Those Are Inappropriate

By Michelle Martin
Published April 22, 2011

For children, it can seem like the world is divided into two categories: appropriate (for you) and inappropriate (not for you). Children will even use the word "inappropriate" to describe transgressive behaviour.

Who among us hasn't heard a four year-old attempt to get the word out correctly when tattling on someone who has just called him a stupid-head: "Mommy, Suzy is being unappropriate."

Heaven forbid that parents should worry childish heads with terms like "right" and "wrong." I'm afraid I'm not so delicate, and do holler firmly state, "It is wrong to call your brother names." They can sue me for the therapy bills later.

That's not to say that the word "inappropriate" doesn't have its uses. For example, there is nothing wrong with wearing an evening gown. However, most of us agree that, unless a person models for a couturier or works the undercover security beat at the Academy Awards, it is inappropriate attire for work.

What if the evening gown is on a little girl of, say, seven years old? Is that appropriate or inappropriate? Does it depend on the gown?

Many of us parents go with our guts on this one, and avoid attiring our daughters to look inappropriately older than their years, based on what we know about the basest impulses of human nature.

Nevertheless, many parents don't.

On the CNN website, writer L. Z. Granderson laments the fact.

After I read Granderson's article it occurred to me to google Shirley Temple.

I discovered that her mother had to design the black lace bra and panties worn by Shirley in the Baby Burlesk reel called "Polly Tix in Washington," such items not being readily available, because there was no Abercrombie and Fitch back then.

What's a parent to do when many other parents have capitulated to the whims of envelope-pushing, even misogynistic, fashion? Just say "No," of course.

But it is discouraging to me, as someone who has daughters, to realize that it is not universally accepted that children's sweatpants with the word "juicy" across the bottom are just wrong.

"Why is it wrong, mommy?" Do I launch into an explanation of the predilections of some registered sex offenders with my seven year-old? Of course not.

That would be inappropriate for a seven-year old to hear. So I use the weasel word on my daughter: "Sweetie, those are inappropriate."

And she gets that, because the world is divided into two categories.

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton. The opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own.


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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 24, 2011 at 13:48:50

I agree with all the things you point out as inappropriate. However, then I feel like I am being a dinosaur watching shifting of percieved morality.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2011 at 23:05:27

I'm all for bashing corporate fashion, but we should be careful what kind of language and implications we throw around here. What defines "dressing like a "slut" or a "tramp"? Tight? Short? Showing skin in hot weather? Can a girl's clothing really signify a sexual invitation or offer of prostitution? What if our young sons want to start dressing too provocatively (or, gasp, "gay") by our standards? On the other hand, writing "juicy" across the ass of an 8-year-old girl or selling padded bras to six-year-olds says a lot of ugly, sexist things about the people running Abercrombie & Fitch and other such fashion giants (but then again, we already knew that). This is the kind of thing that many Muslim women refer to when asked about whether they feel "oppressed" by burquas.

Young girls wanting to dress like "women" with make-up and feminine clothing isn't new. It was all the rage when I was young, and long before that (and a years-long battle between my own sister and mother). Our grandmothers, no doubt, were being scolded by their elders for showing too much ankle or some such absurdity. In each and every case, just like cigarettes, firecrackers or anything else from the forbidden world of grown-ups, it only increases the allure for our kids.

Also worth noting, there have been some fairly significant changes in the age at which young girls hit puberty, varying both genetically and environmentally. For some populations in some parts of the world (especially where calories are abundant), half of girls have hit puberty by nine.

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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted May 10, 2011 at 11:58:57

I simply believe kids should be kids and not be allowed to grow up too fast. Unfortunately this busy world with two working parents or overly busy single parents, bow to the peer pressures our parents never would have. We blame kids for dressing inappropriately when we should be blaming the parents for giving in. We let them Facebook, MSN, computer game, etc. When we should have them out playing ball or hide and seek. Google both if you're under 20, they are quite fun.

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