T.I.T. Wear

In the fashion world, have young girls become tramps-in-training?

In her song about the brutal passage from androgynous childhood into sexualized adolescence, folk singer Dar Williams croons: “Now I’m in this clothing store/ and the sign says ‘less is more’/ more that’s tight means more to see/ more for them, not more for me.” Emily Yoffe’s recent  shopping excursion with her pre-teen daughter elicits much the same dismay at a culture that equates female attractiveness with bodily exposure.

Mothers identify with Yoffe’s plaint and vent their frustrations en masse. For mom of teen, even with an abundance of fashion savvy and resources, filling Lolita’s closet with nonsuggestive clothing has become “a true dilemma,” even more so on fairyqueen43’s limited income. For young girls who fail to conform to skinny norms, such as Melissaru’s “well-proportioned” but slightly round daughter, the ongoing quest for decent-fitting clothes “makes her feel just awful about herself, and more than one shopping trip has included tears.”

Lest we dismiss these maternal reactions as generational, the ranks of the scandalized include younger women, too. Twenty-one-year-old Nukapei inventories the tweener section of a women’s clothing shore: “Khaki skirts high enough to show off panties when the girl bends over (and some even before), plunging necklines, midriff-baring tops, and of course the ever-present snarky graphic tees. I wouldn’t want my 18-year-old sister wearing this sort of thing, much less if she was 10 or 12!” Another big sister of identical age expresses shock and indignation at the seemingly widespread phenomenon of younger girls who “ dress like total skanks.”

Denouncing the cultural trend toward tramp training, encouraged by “popular Bratz dolls” and “sexy clothes” marketed at an ever-younger female demographic, a wary 25-year-old mother wonders with some dread what her 2-year-old daughter’s fashion choices will be in 10 years.

As a former teen consumer of risqué attire, mochajasmine offers some reassurance to these jittery parents a decade after the fact: “For what it’s worth, I am anecdotal evidence that these shopping choices do not lead to tweenhood delinquency, promiscuity, and death.”

Plus ça change remember the 80s? Baci does, in vivid detail:

Satin hot pants and a satin jacket worn with Candie’s slides? Tight, pegged jeans (yeah, they did have high waists, though). Tight, girl-cut t-shirts with shiny glitter mottos on them?Everybody acts like this is all new stuff, when in fact I distinctly remember quite slutty fashions from my own girlhood, and pressure to wear them. I pretty much didn’t–my parents would never buy me that stuff.

Indeed, in the history of fashion—or so claimsPalabra—one can go back much further to “the very suggestive and ostentatious Rococo period” to discover similarly skimpy cuts for women and girls.

Redbeth77 accuses Yoffe of reading sexual innuendo into clothing where there is none, such as the pussy cat logo for Baby Phat (shortygurlang traces the etymology of the brand name for us here). As far as Victoria’s Secret is concerned, “I see nothing wrong with my daughter wearing their Pink line.” Adriannasanchez also tells reluctant parents to dispense with their Puritanism and get with the new fashion program.

EarlyBird turns a critique of oversexualized teenage clothing into an overreaching indictment of Western culture and its promiscuous ways. More nuanced is grantoe’s observation that the whole debate is “indicative of a deep neurotic split in our American psyches” regarding our hypervigilant protection of children (especially young girls) from sexual predators and our simultaneous sexualization of them.

Discover more about the fascinating world of girlwear in the Fashion Fray. AC6:10pm EDT

Monday, August 27, 2007

California—a state roughly the size of Iraq—is flirting with the idea of democratic reform. As envisioned by the proposal’s Republican sponsors, an upcoming initiative would change the way California allocates its electoral college votes in presidential elections. Instead of delivering all 55 votes to the statewide winner, California would award its votes to the winner of each congressional district. Slate author Jamin Raskin sharply criticizes the proposal as “tactical gamesmanship” and introduces a plan of his own—awarding the electoral votes of each state to the winner of the total national popular vote.

The California ballot initiative, which I’d cheerfully vote for, hasn’t generated much discussion in the Fray. Instead, readers focused on taking down Raskin’s plan with many sharp defenses of the status quo. First-time Frayster ubernostrum explains how the electoral college works like the World Series of baseball, forcing presidential candidates to win a grueling set of electoral victories rather than one big win. As moodyguppy points out, a strictly national election would be a very different animal from what we have today, which would probably have unanticipated consequences for campaigns. Sycamancy notes that republicanism has its upsides and that “democracy is a tonic best enjoyed in moderation.”

The position you adopt on electoral college reform seems closely bound to your feelings about American federalism. Raskin and the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg both take the position that a boon to the national Republican Party is a bane to California’s Democrats. As a native of California, who would choose allegiance to his home state over the federation if the question ever presented itself, I think their perspective has an unwarranted Eastward slant. If the Fray is any indication, I’m not alone in my attachment to my home state. As David Plotz learned, even a casual swipe at Mississippi will turn out legions of outraged Southerners. The mere mention of sweet tea nearly crashed our servers under the weight of Southern nostalgia. So, the question bears asking: Would abandoning the “winner-take-all” apportionment of electoral votes be good for California?

