Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Little Girls and Little Girl Things

Just a warning: I'm on a tangent. I've been considering a lot of issues lately and how they are related and what we should do about it. As the mom of little girls, these things have been eating at me, keeping me awake and driving me over the edge. And, you know, what's the point of having a blog if I don't use as a soapbox once in a blue moon.

I've been shopping for Brynna lately. She's outpaced all the little girls who used to give her hand-me-downs and for the first time since I gave birth to her, I'm facing a season ahead with little or nothing waiting for her to wear. Some of last year's tees will make it another summer and I've successfully navigated my famous consignment sale, so that I no longer worry about sending her to school naked on the first really warm day, but for a kid used to having her pick it's going to be hard if I don't come up with a couple more outfits.

She's a six year old who will this summer be wearing a size ten. I'm not worried about this, as most of it's in her height, but apparently there is a line. A line right between size eights and tens that says, hey, here are the sluts. I am amazed at the super-short shorts, the designed to be worn skin tight tops and the fact that many of what were last year skorts are now just skirts - too short to move in without flashing some panty. Since I don't have a ten year old, I cannot say with absolute surety that these clothes still wouldn't play in my house, but honestly, I'm thinking that these clothes will never play in my house. You want to tramp it up? Get a job and an apartment, because you are not leaving here looking like that.

(Which, on a sidenote, makes me feel ancient. I swore I'd never say something like that and here I am looking at clothes for a first grader, thinking it already.)

And for the most part, I don't think about it terms of "sexualizing," I think of it in terms of "appropriate." It's just not appropriate, for any myriad of reasons - the least of which is sheer practicality of a kid who is going to run and jump and climb and play wearing something so close to just not being there.

So, then I read this the other day. (If you're not feeling clicky, let me 'splain. No, there is too much to 'splain. Let me summarize: The author theorizes that those of us who grew up post-sexual revolution don't know how to teach our kids about sex without being total hypocrites, so we choose not to. We just let them wear what they want and stand around patting ourselves for being the cool mom. Note: I'm not being completely fair to the author who really makes some good points and has a very well-thought out article going here. Also, to be clear, she is not defending this, just trying to explain the phenomenon. If you want fair, you should click and read for yourself, though.)

Perhaps I fall under her heading of "evangelicals" or perhaps I'm not quite the right generation for this - as a late gen-exer, my sex ed was colored as much by the AIDS panic as the sexual revolution. But I don't get that. Sure, if I had it to do again, I wouldn't make every choice the exact same way I did it the first time, but does that mean I'm gonna let my girls wander into the pre-teen minefield without guidance? No.

Girls should not dress like streetwalkers. They should not dress like soap stars. They shouldn't dress like TV stars or like musicians or like burlesque dancers. They should dress like girls. We used to, as a society, know that. Face it, people, this isn't a completely new problem. When Gilligan's Island hit the airwaves, did we have a sudden outbreak of MaryAnn wannabes walking around with their shirts tied up under their boobs? Really, I'm asking. I wasn't around for that. (Also, does anything else think it's kinda unfair that MaryAnn had the good girl rep when she showed a lot more skin than Ginger?)

But, then, just when I think I've worked myself into a fine lather and I've got my platform speech ready to go decrying rising hemlines and falling necklines, I read this. (Here we go again. You should really just click this one. But in case you don't, an eleven year old girl was gang raped by a bunch of teenage and adult men and the town they live in thinks that it's the little girl's fault because she dressed slutty.) And I remember my ranting and raving about this attitude in college. Only in college, I was talking about girls my own age - old enough to possibly properly deal with something so life-altering, damaging and horrific as rape. The fact that the "Blame the Victim" game (long treasured by drunk frat boys, sports stars, celebrities and politicians) has trickled over onto KIDS... I am simply at a loss for words.

No, I take that back, I'm not really at a loss for words at all. I'm at a loss for coherent words that don't involve name-calling and threatening. It's not enough that the world has failed this poor child. That she was attacked by a big group of people and not one of them - NOT ONE - said, "Oh, hey, I'm not sure this is the right thing to be doing here." No, we have to add to that by telling her - in major news outlets, on the internet, everywhere her precious head turns that it's her fault. Because of her clothes.

Which brings me back to what I used to say in college. Clothes and sex are unrelated. People should be allowed to wear what makes them happy without fearing that any attacks on them will be forgiven because of their wardrobe choice. But even while I'm typing those words, my stomach is turning and churning thinking about young girls being put at an increased risk, for what? Fashion? Popularity? My high and mighty belief in what should be but probably isn't?

(And let's be clear: I am not talking about increased risk of rape. Rapists are going to rape. It doesn't matter if we all dress like pilgrims. Those boys attacked her because she was young and poor and vulnerable, not because her hemline didn't make it to some magic line on her leg. I'm talking about increased risk of being blamed by the "good, average people" in the community.)

And honestly, I feel like I shouldn't have to have a position on this. It's just common sense. Your mom probably told you that your skirts had to be this long or that if you were wearing that sweater, you were damn well gonna wear a shirt under it. That's a parent's job. That's part of what we do. We let them make their own choices, sure, but we give them rules and guidelines. How hard is it for us to say no? How hard to just say, No, that's not okay.

But if the whole world is going to point their little fingers at little girls and tell them that it's okay that they were raped, they deserved it because they weren't wearing the right things, and if I am going to bring up little girls, I am going to have to have a position. Because, yeah, I don't let my kid watch the news - because of crap like this. But someday, she's going to ask. Ask why it's not appropriate to wear what everyone else is wearing. Ask why I spot check her outfit every morning. Ask why people don't care that a little girl is hurting. And I am going to have to answer all those questions. I am going to have to explain something I can't completely understand.

And right now all I can do is pray that when the time comes, she'll be asking because of a news story and not because something bad ever happens to her. And fight the good fight for decent clothes, while fervently believing that you should wear what makes you happy.


Suze said...

I have no idea what to think about all this, but I certainly think about it a lot, especially since I have a daughter of my own. I think I was somehow lucky to have hit high school at the peak of the grunge era, though, when those of us so self-concious of our looks could just hide in over-sized flannel and sloppy jeans.

Jessi said...

Suze - I was thinking about that, too. Hopefully, the cyclical nature of fashion will mean that some of these issues are fixed before we are too far into the teen years. (The dressing ones, not the rape ones, unfortunately.) Really, a lot of the girls' clothes are like the ones that I wore in the 80's, so maybe they'll be more like the 90's before too much longer.

Cindy S. said...

I'm totally with you on the clothes....I see things in Claire's size (3T) that there's NO WAY I'm putting on her. It's just not appropriate. Not looking forward to the high school years.

Orlandel said...

Ohh, ladies, I hate to burst your bubbles, but high school is way too late! You will hit this problem in middle school - yes, 6th Grade (oh, the stories I can tell!!!)!! By the time we got to high school, I felt the battle was already won (or lost as the case may be!).

Sage said...

When I bought swimsuits for three girls last year (two five year olds, one four)... it boggled me that I had a VERY hard time finding something appropriate.

... check craigslist in Utah, maybe?

Jessi said...

Mom - Oh, you are so right. Hurry up grunge revival!

Sage - Ugh. Swimsuits. The bane of my little girl shopping existence. Part of my problem is that I discovered how much easier it is to make it to the potty with a two piece, so now i am super picky. I want a two piece tankini style that covers everything that aught to be covered, is close fitting enough that nothing's going to float up in the water and isn't totally backless. Oh, and isn't designed to make someone without breasts look like they have breasts. Like pulling teeth.