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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Don't dress your children provocatively...or major news sites will call them "tramps"

I find it difficult to imagine how someone could read this without being creeped out by the author rather than the subject of his own disturbance:
I saw someone at the airport the other day who really caught my eye.  
Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie "10" (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her "Xtina" phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.  
You can tell she had been vacationing somewhere warm, because you could see her deep tan around her midriff thanks to the halter top and the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist. The icing on the cake? The word "Juicy" was written on her backside.  
Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright [sic] ... I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she's not even in middle school yet.
This is a CNN columnist, LZ Granderson, attempting to shame parents for the fact that he looked at their prepubescent daughter and found her sexually attractive. Oh wait, he didn't find her sexually attractive...he's just pointing out that some other adult might, and therefore they shouldn't dress their daughter like a "tramp." That's the take-home lesson-- it is the responsibility of parents not to allow their daughters to dress in a way that connotes sexual attractiveness in adults, because...adults apparently can't handle themselves? The sight of an eight-year-old's midriff is just too much to take? Really?

Strange how uncannily that sounds like the comments that residents of Cleveland, Texas made only recently about an 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped: "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s." Ergo, we can dance right up to the edge of saying She was asking to be raped, that little whore without actually doing so.

Hypothesis: The general resistance to the idea of young girls dressing "sexy" is almost entirely an attempt to protect adults, not children. And it is done by transferring the blame of adults finding themselves attracted to children, to the children themselves and to their parents. Don't dress in a way that might cause me to look at you inappropriately, little girl, and I (probably) won't. But if you do and I do, it's your fault. That's how we get a grown man reacting with horror to the fact that a little girl is dressed in a way that almost certainly isn't remotely sexual to her. She thinks she looks pretty and is dressed comfortably. That's it.

The column goes on:
Abercrombie & Fitch came under fire this spring for introducing the "Ashley," a push-up bra for girls who normally are too young to have anything to push up. Originally it was marketed for girls as young as 7, but after public outcry, it raised its intended audience to the wise old age of 12. I wonder how do people initiate a conversation in the office about the undeveloped chest of elementary school girls without someone nearby thinking they're pedophiles? 
Answer: they don't. Someone like you will always think it, without any sense of irony.

A push-up bra on a twelve-year-old is silly.  It is not a threat to society, the psychology of the girl in question, or that of everyone around her. I started wearing a bra of necessity when I was in the fourth grade, about age ten. That should tell you that I had no need of a push-up bra at that age or any other, but it's not like millions of girls that age don't experience anxiety regarding the size of their chests. Although honestly, being caught using a push-up bra sounds like a liability as much as being caught stuffing your bra was when I was in school. You accepted your fate, or you got mocked...but most likely it was a certain amount of both. It's hard to imagine that ever changing.
The way I see it, my son can go to therapy later if my strict rules have scarred him. But I have peace knowing he'll be able to afford therapy as an adult because I didn't allow him to wear or do whatever he wanted as a kid. 
Maybe I'm a Tiger Dad. 
Maybe I should mind my own business. 
Or maybe I'm just a concerned parent worried about little girls like the one I saw at the airport.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. There's nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?
And dressing little girls "like prostitutes" means..what?  And the harm it causes is...what?  I'm not willing to daydream the answers to those questions into existence. A few points:
  1. You can suggest that certain things are for adults but not children without suggesting that they are nasty, tawdry, or otherwise disreputable.  A high-end prostitute (not that there's anything wrong with being one) dresses similarly to any other attractive well-to-do woman going out on a date. There is no guaranteed way to distinguish between the two.  
  2. If you're concerned about your daughter becoming a low-end prostitute, a street walker (my mother's favorite term for what I was emulating when my skirt was a bit high or shirt too tight for her liking), her apparel is probably the last thing that should dominate your attention. Try focusing on her grades. Or her general sense of well-being. A good way to prevent other people from defining your daughter by her appearance is not to do so yourself, don't you think?
  3. An eight-year-old only understands that there is something wrong with going topless because her parents tell her so. And there is nothing inherently wrong with going topless; it's simply a social convention. Sooner or later every woman-- every human being, if they have a spark of intellect and creativity-- will come to challenge social conventions, and it doesn't mean he or she is less of a person. Quite the opposite, actually.  
Full disclosure: I'm not a parent, and don't intend to ever become one. To a lot of people that renders my opinion of anything at all related to children invalid. But I am a female, have been a girl child, and have experienced the complete bewilderment that comes when people insist that you're doing something wrong, that there is something wrong with you, simply because of how you've chosen to dress. When you grow up you realize that there is actually something wrong with them. They want you to dress a certain way because otherwise they will be unable to refrain from judging you, raping you, or both.  

