Look, I had all kinds of ideas about parenting long before I was a parent. I was never going to have video games in my house, for instance. Of course that was an uninformed decision, as in, I hadn't actually begun sharing my life with two other young people who would have their own needs, ideas and opinions about things. I never thought I would be the parent to take my young daughter to the mall for our biannual Sears portraits (when we were still doing such things), dressed like a princess, either. But when four year old Olivia was insistent that she wanted to wear the dress, I checked myself. I had to stop and think about why I objected and then I had to think about why or if my objections mattered. I soon decided that preserving my daughter's dignity, will and need to self-identify was far more important than my need to project some sort of ill-formed, base-less prejudice onto her. And then I thought, this is her, this is where she's at, age four. It was the making of a positive memory.
In the Granderson piece and in much of the commentary since, there's a focus on who is to blame for kids' attire (most specifically, "Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see all right. ... I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she's not even in middle school yet.") If you've never been shopping for children, I will tell you, it's not an easy task. What with the constant growing and wearing, kids can be tough to fit, let alone furnish with an entire wardrobe. Shopping for kids attire is further challenging because of what is available, or isn't. Not everyone has the financial means or access to shop the likes of Mini Boden, Hannah Anderson or Land's End, which all feature fun, cotton, mostly classic clothing, but at not exactly bargain prices. For many, this type of clothing may only be available through catalog or on-line shopping, which requires the use of a credit card, which assumes you have one. Other clothing options might range from what's available at the local mall, big box store, thrift shop or dollar store, the styles and material varying widely. What is purchased can further be limited by transportation access, whether the store is within walking distance or hours it is open. There lies within this blame the assumption that all parents have the resources, access and availability to shop a certain way (ostensibly the best way, or the appropriate way). There's also an ableist aspect to this assumption, too. Shopping with children in spaces where children's clothing is sold means navigating closely positioned racks, where clothing is hung high, and it often requires moving through crowds and covering some distance. Shopping for clothing can mean holding, hanging, sorting, looking, touching and folding, in spaces that don't provide seating or a place to rest, or hang a bag or a shelf to place a parcel. And doing so, presumably, with child(ren), that will need to be helped, dressed, assisted, nurtured, nourished and kept safe. When we assign blame to parents regarding what we might deem an inappropriate clothing choice for a child (especially what we presume to be a girl child), we are doing so without knowing anything about a parent's (or childs') path to acquiring that item of clothing. (This doesn't even address the ageist aspect of this, by asking how one determines the age of the person they are looking at? Granderson assumes the girl he was scrutinizing was eight; how did he know?)
As far as looking askance at a child and tsk tsking, shaking our heads and leaping to words like tramp, whore, slut or prostitute, that's contributing to the on-going objectification of children. It's called slut-shaming. Pigtail Pals addressed slut-shaming with regards to Granderson's piece, yesterday:
Clothing, or lack of clothing, does not make someone a prostitute. When we are cavalier about the degrading terms we use for our girls, we belittle their inherent worth, and desensitize ourselves to what it really means to be a prostitute. From what I hear, it isn’t a great lifestyle. The proximity I had with it as an investigator revealed it to be brutal, lonely, and dangerous. Our culture sends mixed messages to young women to be hot and sexy and available at all times, and then as soon as these women or girls become sexual agents and act on their desires they face the repressive push-back from society and are branded sluts and whores. Confused? So am I.
I'm frankly more concerned with raising my children in a rape culture than I am their fashion choices. When news outlets like CNN refuse to cover the rape of an 11- year-old girl in Texas by a gang of 18, March 2011, and the New York Times ran a piece that refers to the gang-rape as "vicious assault" and goes on to comment about the 11-year-old victim, "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.", something is incredibly wrong. It's unconscionable to me that as a society, our first leap is to question, judge and comment on the clothing of a gang-rape victim, but not question why the 18 boys and men were raping. It's indicative of a rape culture that as a society, we objectify girls and women (and all children)and critique their clothing, rather than teaching people not to rape. Instead we scold, judge and blame and slut-shame girls and women for their clothing because we deem their choices to be trashy or attention-seeking and asking for it. Just like the presumably eight-year-old girl in Granderson's judgmental piece was asking for it, by wearing sweat-pants with Juicy printed on the bottom.
This may be the culture we live in, but that doesn't mean that I, as a parent to two, independent, bright people with needs and opinions of their own, have to like it and feed into it. When Olivia long ago decided a bikini swimsuit was a better fit for her, I trusted her to know what she wanted and needed. I wasn't about to admonish her with warnings of how she would be objectified by others, or how others might prey on her because she simply wanted to be comfortable. Of course my hope for her is that none of that would happen, but in no way was I about to lay that burden and blame at her feet if it did. What I do want to tell my children is that it's no one's business what they wear or why they wear it. And Mr. Granderson, if that makes me my children's "40-year-old BFF", so be it.
*With thanks to my 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, for permission to use both the photo and story and for contributing to this post with her thoughtful discussion about this issue.