Sympathy and Advice for the Now-Infamous “Mrs. Hall”

Girls at beach taking selfieDear Mrs. Hall,

I’m going to guess you’ve had a tough week.  Here you are, a small-time blogger (like I am) and one of your posts blows up in your face.  I’m not going to lie – I have very mixed feelings about you, the open letter you’ve written, and the support/backlash you’ve undoubtedly received as a result.  I’m not sure either the praise or the e-lynchings are entirely called for (although I tend to side with the critics on this one) but, hey – that is the risk we take when we write an open letter to the internet public and hit publish.

I’ve never met you, and my only impression of you is this one FYI letter you wrote to the girls in your sons’ lives – just like you have never met some of the girls whose photos you check out, and to whom you address your public letter. I can see from your blog you’ve received hundreds of comments in support, that you’ve got THOUSANDS awaiting moderation (just do yourself a favor, and close the comments) and that you will delete comments you consider rude. Since, however, you have become an internet phenomenon by doling out unsolicited advice, I can only assume you, yourself, would be open to unsolicited advice from a fellow mother, woman, and writer.

In the internet age, you – much like the daughters of others you have taken it upon yourself to advise – are learning that the internet is an unwieldy beast, and it’s possible to give a horrible impression and a reputation that may or may not be deserved. I can see it now – girls getting to know a boy they might like, but then asking, “Your mom’s not a MRS. HALL, is she?”

What will you do with this information? Will you run – RUN! to remedy this? Or do you not care what the impression is you leave? Will you take into account the angry, horrified words of those who disagree with you – and even mock and shame you – and try to glean the wisdom and good intentions from which they sprang? Just as you are hoping the young girls to whom you write will do?

What will you do with the shame? That is, of course, assuming you feel shame about the rape culture and misogynistic tendencies your letter reinforces…do you feel any remorse about it? Can you see value in any of your critics’ points of view?

Will you do as Mike Julianelle suggests in his Huffington Post piece? Though, I notice that you’ve taken down to photo of your sons one the beach, flexing their muscles and sort of looking like the kind of picture you don’t want them to receive from girls.  Mr. Julianelle writes,

But I will also tell my son that just because he sees a picture of a naked or half-naked or three-quarters naked or fully naked girl or woman or boy or man online, and just because he can’t “un-see” such a picture, that doesn’t mean he has ownership over that person, or that he has the right to shame that person, or that he has any idea of who she really is based on a photo or that it’s OK for her to be nothing more than a sex object to him.

Will you, along with the extremely sound advice you give to your daughter regarding being careful about what she posts of herself online, also let her know if she is raped or molested by someone with more power than she, that she is not to blame? That she was not asking for it? That she does not deserve to be abused? Even if she posted a picture of herself in her pretty room with skimpy p.j.s on? I think we all know the sort of picture I’m talking about. Is rape, bullying, slut-shaming an ACCEPTABLE natural consequence of kids exercising bad judgement? Because, I guarantee you – regardless of how solidly you parent your children, they WILL exercise bad judgement.

I hope you will. I hope you consider these things and learn – just like you hope young girls will consider your counsel to think carefully about how they conduct themselves online. You should also think carefully about how you conduct yourself online. Are you truly the judgmental, sanctimonious, wolf-in-sheep’s clothing you appear to be in this letter? Or are you simply a well-intentioned friend of the young people, trying to guide them away from potential disaster, albeit in an extremely clueless fashion?

Either way, wherever you fall in that range I describe above, I hope you’ll consider carefully the reaction you’ve engendered with your missive. I hope you won’t write it off as “haters gonna hate” and go on with your life. If you REALLY would like to teach these girls (and most importantly – your own children) an crucial lesson in life, you will apologize and clarify your intentions. You will demonstrate empathy and self-reflection. You will tell the world, “No, no – that’s not who I am.” And you will be grateful for second chances. You know – the second chances you are teaching your children and their friends do not exist.

