Don’t shoot the messenger…food for thought for all of us!

Sometimes the messenger gets shot before we actually stop and think about the words the messenger shared with us, we hear a word that sets us off and sorry but the messenger has got to go. Or in our rush to be inclusive and accepting of all we don’t stop to realize that true inclusion means being mature enough to realize that we bring our own perspective to the table and maybe in sharing table space with someone who is not like us and rather than trying to make that person be more like us, we need to be open to hearing the truth of others. Black, White, Latino, Blue-Collar, Working Class, Middle Class, etc…these things all help to form the lens through which we view the world.

I think this was the case for some folks yesterday and today, when this piece by LZ Granderson made the circuit online. Granderson, a columnist and sports writer yesterday gave some feed back as a parent on what I personally feel not only as a parent but as someone who works with kids is a growing problem….young girls dressed inappropriately. If you haven’t read the piece, read it now!

The older my own girl gets I have noticed that little girls clothes look a lot like miniature adult clothes and at least once a week I see young girls coming into my community center looking like miniature grown ups even down to the high heels. High heels in an after school program? Yep, my eye brows stay raised on a regular basis and this says nothing about a few of my teens who sometimes have tops on so low cut that despite my desire to never make a child feel uncomfortable I have to say something…hell we have had a few instances where other kids will tell the low cut kids to put on a sweater. In my world, sexy clothing is an issue. I am also going to share my unscientific view, just based off my own observations but it’s my sexy clothes girls who I worry the most about. They are the ones I see struggling to find their place, one moment being childlike and the next they are 15 going on 27! Its not pretty, admittedly my center sees kids who due to many factors are at risk and our center serves as a safe place but I can honestly say I have a few kids that if we can get them out of high school without a baby, I will feel good. (Sadly we have had this issue as well)

Yet I have had talks with parents who will talk about how they are doing all they can to keep their girls away from boys, lest the girls become boy crazy yet see no issue with letting the same girl go out in a low cut top that frankly is not appropriate. Talk about conflicting messages! Conflicting because the reality is we live in a world where a teenage girl who chooses to wear clothing that is provocative while it’s her choice in most cases will have to deal with potential fallout. I am not saying its right, but I am saying it’s the world we live in. At this stage in my life I am a realist, plain and simple, how the world ought to be and how the world currently is are two different things.

We as parents at least in the circles I work and even at times within my personal circles are often tentative about our role, are we friends? Gate keepers? Rule setters? Do we even know? I am starting to think no one knows….I know growing up my folks weren’t really my friends but by adulthood we (at least my Mom) were truly friends. But I can assure you growing up; my folks laid down the law and used language that would make a lot of folks cringe. Looking back with one kid who has made it to legal adulthood and raising another one, I understand now the choices they made in raising me. In some ways despite the heavy hand they had at times with physical punishment, I think they still gave me a fair amount of leeway to make my own choice once I was a teenager…hell I dropped out of high school and for the most part they didn’t give me grief which looking back I think what the fuck were they thinking? Interestingly enough though as a Black woman I find that as an adult my family of origin is still rather important to me and that is a perspective shared by many of my fellow Black and Brown friends and associates. Despite growing up with parents/guardians that didn’t try to be our friends in many cases they became our friends only when we hit adulthood. Yet with my white friends and even at times I see it with my husband, family of origin at times is less important…I am not placing a value judgment on this, just one of those things I have observed.

Now I am sharing a little bit of my outlook through my lens as a Black working class woman, well yesterday Granderson shared his views as a Black man who happens to be openly gay and is raising a son and while many openly applauded his views, some took him to task. Instead hanging onto his choice of words and in one case I saw a blogger refer to his piece as classical slut shaming.

Funny thing is at least in some of my online circles how the piece was received had a great deal to do with class and race. My fellow people of color or working class folks, knew exactly what he was saying…at the end of the day we complain about the sexualization of little girls yet if we choose to buy a child pants with the words Juicy written across the rump, perhaps we are the ones speaking with forked tongue. Is it really fair to say that the XYZ Corporation is sexualizing our girls when we buy the shit? Nope.

By the same token I noticed more solidly middle class folks or liberal minded whites were inclined to read more into Granderson’s words, for starters in the opening paragraph why was he noticing an 8 year old at an airport? Probably because he is not visually impaired is my guess and the fact such things are often hard to ignore…hell I noticed recently that one of my teens was looking way older than his chronological age. Hell, ya notice shit. Again many were put off by Granderson’s use of words instead seeing what he said as adding fuel to the fire.

Maybe it’s because of my work which lately colors a lot of things for me but I think that much of the sexualization that we are seeing of our girls would be changed if we had more parents in general especially dads taking a stand and saying enough is enough. We need more than a select group of politically correct parents telling us what the right language is to use but instead we need parents coming together to be a village and saying nope. Again the views expressed here are in large part based off my current work with at risk youth but 15 years ago I worked with sex workers looking to escape that profession and let me tell you a common theme I saw was a lack of active and involved parents. Out of over 100 women I worked with who no longer wanted to be sex workers, at best only 1-2 had what would be described as a strong support system from family, most coming from dysfunctional families.

