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The Family

Fear of Hypocrisy and Ignorance of Right

Jennifer Moses 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 my peers.

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." 
Categories > The Family

Discussions - 11 Comments

Good post, Julie. If I understand you correctly, you are implying that mothers and grandmothers are afraid of being called "squares."
Beneath that, there's the deeper point in Ross D's column. He suggested that many feminists fear that to concede any issue is to concede them all. Many "liberated women" have that fear, and, therefore, are afraid to believe in standards.

I think that's about right, Richard. It is as if a denying your 12 year-old a thong is the equivalent of putting her in a burqua.

Good post, indeed. I have been maklng this case for years, namely, that once a generation accepted lower moral standards they were compromised for their children no less than for themselves. It shows the power of the ancient wisdom that understands that habits formed become second nature and even supplant nature. Aristotle knew a thing or two about forming good habits, teaching that we become virtuous by doing (repeatedly) virtuous acts, and vicious by doing (also repeatedly) vicious acts. But you are right, the hypocrisy bugaboo has disarmed people from doing their duty. But it is still true that "Hypocrisy is the homage pays to virtue." Parents should never tell their kids anything about themselves that is likely to corrupt them. Bury a foolish past but be realistic about what ills flesh is heir to.

If I may make a (probably unpopular) point, our culture has allowed women all kinds of new freedoms whereas we hold me to the same old responsibilities. It's perfectly OK to let women parade around like streetwalkers, but if some guy makes a move he's guilty of "sexual harassment." Women can have careers and families, but upon divorce it's the guy who becomes enslaved by the court system.

I've talked to some young men, and the sense I get is that extended childhood (unattached, game-playing, 'hanging out') is a reaction to this culture. Men have the same responsibilities they've always had, whereas women can shirk, cheat, flirt, etc. to their heart's content. Do we actually wonder why men resist marriage and responsible fatherhood?

After having lunch with a grieving 55 year old woman whose husband of 27 years is moving out to move in with a more sympathetic 34 year old divorcee, it is hard for me to think you are altogether right, Redwald. The lack of sympathy was with his drug habits. Some men never grow up.

I think it is great that feminists are having second thoughts about their ideological prejudices in favor of "sexual progress". The way I presented my tawdry youth to my kids was as a lesson well-learned. I shared my regrets about poor choices as well as my gratitude to God for having redeemed the mess.

Fashion: yes, teaching our daughters how make whatever is current work for them instead of become enslaved to it; that is a good lesson.

@Redwald -- at LaGuardia the other day I overhead a conversation between five young women. I was stunned. They spoke (loudly) of casual sex, sex for favors and sex for rent money. I fear at least one of them is going to encounter a young man who will meet them on the same plane and will extract what they seem willing to give and offer little in return. Extraordinarily sad.

@Kate -- do you know his story? I mean, do you really know both sides of the story? Her version may be accurate; and it may not. I see plenty of examples of simply awful middle-aged women -- selfish, beligerent, inconsiderate ... awful. I often think, "If I found myself married to such a shrew I'm not sure I could endure it."

Don, he's leaving her for a woman 20 years younger with similar habits. But, no, I don't know him. And some women are awful, I don't argue about that. My friend confesses to indifference, but after the husband's stroke last month all she talked about was figuring out ways to manage the household finances so he wouldn't have to worry about working. As things have unfolded she is not unhappy at being left, but is regretting the wreckage of the marriage and how it leaves her children (only almost all grown) bereft of family.

Young men and women can be frightening to listen to.

This is good:

About the young and foolish among us: the problem is in what we have allowed to become normal. The question raised is what is natural. If a man and woman are two halves of a whole being, then eventually the foolish young will settle into what is natural. I have been thinking about the oolish young I know and almost every one of them has settled into a traditional marriage. To varying extents, they all seem to wish they did not have the baggage of previous "relationships" which might better be called "relations".

All I know, Kate, is that about 2/3rds of divorces are asked for by women. In my immediate social circle, most of the divorced men were completely blindsided by middle-aged wives who were encouraged to insist on "more" (whatever that is) by "counselors" and female friends. In my view, women's expectations of relationships and marriage have simply grown utterly unrealistic, and our society encourages that and enables that (with regressive nearly medieval divorce laws -- my God, some States still have alimony on the books!).

Part of the problem is biological, I suspect. As women age, their estrogen ebbs, and their desire for the man to take charge turns to resentment. In their minds, he goes from being a leader and provider to being a manipulating control-freak. In an earlier era our society discouraged such biological and emotional shifts from destroying intact families, but today we're all about "empowerment" and "self-actualization." What complete crap.

Men can't win this nonsensical game, and so many are opting out, seemingly.

Redwald, you may be right and I will happily blame all marital problems on menopause. However, I don't know very many people divorcing and this woman's situation (she is an acquaintance from work) is unusual in my sphere and shocking to me as a result. Of the very few I know who are divorced or divorcing, the problem has been the other way; he is looking for more, or more truly for less responsibility, and usually with a woman who has youth and nubility.

By far the majority of marriages I know are celebrating anniversaries of 30-40 years and more. I mean they are celebrating(!), too, as in they are happy to be together and anticipate their futures with joy. I honor their success. I also suspect that most marriages last. We found statistics about that on some thread years back. It was true then.

Women don't have to marry these days and that may be destabilizing to matrimony. However, women who accept that the choice to place themselves under the protection of a man is the way of happiness are wise women.

The 2/3rd's statistic is real, so I suspect that your current experience is now the exception rather than the rule.

As for men's reaction to all this cultural shift, I think we are watching a weird form of "Atlas Shrugged." Most men would like to have relationships with women, but the maintenance is just all-consuming in many cases. Dating is riddled with double-standards, really expensive to boot, and often just no fun at all. "Hanging out" has become the new mating ritual because it is low-committal, inexpensive, and more relaxed.

This is the world that feminists and liberal men have created, and we all must deal with it. I think it has become devastating among our young people.

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