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Catonsville Patch, Kveller, and has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her writing has also landed in the “Winner’s Circle” on Midlife Collage twice. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.
  • http://imadealiyah.wordpress.com Jen

    Nicely written post, Aliza. I will admit — as a woman; and as a mom of both boys and girls (not yet teens)– that I am not so offended by Mrs. Hall’s piece. I don’t think it misogynistic as Deborah Cruz of the Huffington Post thinks. I think, more than anything, it’s one voice in a very important conversation we’re having about society and about rape and about raising children and about social media.

    I also don’t get from the original Mrs. Hall piece that she is necessarily judging teen girls or blaming them for the someday, imaginary rape her son might (hopefully not commit). I don’t think she needs to apologize, though she may want to clarify her intentions, as you suggest in a follow up post.

    I remember when I was 16, getting into a heated argument with my father who made some snide comment about girls dressed in a certain way, “asking for it.” Now my father was and is a very liberal, progressive man. At the time, all I could hear was judgment in his voice. And I was pissed — I was enraged and took it personally (even though I dressed pretty modestly). But now as a mom — of both boys and girls — I can hear love and concern in the remark he made. I can hear acknowledgment of his fear, and his concern that his daughter — or other people’s daughters — would suffer at the hands of a certain reality. I wonder if that’s not the place Mrs. Hall was coming from? I agree that her voice is certainly condescending (all the talk about keeping her boys mind pure — HA! — do they watch TV commercials?) And that her voice might have been better spent speaking to the parents of those girls, and not to the girls themselves, but I can’t help but agree with one of her points in particular the point she makes when she writes:
    “But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?”

    • Aliza Worthington

      It is entirely possible that is where she was coming from. Which is why I wanted to emphasize to her that the “no-second-chances” policy might be one she’d like to rethink, as she herself might be asking for a second chance sooner or later. I really think there is more to talk about in her post, and I hope she doesn’t shy away from it. She raises some legitimate points, although I think her approach is so painfully supportive of the “blame-the-victim” mentality. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment – I’ve really like your story about your dad and the wisdom maturity brings to our view of our parents. :)

  • shelle

    The biggest practical problem I see with Mrs. Hall’s post is that she’s not asking any of these girls, or their parents, those questions – “What were you trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?” She’s just flinging those questions out into the faceless internet, in a passive-aggressive, judge-from-the-safety-of-your-keyboard fashion. I don’t agree with her points necessarily, and while I do think her intentions were sincere and totally well-meaning, I don’t think she thought it through. I understand that her children’s well-being is her first priority, but as a mother (particularly of a daughter, as she is) and a minister (of a women’s ministry, no less), I’d think she’d have a little more empathy for these girls and be more inclined to engage with them instead of just writing them off.

    • Aliza Worthington

      That was one of my biggest problems with this. The “no second chances whatsoever” attitude is so unfair and judgmental. And yet, I still understand (and even agree) with some of the sentiments behind what she wrote. Thank you for your comment!

  • http://theanimatedwoman.com The Animated Woman

    Oh yes! I love the way you’ve handled the irony of Mrs. Hall’s letter. And empathy, I believe is at the root of critical thinking, something the entire world could use more of.
    Well done.

    • Aliza Worthington

      Thank you! Yes, critical thinking is a rare commodity, these days, I’m afraid… :(

  • http://www.bloggerfather.com Oren

    Beyond all the support she’s getting, I think the backlash, as cruel as it sometimes was, goes a long way in bringing some perspective into this issue. Just the fact that she was so unwilling to give second chances can open the eyes of others who may have felt the same way before her post, but now realize how close-minded and judgemental they were.

    In the end, I believe the damage her post could have made has been undone by the backlash. Now, all I have is the hope she and her family have a great life and that her sons find (mother-approved) love.

    • Aliza Worthington

      I agree with every single word you wrote. And I would add that I hope her daughter is able to grow and be empowered despite her mother’s feelings. Thanks for commenting, Oren!

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