Granderson’s words may not be as suave as they could have been but ultimately he does make us ask ourselves what is our role when it comes to our kids. More specifically if our kids come to us and want clothes that are questionable what will we do? Personally I find myself explaining why certain choices are appropriate. An acquaintance last night on twitter asked me why I am against a 2 piece bathing suit for my daughter at this age (5), because I don’t feel its appropriate but at 11 or 12 I most certainly am willing to entertain the idea if she gives me a valid reason. But at 5 the only reason she wants one is because Sally has one and that is not good enough. Just like Sally may eat McDonald’s weekly but that is also not a choice we make in our family. We all have choices to make for our families and who we are and where we come from informs the choices that we make.

Say no and parent your kid

Dear Fellow Gen X parents,

Ours is a pretty cool ass generation, I must say. After all we know that we won’t ever have as much money as our Boomer parents, we pretty much know the man is full of shit. That’s why so many of us even as we start to hit the 40’s threshold are still freelancers and consultants. We may not have nearly as much financial comforts as our folks but damn it we have time to chill and time to raise our kids. So many of us were latch key kids that as we started having babies we totally embraced parenthood in a way that our Boomer parents truly cannot understand.

Fueled by the internet, we love to research any and everything especially when it comes to our kids. Many of us if our resources allow want nothing but the best for our kids, best car seats, best food (no Wonder bread and bologna for our kids, tofu pups baby!). Now I know I may seem like I am making fun of my fellow Gen X parents but I really am not, hell I am just as guilty as this. I also am married to a guy who still rocks out in his t-shirts and Chuck Taylor’s and he is 42. Seriously today’s 40 year old parent never looked so good, as a friend told me recently when I alluded to being almost 40 and middle aged, she said we are not middle aged, late 30’s is the new 20’s. See we take this staying young and being cool thing really seriously.

However I think it also goes too far especially when it comes to raising our kids. Most college educated Gen X folks would never dream of disciplining and treating their kids the way most of us were raised. No one except the most uneducated will ever fess up to smacking a child, and if you do, you can fully expect to be shunned. We are the generation that strives to be consensual, to be gentle, hell we want to be cool with our kids. Harsh words exchanged between us and our kids are almost more upsetting to us than to our kids. Little Janey dear, lets see if we can find a way that works for both of us. How many times have I heard these words or some variation in many of the parenting books that were recommended when the kidlet was born. See when elder boy was born he was raised in a style similar to how I was raised except that there was little in terms of physical discipline and he was always allowed a voice. I couldn’t always accommodate his desires but he was heard.

The thing is though we are living in a different world, a world where kid’s especially little girls are being sexualized so much earlier than our generation and previous generations. Yes, we had Barbie with her unrealistic body but no one and I mean no one I ever knew walked around before the age of oh say 18 with words like “Juicy” and “Sexy” displayed on any of their clothing. Yet these days take a trip to any Middle America shopping emporium and take a look at the clothes that are marketed on size 6X and up. Most of it looks a lot like mini versions of what adult women wear. Hell, it can actually take some serious effort to find clothes that looks like something a little girl should be wearing. Just a couple of weekends ago, I went to get the kidlet some sandals, a pretty easy one stop shopping trip I figured. Oh no, turns out Famous Footwear has all sorts of thong sandals and heeled sandals but no good sturdy play sandals. Mind you the kidlet is in preschool!! Why would a child between 4-6 need a pair of one inch heeled sandals?

Yet at the kidlet’s preschool and dance class which has a fair share of middle income Americans these are the clothes her peers wear. People have commented that my kidlet dresses more old fashioned with an emphasis on dresses that fall below the knee. Um…maybe it’s because I think a kid should be dressed age appropriate and not merely in what is cool.

Which brings me to this video, take a minute and watch it. In case you can’t watch it, you basically have 6-7 year old girls dressed provocatively while dancing to a Beyonce song. Six and Seven year old girls!! One question, where are the parents? I lied I have another question, why didn’t anyone say hell no to this idea? My girl takes dance class and you can best believe that if provocative dances were being taught she would be pulled out and next I would be making others aware of what the dance school was teaching.

It’s easy to lay blame about the sexualization of girls at the feet of the media, but the fact is as parents we are the folks in charge and responsible for our kids. Turn off the TV, don’t buy the clothes, and say no you will not be in the dance recital. At times it feels as if my generation is so stuck on being cool and hip that we have carried that attitude and view into our parenting. I figure while I want my kids to like me, it’s my job to raise em and hopefully do so in a way that they will be dynamic adults. What kind of messages do we send our kids when we cannot be parents instead choosing to be their pal? Truthfully there are times in parenting when you may have to play the heavy, it sucks but parenting like any other relationship has those moments. What are we saying when we cannot bear to stand for something? Instead allowing our kids to be shaped by forces beyond us.

Seriously there are times when as painful as it is you just have to say no.