Friday, September 16, 2011

when all men are potential pedophiles: the park & rec board weighs in on "proper swimwear"

The hostility punched me in my gut as I entered the meeting room last night. I was there to talk about this summer's "pool attire" incident when I was told to put a top on my three-year-old daughter. I explained as I've already done to the pool manager and the pool manager's supervisor, that I find the request offensive in its sexualization of little girls. I also see the matter as beyond the pool staff's area of jurisdiction, which when you look at the pool rules has everything to to with the sanitariness and proper functioning of the pool water (swim diapers required for children not potty trained; no street wear like "cut-offs" and "t-shirts" whose fibers can clog pool filters; no spitting or blowing nose in the pool water; no infectious disease), and the physical safety of the pool patrons (no running, pushing, or alcohol; diving only in designated areas; and diving board and climbing walls only allowed for "good swimmers"). Otherwise, the safety of the child is the parent's responsibility: "children 8 years of age and under must be accompanied and supervised (within arms reach at all times) by responsible person 15 years of age or older." In other words, whether to have my daughter wear a top or not is my decision, which I make based on my child's level of comfort, and mine, and whatever other factor I deem wise to take into consideration.

This is proper swimwear (at the beach in Norway in June.)
In reality, I think the issue is moot. There is at this point not an upper age limit for toplessness stipulated in the rules at our local pool, and it's not like you're seeing girls or women strut around topfree over there when the pool's open. In our culture, a girl wants to wear a top. As many have said chiming in on this issue, any girl will require a top herself by the time she turns five. Even my Lilly wants to wear a top (to my dismay) because she wants to look like me. It's just that the top feels so uncomfortable, so she'll take if off (to my relief). But as she grows older, she'll want even more to look like her peers. And what they wear is limited by what's available in stores, much of which is made for kids to emulate pop stars. For heavens sake; they make bikinis with tops for babies a mere months old.

Which brings me to my main problem with this issue: the fact that girls in our culture already receive so many warped messages about their budding bodies; bodies that are sexualized from when they are teeny little babies. Young girls who're given the message they ought to look sexy, but not act sexual, not even when they've grown up. Lest they be labeled "sluts." Why add to this sex negative sexualization of young girls? Why tell them they have to cover up as if there's something wrong with their bodies? 

I talked for a while about this to the wall of testosterone confronting me (there is only one female member on the Park and Recreation Advisory Board and she wouldn't say a word, nor look me in the eye), before their guns started firing back at me.

They couldn't believe how naive I am. How irresponsible it is in today's society to leave a child "naked" surrounded by potential pedophiles. I pointed out that the pool rules call for a guardian's supervision of children younger than eight. They said not all parents follow the rule and you wouldn't believe how neglectful parents can be (offensive as this statement is; wouldn't this sort of issue pertain more to child services than pool staff?). I asked them to pursue the predator and not its victim, but they said pedophiles don't go around wearing a sign. The pool manager didn't want to present parents with a report on a predator's abuse of their child; better safe than sorry. I told them their attempt at "helping" by enforcing girls to cover up, is not a good way of helping them; it's shaming them. It's telling them from a very young age that men just can't help themselves; therefore it is her responsibility to do whatever she can to stay safe. -- This is the same line of reasoning that deduces a woman brought it upon herself if she's raped when dressed provocatively. (Which is ironic, considering the slut themed fashion line of attire these days).

Lilly in the frilly bikini bottom in question, with me in mine.
Yet again I pointed out how with our culture's warped sexualization of little girls, perpetuated by the fashion industry and peer pressure, you're not likely to find a topless girl aged five at the pool. Why create an extra stipulation to the pool rules to specify an age limit when none is called for? Why aggravate the matter by shaming girls even more?

The thing is, my talking about how our culture sexualizes young girls didn't sit with them at all, because in their minds, girls already are sexual, and not in the way human sexuality educator Debra W. Haffner talks about it in her book on child sexuality, but in a way that tempts any man, potentially a pedophile. So when I let my toddler daughter be topfree at the pool, I essentially taunt the sex of men. (And how dare I do this to them?) Since it's so hard for men to resist, and especially for a pedophile.

In the end, my talking to the Board was pointless; there is no getting passed their fear-based hatred. Their fear is deep-seated in a lack of healthy attitudes to sex as a whole in our culture. Which we will never attain unless we get positive comprehensive sex education in the schools; information that can foster mutual understanding and respect between boys and girls. The problem is that fear-ridden men can't trust. They don't trust their own sex, they don't trust women, and they certainly don't trust youth. They lack knowledge, and at the same time they deny knowledge.

