Jen Pastiloff here. This is my blog. Welcome, if you’re new to the site. Originally, it was just my own writing, but when I realized I had a huge readership I decided to open it up as a platform for other writers. But excuse me while I say my two cents before said other writer steps in.
So, the other day I was in South Dakota (was leading a workshop there as I do a couple times a year) when someone sent me a Snap. As in SnapChat. (Yes, I am 12 years old now.) A mom had sent her teen (yay!) to my Seattle workshop and was all fired up because her daughter, Corrine, came home from school visibly upset after a talk they had been given at school. Her mom (Echo is her name and don’t you love her just for that?) sent me a clip of his video and his website. So there I was, in Sodak, about to lead a workshop and I got pissed. Real pissed. I was reminded why I am writing Girl Power: You Are Enough (which is with publishers right now- OMG) and I decided that I had to say something about this fella. Brad Henning is his name. So I made a cup of coffee and sat down my phone on my little tripod there on the kitchen table in Sioux Falls and I said this:
I then posted it on the interwebs and asked any of my writer friends if they would like to write an essay about it for my site. The beautiful Laurence Dumortier said she wanted to tackle it. Her last essay on the site blew my mind ( it is a must read) so I didn’t hesitate to say yes yes yes. Someone called me a YesSparker the other day. I like that. Yes.
After you read her essay I would a) Love it if you shared it.
b) I mean, I would really love it if you shared.
c) Create a dialogue around this.
I know not everyone agrees with Laurence and I. Some people have even given me shit for bringing this up. I refuse to stay quiet though. I am not suggesting that Brad is a bad man, I just believe his methods are antiquated and his message is outdated and involves shaming. Shaming is never okay.
Also, I am a feminist and his message just rubs me wrong. It feels misogynistic and tired and frankly, the opposite of what I am teaching out in the world. Girl Power: You Are Enough. No matter what Brad, or any other person, says. I hope to see some of you at the launch of the Girl Power workshops September 19th and 20th in Princeton and NYC. Oh yea, and Lena Dunham followed me this morning on Twitter. Girls + Girl Power: You Are Enough. Kapow!!
ps- This is who I am writing my book for. Teens like Nicole. So brave. Eff yea! Last year she was suicidal but today she is saying, “I am enough.” So, can I get another EFF YEA! Fuck yea!
Here is the video Echo sent me. (Brad goes to schools and gives this lecture.) I have actually heard he is a lovely man. I am not taking away from his loveliness. But please, when it comes to this, he doesn’t seem to be the right person for this job.
Brad, Interrupted by Laurence Dumortier
Brad Henning is a self-styled relationship expert who visits schools to talk to students about dating. To the question “Why do girls wear makeup?” (Brad likes to style things as a Q&A) his answer is: “Would a guy want to take a girl out on a first date, if he could see what she looks like when she first wakes up in the morning the same way her parents do? Probably not.” Despite professing this kind of sexist nonsense, Brad Henning is paid by school districts to speak to teenagers about sex and relationships. Let that sink in for a moment.
When I mentioned to a friend that I’d been reading, with a mixture of fascination and horror, about Brad Henning’s work, she wondered if it was the same Brad she’d had to listen to a dozen years before during a high-school assembly. A little research confirmed it was. After a moment she reflected, “I will never forget how much I was shamed for being overly sensitive/humorless/man-hating/slutty/bad both during and after that fucking assembly senior year of high school.” This essay is for her and for all the girls who had to listen to Brad’s lectures, and haven’t forgotten what it felt like to be chided and shamed.
Henning is a fan of the pseudo-evolutionary-biology—bogus in both in its premises and its explanations—that asserts as fact things like: guys are insatiably horny, you see, so that the species won’t die out! And also, girls have low sex-drive, on the other hand, so that the planet doesn’t get over-populated! Worse still, though, Henning promotes the tired falsehoods that form the backbone of rape culture. “The girls who give sex to their boyfriends outside of marriage,” Henning writes, “are undermining the maturing process guys need so badly.” Guys, Brad decrees, cannot control their sexual appetites. They need girls to do that for them. Girls who don’t do that make boys powerless to resist their own urges. (Is it any wonder, when girls are raped, that they run into so much victim-blaming?)
In one of his vignettes, Henning conjures a fairy-tale prince. He’s sowed his wild oats but now he’s looking to settle down:
Handsome, rugged, self sufficient…He’s the hero and he’s looking for his fair maiden. When he sees her for the first time, he is mesmerized by her beauty and charm. He longs for her… But then…of all the dastardly things…he finds out she has been with just about every guy in the realm. He realizes his fair maiden isn’t as fair as he’d hoped. Does he want to fight for her hand? No. This isn’t what he’s dreamed about all his life. He’s been dreaming about “A FAIR MAIDEN” not the town slut.