Hertzberg suggests the move would amount to “unilateral disarmament” by diluting California’s significance in federal presidential elections. As a practical matter, it’s not clear how seriously to take this concern. While a shift of 25 electoral votes would have been decisive in the last two elections, a quick spin through the electoral college calculator reveals that this is rarely a decisive shift of electoral votes.

Even if the change in national vote tallies were to determine the election, I’m still sympathetic to the case for enfranchising California Republicans in federal elections. Having been raised on the southern side of the Orange Curtain, it does strike me as an injustice that a Republican enclave more populous than the state of Iowa is completely denied representation in the electoral college. While their monopoly on the federal primary system tempts me to support disenfranchising Iowans, giving Orange County a say still seems more reasonable than annexing Iowa’s votes to those of Illinois.

It’s certainly true that the California proposal would confer a tactical advantage on Republicans—extending the franchise necessarily empowers those whose votes were previously discounted. But would California, as the largest state of the union, have anything to gain from putting Republican electoral votes into play? Having Californian electoral votes at stake might well prevent a repeat of such fiascos as the California energy crisis, in which federal regulators ignored blatant acts of fraud and market manipulation. In a world of “winner-take-all” voting systems, why should a Republican of the Rove school lift a finger to support a state that swings consistently blue? Far from amounting to “unilateral disarmament,” splitting the Californian electoral college could empower the state on the national scene, regardless of any given election’s outcome, by investing the sitting president in California’s parochial interests.

While the proposed reform would undoubtedly create problems for the Democratic Party on a national level, it seems an appropriate move for a state with more electoral votes than the 14 smallest states combined. One out of eight Americans hail from the great state of California, and maintaining the winner-take-all system while states like Wyoming allot electoral votes to populations smaller than San Francisco seems like it’s already an anomaly. Unless the rest of this country gets behind a Raskin-like proposal to vote as conglomerates, California is already “unilaterally disarmed,” diluting the power of its electorate out of fidelity to a national party machinery. While this might be good for me as an American Democrat, as a Californian I find it an outright disaster.

As a California Democrat, I’ll be voting in favor of this proposal in June—even if it does reward national Republicans. Unless, of course, you can talk me out of it. Why should a loyal Californian oppose this proposal?

I won’t be the only one listening in the Fray.  GA12:45am PDT

Friday, August 17, 2007

Should the United States reinstitute the military draft? With President Bush’s war czar coyly popping the question to the national press, the issue is fast regaining currency—even among Americans who aren’t still suffering PTSD or LSD flashbacks from the Seventies.

The case in favor of a draft is fairly straightforward. Our armed forces are overextended and overtaxed in a series of overseas wars that show no signs of abatement. New troops must come from somewhere, and traditional forms of recruitment are posting diminishing returns. The case against a draft is equally straightforward. Unwilling conscripts make unsatisfactory troops, a universal draft would induct some of America’s least competent into the services, and compelled labor is downright un-American.

The traditional pragmatic argument against the draft isn’t holding up too well these days. Conscripts might not always make for the highest quality troops, but the bar for recruitment has been steadily dropping. And, as indcolts1813 points out, the Army’s current call-up policies are pushing their own share of unwilling troops onto the front lines. If an overstretched military poses a danger to American security—and, as RonB52 points out, even George Bush should appreciate that it does—we have two practical courses available: increase our force size or decrease our force commitments.

Fraysters have no shortage of inventive proposals for bolstering the Army without imposing a draft. According to Madai, we could afford to increase military pay if we really wanted to. More fancifully, jumpinjackflash thinks an army of convicts would be preferable to an army of conscripts. Cora Squires proposes military service as a mandatory alternative to child support. With all this inventive thinking, I’m surprised nobody proposed the genuinely American approach: outsourcing.

For sixty thou and citizenship per soldier, we could fight international poverty and global terrorism at the same time, while giving George Bush the immigration reform he so desperately craves. With an army of mercs, everyone would win—except the terrorist sympathizers, of course.

Withdrawal presents itself as a tantalizingly sensible option… until one starts considering all the places we still have to invade. One possibility is to go with specialization of labor; jwschmidt proposes using the American military as the “tip of the spear,” and leaving the messy job of occupation to coalitions. Queen Phil thinks we could make love and war at the same time by weaponizing Ecstasy. While it might lack a creative flair or a long-term vision, there’s no shortage of advocates in the Fray for the obvious—withdraw from Iraq.

If the price of our security is truly war without end (a debatable proposition), we might as well start discussing the merits of a draft. Would compulsory national service, civil or military, be good for the American people? Or, is the power to assign labor to American citizens a form of slavery more consistent with the powers of Egypt’s Pharaoh than America’s President? When should we start drafting women into our citizen army? Whisper it softly, but what about gays? Why not the disabled? After all, isn’t lcvega67 right that everybody is useful for something? If the draft curbed America’s enthusiasm for foreign engagements, would that increase or imperil our national security?

Though it might just be a thought game, the question of the draft raises an awful lot of issues to discuss. Stop on by the Fray and join us in talking it out. GA12:10am PDT