I rarely get to pick my daughter up from school, mostly because I work a full time, day shift job. Mercifully, I work a 9/80 schedule, which means that although I still work 80 hours over the course of two weeks, it is compressed into 9 days, giving me one day off every other week. My daughter loves my days off because they mean that not only does she get to sleep until 7:00 (a decided improvement over getting up at 5:30), I generally take her to school and pick her up, which gives us time to talk and spend a few minutes together at the beginning and end of her school day. It's only a few minutes, but we try to make those few minutes count as much as possible. Especially considering the conversation that followed.
"So, you remember XYZ?" I rather vaguely remember the little girl, as the same rotating group of kids has basically been together since Kindergarten.
"Yeah, sorta. Why?"
A 10-year old version of OMG enters her voice: "Well XYZ had some shorts on today, and at some point she rolled them all they way up to HERE (using her hands to indicate where the upper thigh connects to the hipbone), and she was showing a little bit in the back! She got sent to the office, but she hurried up and rolled them back down before she got there." At the next stop light, I turned around and looked at my daughter. "You have GOT to be kidding me?" "Nope. She hangs around with a group of girls that call themselves "The Strippers". (And yes, she did the Air Quotation Marks with her fingers!) That is NOT cool."
The light changed, and we continued running a few errands but I was floored by her story. Understand, I am not a person to get into slut-shaming, and I believe in a woman's right to make her own choices at all times, regarding everything from what she chooses to wear, to what career she decides to embark on. Note I said, a WOMAN's choices. These are 9 and 10 year old girls. In Elementary school. Identifying with strippers, the ultimate projection of oneself for the approval of the male gaze. This is troubling in that, while we are trying to get children to begin to imagine themselves in business or science or medicine or technology by pointing out those that have succeeded in those fields as examples, there are still those out there that are so mesmerized by the false glamour and faux wealth presented to them by music, television and movies that more reasonable voices are being drowned out. Worse than that, however, is the loss of innocence implied by these young girls knowledge of, and desire to emulate, such an adult concept.
We can all remember a time when we were not burdened with the trials of adult life; when our concerns were Barbies, Hot Wheels, Legos, playing hide and seek or riding bikes for hours on end. And we can all tell you when that concern turned away from our childhood fascinations, and we started becoming more interested in the opposite sex as something more than one more person to play Tag with. I find it alarming that the innocence window is shrinking every year. Why not allow kids to be kids for as long as possible? I know that there are products to be sold, and money to be made from those that want their children to have the latest, and most fashionable clothing and gadgets, but 7 year olds in booty shoots, boots and cut off tops (worn to school by one of Ashley's classmates a few years ago) gives one pause. Certain clothing, worn in certain combinations, are generally meant to have the effect of gaining favorable male attention. Of course, the flip side of that is just trying to cool off, and being on the receiving end of unwanted, and often vulgar, male attention. Being that I live in a fairly diverse, working class urban neighborhood, I am hard-pressed to speak to which of those two scenarios was at play here.
It has become very difficult to create safe spaces for children to have full childhoods. Especially in inner-city neighborhoods, where the rush to assume adult identities and characteristics is exacerbated by a media obsessed with a certain image of inner-city inhabitants, popular culture that celebrates and markets pornography based images of women as ideal, and parents determined to give their kids everything they didn't have as children, even at the cost of a hurried leap into adolescence. Or emulating adult entertainment professions that in reality they should know nothing about.
I was a kid once. I gamed my mother a couple of times by wearing one thing out of the house, then changing once I got to school. I got caught, obviously, and subsequently was closely scrutinized by my mother everyday after that to make sure I didn't do it again. I don't fault my mother for this, as I realize now that she understood that whatever you think of yourself, people are going to perceive you based on whatever they were taught about how people present themselves. Meaning dressing scantily to attract male attention/approval might backfire if those same males were taught to perceive scantily dressed women, not as the sexually liberated women they see themselves as, but as the loose or amoral, according to whoever raised them. I was also 16, and a junior in high school at the time. This is not a conversation anyone should be worrying about with elementary school aged children, girl or boy.
I know I can't protect my daughter from everything. That's impossible, and I can't even begin to try. But I can make a small place for her to safely explore her world without having to learn to understand an adult world, and adult concepts before she is physically, mentally or emotionally ready. It's a small thing, but the least I can do to make sure that she has a COMPLETE childhood before she is launched into the grown-up world.