teenagers would then learn and believe that the favor of an admirer is earned. It must be appropriate, positive, and not derogatory in nature. If someone wants your attention they should seek it respectfully.
Susie Kroll specializes in speaking about Teen Dating Violence and Healthy & Safe Dating. She conducts workshops, keynotes, training, and seminars on issues specifically related to teens and their relationships. Susie is a regular "Ask the Expert" columnist for Reasons To Be Beautiful magazine. Visit her Website and Blog.