I never thought I could describe myself as a ‘curmudgeon,’ but that’s how I’m feeling today. What’s got my back up? A New York Times editorial on a middle school talent show. Reading the article requires free registration, but I’ll save you the trouble with an excerpt:
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps. They donâ€™t smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. â€œDonâ€™t stop donâ€™t stop,â€? sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. â€œJerk it like youâ€™re making it choke. …Ohh. Iâ€™m so stimulated. Feel so X-rated.â€? The girls spend a lot of time lying on the floor. They are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
As each routine ends, parents and siblings cheer, whistle and applaud. I just sit there, not fully comprehending. Itâ€™s my first suburban Long Island middle school talent show. Iâ€™m with my daughter, who is 10 and hadnâ€™t warned me. Iâ€™m not sure what I had expected, but it wasnâ€™t this. It was something different. Something younger. Something that didnâ€™t make the girls look so … one-dimensional.
Why is it that these so-called parents don’t see the problem with this? What do they want their daughters to grow up to be? I’ve felt out of touch with the mainstream for awhile – the natural birthing / extended breastfeeding / cosleeping / homeschooling / unconditional parenting / ecologically conscious / non-CAFO-meat-eating / non-TV watching / finding Bratz repelling / house music listening demographic is rather small, after all ;-). But every so often, I hear about something like this that makes me feel REALLY out of sync with mainstream society.
I don’t think I’m old and crotchety (yet) but this makes me wonder how much worse can things get? Are there more and more parents who just don’t think anymore? Is anything that’s popular and on tv automatically acceptable to the masses? Granted, this is a single example but it’s not a revelation (at least not since the Spur Posse stuff came to light years ago). I recall an article some time back that stated that oral sex in middle school was not unusual. I’ve heard of one school where some 8th-grade boys who are reputed to be sexually active wear pink t-shirts on Fridays. There seem to be enough parents who are either uncaring and/or ineffective. This socialization sounds like it’s laying the foundation for a future society that will probably make my skin crawl. However, the editorial is good from the view that there are others who won’t condone this kind of parenting.
Iâ€™m sure that many parents see these routines as healthy fun, an exercise in self-esteem harmlessly heightened by glitter makeup and teeny skirts. Our girls are bratz, not slutz, they would argue, comfortable in the existence of a distinction.
But my parental brain rebels. Suburban parents dote on and hover over their children, micromanaging their appointments and shielding them in helmets, kneepads and thick layers of S.U.V. steel. But they allow the culture of boy-toy sexuality to bore unchecked into their little onesâ€™ ears and eyeballs, displacing their nimble and growing brains and impoverishing the sense of wider possibilities in life.
There is no reason adulthood should be a low plateau we all clamber onto around age 10. And itâ€™s a cramped vision of girlhood that enshrines sexual allure as the best or only form of power and esteem.