Thursday, October 04, 2007

"Never let anyone treat you like a ho... Now get out there and shake that thang!"

My last day in Vegas, I'm driving across Sahara Boulevard, a main east-west thoroughfare, when I come upon one of those scholastic car washes. In the back of a large parking lot, dutifully washing cars, is the core group of teens: a mixed bag of perhaps 20 nondescript boys and girls, dressed mostly in nondescript car-washing attire (that is, not as in the photo at left, which is stock footage, used here for illustrative purposes only). Written on the rear window of an adjacent van, in shaving cream or what-have-you, are the words [something-or-another]* HIGH SCHOOL ROCKS!!

And out on the streetcorner—it's hard to resist the symbolism—are two girls holding signs aloft.** I emphasize: girls. I figure they're 16 at most. To say they're scantily clad hardly does justice to the scene. Both of them are "dressed" in teensy-weensy, skin-tight, you-needn't-remove-any-clothing-to-do-a-gyno-exam denim shorts; we're talking several generations past Daisy Dukes on the sexual seismograph. Their midriffs are bare. One of them wears a tee-shirt that's every bit as tight as the shorts. It is soaked through....

I've thought a lot about how this situation came to pass. I've concluded that, since the girls clearly were doing this with full knowledge of the several adults I saw "supervising" the event, there were only two possibilities. Either (a) they showed up that way on their own and were chosen, on the basis of their whorish appearance, for streetcorner duty. (And where were mom and dad that morning?) Or (b), some adult presence actually hand-picked the hottest girls and told them to show up that way. Originally I thought (b) was worse, but the more I think about it, the more I think (a) and (b) are equally worse, if you will.

Ask yourself, as I did, what is the message here? What's the message to the "ordinary" girls, the worker bees who were deemed a bit too chubby or gangly to merit promotion to the streetcorner? What's the message to the young boys observing all this? Before you answer, consider that the event I stumbled upon takes place as schools and various other elements throughout American society devote endless time, thought and counseling efforts to helping young girls take pride in themselves as people—i.e., something beyond sex toys put here for the amusement of pubescent young boys. We hear stories of the many girls who are legitimately in crisis, unsure of their identities, unconvinced of what they have to offer the world besides T&A. Then consider the Vegas car wash. And I don't think you have to wrack your brain too hard to recall similar car washes, as well as other school-sponsored events, in your own frame of reference.

I'll tell you exactly what the message is: "Yeah, we talk a good game about how beauty's only skin deep, and you're not just a body, and nothing is as important as your reputation, and blah, blah, blah... But when you come right down to it—and especially when there's some money to be made—well, just use what the good Lord gave ya, honey!" Indeed, the subtle but unmistakable connotative link between sex and money should not be overlooked in this equation.

(And it's never quid pro quo: I've yet to see a fund-raiser that featured Chippendales-esque guys out front. Have you? It isn't done. This phenomenon is very specifically and exclusively a "girl thing.")

Bottom line, in the interest of raising a few bucks (most likely for sports programs that cater to boys), this school literally flushed its values down the drain. It revealed its self-esteem programs as disingenuous, if not laughable. (I'm making the assumption that this school has self-esteem programs. However, almost every school at every level does, these days. Even in a place like Las Vegas.)

I find this mind-boggling.

INCIDENTALLY... I can already hear the "gotcha!" comments from people who think this post is somehow incompatible with my previous musings on romance and PDA. If you really don't get the distinction between the two, then you just "don't get it," period. At least to my mind. But as always, I welcome dissenting opinion.

* I'm not protecting anyone, believe me. I'd gleefully identify (and embarrass) the school if I could've read the name in time. But I had to be somewhere, and I was already behind schedule, so I couldn't double back.
** For those who simply must know, one sign said FUND RAISER, and the other, CAR WASH!


acd said...

Or (c), they showed up that way and eagerly volunteered to be the center of attention.

Either way, it is a disturbing display to have underage girls prostituting themselves with adult supervision. However, they will do this with or without parents and teachers around. First of all, no one has to tell them to dress that way. If they were in anything more than a thong and a push-up bra, that is conservatively dressed, in their eyes. The reason they dress that way is to attract attention, which is precisely what they would accomplish by holding signs on a streetcorner, dressed the way they are.

The self-esteem programs are not going to accomplish anything, and not only because teachers endorse this behavior. The social atmosphere has a much stronger influence than anything taught in a classroom. Girls learn early on that their primary role is as a sex object. Being anything less than that (or more than that, depending on how you look at it) means sacrificing one's popularity, something most girls are not willing to do.

No amount of motivational sayings or cliches is going to change reality. I realize, in telling girls these things, people are trying to change that reality by changing the attitudes that create it, but the world just does not work that way. Girls will always grow up thinking that they have to supply what is in demand. And we all know what is in greatest demand.

wisdomwench said...

Hmmm, I don't suppose they represented the Latin Club or the Debate Team...

RevRon's Rants said...

