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Boxy, all-enveloping, all-awful "unies"

On a recent trip to Australia, I was charmed by the sight each morning of an onslaught of girls in their “unies” (Australian for “uniforms”) headed to a nearby school. They often also wore their broad-brimmed black felt hats, think of the children’s picture book, Madeleine.  So I was a bit surprised to read “Low Expectations, Not Necklines, to Blame for Misogyny” by Josephine Tovey in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2/15/2012.  Tovey writes:

Adolescence is full of rites of passage and, for most Australian girls, I’d wager this is one of them: walking home from school, clad in your uniform, and having a bloke yell something filthy out of a grunting car_ “Show us ya tits!”_ or some other Aussie classic. . . .  Like most uniforms, it was all-enveloping and all-awful, boxy, hanging below the knee; a far cry from the figure-hugging schoolgirl attire of MTC clips.

But it taught me what most women learn young: being sexually harassed, ogled, leered at or catcalled is not really a reflection on what you happen to be wearing or doing. It’s a reflection on the person providing this attention. . . .

Language which sexualizes mundane moments such as walking home from school, which debases or intimidates, should never be excused.

Tovey continues her article with quite a few noteworthy reflections on women/girls, their choices of clothing, guys’ reactions to them, power exchanges in sexuality. I hope to write on several more.

But I’d like to begin with this one because recently, I’ve been noticing that back here in the U.S., girls are having plenty of trouble figuring out this whole thing. As women everywhere for all times, our daughter wants to be pretty. She wants boys to like her, to seek her out. Finally she hopes one will seek only her. But between here and there, how does she make sense of the words: pretty, beautiful, hot, sexy, slutty? Where are the lines between them? If it’s a “given” (as Tovey argues) that boys have trouble distinguishing what is crossing the line, are our daughters any clearer?

With our young tween and teen daughters, we hope to be able to set the limits. But let me remind you that what we’re hoping for as parents is to enable, empower our kids to set their own wholesome, fun, safe, honorable, truthful limits. . .  flirting be damned!

So, some thoughts:

Talk, talk, talk. I know you’ll agree that as we look around our world, there are plenty of opportunities for comment, consideration, thoughtful conversation about what we see, sexually speaking. Who is wearing what at the mall? What’s on the front page of the newspaper? Listening for your daughter’s opinion is as important as expressing your own. Perhaps she agrees with you. Perhaps she is too young to even think about risqué clothing. Perhaps not. . . . You won’t be sure unless you listen. How is all of this going in and what sense is she making of it?

Formulate good conversation questions for use NOT when something is going wrong. When conversation opportunities arise, have a couple of questions up your sleeve. Maybe something like: what do most girls hope for in a relationship with a guy? What do kids mean by “hooking up?” Do you figure that (hooking up) ever leads to a real relationship? How do you know if a relationship is “good” or not? If you could only have 5 things in a boyfriend, what would they be? (this might give rise to some convo about boys you liked or stupid mistakes you or friends made at her age) A light touch is the best touch.

Somewhere along the way, I hope you’ll make Tovey’s point that language which sexualizes mundane moments, debases or intimidates is NEVER appropriate. But, by the way, how will she handle that? Does she need to rehearse with you or with her pals?

Finally, let her know that your dream for her is probably pretty much her dream for herself: a guy who will delight in her…not just her body, but her whole being; that together, you’ll join her to make that worthy dream come true, in time.