Should you get Botox for your ten-year-old daughter? What would you think of breast augmentation for your eleven-year-old girl? These and similarly startling issues cropped up in a recent CNN column by LZ Granderson. Writing in an outraged style, Granderson tackled how parents allow the culture to sexualize their daughters. The piece, entitled rather prosaically "Parents, don't dress your daughters like tramps," began with a word of personal experience:
I saw someone at the airport the other day who really caught my eye.
Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie "10" (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her "Xtina" phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.
Granderson went on to note that the girl was eight years old and to denounce the corporate executives who planned such a product: "[H]ow do people initiate a conversation in the office about the undeveloped chest of elementary school girls without someone nearby thinking they're pedophiles?" he wondered. The concerned writer and parent reserved his sharpest words for parents, however. "It's easy to blast companies for introducing the sexy wear, but our ire really should be directed at the parents who think low rise jeans for a second grader is cute." Parents, after all, "are the ones who are suppose to decide what's appropriate for their young children to wear, not executives looking to brew up controversy or turn a profit." In the most memorable line of the article, Granderson concluded his denunciation by referencing Amy Chua's recent book: "Maybe I'm a Tiger Dad," he said.
If he is, then America welcomes him. Roughly one week after posting, the piece had received over 440,000 recommendations or "likes" on Facebook, the meta-metric that measures all others, to say nothing of thousands of Tweets and e-mail forwards. The response to Granderson's column showed widespread approval of his basic argument, that little girls should not adopt an aggressively sexual identity at a young age (as did feedback from readers of a recent Wall Street Journal article). While many would agree with Granderson, the curious Christian can't help but think of a simple but important follow-up: why? Why shouldn't we sexualize our daughters?
The question sounds a bit cheeky, rather too obvious for public discussion. Were one to raise such a question in polite society, polling passersby at the local gym or the produce aisle in Whole Foods, he would meet shocked looks. The answer is obvious. Little girls aren't ready for sex. They can't handle it emotionally. Statistics correlate young sexual involvement with multiple psychological problems, including eating disorders and depression. It's just not right for girls to take on an explicitly sexual identity.
Evangelicals can give thanks that the culture, in God's common grace, does not generally conclude otherwise. Philosopher James Q. Wilson noted some years ago that people possess what he called a "moral sense," an instinct for right and wrong. Wilson grounded this view in Darwinian evolution, not Christian theology, but his contention rings true in light of Scripture. In our native state, we "suppress the truth," according to the apostle Paul (Rom. 1:18). Though the fall of Adam and Eve has scrambled our moral radar, we retain an instinctual awareness of right and wrong. Our conscience lives. As much as sin attempts to kill it, it regularly takes its revenge, leading a fallen humanity to act and think better than it knows.
Every parent possesses an inherent drive to care for their child. They know that it is right to protect their offspring, whether from the wind and rain or the pedophile and pornographer. Yet because of sin, we naturally fail. The failure of fathers to care for their daughters pops up throughout Scripture. When threatened by the men of Sodom, Lot offered his two daughters to a bloodthirsty mob and is stopped only by the intervention of angels (Gen. 19:1-11). In a stunning repeat of the Sodom incident, the man hosting an unnamed Levite offers drunken "worthless fellows" his virgin daughter along with the Levite's concubine (Judges 19). In one of the most horrifying scenes in Scripture, the Levite finds the concubine dead and cuts her body up, then sends the pieces to all corners of Israel. His abdication of fatherly responsibility, realized in a flash of grief, signifies that darkness has descended upon the nation.
Wearing tight pink sweatpants and push-up bras is not the same as sacrifice, but the two proceed from the same devilish idea. The contextual outworking of the problem causes the same reaction. As we watch the culture train tiny girls to be princesses, princesses to be hot girls, and hot girls to be sexual aggressors, we gasp at such a trajectory. This is not indulging in prudery. That exhalation of breath? It's a profoundly theological response to the effects of sin. The first and most basic of parental duties is to protect one's children in a physical and especially a spiritual sense (Eph. 6:4). This involves training little girls to be modest and chaste, and to exude Christocentric virtue, not to be forward and promiscuous. If these ideals sound Victorian, antiquated to modern ears, they are actually much more historical (see 1 Tim. 2:9-10).
There is another type of father in Scripture besides the wicked men mentioned above. This father finds a little girl dying in the wilderness, crying with no one to hear. He gathers her in his arms and nurses her to health. He clothes her in beauty as she grows, celebrating her womanhood. Because of his protection and care, she flourishes. This father is the Lord God, and his daughter is Jerusalem (Ezek. 16). The text details the faithlessness of God's people and bears first on that biblical-theological matter, but it also gives us a window into how we are to raise our daughters. Our heavenly Father's strength, tenderness, and compassion direct our care for our own little girls, and we desire their flourishing for the glory of Christ as he desires the health of his people.
Are we "Tiger Dads"? Perhaps. But more than that, we are called to care for those God entrusts to us, to say to our children through both our words and our actions, "Live!" (Ezek. 16:6).
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Previous articles on parenting or modesty include:
Modesty: A Female-Only Virtue? | Scripture suggests that modesty means more than keeping the right parts covered. (May 18, 2010)
The Myth of the Perfect Parent | Why the best parenting techniques don't produce Christian children. (January 8, 2010)
Conversations: Author Wendy Shalit Is Proud to Be Modest | Author Wendy Shalit rattles the female establishment with a hip appeal to tradition. (January 10, 2000)
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