Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Playback When It Matters

"Hello? Hello? Is anyone in there?"

One of the frustrations of mothering a tween is that you hear yourself talking and talking and talking (and talking and talking), but you don't get much in the way of feedback. You are continually faced with the same decision ... Do you acknowledge that no one is listening? Or do you keep talking?

I'm of the keep talking mindset myself. It might be that I have a classic "the show must go on" attitude from years of theatre training (and some performances in fairly empty theatres). It might be that I'm afraid of the silence that would pervade my home if I shut my mouth. Or, it might be that somewhere inside this tired old mom, there is still an optimist.

I figure that if I keep going, something I say will eventually sink in.

So, I duly praise the good report cards, tell my daughter ad nauseum that I'm proud of her, recite platitudes about hard work and treating people with respect. I make observations about politics, media, fashion, and the teen celebrities who are held up as role models.

To her credit, my daughter doesn't usually interrupt me, point out that I'm repeating myself, or even roll her eyes. She just goes about her business. Like all of her generation, she is an accomplished multi-tasker. She can text a friend, listen to music, flip through the latest issue of Seventeen and still, apparently, hang on my every word. Or not. It's hard to tell because whether I'm asking her to pick up her pajamas or I'm revealing the mystery of the sphinx, her reaction is pretty much the same. As in ... there is no reaction.

One of the topics that I feel compelled to lecture on over and over and over again is feminism. I came of age in the 70s and some of my role models were Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Barbara Seaman. I was a junior volunteer on Shirley Chisholm's campaign; I have a treasured copy of the first issue of Ms. magazine. And, it worries me that my daughter and her friends assume that they won't face any discrimination when the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, still isn't part of the Constitution.

In addition to the issue of gender equality, I am often confronted with examples of socially accepted exploitation and violence against women, whether they show up in music videos, reality shows or tabloid headlines. I think it's my duty to point these things out to my daughter so that she stops and thinks about them. I'd like to hope that someday she and her peers will be in a position to change their society.

Recently, my daughter and I were listening to Kiss 108!, the local pop station, much adored by the tween crowd here. Rihanna's latest song "S&M" was playing. The song is certainly catchy (all my Zumba teachers are using it these days) and its risqué premise and lyrics assure that it gets a lot of airtime.

The song, as the title implies, celebrates sadomasochism. The lyrics include, such poetic lines as:

"Feels so good being bad (oh oh oh oh oh)
There's no way I'm turning back (oh oh oh oh oh)
Now the pain is my pleasure cause nothing could measure ..."

And the catchy chorus (which has all the middle age matrons in my Zumba class chuckling) is:

"Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don't care,
I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me."

Now, I'm not a prude and I can appreciate that consenting adults have a right to any fetish that makes them feel good. But, this is where we have to look at the bigger picture. Early in 2009, Rihanna's boyfriend Chris Brown may or may not have roughed up the then 20-year old singer enough that she landed in the hospital instead of at the Grammy Awards. Domestic violence, which is still treated by the media and the police as some less serious subset of assault and battery, is rampant in this country. And, horrifying as it may sound, incidents of boyfriends beating on their girlfriends (and far less often, the other way around) start with teens. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, two in ten teen girls say they have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Isn't there something wrong then when Rihanna, a woman whose bruised face was plastered on newspaper front pages two years ago, sings of the joys of chains and whips?

So, I was about to launch into yet another of my speeches when my daughter interrupted.

"This song really pisses me off," she told me. "She could make a difference and instead she's just making money."

As you can imagine, my heart was filled with pride and I felt as though all my years of talking had been worth it.

But, she had said her piece. And, before I could even nod my head, she went back to her iPhone.

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