I realize that there is such a thing as propriety. The little girl described in this column probably shouldn't show up at a funeral in her halter top and Juicy sweatpants. There is also such a thing as legitimate concern about your child's sexual choices-- nobody wants their daughter to become accidentally pregnant, or their son to accidentally impregnate someone's daughter. But clothing styles and sexual practices are two different things. Really, it's true. If we insist on pretending otherwise, we are giving credence to the victim-blamers and feeding the pervasive bias that suggests someone's personal worth can be determined by how she dresses.  Prostitutes and promiscuous women are lesser, the thinking goes, therefore people who dress like prostitutes and promiscuous women (or more accurately, how I imagine such people dress) are lesser by association. That is how a grown man writing for CNN gets to apply the word "tramp" to a little girl.   

10 comments:

  1. Don't want your child becoming a low end prostitute keep penises out of them. Worry a bit less about what they are wearing and a little more about who you leave them alone with.

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  2. The road to a burqa is men not wanting to have emotions from looking at women. Make them stop making me have unpure thoiughts.

    A decade ago a judge in Minnesota I think, told a women she had just asked to be raped for waring sexy clothing and let the guy off.!!!!

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  3. Imagine the shreaking outrage if a female columnist criticized parents for the sexy way she perceived their young boy to be dressed.

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  4. debaser-- You mean things such as going completely shirtless in the summer? I imagine the words "pedophile" and "Cougar" would be used against her.

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  5. I agree that the article is disturbing in its endorsement of the "blame the victim" attitude. But beside what you're pointing out here, there's the question of premature sexualization of children. I personally don't believe that it's appropriate for pre-pubescent children to be wearing clothes that specifically accentuate their sexuality. Perhaps that falls under your statement about propriety.

    Being topless isn't an inherently sexual act (and my three-year-old daughter currently believes that topless and wearing homemade bunny ears is appropriate in a wide variety of social situations), but a sign on your ass that says "juicy" is a sexual statement. I'm not worried about whether a child looks like a "slut" or not, I'm worried about whether pushing the artifacts that our society associates with sexuality on children robs them of the ability to be children to some degree.

    And my attitude is gender-neutral, but until Target releases a line of assless chaps in the boys' department I think it's safe to say that boys' fashions tend to be more age-appropriate. I don't think we should discount an underlying gender inequity (that our society expects girls to be sexual much, much earlier than boys) because the question was raised by soemone who was looking at the problem filtered through a different type of gender bias.

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  6. Stigg,

    I'm questioning the entire concept of "premature sexualization of children." What it means, and why it's a bad thing. If it means encouraging children to have sex, that's one thing. But I see no evidence that simply allowing them to dress in a certain way counts as that.

    Being topless isn't an inherently sexual act (and my three-year-old daughter currently believes that topless and wearing homemade bunny ears is appropriate in a wide variety of social situations), but a sign on your ass that says "juicy" is a sexual statement.

    It's not a sign; it's a brand-- Juicy Couture. I don't think that adults wearing pants with "Juicy" on the back are necessarily intending to convey a sexual message, and certainly don't think that an eight year old is.

    I'm not worried about whether a child looks like a "slut" or not, I'm worried about whether pushing the artifacts that our society associates with sexuality on children robs them of the ability to be children to some degree.

    And I'd like to know how that happens, rather than just assuming it. Until some adult comes along and informs the little girl that there is something wrong with baring her midriff and wearing pants that say "Juicy," she has no idea. So in that sense, you could easily say that the adult is the one who is robbing her of her ability to be a child.

