I will tell you something that should be bloody obvious to anyone who follows me closely enough. I spend a lot of time reading Internet documents. Being old enough to remember when the idea of a unified collection of public computer networks was fantasy to all but a few, I thrive on going as far and wide as I can with this source of information.
Sometimes, when reading what people I am linked with on Fudgebook post links to, I wonder “where do they get these people?”. Sometimes, I applaud every written word. Sometimes, I even feel compelled or at least motivated to write responses. Such a case of the last of those responses exists in Reverend Evan Dolive‘s open letter to the Victoria’s Secret company.
Before I add my viewpoint, however, I would like to post the following qualification. In the superficial content of Reverend Dolive‘s letter, he and I are in perfect agreement. Whereas I consider the idea of putting words prominently on undergarments to be more than a bit idiotic to begin with, there are some things where not only should we strive to remember who our intended audience is, but also whom said audience may interact with.
I have no children of my own. I am responsible and intelligent enough to feel that not only do I not want any children of my own, I would not want to inflict my DNA upon a Human being that gets no say in the matter. Curebies might read this the wrong way and proclaim this as responsibility to not bring any more autistic children into the world. If that were the only consideration, I would be fathering children at a rate that would make people like my cousins say “slow the hell down”. Having diabetes is no fun when you are a grown man. When you are a little boy, it is even worse. And given that I appear to be averaging one skin cancer every eleven and a third years, the idea of a child running around with at least half of my genetic materials quite frankly appalls me.
My sister, however, is not as intellectual nor profoundly negative as I am. Nearly three years ago, she gave birth to twin daughters. Nearly a year ago, she gave birth to a son. The former two, I have spent some hours observing being baby girls and how their parents respond to all the baby girl things they do or might do. To say that it proved revelatory is to say that it strengthened my resolve to never have children. An understatement of colossal proportion.
Like you, I wonder about the future. I suspect even more so, since I am very aware that our current relationship with our world is unsustainable. But what I wonder about in this context is how my nephew and nieces will see me fifteen to twenty years from now.
I often like to joke about how I have one sibling, and a total of eight aunts and uncles. I do not regard that as a bad thing either, in light of what I was saying above regarding the future. But that is neither here nor there. What is important is the manner in which I see both of my parental units and their siblings. I do not see any of my uncles or aunts as being particularly clever. I am a genetic anamoly in that sense. Even the two cousins that I most easily converse with and relate to are like strangers to me.
However, when I read parts of your letter, I was a bit taken aback. This gives me a good place to start responding, so I will quote the statement that really jumped out at me:
It is true what they say about kids, they grow up fast.
In the course of my creative writing, I do a lot of what could loosely be called research. I have studied in shallow detail aspects of biology in species ranging from the humble ant to (more importantly) Canines and Ursidae. It is not a coincidence that the latter two happen to be my favourite examples of creatures we could all learn a thing or two from. But the salient point here is that if intelligent minds amongst those two species heard you saying the above aloud, they would be laughing at you and shaking their heads.
Human children do not grow up fast at all. In fact, compared to just about every other species on this planet I can think of, insect or animal, Humans grow at a remarkably slow rate.
Does that come as a shock to you? Well, it should not. Humans reach the milestone we refer to as sexual maturity at the age of approximately twelve years. Females a little sooner than males, for reasons that have been keeping biological scientists awake at night for centuries. This is a remarkably long time compared to the example species I just mentioned. Ants generally live for about ninety days, total. Dogs reach their adult size at anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the size of their species. Again, bears vary by their species or race, but an average of four to six years seems to be the range.
I am no expert regarding animal interactions, but I can tell you one thing that should be readily obvious to any intelligent adult. Things happen in nature for a reason. If you look at the history of the Human species prior to the Industrial Revolution, in fact, you can find that reason. It is not easy for a child to survive in a world of competitive survival. Even today, not all Human children live long enough to reach adulthood. And in the Human species, the challenges faced during adulthood are often reflective of the childhood that the individual had.
From reading my postings online, you might get the impression that I have a bug in my bottom about people thinking that the longer the childhood, the better. And you are right. I have exhausted a copious amount of words describing such feelings as wanting to be fully grown so I could better physically retaliate when mistreated. But the most overwhelming aspect of that was not the desire to embrace an adult world and all of its responsibilities. No, the most powerful thing I felt as age twelve approached was that I no longer wanted to feel like my feel were nailed to the floor of childhood. Maybe this comes from having an abusive male parent who thinks things should remain the way he likes them forever, and a mother who is basically a puppet with his hand shoved up her bottom. I do not know.
