Sunday, February 02, 2014

Race, Gender & The Super Bowl Halftime Show

Time flies, I guess.  This past week, I heard the unbelievable news that it's been 10 years since the "wardrobe malfunction" that destroyed Janet Jackson's career.
Looking at this photo, I'm still amazed at the national furor, including FCC fines and what amounted to the end of Janet Jackson's musical career, all flow from this moment.  A boob pops out and the world went nuts.

Last year, Beyonce performed at the halftime show, and I was really surprised at the comments I saw on my Facebook newsfeed attacking her dress and appearance as somehow wrong.
What, I still wonder, is wrong with the way she's dressed?

The fact that the incident in 2004 cost Janet Jackson her career, while Justin Timberlake continues on his merry way says so much about who we are.  That Beyonce singing and dancing in a costume little different except perhaps in color and material from a ballerina's became a focus of moral outrage says so much about who we are.

The fact that this year's halftime show will feature Bruno Mars, an ineffectual white man, says so much about who we are as a country.

As a side note, that so many continue to be outraged at Miley Cyrus's very calculated sexualizing of her own behavior while too few in the mainstream press note the blatant racism in her MTV appearance says so much about who we are.

I'm so tired of people offended by women's bodies.  I'm so tired of people not being offended by the maltreatment of African-Americans.  I'm tired of the American madonna/whore complex.  I'm tired of the impossible standards African-American women are forced to meet. and the all-too-public slut-shaming when they fail.  I'm just sick and tired of our American neruoses around race and gender and sexuality.

I suppose the fact Beyonce's career hasn't been changed by her appearance last year is a sign of progress.  That she has to endure a flood of hateful slut-shaming because she dared wear an outfit that was comfortable for her to move, though, makes me tired.

Just A Moment

I've always felt that parenting is a matter of balance.  Too much of anything is bad.  Bringing a person from childhood to adulthood without major trauma is difficult enough; trying to do so with the understanding that there's a large element of chance involved is enough to give most people pause before contemplating it.  It's important to have discipline.  It's also important to know when it's time to let go and believe that all the things you've said and done as a parent have made a difference.  Last night was one of those moments.

I remember the conversations Lisa and I had after Moriah was born.  A big life-milestone is dating.  We were firm: 16.  Right on schedule, last night Moriah headed out the door with a quiet, smart, good looking young man whom she had asked out to what Rockford Christian High School calls their "Lips" dance.  Not the greatest name in the world, I know.  It's a Sadie Hawkins dance, really.  The school doesn't call it that, though, because they do not want school kids left behind because some girls didn't ask them out, or because their girlfriends go to another school.  Most of the school treats it that way, and Moriah executed her plan to ask this young man out perfectly.

As the father of two girls, there are always comments that surround dating: "You should get a gun."; "You doing a background check?"; yadda-yadda.  I remember when Miriam was born, a man who was the father of two grown daughters gave me something called "Rules for dating my Daughters".  At the time I found it quite funny, with lines such as, "If you pull in our driveway and honk your car horn, you better be dropping something off, because you're not picking anything up."  Now, on reflection and with several years parenting my daughters, I find this kind of thing awful.  By the time a child has reached dating age, if you don't trust her enough, and trust yourself enough as a parent, to accept that she will make good judgments when it comes to dating, then being a macho bully only demonstrates your utter failure as a parent.

I've talked to Moriah.  I listen to her.  Sometimes, I listen to conversations she and her sister, 12, have.  I think they don't know I'm paying attention, but I do.  Since she was younger, I've been impressed with her common sense.  I told her just a few days back about a time when she was 10 or 11 and her sister was 6 or 7.  They wanted to play outside on a sunny summer afternoon.  There was talk in our neighborhood of a person or persons about acting suspicious about children.  My wife and I had already had a talk with the girls about talking to strangers, but I was concerned.  I opened my mouth, then said, "OK," and set the boundaries for their play.  About 15 minutes later they came back inside.  I asked what happened, and Moriah told me that they were following our rules; a stranger was in the yard, so they came inside immediately.  I hopped up, went outside, and it was the meter-reader.  I went back inside, chuckling, and told the girls how proud I was.  At that point I knew I had little to nothing to fear, at least at their end, from a stranger approaching them.

Which, of course, is part of that nagging fear every parent has.  You can prepare your child, teach them, give them rules and boundaries, and someone comes along and acts in ways for which you cannot predict or prepare.  All a parent ever can do is so much.  The rest, as they say, is life unfolding, with a whole lot of prayer.

When it comes to the issue of dating, however, a parent has all sorts of resources.  As I said above, there's listening.  There's talking.  Paying attention to the things your child says when he or she doesn't think you're around.  Watching how he or she acts in other situations.  Paying attention to the social climate in which your child lives and moves.  These are all things a parent can do.  When the moment comes and your daughter says, "I want to go out with this boy," as a father you have all sorts of choices.  For me, it was simple: "What's his name?"  If you've been paying attention, you already know the answer to that question, as I did.  If you've been paying attention, you've heard the talk about what kind of boy he is.  Most of all, if you've been raising your daughter in a way that not only keeps those lines of communication open, but also in a  way that allows you to trust her, say, drive a car, get a job, even head out on a cruise with another family, then the whole matter of watching her put her arms around a boy, let him slip that corsage on her wrist, then head out the door to school and the dance isn't a moment of fear.  At least the neurotic fears.  Last night, I watched all that happen and I was not only happy for Moriah.  I was proud of her.  The girl has extremely high standards, and here was a young man she felt reached them.  A quiet, shy,  slightly awkward boy trying to look grown-up in his shirt, slacks, and tie that matched Moriah's dress - I've only ever met two teenage boys who never looked awkward in those situations, and they both went to school with me - I smiled and shook his hand, remembering my own fears as a teenage boy meeting girls' fathers.  And the whole time, I was thinking, "There she goes."  I could have been gruff.  I could have cried.  Instead, I smiled, trusting her because of all she's already shown me; trusting him because I knew that was part of trusting her; most of all, for once in my life, trusting myself that I'd raised Moriah well, and the proof of that was all here in this moment, just a moment of time, a moment of life, that showed us all that things will never be the same.

It wasn't easy, that moment they slipped our our front door.  It passed so quickly if I hadn't been paying attention I might have missed it.  It was a good moment, though.  And I'm still smiling inside because I know that the most important thing, my daughter's happiness, is more important than my own neurotic insecurities.

Virtual Tin Cup

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