    And my attitude is gender-neutral, but until Target releases a line of assless chaps in the boys' department I think it's safe to say that boys' fashions tend to be more age-appropriate.

    Only because in your mind, it's not at all sexual for a boy to go topless whereas it is for a girl to simply show her belly. Just as in some areas of the world, it's sexual for a woman to show so much as her face or ankles whereas men can walk around with both (and more) uncovered. Same principle; different degree.

    By the way, chaps are assless by definition.

    I don't think we should discount an underlying gender inequity (that our society expects girls to be sexual much, much earlier than boys) because the question was raised by soemone who was looking at the problem filtered through a different type of gender bias.

    I see a lot of conflation between looking "adult" and looking "sexual"--they're not the same thing. I also think that society shouldn't be telling kids how to dress at all. But if it's going to, and we can't stop it, then we could at least try placing the blame where it appropriate-- on society-- rather than on the little girls themselves and their parents.

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  7. Ha! Good example. Especially if the description of the young shirtless boy is basically a dis-membered recounting of body parts. From "Long braided hair, lipstick, dangly earrings, halter top, tan skin, butt-pants" we're supposed to derive this deadly sex-grenade - "the sexiest girl in the terminal" - emitting fuck-me rays without even knowing it. At (an assumed) eight years old. Maybe his pre-tween eye-bang radar is just that highly refined.

    Part of male privilege is being doubly outraged to receive the kind of treatment women get - her editor would have been like "what is WRONG with you?"

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  8. TL; DR for my last comment: If society would stop acting like dressing in a certain way "sexualizes" little girls, we would not have a problem with "premature sexualization." So instead of telling girls how to dress, let's adjust our attitudes about the dress of little girls.

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  9. We do not live in a perfect world where people look at each other without judgement. Fact is, you dress your child in inadequate or sexy clothing and someone is going to notice them. Maybe it's not you or your friends, but the pedophile down the street. Maybe it's an older boy who mistakes her age for being his own age. The way you dress defines the way you will be treated to an extent. If you don't believe that, that is a mighty fine rock you're living under.

    We dress our children with concern because we want them to respect their bodies. We don't want them to think their mid drift is all they have to offer, nor do we want them to look easy. Yes, easy. The way a woman dresses sends signals. Same goes with children even if the intent isn't there. It does not in any way shape or form give anyone the right to touch them, but just as you leave your young child to play alone in a park and someone takes them, it raises the risk. It's not okay for someone to take your child whether they are alone or with you, but they are much more likely to take them without you there. If you let your small child dress provocatively, it doesn't give people permission to think of them sexually, but it really increases the risk. I have two small girls and I do care who is looking at them. I'm not going to say, "well, it's their problem if they're fantasizing about my prepubescent child, not mine." If a child really understood how some people looked at them they would feel embarrassed and unless it's the very cute boy they like, they'd probably feel grossed out too. It's okay to want your child to look pretty, but you don't want them to look damaged or like their parents don't care.

    My kids can dress however they want to dress when they're 18. Until then, have you ever heard a boss tell you to dress for the position you want? My kids will dress for the way they want to be treated. I know it's not a sure fire way to keep them protected, which I will try my hardest at, but it WILL improve their chances. As for the author of the CNN article, kudos to him for putting himself out there. He meant to sound creepy because he wanted to get parent's attention.

    In a perfect world, we would all have the right view of little girls no matter how they dress. We would never pass judgment....etc....We do not live in a perfect world and never will. Until I see proof of that, I will continue to protect my children.

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  10. y do ya think young teens are dressing like this?..u would never of seen clothes like that 10 15 years ago its down to music and celebs, kids are easily influenced by these and by other kids, i find it hard to understand y a child cant get into a over rated movie coz there might be sexual scenes when they can go home switch on viva or mtv and see half naked girls dance around provocitively, and asume boys like this, if you go into shops like h and m for kids etc they dont sell clothes that show to much, other shops sell clothes ment for an adult in size 4 and 6, if lady ga ga or rihanna can walk around wearin nothin then y cant we im sure there thinkin they need better role models

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