asks the question in today's WSJ: "Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like
this--like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves--but pay for
them to do it with our AmEx cards?"
I think she also gets pretty close to the answer in noting that the current generation of MOTs (Moms of Teens) is also the first generation to have grown up with the new rules and lack of old-fashion standards. As she puts it:
We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available
birth control, the first who didn't have to worry about getting knocked
up. We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears
about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider
culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom. Not all of us are
former good-time girls now drowning in regret--I know women of my
generation who waited until marriage--but that's certainly the norm among
Therefore, our greatest earthly fear (since the vast majority of us have been taught to understand that "old-fashion standards" are rooted in irrational prejudices and bigotry rather than reason, protection of personal happiness and the good of society) is that of being called a hypocrite. Just as some ex-hippie parents felt sheepish about scolding their kids for trying (or even, using) illegal drugs, many of today's mothers (who grew up mimicking the antics of Madonna) feel sheepish about scolding their daughters for an appearance that our grandmothers would have called "slutty." Besides, we mastered the eye-rolling over that appellation long ago when Grandma scolded us
I'd add to Moses's list another fear. It is not just that we fear being called hypocrites or that we don't have a firm grasp on right and wrong. There is also the problem of that eye-rolling. If, as girls, we felt "peer-pressure" to look and act in a way that was in accord with the new pop-culture norms, at least it was mainly coming from our peers and semi-rational or moral girls could, therefore, more readily (and successfully) question it. Moreover, the mothers of my mother's day could count on some support from a large number of other moms and grandmothers when they took a stand against an obstinate teenager. Today, the eye-rolling is coming from all quarters. It's not just Hollywood and the music industry combined with surly, slutty teens. It's also coming from other mothers and, even, grandmothers! The scolding mother and grandmother is becoming more and more rare as fear of hypocrisy and guilty consciences guide the standards. Or, to be more precise, the scolding that is likely to be handed down is not directed at the teen
, but rather at the mother for being "too controlling."
Even so, there can be a temptation to overstate the doom and gloom and it ought to be resisted, when possible. There are always pockets of decency and good sense, for one thing. Another reason to speculate hopefully is that if the popular culture has actually reached a level of saturation in smut and indecency, it is likely that there will be some backlash . . . if for no other reason than ordinary teenage curiosity and rebellion. I noted a couple weeks ago that Ross Douthat
saw some reason for cheer about the current generation of teens.
For my own part (and mind that I am still learning on the job) I have always tried to mimic an understanding of fashion handed down in George Washington's primer on the "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation."
(See rule #52.) Not that I would admit this or explain it like that to my daughter! At her age, her suspicions would be justly fortified if I cited Washington as an expert on fashion to her! "Powdered wigs are soooo 18th century!" after all. But the rule about accommodating nature and bending, with prudence, to the times and one's peers is a good one. The extremes in the debate over appearance can cause a person's head to spin and to despair that appearance is, after all, only appearance. Substance of character would be a better subject for contemplation, of course. But we cannot forget that appearance, while not everything and not even necessarily definitive, is--in this world--still an important part
of substance. Fashion ought to be a mother's first lesson in politics to her daughter . . . and the lesson is that in politics as in fashion, "perception is often reality."