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March 14, 2006



Another wonderful post Hugo. It's too bad that it isn't easy for all of us to pursue what will make us happy rather than struggling to live up to others' expectations. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to extricate the two and simply identify what it is that will, or simply might, make us happy. After all, how can one be happy knowing that all of one's relatives are unhappy? But I think you have identified the problem and a good solution, even if it is one which many of your students and so many others will struggle to accept and implement.


We do not owe our parents for their sacrifices; it is the parents' obligation to their children to provide for them. This is a "debt" we pay back by doing the same for our own children.

Hissy Cat

And while male students from certain working-class or immigrant backgrounds also are hit with the burden of parental expectations for success, they usually get to escape the simultaneous requirement that they be virginal while earning straight As!

Did I miss the part of Connie's letter where she mentions virginity? Her letter doesn't say anything about "virginal expectations."


Thanks, all, for laying it out in the daylight about the impossibility of Doing It All. And how honor or respect isn't the same thing as blind obedience.
The thread where this started did include some responses talking about not only the expectation to remain chaste until marriage but also a romanticized idea of what one's first sexual epxerience then would be like. Some folks then pointed out that this would not likely be so great, that it might even hurt. Seems to me it shouldn't have to, that there's some way of making sure it doesn't, and that would go a long way to making that first time special. I myself could never stand the idea of someone getting hurt, even minorly, during what was supposed to be an "act of love".
Anyway, I recall wondering, when I found myself at a straitlaced 2-year school, if they really want all of us to remain chaste why don't they come up with a safe, cheap anaprodisiac already, instead of leaving us in a state of frustration. I was 18 once, and cold showers aren't going to work. One thing to stand around flapping one's jaws about what others should do, another thing to actually make it easier for them to do it...

David Thompson

So you deny your sexuality through your entire adolescence, and put off sexual relationships until you're finished with college.

These are two completely different things. Keeping your pants on does NOT constitute "denying your sexuality". Go smack yourself in the back of the head until you get it right.


Good post, Hugo. My "road to Damascus" moment in my journey to Christian faith came when I realized that if I kept trying to be a "good daughter" (which for my parents meant making my relationship with them more important than any other, including my new marriage) I would become an angry, sinful, crazy person. I realized I was living under the Law, as St. Paul would say. I accepted God's forgiveness for my inevitable imperfections - i.e. the inevitability that I would find myself in situations where I could not avoid hurting someone. And you know what? I am so much freer now AND my relationship with my parents is better than ever. But it was REALLY hard. My prayers are with everyone who is going through this.


This is why it's a good idea for some girls and boys, really, to GO AWAY to college and not live at home any longer than necessary. As a friend once told me when I thought about going home after college, "do the opposite of what seems right or your parents will swallow up your life." As a parent I cry inside thinking about the day when I have to let my babies (10 and 14) out of the nest, but it's as inevitable as it is human: you don't owe your parents anything but your true happiness. It's a happy day indeed when you are all on the same page about what that happiness is or should be.

This is true even though your parents continue to owe you lots throughout your life. Don't worry if it doesn't seem fair -- it will even out for most of us after we have spawned our own payback.


Hissy cat, remember that I'm writing about students whom I know.

Jendi, I'm joining my prayers with yours. 

Thanks, Amy; knowing something of your family history, you were one of the many people I thought of as I wrote this post.

And Barbara, as I've written before, AMEN to moving away!


I read Boys Will Put You on a Pedastal (So They Can Look Up Your Pants because I was curious - and it was exactly this kind of attitude that drove me nuts. The author would give a slight nod to the fact that girls want things like love and sex, and he would commiserate with them that boys were allowed to get away with things they couldn't (vulgarity, fooling around, tatoos, etc.) but then he'd turn around and essentially say:

1) You have to be a good girl anyway because otherwise people will think you are bad and bad girls get hurt.

2)Don't have sex because no one will want to marry you if you do

3)Sex is something boys like and something girls use. (I shit you not, the actual quote is: "Boys use love to get sex, and girls use sex to get love").

It just sets girls up for failure because it teaches them that the real reason they shouldn't have sex is simply that other people don't want them to do, rather than because of what's really best for them or because of what they believe. Needless to say, there's no acknowledgement that standing up to social pressures that are wrong (like bad girls deserve what they get) has value that may be worth a little risk to personal safety. In so many ways your students are the lucky ones because they still have good relationships with their parents and so they still want to please them, and their parents do care for them even if they are overprotective. It's the girls who have switched from wanting to please parents or parents and friends to just wanting to please friends that really don't deserve the title that find themselves in really dangerous situtations.

