Politics & Policy

The AmExed Sexing Up of the American Tween

Regrets — but getting a clue.

‘Dad may try to ruin your style, but dry stains won’t.”

The revealing dress code of the American tween may be best dramatized by yet another popular-culture slap in the face of fatherhood: a Tide commercial.

Dad intentionally wipes dirt on his daughter’s way-too-short skirt. Mom is all too happy to clean it with the product being advertised.

Why are moms sometimes all too happy to let their daughters walk out the door looking like prostitutes? It’s a question that Jennifer Moses bluntly asked recently in Food and Whine: Confessions of a New Millennium Mom: Why do mothers let their daughters walk out of a store with revealing clothing? And why would moms “pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards”?

One mother’s answers may be as revealing as the clothing.

First, Moses surmises, “It has to do with how conflicted my own generation of women is about our own past, when many of us behaved in ways that we now regret.”

Older and wiser but depriving your daughter of the pearls you can impart? Talk about hiding a light under a bushel basket.

Further, Moses admits: “What teenage girl doesn’t want to be attractive, sought-after and popular? And what mom doesn’t want to help that cause? In my own case, when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill — especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads.”

So much for the thrill of the chaste. So much for protecting treasures.

Some moms might be as lost as the girls, Miriam Grossman, author of Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student, worries, but she credits Moses with “realizing this also has to do with her own loss of youthfulness.” She continues: “Sure, when girls look like sluts they turn heads. They are ‘sought after.’ But is that the sort of attention she wants for her daughter? The mom’s feminism prevents her from saying ‘over my dead body will you wear that!’” Grossman adds: “And by the way, where is the girl’s dad? He knows what turns the heads of young men. Is he even around to protect his daughter? Does he have a voice?”

The answer to the last question may be best represented by the dejected dad whitewashed by the Tide of popular culture.

“We, I’m sorry to say, are scared to death,” says Meg Meeker, author of The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers. “Mothers are afraid to follow our instincts. When our intuition tells us that our daughters really shouldn’t leave the house scantily clad, we assuage our guilty consciences with cheap excuses such as, ‘We were young and wild once and we did okay, so they will too.’”

Two generations, in other words, are feeling the pain of the feminism that has wreaked havoc on the sexes, leaving us with a boundary-less horizon where, now, teens don’t even have an authority to fight against.

But let’s not kid ourselves. “It’s high time we got over ourselves and faced up to reality for teen girls in 2011. We need to be adult enough to realize that the sexual landscape for teens is radically different than it was in the 1970s, ’80s, and even the ’90s,” Meeker, a pediatrician, emphasizes.

Dr. Meeker paints a blunt medical picture for any mom or dad being coy about parenting: “Here’s how we know. In 1979, when I graduated from college, there were two sexually transmitted infections snaking their way through the sexually ‘open’ teens and adults who chose to explore their sexuality through freer sexual expression. Herpes 2 broke upon the scene in a fierce way, increasing 500 percent from 1980 to 1990. By the time 2000 rolled around, there were over 30 STIs in the then–15 million Americans each year who contracted a new STD. Now, in 2011, the CDC reports that 20 million Americans each year contract a new STI, and almost 50 percent are young people (teens and college students). This is completely unacceptable.”

Meeker’s medical and tough-love motherly advice? “For all of the mothers out there too afraid to tell their children — that’s what 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old girls are — that’s it’s not acceptable to parade around in clothes which announce to any young man that they are sexually available, it’s time that we grew up. Our daughters aren’t living our lives — theirs are tougher. That means they need tougher moms.”

In truth, a mom trying to sell her daughter on a little modesty doesn’t have a lot of help, on Glee or in Seventeen — or, even more practically speaking, at the mall. If you’re shopping with your daughter this spring for a prom dress, it’ll be a sea of “plunging necklines, built-in push-up bras, spangles, feathers, slits and peek-a-boos,” as Moses writes. But, as Tide also knows, it’s not like there are protests in the streets or at the cash register about it.

We’re a far cry from “Want of modesty is want of sense.” But wouldn’t it be fascinating if out went Cougar Town and in came an authority that could fight to win? A common sense that might leave a little to be desired. A dignified sense that would teach girls to have higher expectations for themselves and the men they attract. A protective sense that would celebrate the father who wants only the best for his daughter. A motherly sense that confidently models authentic freedom in femininity and modesty.

Somewhere in all the female empowerment of the last decades, the feminine (and masculine) was often lost or confused. Mars and Venus came off their axes. Sexual chaos ensued. Regrets, we have a few. Sometimes our lives are a living witness to this. But, whatever has passed is past, we’re older and could be wiser, too; we’re teachers and models now. And one mother’s provocative quandary may be one sign that we’re culturally and individually open to rising to the occasion.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.


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