The college years are hard enough with the confusion of being a still maturing adult, in a fully mature body. For young women, the hardships are confounded by pressures to attract male attention at social events, and our culture sends the message to do so by dressing in a sexy manner and by engaging in sexual acts before they are ready. With sexual maturation fully developed, but emotional maturation still years away, the time between adolescence and adulthood are full of experimentation, impulsivity, and sexual misjudgment, that can have a lasting impact. These are also the years where misogynistic attitudes begin to emerge.
As a case in point, the recent media leak of SnapChat CEO Evan Spiegel's misogynistic emails during his fraternity days at Stanford University highlighted firsthand the types of attitudes that girls and women encounter at social events. Ironically, 24-year-old Spiegel couldn't use his own successful SnapChat message-deleting app to erase the threads of these old Stanford emails, but that wasn't the point. The point is that deleting history doesn't change it, and girls and women need to be empowered to handle misogyny, which is all too prevalent in our culture.
Thankfully, there is momentum to turn this tide. With campaigns like the recent Twitter hashtag #yesallwomen, and Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In (to name just two), there is increasing focus on women building confidence and thereby feeling powerful in a meaningful way. This increased confidence will lead them to healthier relationships.
So, how can a young woman attend a party and not be swayed by the sexual pressures or stand by and tolerate demeaning behavior and comments from men? Here are some ways for a young woman to socialize, yet remain true to herself.
Question attending events or venues you feel unsure about. Oftentimes there is pressure to go because these parties are the main, or even sole, way to socialize with guys. But if time and time again you feel uncomfortable or anxious in these settings, and there is inappropriate behavior, you don't have to go. Your anxiety response is a highly attuned internal system designed to protect you. Aim to understand its message and honor it. In fact, if more college women are honest with themselves about the lack of positive attention they receive at these parties, and stop going, misogynistic behavior will likely diminish.
Be strong in yourself. Wherever you go, choose to present yourself in a way which is confident without exuding sex. It's fine to flirt, yes, just be clear on the boundaries. You can talk, yet choose not to touch or be touched — giving off these messages subtly. Good men will get it and be fine with it. Men that don’t get it and exert pressure are not worth your time. "Be yourself" is the best motto, and a good way to carry out this ideal is to focus, in your heart, on something that you're really proud of about yourself.
Dress your part. Dress in ways that make you feel good about yourself on the inside. Feel free to be fashionable of course, and at the same time, a good rule of thumb is to steer clear of overly tight or revealing clothing. This may sound old-fashioned by today’s standards, but leaving something to the imagination is always a good idea. This way, you'll know he's interested in you, and not just your more sexually-associated physical attributes. Your clothing should highlight all of you, facilitating another layer of confidence for you. Let me be clear: I am in no way stating that a woman shouldn't be able to dress however she wants at a party, or that men aren't responsible for how they act. At the same time, knowing what we know, if you start off with a personality-focused, non-sexually-based front, you have a much better chance of attracting a man who is into you for who you are, not because he thinks he can get lucky.
Attend social gatherings which reflect your interests. Are you interested in politics, the environment, the arts, volunteering? The pressure is off when you attend an event based on an interest, and thereby meet people of like mind. To be sure, some guys will attend almost any events "just to meet girls," but you'll be able to weed them out pretty easily. Getting involved with groups of people with similar cares and curiosities lends itself to meeting someone special under solid pretenses.
Ladies, you've got it, all you have to do is be it. Go where you feel best, and even if you don't feel your best in a particular setting, you can still focus on yourself and act in ways that will garner respect and build confidence. Afterall, being confident allows you to be your best self, engage with others naturally, and is hugely attractive. All women want to feel validated, and the truth is most guys want the same thing. Mutual validation is bigger than sex, and without it sex can be dangerous. Sex is fleeting if it’s not part of a whole relationship. Sex can wait, but feeling your best and confident in yourself cannot. Go for relationships that would never need a SnapChat deletion — where the truth is good from the get-go. You will thank yourself.
Click here for more tips on how to spot misogyny.
Connect with me on Twitter @DrAliciaClark