Friday, December 29, 2006

Middle School Girls, and, urrr, Women GoGoGone WILD

Lawrence Downes writes a powerful opinion in today's NYX, "Middle School Girls Gone Wild." Downes describes the shock, the scene at his ten year-old daughter's talent show when a group of middle-schoolers gyrate to Janet Jackson's latest nasty-you-bad-boy, can't-make-a-good-album (Hang it up, please) ditty:
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps. They don’t smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. 'Don’t stop don’t stop,' sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. 'Jerk it like you’re making it choke. ...Ohh. I’m so stimulated. Feel so X-rated.' The girls spend a lot of time lying on the floor. They are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Downes wonders later:
What surprised me, though, was how completely parents of even younger girls seem to have gotten in step with society’s march toward eroticized adolescence — either willingly or through abject surrender. And if parents give up, what can a school do? A teacher at the middle school later told me she had stopped chaperoning dances because she was put off by the boy-girl pelvic thrusting and had no way to stop it — the children wouldn’t listen to her and she had no authority to send anyone home. She guessed that if the school had tried to ban the sexy talent-show routines, parents would have been the first to complain, having shelled out for costumes and private dance lessons for their Little Miss Sunshines.

I’m sure that many parents see these routines as healthy fun, an exercise in self-esteem harmlessly heightened by glitter makeup and teeny skirts. Our girls are bratz, not slutz, they would argue, comfortable in the existence of a distinction.

But my parental brain rebels. Suburban parents dote on and hover over their children, micromanaging their appointments and shielding them in helmets, kneepads and thick layers of S.U.V. steel. But they allow the culture of boy-toy sexuality to bore unchecked into their little ones’ ears and eyeballs, displacing their nimble and growing brains and impoverishing the sense of wider possibilities in life.

There is no reason adulthood should be a low plateau we all clamber onto around age 10. And it’s a cramped vision of girlhood that enshrines sexual allure as the best or only form of power and esteem. It’s as if there were now Three Ages of Woman: first Mary-Kate, then Britney, then Courtney. Boys don’t seem to have such constricted horizons. They wouldn’t stand for it — much less waggle their butts and roll around for applause on the floor of a school auditorium.

There is something amiss here; something I've noticed being back in grad. school where I've been "invited" (or just observed) via Facebook at least 3 "porn-themed" parties hosted/created by women. I'm all for women embracing their sexuality; reveling in their body on the dance-floor and wherever else they choose. I'd love it if our society actually glorified a true female sensuality, where women's shapes, curves, desires weren't pigeon-holed into some pre-pubescent, quasi-soft-porn eroticized image. Our view of what a woman can be, how their bodies should be desired is, as Downes points out, "impoverished." Compared to boys and men, girls and women face an incredibly narrow range of what is considered "sexy," while ironically, it becomes more and more acceptable for girls to aspire to be "sexual" at younger and younger ages (as long as it's limited to talent shows. Don't forget the whore/slut tag once adolescence hits if they stray outside the lines).

Plus, as girls hit adolescence, they're offered a wealth of social networking tools - AIM, MySpace, Xanga, Gootube, whatever's next, offering the comfort of connection, of "friendships" confirmed with a click of the mouse. Thus, female teenagers and esp. undergraduates grow up "connecting" to boys, hanging out. I'm all for the liberating potential of new technologies, but I wonder....

Is it any surprise that, newly single, I've noticed an aversion in women under-25 to actually "dating." We'd all rather just hang out, if things become sexual, that's cool (let's fohget how "relating", urr connecting, leads to dating to, uggg, relationships). Tranquilo. I'm down w/ theat.

Eventually, like every other generation, teenagers have to grow up, become adults, decide what relationships they desire. Such a transition is hard enough as couples are now expected to be "life partners" or "friends for life." These relationships require vulnerability, risk, emotional exposure.

We already have, or at least my cousin and I do, a nice first "under-30" marriage rule. These marriages can implode as one partner needs to do a little more growing, a search for meaning/identity that goes in an unexpected direction. What'll happen as real emotional connection becomes a requirement for a generation used to tools, that at least on a superficial level, offer distance from such real vulnerability?

Probably like the rest of us, they'll just have to muddle through it, with possibly a little more, little later heartbreak, which in the end, might only make the heart grow fonder and stronger (or, could it make some psyches more fragile, delicate, more unable, unwilling to bear heartbreak?).

But we should return to the impact on young girls. Will their upbringing be able to resist such powerful forces? Will their identities be stunted in ways no parent, no uncle can resist, at the level of unspoken norms and "naturally" unavailable opportunities for growth, pressuring them to dance like Janet or Britney does? Will their identity be defined by who they date like Bradgelina?

