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Rant: Poledancing in middle school?

30 December 2006 253 views 6 Comments

I never thought I could describe myself as a ‘curmudgeon,’ but that’s how I’m feeling today. What’s got my back up? A New York Times editorial on a middle school talent show. Reading the article requires free registration, but I’ll save you the trouble with an excerpt:

They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps. They don’t smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. “Don’t stop don’t stop,â€? sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. “Jerk it like you’re making it choke. …Ohh. I’m so stimulated. Feel so X-rated.â€? The girls spend a lot of time lying on the floor. They are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

As each routine ends, parents and siblings cheer, whistle and applaud. I just sit there, not fully comprehending. It’s my first suburban Long Island middle school talent show. I’m with my daughter, who is 10 and hadn’t warned me. I’m not sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this. It was something different. Something younger. Something that didn’t make the girls look so … one-dimensional.

Why is it that these so-called parents don’t see the problem with this? What do they want their daughters to grow up to be? I’ve felt out of touch with the mainstream for awhile – the natural birthing / extended breastfeeding / cosleeping / homeschooling / unconditional parenting / ecologically conscious / non-CAFO-meat-eating / non-TV watching / finding Bratz repelling / house music listening demographic is rather small, after all ;-). But every so often, I hear about something like this that makes me feel REALLY out of sync with mainstream society.

I don’t think I’m old and crotchety (yet) but this makes me wonder how much worse can things get? Are there more and more parents who just don’t think anymore? Is anything that’s popular and on tv automatically acceptable to the masses? Granted, this is a single example but it’s not a revelation (at least not since the Spur Posse stuff came to light years ago). I recall an article some time back that stated that oral sex in middle school was not unusual. I’ve heard of one school where some 8th-grade boys who are reputed to be sexually active wear pink t-shirts on Fridays. There seem to be enough parents who are either uncaring and/or ineffective. This socialization sounds like it’s laying the foundation for a future society that will probably make my skin crawl. However, the editorial is good from the view that there are others who won’t condone this kind of parenting.

I’m sure that many parents see these routines as healthy fun, an exercise in self-esteem harmlessly heightened by glitter makeup and teeny skirts. Our girls are bratz, not slutz, they would argue, comfortable in the existence of a distinction.

But my parental brain rebels. Suburban parents dote on and hover over their children, micromanaging their appointments and shielding them in helmets, kneepads and thick layers of S.U.V. steel. But they allow the culture of boy-toy sexuality to bore unchecked into their little ones’ ears and eyeballs, displacing their nimble and growing brains and impoverishing the sense of wider possibilities in life.

There is no reason adulthood should be a low plateau we all clamber onto around age 10. And it’s a cramped vision of girlhood that enshrines sexual allure as the best or only form of power and esteem.


  • Mama Chaos said:

    That is the most disturbing thing I have ever read. Bratz dolls, Disney Princesses, Club Libby Lu. I’m so glad that I have sons, and even more secure in my decision to homschool. I promise to raise my son to find brains sexier than boobs.

  • Arp said:

    The lack of parenting is really disturbing. I’m hoping some of these kids grow up, get some sense and ask their parents What Were You Thinking?

  • John said:

    Meh, you’re getting old and crotchety :) I heard the follow-up article is about an expose on middle school boys telling dirty jokes in the locker room and giving each other wedgies. Cmon, middle school kids acting inappropriate, saying and doing sexual things they don’t understand…this is nothing new, it just manifests itself differently each generation. Every 80s song is about sex or drugs and Al and Tipper took the musicians to congress to try and put a stop to it. Damn devil music, making the kids crazy going to ruin society!

    Middle school is a crazy time…hormones kicking in and all. My friends were sneaking out while the girls were prancing to Madonna and smoking pot. We even had a mini terrorist group and would read the anarchist cookbook and perform missions at school like putting fire crackers in toilets. We fought, made fun of each, and had a helluva lot of fun. When the school banned shorts because of all the sexual danger they bring, the boys wore dresses to school in protest.

    Was the performance in poor taste? Absolutely, thats why the kids like it. Parents supporting their kids dancing? They could be doing a lot worse, like not being there at all. I’m more concerned with how prudish our society is. Maybe if we weren’t so hung up on Janet showing her tit at the superbowl, kids wouldn’t be so drawn to sexuality and all this infernal devil music.

  • Arp said:

    Ha – I had *quite* a different experience in Catholic school. I can’t think of a single thing even remotely similar to your experiences. I’m sure that defines my perspective on this quite a bit ;-).

    What kids do will manifest itself differently with each generation, and we can reasonably assume that it will get more risque and/or tasteless. At some point, we’re not going to be able to blow it off with a simple ‘kids will be kids’ platitude. I haven’t drawn a specific line in the sand defining this point, but I’ll go with Potter Stewart and say ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’

    One aspect you are right about is our society generally being prudish – healthier overall attitudes towards sex would be much better than kids imitating the crass crap that’s passed off as entertainment these days. Kids being honest in exploring their sexuality would be much better than this garbage. Prohibition of anything has never worked the way its supporters imagined. Sure, kids are getting mixed messages from their parents and from the media. Some good, solid parenting would take care of it, honest discussions about sex & sexuality.

    Still, supporting a kid for dancing is better than nothing. Doing some actual parenting would just be a lot better.

  • Meg said:

    I’m 30 and from New England. I hope to start a family in the next several years to come. While not considering myself a “prude,” I have strong morals and conservative values I hope to instill in my future children. The nonchalant attitude about sex in our public schools is a key factor in my decision to homeschool when the time comes. Although I was public-schooled and feel fortunate enough to have grown up in a small New England town with an above average school system, (small class size, personal attention, exceptional faculty, etc.), I feel there has been a behavioral shift in the twelve short years since my graduation. From the skimpy clothing barely covering pre-teen girls to the F-bomb I hear dropping so casually from the mouths of boys who barely look old enough to make the little league, where has the decency gone? True, sexuality is natural and kids are going to wonder about it. I simply want my husband and I to be the ones making the calls in everything from when to introduce sex ed. to the curriculum in the classroom. I want US to be our children’s most important role models, not Janet Jackson, not Britney Spears, not the kids in junior high homeroom telling each other oral sex isn’t sex. It’s truly inspiring to me to see such an extended network of like-minded people on the home schooling front to educate and support me in the future.

  • Arp said:

    I’m not a prude by any means, and I don’t think my values are conservative, but considering the topic, maybe I’m more conservative than I thought. My goal is teach my kids how to behave and interact with people in a healthy, productive fashion. They can make their own choices as adults, but for now it’s up to us.