It's equally maddening that the author paints such a bleak picture of men. He acts as though teen boys are teminally stupid, uncaring, and sex-starved. He talks about how he's glad he has daughters becuase they've taught him that some of that mushy stuff is ok, and a little boy just wouldn't do that, as if it would be the little boy's fault rather than his own flaws that would cause that. He blasts teen boys for their willingness to use teen girls for sex, then turns around and uses "sex and teen girls" to sell a book that barely touches on the subject.

But the part that really scares me is that I see this same type of attitude from my some of my aunts and uncles. I already have a cousin who got married to early and then divorced when her husband started to become abusive; there are times when I can't help but be afraid for my youngest cousins. I was never happier than when one of them ditched the Paris Hilton wannabees and started hanging out with a slightly older crowd that may experiment a little bit more, but does not put pressure on her to join them or to be something she's not to please others. I think she's a lot safer with them, quite frankly.


Mickle, agreed on the criticisms of what passes for advice out there.

I think I need to pitch an advice book to publishers -- about adolescence, sexuality, feminism, boys, girls.


While you're at it, could you pitch a version of "The Care and Keeping of You" for boys? They sorely need it and it's the one thing parents complain about at work that I completely agreee with them on (though I generally disagree with them on the reasons why we don't already have one).


Hugo, excellent post. The only thing that I thought of adding is that these same pressures, while not quite as strong, can still be there down the line. I'm a third-generation college student (Many of my grandparents started, but did not finish college; there's not a single person in my parents' generation who did not get at least a bachelor's, and almost everyone in my generation got a bachelor's/is in the middle of earning a bachelor's.) and those pressures to stay in the fold, to be a good mother/wife, to be successful, are still there. It's a lot less than it seems to be for the students you're talking about, but it's still there.

Another change is also in our parents. My parents' generation is at the point where they are caring for their parents who are slowly losing their physical and/or mental capabilities, or have already lost their parents to age and/or disease. And there's a joke/not-joke among many of them that they don't want their kids to go through what they're going through, and maybe driving the car off a cliff isn't such a bad idea. Very often, it's the women who say this, and it's often the same women who have been caring for the aged parent in question. I don't know if this is common among baby boomers, but it may be something that will bear watching in the future. The boomer women, like your students, were the first generation to experience feminism as we know it today (juggling work and family, being "superwoman," etc., etc.) and it sounds like your students may be starting down that same road. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than that need to do everything and care for everyone may lead to some places that society never expected. My apologies if I've completely gone off the tracks here; feel free to delete this if it's too far afield.

And finally, Thalia, gratzi. THe "pass it on to your children" is precisely what my parents always told me about. It's not for them, it's for the next geneeration. (Which, of course, can lead to guilt for not following in the parents' desired footsteps, but that's an entirely different tangent.)


Well said, technocracy girl -- there's a way this all ties into an argument about caring for the elderly and the debate over assisted suicide, but that's not a leap I'm ready to make.


Hugo -

there's an additional social factor driving immigrant parents' insistence on daughterly chastity. Immigrants often live in low-income neighborhoods when they arrive, and often stay there to save enough money to provide more than just food and shelter for their children. The fact of and the consequences of sexual promiscuity among low-income native-born Americans are pretty visible even to the non-acculturated, and it's very easy to draw the conclusion that following that path in life is a sure road to eternal poverty and dependence. Sexual activity (and promiscuity) among middle- and upper-class American young women (and men) is not nearly so visible, so immigrant parents don't see that it's possible to lead an unchaste life before marriage and still be a financial and familial success.

Meanwhile, as the kids acculturate, they see more than the parents do, adding to the pressure, as they know their parents aren't seeing everything they do.


Anthony, that's fair -- the parallel you draw between the immigrant experience and the native-born poor and their fears about pre-marital sex is apt.


"Boys use love to get sex, and girls use sex to get love").

We were told this in Catholic school.

Most men would love it if women came out and said they liked sex for itself. But this is something that women have to do, men can not do it for them.


I really enjoyed this post. Your point about placing your own needs first not being at odds with the Bible resonated with me as I have only recently learned that my own Islamic faith is somewhat more flexible in regard to personal fulfillment than I imagined. More feminist readings of the religious texts would be an immense help to women from very patriarchal societies as its notions derived from scripture that can often keep us in binds.


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Vickey Silvers

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Vicky Silvers
[email protected]

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