Why do we make good girls dress bad?

National Post
August 11, 2003
By Barbara Kay

In the style section of the New York Times a few weeks ago, a layout was entitled: "The Mirror has Two Faces: Fall fashion addresses that great cultural dichotomy -- good girl or bad?" An immigrant might be puzzled reading this. Does the Times give fashion advice to streetwalkers?

No, the Times merely deconstructs the cultural zeitgeist and dresses its models accordingly. The message we absorb is that a lot of women think looking "bad" is good, and the fashion merchants, non-judgmental to a fault, are exploiting the vogue for hookerwear to their enormous profit.

If only it were only women they were exploiting.

I stopped at a toy store to buy a gift, and lo -- since when do toy stores sell bustiers, stilettos and pleather pants? Since children started wearing them, that is when. I read that a Hollywood star's little four-year old girl has a T-shirt bearing the message "Baby porn star." How very ironic and postmodern. Ho Ho. You can't instill sexual self-consciousness too young, apparently.

Should we then be surprised to learn that -- and this is a recent Canadian, not Hollywood, story -- unmonitored summer campers, aged 12 to 14, supposedly playing "tent card games," were found engaged in group oral sex?

The other day in a local womenswear store I witnessed a scene worthy of intervention by the Children's Aid Society. A slim, very fit young mother was shopping with her pudgy adolescent daughter. The daughter sorted yearningly through the baggy cargo pants, but the mother and the eager saleswoman kept urging low-rise mini skirts and tops on her. Obligingly, if self-consciously, the girl tugged on a too-small crop top and a skimpy Spandex skirt, exposing a wide swath of doughy stomach. Her mother cried "Adorable!" at each new and raunchier change of clothes. I wished I could haul the girl off to The Gap and fit her out in cotton crew neck shirts, fleece cardigans and a floppy hat.

At her bat mitzvah, my daughter wore a simple empire waist dress with a white lace Peter Pan collar. We chose her outfit together on a shopping expedition for which she was kitted out in slimfit corduroys and a crisp rugby shirt. That was a compromise: Her real preference would have been baggy jeans and a fluorescent T-shirt. But whether dressed neatly or grungily, neither she nor I wanted her being looked at in a sexual way.

What happened in 20 years to change self-respecting adolescent girls into self-marketing sex kittens?

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Feminism was supposed to free women to be themselves, not chattels to men. Women would enter the marketplace with their husbands. Women would be competitors, not cheerleaders. Women would make the news instead of reading it in their kitchens.

Well, women did everything they were supposed to do. They work, they govern, they are tennis Terminators. They are disproportionately represented in some professions, and girls out-shine boys in school. All the feminists' dreams have come true. The mothers of today's teens learned their lessons well.

Even the one that is turning our young girls' lives into a nightmare.

And that lesson was that women, in order to be truly equal in value to men, must assimilate a man's sexual behaviours and instincts. Are men obsessed with sex? Great. We're there. Are men aggressive in pursuit of sex, promiscuous, and emotionally detached from their conquests? Enter Samantha from Sex in the City with a vibrator in her purse.

So women are "there" in many legitimate ways; but sexually, a strange thing happened en route to "centre court." They took a wrong turn. Women started acting out men's fantasies instead of realizing their own. Hookers dress like they do for a reason. It isn't what they think is attractive or fashionable, it's what -- when men are paying for sex -- men want to see.

If women are finally sexually equal to men, why was everyone obsessed with little-girl icon Britney Spears' virginity and not Justin Timberlake's? Now Britney and Christine look and strut like pole dancers. Compliant women servicing hungry men. Some role models. Some feminist progress.

Deviance has been defined so far down that narcissistic, sexualized childhood is part of mainstream culture. You can delete your spam, avoid the tabloids, resolve to watch Nature and Masterpiece Theatre. But you still have to walk into a toy store occasionally. And what you are seeing there, and in the streets and schools, is the overt sexualization of little girls for the delectation of men and boys. Seduction-obsessed mothers today are complicit in this phenomenon by encouraging or at least doing nothing to stop it.

We are all wading through bathwater and there are babies drowning under our eyes. It is time to shut off the taps.