As I write this, I am sitting at the pool watching two twelve-year-old boys – my son and a friend – try not to stare at a gaggle of shapely teenage girls in bikinis.
Also as I write this, on my to-do list for later is taking my 15-year-old daughter on an errand to pick up back-to-school clothes and sports uniform gear. I’m already bracing for the “But Mom!” conversations about whether the only available shorts are too short.
Oh, the irony.
You see, after a multi-year research project about the visual nature of men, I’m spending a lot of time these days trying to help men and women understand each other on a rather sensitive issue. Which means in my own family I’m trying both to help my growing son learn how to honor girls in his thought life (including by not ogling and fantasizing about them) and to help my daughter learn how to honor boys by not making that discipline exponentially more difficult.
Yes, we patiently explain to the teen boys we work with, your brain is wired in a very visual way. We understand that you want to look. Those are very appealing sights, and your brain is designed to be stimulated by them. You may want to fantasize. But you have to honor the girls instead. We know it is difficult, but every day you need to work to look away, to respect those girls as more than just a collection of body parts. You need to tear down those salacious thoughts. You need to reserve those looks and thoughts for your eventual wife.
Yes, we patiently explain to the teen and pre-teen girls we work with; you are special and beautiful and are wired to want to look and feel that way. We understand that you feel attractive when you wear the latest fashions, even though they might be tight, short, or revealing. We understand how important it is to you to fit in and not feel weird — for example, by not being the only girl in sight wearing a one-piece swim suit. But you also need to know about the wiring of the male brain, and how to honor the boys around you. We know it is difficult today, but you need to try to find fashions that are cute and yet don’t show off your body parts. We ask guys to do the hard work of treating you with respect; please be willing to do the same for them.
And of course, all over the country, those same types of conversations are taking place at an adult level as well… although often with much stronger emotions attached.
In this common discussion about what guys think and what women wear, it is so easy to take sides, get offended, or become indignant about what that other person should do or not do, that we miss the bigger picture. Whether we are talking about teenagers at the mall or about adults at the office, church or gym, we all have responsibilities to each other in how we think, in how we interact, and in how we present ourselves.
“Look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.” The Apostle Paul said that two thousand years ago, but on this issue it pretty much sums it up today.
Shaunti Feldhahn is a groundbreaking social researcher, popular speaker and the best-selling author of many books, including For Women Only and For Men Only. In her latest book, Through A Man’s Eyes, Shaunti has teamed up with Craig Gross, the founder of XXXchurch.com, to open women’s eyes to the visual nature of men and what it means for a husband, boyfriend or son. See menarevisual.com or shaunti.com for more.