Never mind that the prince himself is not a virgin, it’s the girl who is disdained as a “town slut.” (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that rape victims, if they go public, are forced to account for their whole past sexual history, as though it had anything to do with the assault in question.)
Of a girl who has already had sex but would still like to have a loving relationship, Henning takes the chilling position: “But now it’s too late for her… She can’t just change her mind about being wild like the guys.” This double-standard is not just bizarre and unfair, but actually dangerous. It reinforces the cultural script that girls who have had sex are, in fact, damaged goods, worthless and irreparably marred. The implied question is: why should boys bother to reign in their raging sexual appetites with a girl who “gives it away”? I can’t decide whether it is more heartbreaking or rage-inducing that girls are made to listen to this toxic garbage.
Even worse, Henning—not content with pushing the gendered hypocrisy of his ideas about sex, or even the shamey, rapey tone of his relationship advice—has let his opinions about girls wander even farther afield, sermonizing about their appearance, their tastes, their habits and mannerisms, the very expression of their feelings. That an older man would feel entitled to dictate a girl’s feelings to herself is, unfortunately, not all that surprising. But the endorsement of this bizarre intrusion by school districts that invite and pay Henning to come to their schools, and then force girls to sit through this awfulness, is perhaps the saddest and most angering thing of all.
Against that sadness and anger, here is a small but heartfelt gesture of imagination and hope:
In the part of his lecture where Brad intones, unimpeded, about all the many things girls do that “turn guys off,” I imagine, instead, a voice flooding the auditorium, warm and loving and at times a little sarcastic, interrupting the dude onstage in order to offer girls an alternate point of view. One that sees no need to control girls’ behavior, but instead believes in their intelligence and good-sense and inherent value.
In italics, then, excerpts from Brad Henning’s talk—interrupted by the voice of feminine wisdom and trust.
Since you asked the question about what turns guys off, here’s a list of them!
I don’t think we did, actually, but it should be good for a chuckle.
Girls who giggle (guys think you’re laughing at them)
How timely! Girls, gather round, permission is hereby granted to giggle, to guffaw, even to cackle. It’s not your job to worry what others think of it. (By the way, most of the time girls aren’t laughing at a guy. But this time, in fact, we are!)
Girls who never smile
I love you, April Ludgates of the world. Don’t ever change just because some Brad wants you to.
Girls who have lost their mystery
I don’t know what the fuck this means. What is this? Is it code for “girls who’ve lost their virginity”? Gross. The fetishizing of virginity is one of the creepiest and most loathsome things about patriarchal culture. Please ignore.
Girls who need every hair in place
You do you. Be as polished or as scruffy as you want.
Girls who never stop talking
Talk away. I like the things you say.
Girls who are boy-crazy
Brads feel threatened that girls are capable of desire. It makes them uneasy that girls may, at times, be boy-crazy or girl-crazy or both. But Brads don’t get a say over how you feel. You can be giddy, or horny, or dizzy with infatuation. I’ll hold this space for all your emotions.
Girls who brag about their grades
Go for it, love. You earned it.
Girls who cry all the time
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay for boys to cry too.
Girls who always need attention
Everyone needs attention. You matter, too.
Girls without a mind of their own
Gracious, the irony! Girls can think for themselves, no thanks to Brad, though.
Girls who “screech” when they see their friends
It is a magical thing to be in the presence of those who really get you, and love you for who you are. Lord knows, Brads won’t do that for you. So screech your joy if you want. Caw, whistle, yodel, sing. It’s all good.
Girls who can’t take a joke
Especially rape jokes, right?!
Girls who make everything seem like it’s the guy’s fault
What can I say? It’s true. Obnoxious guys like Brad don’t like to be held accountable.
Girls who “tell all”
Speak your truth. Secrets empower abusers.
Girls who take things too seriously and are overly sensitive
If I could gather all the serious and sensitive girls in the world and give them a hug, I would. If I could gather all the flirty and funny girls, I’d give them a hug too. Often these are the same girls, for we are complex and multi-faceted. Brads would rather we be small, narrow, predictable and easy to control. But we are large and contain multitudes and won’t easily be subdued.
About Laurence Dumortier: I’m finishing up a PhD in English with an emphasis on gender and sexuality. My short stories have been published in One Story as well as smaller magazines. I’m at work on my first novel, set in the early 1960s. My twitter handle is @ElleDeeTweets.