The final question: how will young mothers and fathers - that first MTV generation now raising their own daughters - balance the fact that consumer choices impact identity, that their girls' bodies deserve a full range of opportunities, that the flow, the opportunities, the abundance of life can be closed off much more easily than they can be opened?

Such enclosures - our consumer gods - close off life's opportunities. They are so obvious as to become invisible, convincing us to stand up and cheer as our little girls gyrate away.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Raising Kids in LA

As I'm finally near the end of my overwhelmingly busy and draining 1st semester, it's great to catch up with friends. Last night, two families, one with three kids (all under 6), the other with one (under 2), and I went out for dinner. We went to a local pizza joint/bar in my friend's neighborhood and the kids scurried around, playing arcade games, sneaking into the back hallway watching the kitchen, causing mischief and having a good time. Doing the things that kids are supposed to do.

Of course, there were a bunch of adults at the bar too, drinking, having a good time. It's no coincidence that both couples each have one parent who's European. I mean, how many American-creative-class couples, so stressed about their kid's future, their own job [in]security, the general stress/anxiety in their family would take the kids out - regularly - to a LOCAL BAR/PIZZA JOINT? I'm talking a real, honkey-good-time people drinking and having a good-time place. Maybe I'm misjudging, but I'm guessing most parents would feel that it's not the "appropriate" place.

LA is a hard place no matter what to raise kids. There's no place that embraces superficiality better. But there are counter-trends, esp. if you look to the ethnic communities. I'm lucky to live in one. Just yesterday, I saw a mom playing with her daughter, scaring her by pushing the carriage down a hill, then catching it, again and again. Their laughter reached my apartment and I took a break from writing my paper and watched.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A New World Disorder - New's Flash: There's a Male Identity Crisis

Seriously, today's LAX has two stories, which when read together, explain the War in Iraq and a crisis in Christianity: Wimpy men with "masculinity" issues.

first, the time piece on the Iraq study group crystallizes what many biographers of Dubya have noticed: the guy has serious Daddy issues; the group's whole report is around, well, let the opening speak for itself:
Some bipartisan commissions try to move public opinion on contentious national issues. Others try to help Congress find compromise solutions to thorny problems.

The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), had a different, and unusual, goal: persuading President Bush to change his mind about staying the course in Iraq.

'This is highly unusual,' an advisor to the group said Wednesday after the panel released its report. "It's one thing for people inside the administration to tell the president what to do. But for an outside group to say, 'Here, son, let us give you a road map for your foreign policy,' that's remarkable."

To try to make it easier for Bush — a man who prides himself on consistency and who consequently is criticized by opponents as stubborn

WELL SON, don't read the column one headline, "MANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS, "Convinced that men are dodging church because it saps their masculinity, some evangelists invoke a tougher Jesus to get the rams back into the fold."


This actually makes perfect sense. I've just finished a GLOBALIZATION seminar with the world most famous sociologists, Manuel Castells, on the subject. There is massive, world-wide dislocation going on, GLOOOBBALLL, at the level of identity and us men, are being forced to change. And most of us don't like it. Women actually want equality, or at least to be able to get naked on Gootube. 3rd world laborers DO want ALL OF OUR jobs, whether it's obvious through immigration or in the more basic structural changes (job losses due to "increases in productivity" with increasing job INsecurity). Less pay and everyone's working more hours and feeling in-se-cure.

Somethings got to give, so it's not surprising that Christian men are feeling a little insecure. Join the club.

POSTSCRIPT: In an ironic confirmation of my theory, Samantha Bonar wrote a funny bit about the female inverse. So take one male identity crises, by extension, you'll have a hetero-fem. dating identity crisis. Some men are actually EVOLVING and, accoding to Bonar et al, women suffer Post Traum. Stress (Relationship) Syndrome (Disorder) after dating all the degenerates (prob. some people I worked w/ at the William Morris Agency) and don't know how to adjust to boyfriends that treat them right. Time heals everything and until then, as Bonar notes, CHILLLLLL.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chester, the Molestor (I mean, Sex Offender): Out of My Neighborhood!!!

Peter Hong has a moving personal column 1 in today's LAX about a child molestor living on his block in Altadena.

Child molestors are our society's boogeyman; we have a whole fricking proposition written, Proposition 83, with the explicit intent to UPROOT, DEROOT and KICK OUT these corruptors, these contagions to our pure children.

Wong's article speaks for itself:

He captures the fear parents feel:
Miletti lives 850 feet from Farnsworth Park, a sprawling complex of playing fields, courts and a playground frequented by children, including my own. Proposition 83 passed overwhelmingly; several neighbors said they voted for it, expecting that Miletti would be forced out of the neighborhood. Both the attorney general and the proposition's authors say ex-convicts can stay put. But it has yet to be decided whether the restrictions will apply to past sex offenders if they move. A federal judge will take up the matter in February.