My sense is that such antics represent a pendulum-swing reaction to prior repressiveness, with the parents' typical response being that they simply give up trying. From experience, I know that it is easy to impose limits upon a prepubescent girl's choices in attire, but that it becomes increasingly difficult - though not always impossible - as the hormones begin to flow. The all-too-common narcissistic parents of today simply shrug their shoulders and accept - but continue to bemoan - the actions of their "little girls."

On the other hand, we also tend to objectify the boys in our culture, as well, stressing and encouraging traits that are deemed "manly," even at the expense of the boys' well-being. If you don't believe that, go attend some little-league baseball games and high-school football games. Nubile young cheerleaders prance about on the sidelines of the football games, exhorting their idols to "kill" their opponents, while supposedly devoted fathers rant and rail at the teams they coach, belittling them when their performance falls short, and frequently giving pats on the back to players whose behavior is unsportsmanlike, yet successful.

Virtually all the things you find unsettling in the girls' behavior has an equivalent on the boys' side. Yet we never seem to get around to teaching either the value of understanding, or the fact that the greatest strength (and allure) is in tenderness.

When my son was young and spent a couple of years with his mom, he took Tae Kwan Do lessons, mostly to please his step-dad. When he returned to me, he was amazed at how effective the "gentler" art of aikido was, and how easy it was to overcome what he had previously perceived as "strength."

It's a tough sell for parents, especially given that PR firms know very well that most parents have given up, and that their bottom line often depends upon a girl's "bottom line." The kids are listening, and unfortunately, those who have abdicated their responsibility to our children are the most vocal. We shouldn't be surprised that we are raising a generation of bullies and bimbos.

Steve Salerno said...

See now, Wisdomwench, your sarcasm--while pointed and, I suppose, apt--reinforces my own notions about the real shame here. Because for all we know, these might be very bright and worthwhile young women. (Where is it written that a bright woman can't also be shapely and sexy?) But we live in a society of perception...and the perception is that if a girl looks like a "ho," she must be a "ho." Plus, when you're dealing with young girls, I think there's danger in "conditioning" them to attach too much of their self-image to their looks. The power of attraction is seductive, not just for the observer, but for the siren herself; so you could very well end up with a situation where a girl who might have focused more intensively on academics is diverted from that endeavor by the strong intoxicant of her own sex appeal.

Put simply, she starts living up to (or down to) her bimbo image. For my money, adults who aid and abet that process should be ashamed of themselves.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, you make a good point about the male analog here. It is often overlooked, and to our discredit as a culture.

jpatti said...

I agree with you.

It's one thing to say girls just dress this way and there's not much you can do about it. It's another entirely to support them in doing so.

My daughter was in band growing up and they occasionally played at the football games. I went once and just suddenly got hit in the face with the fact that cheerleaders are basically a socially-approved activity teaching girls to act like whores. Note, I am not speaking of cheerleading in general, or gymnastics, or the actual accomplishments some girls are into - but the generalized notion that shaking your stuff while dressed sexily is some sort of accomplishment worthy of admiration.

There's also something sort of sick about it all in a society that is near hysterical on the topic of pediophilia sexualizing their children in *front* of adults like that.

It seems to me very normal and natural for a 15-year-old girl to want to be sexy to her peers, but very perverse for her to want to attract adults driving a car into a fund-raiser. I don't believe most girls actually *want* to attract 40 year old guys - most probably find the notion yucky.

I just want to say... I'm not against sex in any, way, shape or fashion. I'm a *very* sex-positive person and have spent a lot of time and energy supporting folks of various sexual persuasions. My home was known when my daughter was growing up as a source of free condoms - and a lot of very weird books. I'm *very* open-minded about sex.

Still, there is something very wrong with telling young girls to dress skimpily and shake their stuff in public - and hold them up as role models to other girls for doing so. It seems to me there's a big difference between someone who is genuinely into exhibitionism playing that way versus holding it up as the ideal way for girls in general to behave. It also seems to me that there's a whole heck of a lot better things for girls to be admired for than how tight their body is and how it wiggles. This has nothing to do with their own desires or wishes, it's just sick stuff.

It's *not* a sex-positive thing at all. And it leads to the ridiculousness of things like Brittney and Hilton as role models for girls, young women whom are *obviously* seriously unhappy in the choices they've made. How is this sane? Here's a couple young women who've made choices that obviously make them very dysfunctional and unhappy - so let's *admire* that? I mean, it's crazy.

Steve Salerno said...

JPatti, did we have the Juicy jeans discussion on this blog? Perhaps we did, but (obviously) before you joined us. In any case, I was in a grocery store one time, and I saw a mother and daughter walking together. The daughter was young--barely teens or pre-teens. She wore a pair of jeans that said JUICY across the butt--that's not such a big deal in itself, I guess, since it is the name of the brand--but then right below it, apparently hand-stitched into the fabric, was an arrow that pointed into the crack between her legs. (Look, I hate to be so graphic, but there's no way to avoid it in describing this scene.)

And I thought, "OK, I can sort of understand why the girl would do that, our 'culture' being what it is. But how in the HELL does a mother allow her daughter to walk out of the house like that!"