In yesterday's edition Poles and Sex and Kidlets, Part I, our heroine disclosed, yet again, her unabashed love for the sex-fiendish world of pole-dancing!!!
She admitted to letting her children pole-dance!
Right then. Moving along.
So yesterday, I ended off with a lead-in about kids and sex and sex and kids. This strain of thinking has been sitting with me since my pole-conversation last week with another parent who isn't sure she should get a pole, lest it turn her children weird. (Granted, there is a rather signifiant difference in world views here, as I actually will be disappointed if my children don't turn out weird. I quite enjoy weird).
After this conversation, my memory was jogged to a radio discussion about the fact that there are, in some places, pole-dance classes being offered for the kid set. At the time, I reacted with what one might surmise is the 'appropriate' horror and outrage. GASP! WHAT?! Pole-dancing children? This is clearly wrong! Why are we sexualizing children? Outrage, outrage, outrage. But my feelings about this are a bit more complex now than they were at the time.
My son, as previously mentioned, freaking rocks that pole. He would be be thrilled down to his boots if he could take a class in which he learned more spins, twirls and upside-down-i-ess. And if such a thing existed, I would be thrilled to my boots to sign him up straight-away. But of course, there's more to it than that. Though I can conceive of a pole-dancing class that would be utterly fabulous for youngsters of all ages and genders, one hazzards a guess that the classes currently being offered to kids are directed at the girl population. And one also hazzards a guess that the classes may be just as much about sex and booty shaking as my grown-up classes are. Which makes the conversation slightly more complicated. The outrage, both mine and that of other callers-in to the radio show about kid pole class, makes sense. We sexualize young girls in problemtic cultural ways, and certainly this is all kinds of bad and wrong. Bad and wrong. I'll say it one more time just for emphasis. Bad. And. Wrong. (If you're sensing a but, you're bang on, but I'm not quite ready to get there yet... hang on).
Let me also briefly address my feelings about girls clothes and boys clothes (both problematic for the same and difference reasons.) The girls t-shirts that are revoltingly sweet with messages like 'cutie-pie' and 'smile' and 'love'. And the boys shirts that say things like 'hero' and other bullshit-y things that aren't quite coming to mind at the moment. It's yuck. It's bunk. It's all that and more. And then there are the protests about sexualized girl clothes. G-string undies at La Senza Girl. Short shorts and nmiddriff tops and spaghetti straps and bikinis, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. I'm not particularly a fan.
But - and here's the but which will likely make me unpopular - something in the outrage at pole-class for kids and sexualized girl clothes - is also really off-putting and unsettling for me. Because the outrage seems intrinsically linked to two things - the first, that there is something inherently (sexually) deviant about pole-dancing (or short shorts, g-strings, mini-skirts etc.). And the second, that this deviance (sexual) should not be marketed to young girls (for the preservation of their desexualized childhood).
And I get that this is tricky shit. I struggle with it. I wrestle with it. I'll wrestle with it more before my babes are grown. And as I've already said, I certainly agree with some of this outrage, while balking at some of what lies beneath it. Namely, the idea that only certain kinds of girls undertake certain kinds of activities. (And note here, it ain't the 'nice' girls we're talking about). The idea that girls who dress in certain ways send particular kinds of messages (no matter their age). The idea that girls who dress in certain ways are targets of and participants in certain kinds of innapropriate sexual behaviour. The idea that activity or clothing can be, in and of itself, indicative of something beyond that activity or clothing.
To be sure - we live in a culture which accepts these ideas as true. That pole-dancers are strippers and strippers are bad. That spaghetti straps are more risque than short sleeves. That visible skin is a sign of female sexuality or more properly, sexual availability. These ideas are, of course, ridiculous. troubling. Bad and wrong. But I wonder too, if, in our indignant need to 'protect' the children from the evils of a culture of sexualization, we are also propogating these really destructive cultural normatives? When we say to our daughters "oh hell no you can't wear those spaghetti straps on this hot summer day because they aren't 'appropriate' for children" what message are we actually sending? While we are telling our daughters that the way they are being marketed to is troubling, are we also telling them that their skin is shameful? That spaghetti straps or mini-skirts or bikini tops indicate sex? And so on and so forth? Is this not also related to the recent gross trend of banning tights in schools because they are 'too distracting' to the boys??
I have a girl who only wears dresses except under much duress. She has announced on several occassions to me that she both hates pants and shirts. And she is very, very clear about what she will and will not wear. I don't imagine that this particular trend is going to go anywhere anytime soon. Like her mama, she is fashion-focussed. And like her mama, she is stubborn. Stubborn as fuck. I don't fight with her about fashion choices, (nor do I with my son, though he is far less picky). She wears spaghetti straps when it's hot outside. (She also has a princess obsession. I don't love it. In fact, I will go so far as to say I think her princess obsession is as harmful in the long run as all the sexualization bullshit. But it is her obsession to have. I try to temper it, gently, with messages of self-sufficiency and the beauty of strength). I let also let my kids play with my make-up. And paint their nails. And they both covet my heels and endless varieties of fishnet stockings. And here's the thing. I can't see myself arguing with either of them about their fashion choices in the future, any more than I do now. (I like to quip pithily to myself that perhaps if they were to experience a day of wearing undies that feel like having dental floss up your ass, it might be the first and only day they wear them, though of course *because this business is complicated* I'm hoping that *if* this happens, it is later rather than sooner).
I want, as I was discussing with a brilliant friend of mine awhile ago, my littles to feel happy and confident in and with themselves. If Girlio decides what makes her feel happy in the world is rocking tummy-tops and short-shorts, ok. Wearing tummy-tops and short-shorts do not define who she is as a person, they do not represent her level or experience of sexual activity, and they *should not* define how others treat her or assess her worth as a human being. Anymore than Boy-o wearing a dress and make-up should define how he is treated or his worth as a human being. For me here, the issue becomes less about how old they are, and more about whether they are able to understand how these things might impact their worlds. In both scenarios, I would sit them down and have a frank talk with them about the fact that we live in a world full of enormous assholes who will make all kinds of assumptions and/or judgements based on this dress. I will tell them that this is wrong and shitty, but true nevertheless. I will also tell them that they have to go with what they feel good and right about, and that when this is the case, I will always, always have their backs.
Yes. We live in a world that limits and controls some of how we express ourselves in all kinds of icky ways. But that ultimtely doesn't change the fact that we still need to express ourselves. Sometimes that self-expression ends up being out of the box, and sometimes more inside of the box, I guess.
As I said earlier (probably multiple times over) - this stuff isn't easy. I don't have all of the answers. Hell - I don't have any of the answers. Is there a part of me that feels queasy about the idea of my pre-teen rocking a g-string? Yes. Yes, there absolutely is.
But I'm also not convinced I'm queasy for all of the right reasons. And I think that those reasons are definitely something worth examining....