My boyfriend and I recently watched 17 Again: a film where Zac Efron plays the part of a middle age man who through divine janitorial intervention is transformed back into his 17 year old self and has to attend high school with his two teenage children. The film was fine, made me laugh, nothing out of this world. This is not a film review.
During the film Zac Efron’s character delivered an instructional speech to three girls who finding him attractive, decide to get their flirt on and let him know they are interested. His words (I’m quoting from memory here) were:
Girls! ‘If you don’t respect yourselves, how will men ever be able to respect you.’
Stop right there Zac Efron, or more accurately the screenwriters of 17 Again! Please, this is enough. This is another phrase I hear constantly especially in films and television. And it is seemingly portrayed as empowering message to young women… does no one else see the problem here?
Don’t get me wrong the first part of this statement isn’t the problem. I highly encourage all women and men to respect themselves, it is incredibly important and something we should all strive to do. I do not, however, understand this idea that women who actively pursue men they are sexually attracted to are ‘disrespecting’ themselves and I have NEVER heard this extrapolation from one to the other directed at men or boys!
But as well as this ever present sexist stereotype that prevails in the media that girls who have sex with people other than their life partner do not respect themselves is the massively problematic statement ‘how will men ever be able to respect you’. Where do I start?
This statement is equally insulting to men as it is to women and this is an example of when stereotypes used to subdue women further box in and insult everyone. Men (as well as everyone else) are entirely responsible for their own actions. I have respect for everyone I meet based on the fact that they are a human being. Women do not not have to earn the respect of men through acts of coy, virginal purity; although it is important to encourage young women to realise that they can and should respect themselves as people they should also be able expect it from the opposite sex on a very basic, innate level.
Making statements like ‘if you don’t respect yourselves, how will men ever be able to respect you’ is removing responsibility from men to treat women with respect. It doesn’t take much for an abusive husband to convince himself that hitting his silent wife is acceptable when she she is too scared to speak up against him and must therefore ‘not respect herself’. Or a guy who forces himself on a passed out girl at a party isn’t doing anything wrong because her drunken state, her short dress and maybe the fact she kissed him earlier means she ‘does not respect herself’. Of course most young men are not going to become abusers but this statement is just another example of the ingrained sexism that is entirely commonplace in today’s society and prolific in our media, teaching men and women to victim blame and that men cannot control themselves.
Men will be able to respect you because they should and they can.
It’s one line you say. Well then, it would have been equally as easy to miss it out; leave it behind; replace it; help break down one more sexist social construct.