When Abercrombie & Fitch recently launched their pushup padded bikini top for girls aged 8 to 12, something inside me finally broke. My anger was volcanic, flowing through friends and family, spewing onto Facebook and across Twitter. For an entire day I searched plaintively for others who could understand my disillusionment.
I found a few soul mates, in person and on the Internet, but what I mostly found was the screaming silence of indifference. I wanted to shake people, to shout at them to wake up and take a look around, to ask them to stop playing with their iPhones for a moment and pay attention.
During those initial hours of my realization of just how far the elevator had dropped this time, I raged at my loving and patient husband, who shared my anguish over the damage that certain corporations can inflict upon our children, and a sea of apathy among parents that borders on resignation. Some added their voices to the chorus of outraged, activated parents, while others either had no discernible reaction, or openly questioned what the fuss was all about, noting that mothers could simply refuse to buy the bikini tops for their daughters -- problem solved. But was it really? I kept wondering, imploring, why do we increasingly fail to protect our kids, and why do we seem to have lost sight of our most core value, the collective rearing of well-adjusted children to secure our future as a thriving species on Earth? I could not process the depth of my anomie.
"Anomie" is one of my favorite words, acquired in college Sociology 101. It is a term describing both the personal perception of a lack of social norms, and the actual breakdown of social norms and values. It arises from a mismatch between personal or group standards and broader social standards, or from the lack of a social ethic. Large-scale moral deregulation is the result. How can the global village nurture and protect its youngest and most vulnerable members amidst such deregulation?
The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is perhaps overly simplistic because, as Hillary Clinton pointed out in her 1996 book on this topic, the village will raise the child if the parents decline the job or cannot overcome the impediments to managing it. A quick survey of psychological and cultural ills facing today's children as they navigate the path to adulthood reveals obstacles that are at best challenging and at worst, for some children, insurmountable.
While Clinton's book of 15 years ago focused on issues such as the eradication of poverty, universal health care, educational excellence, protection from child abuse, and other necessary roles of the village in raising happy, healthy children, the world has changed significantly in the past decade and a half, and we increasingly need a village that also protects girls from being targeted for early sexualization by pop, rap and hip-hop music, clothing marketers, magazines and even the toy industry. Jean Kilbourne, Peggy Orenstein and other valiant crusaders speak out loudly against what some experts consider a communal pedophilia toward young girls, and the feeding of our daughters to this beast of consumerism. Boys are similarly victimized by the easy availability of Internet and even mainstream television pornography that exposes them prematurely to explicit sex and disconnects their emotions from the physical act of intercourse. And these are just a few examples.
I'd like to have been in the conference room at Abercrombie & Fitch when their executives calculated the potential profit to be gained by objectifying ever-younger little girls. Surely many of these executives were also parents who found some way to psychologically distance themselves from their behavior and patent culpability. There has always been an inverse relationship between desperation and standards, and in case you're wondering, that sound you hear is the happy ding of cash registers drowning out hypocrisy.
When I think about all the CEOs getting rich by preying upon our children, I like to think that instead of acquiring fortunes, the fortunes acquire them, but that's far too idealistic. The global village has its work cut out for it. Bob Dole could not have been more mistaken when, during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention preceding the 1996 presidential race, he was quoted as saying: "With all due respect, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child." His jab at Hillary Clinton revealed that he had completely missed the point, and had likely never even read her book. Clinton was not devaluing or deemphasizing the role of the family; she was arguing for an American culture that supports rather than undermines the difficult job of modern-day parenting.
How did we get to this place as a nation, and further, as a global society? I have plenty of theories of my own but would love to hear readers' opinions on this question, as well as ideas for how we can push the pendulum back in the other direction. Who are the strongest new voices in this discourse? Where should concerned parents and citizens look for education and advice? A large and comprehensive dialogue among all stakeholders is sorely needed.
Regardless of how we got here, I suppose that if you walk five miles into the woods, you've got to walk five miles back out. I'd say it's time we admit that the global village is failing, and that we need to pull the walls around ourselves and figure things out in a hurry.
It takes courage to recognize the real as opposed to the convenient. Healthy children and healthy families do not exist in a vacuum. If we as a society do not take whatever steps are necessary to create a culture that prioritizes the welfare of children over unbridled corporate greed, we not only fail as a global village; we fail as human beings. We also risk becoming just one more fallen empire in the course of human history. Anomie is just the canary in the coal mine.