Sunday, December 31, 2006

Middle School Girls Gone Wild


http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/29/opinion/29fri4.html?ex=157680
so. i have to make a "public" confession. while attending brookfield east high school in the suburbs of wholesome milwaukee, wisconsin, i was a member of the pom pom squad (aka the spartanettes). i'm not ashamed to say we were exceptionally entertaining (especially in comparison to what mattered most at the time, the lancerettes). most of the squad had been dancing together since we were 5 years old, attending dance conventions in chicago where mtv choreographers taught us exact music video routines. at the time, moves found primarily in the videos of janet jackson and paula abdul choreographed by this five foot dance prodigy jimmy locust (he could slide his leg slowly up the side of his body eventually brushing knee to ear in a perfect standing split!)

the irony of the situation is that i am the daughter of sandra priebe. for anyone who has ever engaged in meaningful conversation with her, that is enough said.

here i go regardless. my mother, grew up with farm values, graduated from high school in 1972 (or 71?) acquired a BS in women's studies/sociology (later graduated with an MBA from U-Wi.) and developed a successful business with my father and grandparents. my mom is politically educated and involved. she is a "progressive liberal", but if one took a quick, honest look at her life it most likely would be described as conservative. much more conservative than her "christian conservative" neighbors. she doesn't have any skeletons of her youth to hide, was married successfully once, widowed, has remained stylish and attractive w/out a hint of cleavage or surgery, doesn't date but has an active social life, is financially responsible/secure and has two highly functioning children also w/o criminal files. i know she really confuses the community she lives in, its fun to watch them scratch their heads.

what i am getting at is, sandra priebe is a feminist (and raised her children to be) and some of the routines that spartanettes preformed where communicating questionably sexual things not congruent with her/our beliefs? my mom, although she eventually allowed me to be on the squad, did not condone or role model such behavior. my mother and and grandmothers had exceptional taste and unique sense of style, were highly respected, independent thinking women in a land of conformity and their husbands loved them for it. that's the message i was fortunate to witness. that's the message i absorbed.

so, back to the spartanettes. i wasn't actually allowed to tryout freshman year, but after my dad died some of her rules disappeared and sure enough, junior year, i took advantage and joined the squad. it was fun, and in hindsight probably inappropriately provocative at times (not nearly like what was described in "middle school girls gone wild", i remember one hip thrust). i was 16, 5'10", uncomfortable and believed to be desired by no one (again, in hindsight, i learned i was wrong). spartanettes gave me the opportunity to dabble with my "inner vixen". it was safe, there was no physical contact involved. i don't remember my mom being particularly proud OR offended.

this article highlights a middle school talent show, (please read, its short) and floods me with questions. the ''dancing" described, "...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..." is not really comparable to my high school pom pom experience.

in my inner grandmother horror, i wonder, why are these parents condoning this behavior? what slippery slope did they fall down? are they living out their own fantasies? has mtv, paris hilton, britney spears, access hollywood, laguna beach etc. numbed/dumbed them? are they afraid of appearing un-hip? are they too tired to care? why is this ok?

one of my favorite books i read long ago, "reviving ophelia: saving the selves of adolescent girls" asked such questions.

Why are more American adolescent girls prey to depression, eating disorders, addictions, and suicide attempts than ever before? According to Dr. Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist who has treated girls for more than twenty years, we live in a look-obsessed, media-saturated, "girl-poisoning" culture. Despite the advances of feminism, escalating levels of sexism and violence--from undervalued intelligence to sexual harassment in elementary school--cause girls to stifle their creative spirit and natural impulses, which, ultimately, destroys their self-esteem. Yet girls often blame themselves or their families for this "problem with no name" instead of looking at the world around them.


one of the ideas i developed from this book is that there seems to be an ophelia, ophelia lost and post-ophelia (i've always wanted to write a sequel to this book, interviewing the same girls in their late 20's early 30's).
ophelia is generally pre-puberty, before middle school. girls have a robust, unique, innate sense of sense of self. they use their voice and have clear ideas of "what they want to be when they grow up".
ophelia lost. think angst, middle school, clicks, coupling, eating disorders. a period where kids tend to conform, define themselves by some sort of group and look to pop culture for societal norms. there is a loss of self and need to belong. according to dr. mary pipher and others this seems to effect girls more than boys. they lose their voice, grades drop, they become sexualized beings ready or not.
post-ophelia. a girl/woman might never recover, be lucky enough to escape the ophelia lost phase, move into post ophelia in high school, college, after childbearing, menopause etc. it is a revival of the girlhood sense of self and recovery of one's voice. potentially very productive years.

side note: there is a character, marty, played by a 13 year old natalie portman in one of my favorite movies, beautiful girls who is a great example of ophelia teetering on ophelia lost. she develops a really interesting relationship with the 30 something character played by timothy hutton. i have to stop b/c this could be a whole blog piece by itself.

back to the article. at this talent show, what "talents" are these ophelia losts really "showing"? i am quite sure that these girls might actually have other talents they have chosen not showcase. my guess is that these other talents, are not rewarded or valued in the same way. i continue to be horrified by the thought parents rewarding their middle schoolers for dressing like hookers and dancing like strippers. contrary to this extra long blog, it leaves me rather speechless and sad.

sad that these young girls and spending inordinate amount of energy on "beauty" rituals and developing their sexual prowess in a very cookie cutter way with their parent's support. will these girls become individuals, develop their own sense of self outside of pop culture? will they develop self-esteem based something other than whether or not the aroused pimple faced boys, the jock, the abercrombie model, physics professor fresh out of college? will they emerge from ophelia lost?

1 comment:

Sandra said...

This is my first blog writing experience and am feeling like David Letterman's mom at the moment.
Quite exposed;
but I am very proud of my pom pon donning daughter. Both of my children's lives were affected by my response to Letty Cotty-Pogrebin the author of "Growing Up Free". I have no idea if the book is still germain to todays parents but I believe it served us well.
Caroline is right, after the loss of Jack I found myself questioning everything and realized that character is not determined by one decision or activity.
One activitiy or decision may change your life and your way of looking at life but it doesn't determine your character. Circumstances are an opportunity to build or reveal character. I believe that life gives you many chances, many opportunities to act for good or ill.
When I saw how lovingly and maturely both my children handled their father's funeral and death I began to realize that they had earned the right to make more of their own decisions and that I could trust them to find their own way.
Their way is far better than anything I would have come up with.