More than 30 houses line Miletti's block, and most of them have signs calling for him to leave. One of the homes at the end of the block belongs to Erik Hargrave, 40. He recalled the day he and his wife received the mailer. It came on his daughter's second birthday. His wife, who had recently given birth to their second child, burst into tears.

Hargrave and about a dozen neighbors met at Farnsworth Park's Greek-style amphitheater. There was anxiety over having a sex offender on a block with so many young children. They also discussed the potential effect his presence could have on property values and decided both to post the signs and create an e-mail distribution list.

Another of the anti-Miletti organizers, Joseph Llorens, the father of a 12-year-old boy, lives across the street from Hargrave. A manager for a utility company, Llorens, 44, had actually been a friend of Miletti's wife; he had joined her and her then-husband for Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago.

"I do not want him to harm children in our area," he said. "I cannot protect the whole world; my goal is just to get him out of our area."

Llorens and Hargrave once got into a heated exchange with Miletti over their signs. The two raised their voices in anger, while Miletti remained calm.

Llorens felt Miletti wanted to bait him or Hargrave into hitting him so he could make some kind of claim against them, he said. No blows were struck. Miletti also offered to tell his story, Llorens recalled. "I said I don't even want to know. How can you justify doing that to a 6-year-old?" Llorens told Miletti to go home, which he did.

Then, he captures when society's stigmitizes the "other." Of course, the African-American on the block sees through such prejudice:
Some of those who are most against vilifying Miletti live closest to him.

Wayne Weiss, 58, a documentary filmmaker who lives across the street, said he finds the signs unsightly. He thinks they so dominate the streetscape that the neighborhood could end up defined by them.

"They've got Christmas Tree Lane over there," he said, gesturing across Lake Avenue to the neighborhood famous for its holiday light displays. "Is this going to become Pedophile Lane?"

Hari Nayar, 48, and Ruth Landsberger, 47, who have two children ages 9 and 6, also live across the street. The couple don't know Miletti and his wife, and they don't feel their children are endangered. Sexual abuse typically is inflicted by family members or friends, they believe, as it was in Miletti's case. The state's Megan's Law website confirms their view, noting that 90% of child victims know their abuser, with almost half the offenders being a family member.

As they discussed their views with me, their 6-year-old listened in while their 9-year-old sat nearby reading "How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

The sign campaign "may not be teaching these guys good values," Landsberger said. "It is not teaching tolerance. It's more like vigilantism."

Alex and Jackie Bailey, retirees who live at the opposite end of the block from Miletti, also declined to post signs at their house. "You have to live with people no matter what," said Jackie, 64.

She said that about 30 years ago, a convicted murderer lived in the neighborhood, and his daughter played with their children. "You have to take care to protect your children and watch them. You can't stop kids from playing with each other … we just kept our distance from the parent," she said.

The Baileys were among the neighborhood's first African Americans when they arrived in 1968. Alex, 69, said he sometimes wonders if the campaign against Miletti could descend to "the mentality that in the past caused my people to be lynched and now Arabs to be arrested and abused."

Hargrave said he is aware of such fears and has consulted with the sheriff's station to make sure the anti-Miletti efforts remain lawful. "We are not vigilantes," he said.

Societies reveal their true colors by how they treat the most wretched, the most vulnerable, the neediest. I thought we lived in a Christian country? Didn't Jesus say something about tolerance and love. And isn't California a "Democratic", urr, blue, shouldn't we call it black, state?

I'm not denying the incredible harm done by those who sexually abuse children. They deserve to punished severely. Wong decides to keep his children away from his neighbor. This seems like the sensible thing, the appropriate thing to do.

But, a line is crossed when people's basic civil rights are violated, when society legitimizes the state's power to expell lawfully-abiding citizens from their own home. Our society has crossed this line w/ regularity esp. during our "War On Terror" times (example 2: "detainees" disappear into a "military tribunal" system).

Facists (those Nazis, Southern racists and Hutus/Mutus) would uproot, deroot, then exterminate "others" based on their difference: just it was racial and/or religious. But sexual identity is different. RIGGGHTTTTT. It threatens our kids on MySpace. But, maybe it isn't so BLACK and WHITE. Just ask News flash: Republican Rep. of Florida Mark Foley (I love the source of this link) what it's like to suffer from a splintered sexual identity. But I guess we can't give him any sympathy either.

Sympathy, compassion, tolerance isn't allowed when society justifies by such a wide margin the ostracism of sex offenders. Not in our backyards, our neighborhoods.