Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why Do We Let Them Do That? On the Way Girls Dress And Other Thoughts

The Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece
on the way young girls dress:
In the pale-turquoise ladies' room, they congregate in front of the mirror, re-applying mascara and lip gloss, brushing their hair, straightening panty hose and gossiping: This one is "skanky," that one is "really cute," and so forth. Dressed in minidresses, perilously high heels, and glittery, dangling earrings, their eyes heavily shadowed in black-pearl and jade, they look like a flock of tropical birds. A few minutes later, they return to the dance floor, where they shake everything they've got under the party lights.
But for the most part, there isn't all that much to shake. This particular group of party-goers consists of 12- and 13-year-old girls. Along with their male counterparts, they are celebrating the bat mitzvah of a classmate in a cushy East Coast suburb.


All of which brings me to a question: Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?
Why do we let them do that, the author asks. She is not asking why some parents let their sons get laid, by the way. She is focusing on trying to understand "Why Girls Dress Like Sluts" but refuses to look for it in the right places.

Thus, she ends up writing about feminism and post-feminism and the contraceptive pill, as if the current fashions in young girls' clothes were somehow a consequence of the contraceptive pill or of feminism! We are all so confused! None of us knows the answers! But perhaps we all regret having had premarital sex ourselves. The mothers, she means. She hasn't asked the fathers what they think of their own past sexual experimentation.

No wonder that the conclusion is confusion if one refuses to search for the real reasons. Let's help her a little there:

The first thing to notice is that young teenage girls dress for their peer groups. It is the values of those peers which matter, and the root of those values lies in popular culture and the way it portrays young women.

The second thing to notice, as the author does admit, is that the young girls don't dress a certain way because they want to, say, get laid. They dress that way because it makes them popular. Most of them have only a limited idea how that way of dressing might look to someone of their parents' generation or perhaps even more generally.

Then the third and most important thing: The images of young women in popular culture have changed in the last few decades. This began with the early music videos and was much intensified by the widespread consumption of Internet pron and its impact on the competition for clickable images by non-pron producers. In short, for a woman to be viewed as worthy of attention she must be much more sexually explicit in her demeanor and dress than was the case before*. Just think of the Fox News female news readers.

I'm not arguing that some wholesale change has taken place. But change there has been, and none of it is directly related to feminism or the contraceptive pill.

A better candidate for the best explanation is the pornification of the culture. Ignoring that candidate (and the whole question of what parents let their sons do) means that this opinion piece ends up blaming the mothers for the way their daughters dress. The mothers can then blame their daughters for disobeying any attempts to make them dress differently. This creates a beautiful circle of blaming and confusion which takes us absolutely nowhere.
*Here is a picture of Lady Gaga, as an example: