Friday, August 11, 2006

A joy forever

I was going to disagree with Shakespeare's Sister on this one, a dress code at a school in Texas that decrees:

"The display of cleavage is unacceptable. Low cut blouses, tops, sweaters, etc. with plunging necklines are not allowed."

Shakes makes the case that the rule is all about making teenage girls ashamed of their bodies. I was going to write about the usefulness of dress codes, how even parents of sensible kids need some help against pressures from the fashion industry, pop culture, and peers, and how it's important that young people learn what's appropriate to wear when and where.

But disagreeing with Shakes puts me on the same side as this woman:

“It's gotten bad enough that, unfortunately, our young males are looking at more than their English book, their speech book, their science book,” says school board president Sherri Wade. “And it's kind of nice to have something left to the imagination.”

Ok. Was there ever a time when boys did not look at more than their text books?

The picture above is of my grandparents' eighth grade graduating class. Note the absence of cleavage.

My grandfather still looked at my grandmother!

And she saw him look and looked right back. That's how come I'm here. Well, that and the fact that my grandmother didn't just accept it when her looking back caused my grandfather to slide under his desk in embarrassment and try to hide there from her for the rest of the school year.

Put girls in high collars and ankle legnth dresses and meddlesome scolds like Sherri Wade, who, please note, is not any ordinary meddlesome scold, she's the school board president, would be aghast at the ways girls were finding to show off their ankles.

And, obviously, banning cleavage doesn't ban breasts. Wade never saw Cheryl Feldman in a sweater.

Wade also has a very unimaginative idea of how imagination works.

Shakes is right, the rule says that it is girls' responsibilty not to distract boys from their studies. There's nothing in it that says that it's up to boys to keep their minds on their business and not leer, ogle, drool, or otherwise behave like lechers and louts.

And, as the father of soon to be young men, one of whom just had his first phone conversation with a girl---he was smooth. I was proud---I have to say that what concerns me here, along with the shaming issue, is that it perpetuates the idea that men are cavemen and all that keeps us from devolving even lower is the inhibiting influence of women who say no to all our ravenous desires.

This is the beer commercial, MTV video, situation comedy, Porky's 1-1000, football fan, Right Wing Christian view of men.

There won't be a rule that says "Our young males shall keep their eyes to themselves" because our young males just can't be expected to do that.

I think that if you see boys as troglodytes who can barely be trusted out of the cave without a strong chain and blinders then you're probably going to raise them in one of two ways.

You will unconsciously surrender and adopt a boys will be boys approach that ensures that they will grow up to be lechers and louts.

Or you will make every effort to repress them and shame them and emasculate them at the first sign that they have adult desires, curiosity, and urges, just as thoroughly as the girls are being repressed and shamed and de-feminized.

You can create a society that's a crazy mix of neurotic sexless men and neurotic sexless women and obnoxious hyper-masculinized (read brutish) men, with a small, rigidly policed cohort of overly sexualized women whose job is to be there to offer release and pleasure to both classes of men but who are never, ever to expect marriage, respect, or financial security as a reward for their trouble.

God help any women who allow themselves to be mistaken for members of that class of female.

But the view of cleavage, and men and women and sex, implicit in the new rule and Wade's remark about our young men and their roving eyes bothers me for aesthetic reasons as well, reasons that tie in with what I've written above.

First is the emphasis on breasts, as if the only part of a girl's anatomy that a boy might find distracting is her cleavage. This is precisely what the T and A fetishes of MTV and stupid movies and beer commercials do; it reduces women to their body parts.

Guys don't like girls. They like tits.

They don't want love, they want ass.

There is no conception here that the biggest distractions in school (besides boring teachers, irrelevent lessons, dull text books, and ugly overheated classrooms, nevermind bullies, lack of sleep, problems at home, the sheer horror of going through puberty) might be girls, and boys, as people.

There is no conception that heads might be turned by a twinkling eye, a nice smile, a good sense of humor, the right answer to a difficult problem which shows that there is a brain above that plunging neckline.

There is no conception that sexuality involves anything more than a display of body parts triggering a Pavlov's dog, dog-in-heat-like response in our young males.

Men are animals and it's up to women to tame them by offering them no temptations.

My second aesthetic objection to the rule is that it treats appreciation of the female body as simply a reflex of the lowest form of lust.

Wade and her ilk of like-minded would-be Puritans don't seem to know that people---boys and girls---might like to look at a pretty girl just because she's pretty.

Nobody's read Keats. They don't understand how a thing of beauty is a joy forever. That's not to call pretty young girls, or pretty young boys, things. It's to say that we love to see beauty in life. We love blackeyed Susans in bloom and we love to see Susan with the black eyes in bloom. We love to see a bird land in a tree, a white cloud cross a blue sky, a rainbow, a mountain, a horse in a pasture, each other when we we're happy and enjoying ourselves and being kind to one another.

As long as they are not marred from within by an ugliness of mind or soul that they neglect to conceal or can't hide, all young people are beautiful---which is to say, that these things being a matter of taste, there is always someone who thinks you're pretty.

I really am in favor of dress codes, as long as their point is to teach the importance of appropriate dress, and as long as inappropriate is defined as being about a time and place for everything, not simply a matter of not being a sexual temptation to the unimaginative. There are surely boys in Wade's school district who dress even more inappropriately than the girls in pretty tops with scooped necklines. There are probably girls dressed even more inappropriately who are covered up from their chins to their toes.

If the school board really wants to deal with that problem then they should require uniforms.

I'm in favor of uniforms too. A polo shirt and a pair of khakis, easy, simple, comfortable, inexpensive, totally appropriate---but don't think for a minute that a uniform will disguise the fact that a pretty girl with a nice figure is a pretty girl with a nice figure.

I was harumphing a bit last weekend about the temptations of narcissism that young women have to resist. But resisting falling in love with your own image doesn't require you not to like yourself.

A pretty young girl should be allowed to enjoy being a pretty young girl.

Because, as my old darling Johnny Keats says, it's only on Grecian urns that she cannot fade and forever wilt thou love, and she be fair.

In real life high school, college, youth---it's all gone in a moment. Let her enjoy the time of her time.

Not only is it nice for her, it's nice for the rest of us, and it might help her not grow up into one of those meddling old scolds jealous of their own daughters' youth and beauty.


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