Continuing a long tradition of baseless alarmism and personal anecdotes woven into manufactured non-trends, this weekend's Wall Street Journal features a piece wherein the mother of a 13 year old girl simply cannot believe that the nation is letting its teenage daughters leave the house dressed like little harlots. Why do we let girls dress like that? laments Jennifer Moses. This piece is more problematic than Elton John playing Rush Limbaugh's wedding, but let's focus on two of its especially off-putting elements- slut-shaming and obliviousness.
First, the slut-shaming. Moses believes that this generation of mothers allows their daughters to dress like cast members of Rock of Love because they're ashamed of their own pasts, which sounds to me like Jennifer Moses is ashamed of her own past and wants to believe that all women in her age group have shared her experiences just like hers.
It has to do with how conflicted my own generation of women is about our own past, when many of us behaved in ways that we now regret. A woman I know, with two mature daughters, said, "If I could do it again, I wouldn't even have slept with my own husband before marriage. Sex is the most powerful thing there is, and our generation, what did we know?"
Wait, what? Mothers are ashamed of sexually experimenting? And... so they're letting their daughters dress ultra-sexually? This sounds awfully anecdotal. Moses goes on, saying that former "good time girls" are "drowning in regret." Ugh, really?
Moses' shift in identification from the mindset of the rebellious teenager to the mindset of prudish mainstream America and subsequent shaming of the non-dominant paradigm (her 13 year old's "slutty" friends) reeks of good, old fashioned sexism, joining a long, proud tradition of telling women that they should feel bad about themselves for wanting to be sexual. Just because a woman is the one decrying women owning their sexuality and experimenting in their youth doesn't make it any less misogynist. I will eat my hat on the day that we see an op-ed piece from a father to his son about how he regrets sleeping with so many women before marrying the boy's mother and how our nation's boys are being raised to be an army of sluts.
Moses goes on, claiming that teenager girls are bigger harridans than ever.
In recent years, of course, promiscuity has hit new heights (it always does!), with "sexting" among preteens, "hooking up" among teens and college students, and a constant stream of semi-pornography from just about every media outlet. Varied sexual experiences-the more the better-are the current social norm.
Interestingly enough, this is the opposite of true. Teenage sex is declining and has been declining since the late 1990's. Teens are not having more sex; they're having less sex. And "sexting" and "semi pornography" never gave anyone herpes or got anyone pregnant. Thinking about sex or consuming sexual materials are low-risk sexual behaviors. Furthermore, teenage girls choosing to present themselves as sexual beings is not the same as actually acting as a sexual being, just as wearing a Miami Heat jersey does not make you Dwyane Wade's teammate. While clothing sends a message, it does not imply sexual activity (although wearing certain clothing may be setting girls up to be blamed by the New York Times for being raped in Texas, but I digress).
Now, on to the obliviousness. The author surmises, then, that the reason that guilty self-declared ex-sluts of her generation are allowing their teenager daughters to dress "promiscuously" is that they don't want to be seen as hypocritical. This seems a little far-fetched. Mothers aren't allowing their teenage daughters to dress like adults because they regret their teenage years, mothers are allowing their teenage daughters to dress like adults because they're living vicariously through them, because women have spent their lives inundated with images and messages that drill into their heads the notion that they're only valuable insomuch as they're sexually desired, fecund 25-year-olds. Teenagers crave to be initiated into that sorority and women fear leaving it while feeling guilty about wanting it. A woman that has taken this notion to heart- that we're only valuable as aesthetic consumables- would naturally want her daughter to live on in the sphere of relevance.
This doesn't happen accidentally. After all, as women, we're most valuable to advertisers when we're desperate to much look older or younger than we are, when we need to buy the most shit to assuage our insecurities. A mother of a 13 year old girl and a 13 year old girl represent bookends in this magical age and thus create the perfect storm of money-spending insecurity. There's no "regret" involved here. This is called being a slave to the beauty ideal and instilling in your daughter the fact that her value comes from being sexy.
Thirteen year old girls aren't the only ones looking foolish in pursuit of a beauty ideal. The article bears no mention of the emergence of the subgenre of entertainment that focuses on the sad pursuit of eternal youth and sexiness by Real Houswives of every goddamn city in America. Teens are desperate to enter the sexy zone and adult women are terrified of leaving it, attempting to inhabit the realm of teenagerhood for longer and longer. If only we buy enough products, it can be done! We have the technology!
In the meantime, rather than wringing our hands over the cavalcade of hookers that will soon rumble through America's high schools, perhaps mothers would do themselves well to forgive themselves for the decisions they made decades ago and instill in their daughters a self-respect that comes from somewhere other than their cleavage.