As I contemplate the newest media scandal of the bared breast at the Superbowl halftime show, I find myself with conflicting emotions. I didn’t actually catch a glimpse of it (I was making popcorn in the kitchen at the time), but I did notice that a lot of the halftime show choreography was of the bump-and-grind variety, which didn’t seem appropriate for what is supposed to be a family event. I?ve long thought that NFL cheerleaders ought to put some more clothes on– especially the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. But then, as a old-fashioned feminist, I think a lot of young women are wearing too little, too tight, these days. I wonder if I’m being prudish or if I’m maybe even jealous?
I remember when we once had a hot tub, out in the country. I always wore a bathing suit, but I had friends who thought nothing of climbing in naked, especially at night, when it was hard to see any cellulite. I had other friends who liked to swim in our pool san suits, and lounge around in the sun afterwards that way too. When I went to a French beach for the first time, I was surprised to see that NOBODY wore a bathing suit (except us self-conscious Americans). There would be a French family sitting on a beach towel, the parents reading paperbacks, the kids building sand castles, and everyone–Mom, Pop and the kids–was stark naked.
In New York in the 90s there was a fad for wearing skin-tight pants called “leggings.” This style started out when women wore their exercise tights home from the gym, covered by a long, baggy tee shirt. Eventually the shirt got shorter and shorter and women started wearing Chanel jackets on top instead, so you’d go to a meeting with a female business executive and try not to look at her when she stood up, because you could see a clear outline of her genitalia. Then I moved to San Antonio, where an art exhibit was removed from a university gallery because it contained nudes. Now that was too much! The human body should be considered beautiful, which is why artists have always painted it.
So where do you draw the line between prudish and practical? Inside myself, I often find the line wavering. Sometimes I feel critical of those who bare too much, and other times I decide I’m too unsophisticated.
Those feelings came up again when I heard about the Superbowl scandal. Part of me feels that it’s good for kids to know what the human body looks like, since curiosity can get them into trouble. Farm kids know the facts of life from an early age, and it never seems to hurt them.
I remember when my family lived in the country next to a dairy farm (which was a problem when the wind blew in our direction). My father decided he would teach my little sister the facts of life the natural way by letting her watch two cows copulating. This worked fine, except that she loved to draw, and drew endless pictures of the act for all her school friends, explaining all the details. The parents complained to the school and the school called my father and told him to get her to cease and desist. But maybe those parents should have been glad, since it meant they no longer had to have the “birds and bees” talk with their kids. My sister did the job for them.
Was Janet Jackson doing our job for us? Why should we keep the facts of life from young children?
I?m certainly thankful there isn’t as much secrecy about sex as there used to be. When I was a kid, you knew there was some deep, dark secret that parents weren’t telling you, you just didn’t know what it was. We made a lot of strange guesses. I wouldn’t like to see another generation of kids that scared and worried.
But I think kids are still scared and worried today, despite the fact that almost every movie has at least one sex act in it, so most kids have seen plenty of it by now. After they pass through the Terrible Toddlers stage, children enter a magical stage, where, unless they’re treated extremely cruelly, nothing bad seems to touch them. They’re safe in the magical cocoon of childhood. It’s not until they’re in their teens that the injuries inflicted earlier start to show up.
What’s new in our society is that we?re subjecting kids to a lot of overt sex while they’re still at this insulated age. This should be a time when they have no cares or worries except for Mom and Dad disciplining them because they forgot to make their bed, said a dirty word, had bad table manners, etc. But seeing too much sex does bring about anxiety when you don’t understand what’s going on, and you can’t understand it if your sex hormones haven’t kicked in. Until that happens, boys and girls would rather be with each other and often think of the other sex as “icky.”
But clearly something IS going on, something that adults are really interested in. If you’re forced to be a voyeur when you’re too young to understand what you?re looking at, it can make you anxious, because there’s so much about it you don’t “get.” When you’re young, you don’t realize that you’ll begin to understand it naturally when your body is ready. If you’re a boy, your Mom will start to find Playboy magazines hidden underneath your underwear. If you’re a girl, instead of just having a “crush” on a handsome movie star, you’ll find yourself enamored of one of the formerly icky boys you’ve avoided since you were both in elementary school.
But until our kids are ready, we should take the heat off them. Let them relax and enjoy childhood, not worry about sex. Their bodies will make them worry about it plenty in a few years, so we should let them stay in their cocoons for now.
If we love our kids, we?ll pressure the networks to take the T & A out of the NFL and put it back where it belongs–in places where Mom and Dad can enjoy it in private.
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