Second-hand, I read a theory espoused by numerous psychologists, including a psychiatrist I was acquainted with, that when adolescents have difficulty with embracing their sexuality and all that entails, it is not an expression of biological/emotional immaturity as conservatives would like us to believe, but rather a result of poor education. We live in a world utterly gripped with the fear that children have to someday grow up and become adults that each successive generation of adolescents find themselves making their way into adulthood in spite of their parental units, not because of them or with their aid.
You might think that I am getting away from the point when I say things like that. Wrong. That is the point. You see, when Human beings encounter a situation that their emotions and instinct find undesirable or even intolerable, their natural instinct is rebellion. You refer to your daughter one day perhaps wanting to distance yourself from your “embarrassing presence”. Count your blessings if that is all that happens. Imagine your parental units making you so uncomfortable in your own skin that you feel an extreme desire to kill them. One that, at least in one case, persists into your thirties. And will likely stay with you until the day you die.
You see, the problem is not so much Victoria’s Secret creating a line of underwear that sends the wrong message to an adolescent population. Yes, that is a problem, but it is not the problem. Stephen King once wrote an inner dialogue for a character in which they remember a senior officer giving a speech about an incident that embarrasses the military. This speech-maker states that the best course is not to question the roots of the incident but how the branches may best be pruned. The metaphor used to justify this being that when you find your father robbed or mother raped, before beginning an investigation or hunting down the perpetrator, you cover up their nakedness.
However, what we are dealing with here is a case of a problem where simply pruning the branches is not going to work. So you might convince Victoria’s Secret to voluntarily withdraw this product. But what does that do to the root of the problem? Nothing, except perhaps push it further into the ground or even force it to come out in different, uglier ways.
You see, Victoria’s Secret is like any other rich and powerful commercial entity in the English-speaking world. They do not simply put forth a product and hope for the best. They do a lot of research into whether a market exists for the product, who is likely to buy it, and how that product is likely to be received. So this is where we must start asking ourselves questions. And the most important question we find ourselves asking the people in the mirror is, “Is there a market for this line called Bright Young Things?”.
You have also said, quote “I don’t want my daughter to ever think that to be popular or even attractive she has to have emblazon words on her bottom”. I can tell you that as a former seventeen year old who went swapping fluids with seventeen year olds of the feminine variety as an act both of rebellion and enjoyment, if a seventeen year old female is thinking such a thing, or worse yet letting it guide her choices, then a lot more has gone wrong than what commercial campaigns she has been exposed to. Such a belief usually reflects a distinct lack of intelligence, and that often reflects poor schooling both at the formal and home levels.
A similar thing can be said concerning a young girl’s self-esteem, self-worth, or pride. If these things turn on the basis of what is marketed to them, whether it be underwear or entertainment, then a lot more has gone wrong. Specifically, they have not been instilled with a strong sense of self-esteem, self-worth, or pride. Having dated one woman whose self-esteem, self-worth, and pride reflect the fact that she could probably kick Chuck Norris’ derierre to kingdom come if she felt the need, I am here to tell you. If your daughter grows up with low self-esteem, low self-worth, or little pride in herself, the more likely cause is either staring you right in the face when you look in the mirror, or around you as we speak.
Again, allow me to make this clear. I am not defending Victoria’s Secret and their proposed product line. Although I have not seen any example of it in advertising, I fail to see any positive impact that this product could have. I do not believe that it will have as negative an impact in and of itself as you are proclaiming (obviously), but nor am I going to defend it.
However, your writings in this case strongly give me the impression that you see a problem in the future, and want to shift blame for it. So please take it from a person who has struggled with the confusion and pain of having a hateful relationship with at least one of his parental units for decades. Victoria’s Secret did not create this product, if only in prototype stage (I hope), as an attempt to “corrupt” or “pervert” the girls in middle school today. The simple reality is that today’s middle school girls (and boys) live in a culture that wants to perpetuate their childhood. I believe the word I use for the process of trying to make a person see themselves as a child when the world is compelling them not to is “babification”, or “babify”.
If you want people like Victoria’s secret to stop coming up with products like Bright Young Things, then start urging people to stop thinking that childhoods should be extended into middle age. Because if they do not do that, then products like Bright Young Things are always going to find at least some kind of market.