This week’s People Magazine has a story about Julie Schenecker who shot her two kids in the head for being mouthy:
Not long ago, Calyx Schenecker, 16, returned from a shopping expedition near her home in Tampa with a new pair of shorts. “They were the shortest things ever, like you could see her butt sticking out,” says Cathy Vann, a friend of Calyx’s mom, Julie. “Julie was like ‘I hope you saved your receipt because those are going right back.'” Calyx’s response? “She was stomping around the house screaming, “You’re jealous that you can’t wear these,” says Vann who witnessed the fight at the Schenecker’s 3,300 ft upscale Ashington Reserve gated community. And Julie? She gave as good as she got, saying things like, ‘People are going to call you a slut.’ ” Yet Vann was hardly shocked. “Every mom of a teenage daughter has these fights.”
I’m not saying that this kind of dialogue is so rare and unusual that Vann should’ve suspected that Schenecker was about to murder her children. But arguing over who looks better in short shorts and slut-shaming is normal mother-daughter behavior? I don’t have teenagers yet, but if that’s true, it’s sad.
This argument between Calyx and her mom is not about sex but about power. A power struggle is a totally normal part of adolescent rites of passage. Unfortunately, because males are still mostly the ones with the power, females are allowed to acquire their own power– in an extremely limited way– through their sexuality. If you decipher the code here, Calyx is telling her mom that she is powerful and her mom is telling her that she is not.
Women of all ages would be so much healthier, as would America by the way, if we weren’t all so mired in these twisted perceptions of female sexuality and power. But tragically, we are. So mired, in fact, as feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray argues, we have no clue what female sexuality actually is.
Can you imagine a father angrily warning his son that, if he wears a certain outfit, he’s going to get called a slut? Any neighbor overhearing that would be on the phone with 911 in two seconds, claiming dangerous insanity next door.
Precisely. Even the chicks can’t imagine chicks locked up in garages, doing cool stuff. Even a girl doing that very thing, writing her books, when it comes time to project it onto a believable character, she comes up with a dude named Victor.
Hi Morgan !
“monsters made from dead body parts sewn together & then animated with lightning”
Not “invented” by a man in a garage … Mary Shelley all by herself
Here’s my experience as a former teenaged daughter. NO, it’s not “normal” dialogue between mothers and teen daughters. Over sexualization and COMPETITION is borne of abuse. I’ve come to realize by observing and talking to friends and peers who feel this is “normal” stuff, believe that it is because that’s all they’ve seen and they assume it of everyone else. In fact, when I tell them, “No, my mother never competed with me for clothes or boyfriends, or who’s “more attractive”-realm. No I never had an abusive boyfriend “like everyone does.” Not all relationships are dysfunctional,” they are SHOCKED. They sit in stunned silence and really think about it (at least my thoughtful and smart friends/peers have).
The power issue is that theirs has been sexualized waaay too early (and at all!, frankly) and that’s all they know in how to be powerful and…noticed. It’s a very sad commentary on our society that this story (not the extreme of killing bit) is so common. I wonder what the percentages are?
This argument between Calyx and her mom is not about sex but about power…If you decipher the code here, Calyx is telling her mom that she is powerful and her mom is telling her that she is not.
I agree with all of the observations here, especially with the thing in italics immediately above. At least, from the daughter’s perspective, that is what is taking place…
But it’s a little skewed to observe these things about the power girls & women have, which starts these arguments between mothers & daughters — that men & boys do not have. And then from that come to a conclusion that men are the powerful ones. Shouldn’t we be arriving at a conclusion that is somewhat in harmony with the evidence we have seen?
Here’s my suggestion for how to look at it: Men appear to be powerful because we have these pursuits that make us more powerful — that do not involve women. Locking ourselves up in garages, inventing new computers, magical cars that fly, monsters made from dead body parts sewn together & then animated with lightning. Writing books, poems, plays, when the women are not around. And God knows how much computer software. Whereas women who make themselves powerful tend to do it by some circuitous route that involves a man, whether it’s becoming Secretary of State after achieving fame due to your husband’s presidency, or wearing short shorts to get attention from men. Ewww…I do not want to think about that certain person at the same time as tiny shorts…let’s take this in another direction…
That, and we’re willing to run for executive office, and therefore subject ourselves to ridicule. Our response to ridicule is rather blunted; it is inextricably intertwined with the toughness we achieve as we become men. It is how boys & men “man-up” other boys who are having a difficult time achieving manhood, we make fun of each other. We’re not as nasty about it as girls are, but we make it thoroughly unpleasant if we have to. Girls who ridicule other girls, on the other hand, are pure mean and purely seek to destroy. And so by the time a girl becomes a woman, she’s been exposed to something her male counterpart has not had to deal with — but she’s also much more sensitized to ridicule. Her brother, responding to his ridicule, has adapted to anticipate it and accommodate it. The result: A lot of women won’t go out on a limb on a certain position, unless they’re sure a lot of other women will back ’em up. The average man is more willing to put himself out there all by himself, and take the abuse. So a candidate for elective office, especially executive office, is much more likely to be a man.
Those two things make men appear powerful; they are both mostly an illusion. By which I mean they do not shape the final outcome. You just celebrated a victory that the “forcible rape” clause was removed from some abortion-funding bill. Does this go the other way a whole lot of the time? How about family law, is there some state where a divorcing husband can expect not to pay alimony to keep her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed…or perhaps to collect it, if she’s capable of earning more? It’s becoming a more reasonable question to ask now that more women are achieving higher-education. Or where he can reasonably expect to come away with primary custody of the kids if the situation warrants?
What I’m seeing happening here is: As you point out, there is this coming-of-age with the daughter that would not be taking place with the son. Before she can achieve womanhood, she needs to learn things about how people interact, that a boy does not need to learn before he becomes a man. We might as well face it, other than the above-mentioned “avoiding of ridicule” a man who’s just arrived at manhood, needs to know precious little about how people feel, react, interact, behave…next to nothing, really. Whereas a woman has to have mastered it. This is what the mother and daughter are really fighting about. The daughter has reached the age where she needs to learn things about the messages people pick up, that she does not yet have the maturity to learn. Occasionally, there is some drama here for the fathers-of-boys…it has nothing to do with that “those shorts are too short” situation…our thing has more to do with grades and report cards and teacher’s comments. But YES, it is really, really harrowing and you should dread it.
Because whether they’re boys or girls, extroverts or introverts, teenagers do not understand human interaction the way they need to when they become teenagers, and our evolving society is placing stiffer and stiffer demands on them of this nature when they reach this age.