Oh I Don’t Know…
Call it out of character, but I’m having difficulty mustering feminist outrage against the supposedly “new” phenomenon of pre-teens buying into the “Slutoween” trend by donning tarty costumes made especially for them.
Why? Well first of all, I have trouble with the idea that pre-teen girls trying to dress older than their years is anything new, or even necessarily something that adults should be overly alarmed about. Adolescent girls have always pilfered mom’s lipstick and changed in the bathroom at the school dance into that shorter skirt the ‘rents wouldn’t let them leave the house in. Yeah, part of that is pressure from society, but part of it is also natural curiosity. Trying to figure out what the hell to do with one’s newly morphed pubescent body is a big undertaking and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of experimentation (and plenty of fashion train-wrecks) to figure out your relationship with your budding body. Dressing older (and by association, sexier) is as much about independence to most teen girls as it is about fitting in and being pretty. Instead of trusting our girls to navigate the muddy waters of adolescence and make good choices why do we behave as if it only takes one pair of sparkley fishnets to turn a 13-year-old into a baby prostitute?
Case in point, when I was in seventh grade I saw the movie Clue and decided I wanted to be a French maid for Halloween. My mother tried to talk me out of it. She even tried appealing to my emergent feminism by explaining that French maids are sort of a degrading male fantasy. This tidbit was pretty much lost on me. At that point my budding sexuality did not include any awareness of dominance, submission or other kinks. All I knew was that French maids got to wear frilly costumes, carry feather dusters and speak in smarmy French accents. Who wouldn’t want to be a French maid for Halloween? All mom’s suggestions for other, more appropriate costumes for a thirteen year old (“What about being a bag of grapes!? We can blow up some purple balloons and stick them to a sweat suit!”) fell on deaf ears. I was dug in. I was being a French maid for Halloween.
Instead of locking me up and throwing away the key, my mother reluctantly took me on a field trip to the local costume shop to pick out the most conservative French maid outfit we could find. She also insisted that I wear a turtleneck under it and drape a shawl over my shoulders, “Because it will be cold out.” I went out trick or treating in the outfit, practiced my smarmy French accent, accosted several people with my feather duster, collected a butt load of candy and came home… without herpes. I did not magically become popular with all the boys. I didn’t even end up dating for another three years. I didn’t ditch my well worn wardrobe of peasant skirts and wool clogs for leather pants and bustiers. The next Halloween I went as Red Death from Phantom of the Opera in pants, a tuxedo shirt, a floor length cape and a mask that covered most of my face. In short, I remained unharmed by my brush with the Slutoween phenomenon.
Was I just lucky that I didn’t become a statistic? I think not. First of all, I had good parents who wanted to have constructive conversations with me about my choices instead of just slut-shaming me. Because she actually listened to me my mother learned that my interest in being a French maid had more to do with playing a kooky character than pandering to the male sex. In fact, pandering to the male sex wasn’t even on my radar at that age. Even if it had been, I’m sure mom and I would have had a conversation about that too.
Unlike the author of the Daily Mail Article, I don’t believe that, “Parents who allow their offspring to wear this junk should consider putting them up for adoption.” I am so glad that my parents valued me as a person who could make her own decisions instead of thinking of me as a Pretty Pretty Princess that they had to keep pure as long as possible no matter what the cost.
Pre-teens of both genders are thinking about sex all the time and it’s totally natural. What else are you going to do when your brain is totally bathed in hormones? We’d be foolish to think that denying them every pair of tacky earrings or pot of lip gloss is going to stop them from growing up too fast. Guarding your daughters from the trappings of adulthood is a false sense of security. Instead of trying to take away the makeup and the high heels, why aren’t we trying to teach young women that these things don’t have to define them? Because that would mean that parents would actually have to talk openly and honestly about growing up with their kids… and that’s just awkward. Better to call them whores and ground them until they are 30!
As a kid I was encouraged to think for myself and stand up for what I believed in and be my awkward, imperfect self in any way that I wanted to be. This didn’t win me many friends in Junior High but in the end I think it made me less susceptible to the junk culture that tells girls their only value is being attractive. I understand that parents have a very real responsibility to protect their kids form predators. I also understand just how damaging it is to sexualize children from a young age. I just don’t think that the solution to the problem is to shelter our children more. I think the solution is to help our children learn to make good choices on their own.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my mom had refused to let me wear that French maid outfit on Halloween. I certainly would have had less fun dressed as a bag of grapes. Would I have merely snuck out in the slutty outfit anyway? Would fishnets and heels become even more attractive and glamorous once I knew that my mother hated them? Of course! Perhaps the fact that I had permission to experiment with the sexy outfit in the first place also empowered me to reject it in the end. Bottom line… kids are vulnerable, precious and impressionable but they are also a lot smarter than we think they are. Raise your kid well and a little eyeliner (or a slutty Halloween costume) isn’t going to change who they are.
Entry filed under: autobiography, body image, Fashion, feminism, opinion, relationships, This Could Only Happen To Me, vanity, women who rock. Tags: autobiography, daily mail, feminism, halloween costumes, jezebel, life, opinion, parenting.