Knowledge is power. And today a sad amount of girls and boys grow up lacking the knowledge with which to navigate safely; the tools that can help them define their sexual boundaries in an informed and healthy way, knowing how to say no and to what. And also how to say yes and to what. And when they are ready and want it. And not because "boys just can't help themselves."


  1. Thanks, my friend!

  2. By the same logic, we must assume that pedophiles will go after all kids regardless of their state of dress, in any location. ie. Kids must not go out in public. The dilemma is that most pedophiles are family members, so we can't keep kids at home either.

    Now what about potential murderers, potentially abusive family members, potential drunks, and people that smoke, all of whom are potential dangers to pretty much everyone, including kids.

    As Dr Rapoport suggests, set-up a group, with aims, which will have more clout that an individual. Nudity never hurt anyone in the history of mankind.

  3. You address really important points here! I agree with you and Paul.

  4. A friend already suggested we plan a topless day at the pool for all our children! Nothing came of it this summer; we'll see how the sentiment is among people next year.

  5. Stunned...  Society today IS enforcing some very strange rules and the name of "safety".  Making a young child cover up (or not) should be the decision of the parent or guardian.  Watching out for sad men who have a serious problem - not easy - but thats the pool staff's job.  Stretching my neck out a bit... this is one of the reasons we have educated and brought up our children to be natural - naturists - knowledgable of themselves and others.  If we keep on covering everything up then they kids have to explore (underage) to satisfy their curiousity.  Anyway....... I agree with the author completely - especially the last paragraph

  6. Thank you. Yes; SIECUS has documented that lack of knowledge--lack of sex education--leads to unsafer practices. Southern states continue to receive the highest amounts of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, despite evidence that shows a larger percentage of youth in the South engage in riskier sexual health behaviors compared to the rest of the country: "Compared to their counterparts in the rest of the country, a larger percentage of youth surveyed in the South engage in riskier sexual health behaviors. For example, in 2009, all Southern states for which data are available report having a higher percentage of students who have had sexual intercourse prior to age 13; with Mississippi’s rate being the highest at 13.4%, over double the national average of 5.9%."

    Also; "Notably, California saw the steepest decline in their teen pregnancy rate between 1992 and 2005 (52% decline versus a national decline of 37%) and is the only state that never accepted federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding from the failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program. The state had ended its own experiment with ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the mid-1990s, shifting its resources to comprehensive sex education programs." (SIECUS - Overview FY09)

  7. Today's society is unable to assess safety and risk. Today, kids are not allowed to climb trees because they may hurt themselves. So they themselves lose the ability to assess risk. That does not make sense.

    Every day, many kids lose their lives in traffic accidents, but we don't ban kids from the cars and the roads. Many kids will get cancer directly from inhaling second-hand smoke, but we don't ban their parents from the right to smoke.

    Nudity does not make pedophiles do bad things. Pedophiles make pedophiles do bad things. How you dress does not make rapists do bad things. Rapists make rapists do bad things.

    This entire issue is not really about nudity, it is about power, certain parts of the community controlling how you behave. Certain cultures do this with "their" women, and we're starting to catch on.

  8. is an excellent film about this subject. I think it's wonderful.

  9. This is a brilliant analysis of the situation. But talking to these idiots further is a waste of time. I hope, nonetheless, that you will go over their collective very stupid heads. Or get some friends together, perhaps with young girls, go back to the pool, and ignore their unenforceable rule.

  10. I'm sorry this has been so stressful and frustrating. It sounds like talking to a wall (a very patronizing wall). On the one hand, you live in a weird little town full of, I'm afraid, weird little people: it's easy for part of my gut response to be "Ugh, that town ..." On the other hand, what you're experiencing is totally part of all the huge culture-wide problems you're describing, and it's probably not even all that surprising, and that just sucks even worse, doesn't it?

  11. It does! Sometimes I feel so optimistic about the potential of positive change; especially after talking with friends and fellow feminist mama bloggers -- all the good people out there trying. But other times, like after opening the newspaper or going to a public meeting, I sometimes just feel like, what's the point? There's so much stupidity in our culture. It can feel overwhelming.

  12. And I do appreciate the incitement, Paul!

  13. Thank you! What a beautiful, inspiring and powerful little film that is definitely pertinent to this! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Is this issue "over"?  What can I do?  I want to do something.  This is utterly ridiculous, and I can't do a topless day for my kids (as they are boys) and I'm not ready to do it myself - altho honestly, it would feel marvelous...

  15. It's not over! The pool manager and her supervisor are going to revise pool policies in the beginning of the new year. I think what I need to do now is put a letter together opposing this and then collect signatures from parents in town. At that point, I would love your support in terms of a signature!


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