Speaking of Women's Rights: A tough week for teenage girls

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A tough week for teenage girls

When are we going to start standing up for teenage girls? Young women are insanely talented – academically, athletically, artistically, all over the world. But society doesn’t trust them, doesn’t respect them, and doesn’t want them defining their own identities. Teen girls got raked over the coals left and right last week.

A young woman in Cleveland, Ohio was sexually assaulted. Afterward she came forward with her story, seeking justice and punishment for her attacker – something that’s notoriously difficult for victims to do. Imagine her surprise when the judge ordered HER to take a lie detector test.

Meanwhile, here in Seattle, a teenager worked with a clinic located in her high school to arrange to have an abortion off school property. When her mother found out, this was her ever-so-supportive reaction: she broadcast her outrage on the local television news.

"We had no idea this was being facilitated on campus," said [the mother]. "They just told her that if she concealed it from her family, that it would be free of charge and no financial responsibility. … Makes me feel like my rights were completely stripped away."

Check this out: the teen didn’t break any laws, and neither did the clinic. There are no parental disclosure laws in Washington state, which is a good thing – it means teens who fear for their safety don’t have to reveal a potentially explosive issue in a dangerous home environment. And now we have an excellent example of why this is right: disclosure potentially equals broadcast of totally private medical information on television. Thanks, mom.

And in Mississippi, all Constance McMillen wanted was to spiff herself up in a tux and take her girlfriend to prom. Her high school had some wildly different ideas, though: A. Girls don’t wear pants to formal events and B. By the way, prom is CANCELLED. Because of YOU. (Pardon me, because of the “distractions to the educational process caused by recent events,” the school’s euphemism for “lesbian couple that wants to attend prom.”)

Constance’s story set off a national media frenzy and ended up with her receiving a $30,000 scholarship from Ellen. Not bad, as far as happy endings go, but it doesn’t change the fact that she was treated like crap in the first place.

Teen girls deserve better. If we respected them, they would be able to come forward with stories about being sexually assaulted and know that the justice system would be up to the task of keeping them safe. If we accepted their own definitions of their still-forming identities, they’d be allowed to wear whatever (and bring whomever) they want to prom. And if we trusted them, we’d be proud that they’re brave and knowledgeable enough to take care of themselves, and we’d be thankful to the people who give them safe, timely medical care – even when their parents are out of the loop.

The watchword in the women’s rights community this year is the late Dr. George Tiller’s slogan: “Trust women.” Let’s add an equivalent motto for the younger set.

Trust girls.

What are you doing to support the teen girls in your life?