I wrote a different kind of parenting article -- because sometimes our children dictate what we need to do...
It's about boys and emotional intelligence... the best thing about being a journalist is you get to call up amazing people and ask them exactly what you want to know!
Today is my first casual Friday post. My plan is that on Fridays I will let the guard down a little and talk about things that are on my mind that may be slightly off track from the usual media consumed messages. That said, I'm not sure anything is really unattached from the messages of the media... but I may be biased. sigh.
Anyway -- yesterday, September 14, the NYTimes Motherlode posted an entry about an issue I think (and fight) a lot about these days -- teen clothes. As it is so near and dear to my heart, I commented... My just pre-teen daughter and I battle constantly about shorts... We have had the discussion about appropriate clothes for places and how others view them, but that's not the issue for us. The shorts my daughter had looked sweet in at 11, suddenly looked sexy -- her legs sprawled up to her nose over night. On two separate occasions grown men, who I knew and who I trust implicitly, commented on those legs as they would a woman. I feel this is a safety issue -- the leers of a construction worker, ok -- but we all know that being the object of desire of a man can have far more serious consequences. In what could only seem like a Saturday Night Live skit, I found myself in therapy with my daughter discussing, for two weeks in a row, the length of her shorts. Finally she asked why it was that a school would have length limits. I said for respect -- and then I said that it was also so as not to distract the boys. That when they were preoccupied with girls' legs they were less able to concentrate on school. She got very embarrassed and said she really didn't want to think about boys thinking that way. Yes, responsibility and freedom and respect all come in to play here. But much of the conversation also has to do with sex -- what are kids are exposed to, how early (what ages grown ups are exposed to as sex objects) and what they are developmentally ready for. Control is only one part -- education, guidance and monitoring are still our jobs as parents.
I was likened to those who would ask women to wear veils. Well, I thought about the veiling argument for a long time. What I finally settled on was something to the dawning realization that we live in a male dominated society... Unfortunately I answered again.
Girls/women should be able to wear whatever they want. Abuse comes from the abuser. But the problem is two fold -- one that they don't always know (as in the case of my daughter) what they are putting out there -- but more than that, the consequences are hers. I used distraction to help her see out of herself -- but am more concerned with what will happen to her. Getting herself into sexually charged situations is something I feel strongly I need to help her to prevent. As always, of course, this is a personal parenting choice, stemming largely from my own knowledge of the world I would prefer not to have.
After a while, and another 10 continuing arguments, I wanted to talk a little more...
I've been thinking about this veiling argument all morning -- I think the problem is that by hurling it around that way it feels bullying. Of course I don't want to live in a society that shames women about their body. Everyone has a body -- bodies are beautiful. But I don't think that my teaching my daughter the real possibility of assault is something I can avoid. Societally, I do think the issues are related, though. Girls are always taught to behave according to men's sexual impulses -- at least in the realm of this strain of conversation. The lack of clothes in our society is just as much a badge of that fact -- not a freedom based on health and well being.
This all sits horribly. On the one hand -- I am seriously thinking about all of this. I DO know that I come at it all from a position of fear -- and I would very much like to protect my daughter in any way that I can. I do know that if she is ever assaulted it will be nobody's fault but her assailant.
I also think we can't escape the sexualization of girls that takes place in the media -- in fashion -- in the world. I don't think it is harmful to teach are girls that there are different types of clothing.
I'm very unsettled by the idea that I am teaching fear. I already knew this -- but I wish it wasn't true. Still -- I can only teach from my own perspective.
What even most upsets me is that, again, we as a group of people, are so quick to attack each other over all of this. I have never known such judgement as I have as a parent. I really don't think we can talk about anything when all comments are leveled as bullying arguments and accusations.
I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on these matters.
For the record, I marched at Take Back the Night marches on Smith College campuses... sigh...