Volume 18, Issue 4: Femina
A Touchy Subject
Recently I received a question from a pastor's wife about the problem of teen and preteen girls being too "handsy" with
one another. She mentioned girls walking around holding hands or arm-in-arm, hanging all over each other, sitting on each
other's laps with arms entangled, kissing on the cheeks, rubbing each other's arms, and other such behavior. I have seen the same
kind of thing myself: college-age women playing with each other's hair, locking each other in full-body embraces, rubbing
shoulders and backs, as well as those things listed above.
Such behavior can be problematic on several fronts. First, it can be a sign of emotional insecurity, and a young woman
who is emotionally dependent on physical closeness with other girls (or boys!) is a needy girl, whatever her age. Behavior like
that listed above simply displays to the public the fact that she is running on empty, and she's trying to find security and love
in places that won't really bring it. She is advertising the fact that her parents, particularly her father, are not doing their job.
This kind of behavior is not only revealing about her emotional state, but it also has social ramifications. On a
superficial level, it is simply bad manners. Being physical with other girls makes just about everyone in the room uncomfortable. Most
boys will think it is just plain weird and steer clear, while those who enjoy it have their own problems. Either way, many may
assume that the girls are flirting with some kiddy-pool lesbianism, or they'll chalk it up as a simple attention grab. It does draw
attention, but not the right kind. And though this behavior may be traced to a need for male attention, it is counter-productive. It
can drive the right kind of male attention far, far away, leaving only those boys who are eager to crash the all-female backrub
and hair-playing clique.
It makes the other young women uncomfortable as well, because they see such behavior as weird, impolite, and
unacceptable. It is certainly not the kind of behavior that suggests a biblical maturity and a grasp of godly femininity. Not only are
many peers grossed out by this behavior among the girls, but so is the general adult population. The older and wiser sorts will
be alarmed and concerned. It is, at the very least, a sign of neediness; and it can obviously be a set-up for sexual temptation,
leading to lesbian experimentation.
When I have addressed this in my girls' Bible studies, it seldom gets fixed. Either the girls who engage in this kind
of contact have got it into their heads that being touchy with girlfriends is cute or harmless or sentimental, or maybe they
simply think that I am uptight about such things. Emotional neediness is often deaf when it most needs to hear. Maybe this idea
of female hands-on friendship comes from watching the
Anne of Green Gables series too many times and thinking that Anne
and Diane are so cute when they hold hands and run away from Gilbert together. A defense certainly can't get much more
sophisticated, and, unfortunately, there is a great deal of the old sentimental literature of the nineteenth century resurfacing in
Regardless, the Christian world needs more women who really are like the marble cornerstones described in Psalm
144, not women who are given to window-clinging to other women.
Of course, in some European countries girls commonly hold hands or kiss. But this is America, and it is not a cultural
norm on most of the continent. It is like pretending to have a British accent to add a little personal sophistication. You're not a Brit,
so quit pretending. The genuine article may be lovely, but bad American imitations (of anything) rarely are.
I do not think that girls who are touchy in this way are evil or wicked. But I do think they are foolish, unwise, naïve,
and, well, dumb. It makes them look bad, it makes their parents look bad, and it gives many people around them the creeps. It
is certainly not dignified, courteous, polished, mannerly, or gracious.
I have told young women who have been bothered by such behavior in their friends to be straightforward when they
address it. If a girl starts to be physical toward them, they can say something like, "Please don't touch my hair. I can't stand it
when people do that." Or, "No thanks. I really don't want a rub." There is no need to beat around the bush.
Now I am not saying that it is always inappropriate for women to hug one another. Of course it isn't. But it ought to
be done with courtesy, considering the preferences of the "hugee" as well as the context of the situation. If your friend has a
pulled muscle in her shoulder, I am not saying you cannot offer to rub it for her. But this kind of thing should not be done in a
public setting like a class, Bible study, or casual group get-together. It's simply inappropriate.
I have heard young women complain about this kind of thing for years; I have heard the young men complain, wondering
if the young women think being so touchy is attractive. And it is not always an easy thing to address. Parents may feel
naturally defensive if their daughters are doing this, and they may be quick to justify the behavior. They may think it's cute or sweet
or innocent. Daughters may just as easily take offense. It is a touchy subject. So, perhaps the best way to get through is to appeal
to good manners. Gracious manners are a means of making everyone feel comfortable. If a behavior has the opposite effect,
then we ought to consider if it is the loving and kind thing to do.