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Sexuality, Sanitation and Civilization

May 24, 2013

Art, Civilization, Culture, Sexuality

Pole Dancing

The other week I attended three events and each of them left me in a very different mental state. The first was a Bay Area regional dance competition for children featuring most of the leading local dance studios, and styles ranging from hip-hop to ballet and everything in between. Most of the children had trained hard and I enjoyed the performances and colorful costumes. However, I was left feeling cold and uncomfortable by one group of prepubescent girls dressed in black ‘sexy’ costumes and gyrating in cages and on poles in a futile attempt to mimic a risqué nightclub performance. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, at least not much of one, but there was definitely something disturbing about this performance. For example, I’m quite certain that the parents of these young dancers would not have been happy to see their children watching an adult version of this performance, whether live or on TV.

What was particularly jarring was the thought that this display was taking place just a few days after the announcement of a new and breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that virtually guarantees to make every college and university student a harasser. According to the new policy sexual harassment now takes place if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason no matter how irrational or unreasonable. So, on the one hand we are claiming to be so protective of young women that if they are upset by anything someone says, society will punish the perpetrator, but on the other hand, we think it OK for children to perform lewd dances in public in the name of art. Is there something wrong here or is it just me?

The second event was a school meeting to discuss a proposed service trip to a country in Central America. Parents were given to understand that the purpose of the trip was to help a local school and give students the experience of a total immersion in a foreign culture. However, much of the evening was spent attempting to calm parent’s fears about bugs, poverty, disease and crime. I understand the need to take prudent precautions but if you want to immerse students in a foreign culture the trick is to manage risk, not to eliminate it, otherwise what’s the point of going there? Is it just me?

Finally, I attended an evening of solo recitals by a group of talented young female vocalists. Each of these young women sang their heart out in an unforgettable performance. No discord or dissonance there, just heavenly voices. I was in rapture, and it wasn’t just me.

______________________

“I don’t want to live. I want to love first, and live incidentally.”  Zelda Fitzgerald

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill

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31 Comments on “Sexuality, Sanitation and Civilization”

  1. Bonnie Marshall Says:

    American sensibilities are out of balance…most likely in transition…seeking that center that Yeats wrote about in “The Second Coming.”

    Reply

  2. A Gripping Life Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the first event. It boggles the mind. I find sexualizing children, but somehow believing it’s okay because it’s “art” incredibly ignorant. The mixed messages that our culture sends are not just confusing, they are disturbing, to say the least. It makes no sense. These are times that call for individuals to stand for something, to have the character to live by an unwavering moral compass.

    The second event makes me laugh. Isn’t that so typical? Lol! These parents want their children to “experience other cultures,” but they want to provide them with American comforts while they’re away. When all is said and done, and maybe I’m being a bit cynical here, I think they’re paying for a great facebook entry, something to tell their friends.

    Wish I could have heard the heavenly voices. Glad you were able to enjoy that.
    Have a great weekend, Malcolm!
    Lisa

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Lisa. Some people would see the ‘sexy’ child dancers as a moral issue but I see it more as showing bad taste. In a free society which permits a wide range of lifestyles ‘manners’ and good taste have to play a much large role in regulating human behavior. Once something is seen as being morally wrong there is always so much of a clamor to make it illegal. I love your comment about buying a great facebook entry.

      Reply

  3. sally1137 Says:

    We are just swamped with cognitive dissonance on this issue (and indeed many others) in this country.

    Some people hold the opinion “I can do whatever I want” but “I should be put on a pedestal and honored as if I were the most moral person ever.” Nuh-uh. Don’t work like that.

    And these are the people who think it’s a good idea to sexualize little girls while simlutaneously calling for castration of pedophiles.

    Not that I’m defending pedophiles, mind you, but hey, at least don’t give them any opportunities to eye-up your little kids.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “We are just swamped with cognitive dissonance on this issue (and indeed many others) in this country.”

      That’s why I’m so grateful to you and all the other supportive bloggers out there. When you see these things and nobody else seems to, it can be very lonely.

      Reply

  4. cindybruchman Says:

    Malcolm, great post! Social institutions have a hard job, I think. Too many disparate groups trying to express themselves while existing under the umbrella. Educational institutions are like parents, trying to provide protection while simultaneously advocating individual expression. To condone sexual expression on the stage then slap the hands of inappropriate talk while worrying about the dangers of a setting no one can control–all is disjointed, for sure!
    I am all for artistic freedom. But when it comes to kids, I value propriety, and find those who enjoy shocking an audience with a cutting-edge performance more annoying than artistic. Why would anyone want to coax the Lolita out of girls? Maybe I am a prude.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Cindy, thank you. I think you summed up the problems very well in your comments. You’re right about social institutions having a hard job. Schools seem to find it particularly difficult to walk the fine line between sticking to their values and being responsive to the pressures of parents. As a number of other commentators have suggested, we seem to have lost our center, the confidence to stand up and speak truth to cant.

      Reply

  5. johnrchildress Says:

    Total agreement, Malcolm. Would like to know if there was any complaints at the school or if the lack of good taste was just ignored.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      No complaints but when I raised the service issue at the meeting there was definitely some support from other parents. As to the ‘sexy’ child dancers at the competition, they received just as much applause as the other acts so I have to believe that most people thought nothing of it.

      Reply

  6. becwillmylife Says:

    Our society sends such mixed messages to our children/youth. It’s okay to wear make-up and pole dance when you’re ten or eleven but this behavior is slutty when you get older. I love the second message- kids we want you to go and serve, just don’t touch anything.

    I’m a fan of the performing arts and I believe in service but I agree with you- that is messed up.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. My wife was brought up in the former Soviet Union so she has a sixth sense for hypocrisy and mixed messages. The trick then was to find support among your trusted friends and family, create a sub-culture of people who think like you and use humor to discredit Caesar. I think that’s good advice now as well.

      Reply

  7. cattalespress Says:

    Right with you on this one Malcolm. So glad you posted!

    Reply

  8. kateshrewsday Says:

    No, you’re not alone, Malcolm. It really amazes me how parents can be blinkered in one area -their childrens exposure to media and experiences wich are not age-appropriate – and yet in another they are so over protective they are smothering. Lovey to end on a high note.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Yes, it amazes me too and it’s a difficult one to explain. Sometimes I blame it on the education system. Maybe they were not taught critical thinking or other cognitive skills? Other times I think that they see the same things as I do but just have different values? Also, it’s possible that most people can’t be bothered thinking for themselves and are just content to do what others do and accept what others tell them.

      Reply

  9. L. Marie Says:

    I also find that description of the dance disturbing. Children are being pushed to grow up so fast. You can see the evidence of this through some of the videos on YouTube. Some parents think this behavior is “cute” and want to show their children gyrating suggestively before the world. They don’t realize the toll this behavior will have on their children later. My sister-in-law is a therapist and has seen the sad results of this push. I’ve seen it myself.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      I think it sad that some children grow up too fast and loose those valuable playful years. It would be interesting to see some research, if there is any, on how this affects them later on.

      Reply

  10. NicoLite Великий Says:

    can’t say much else than ” I concur”. These laws (sexual harassment) hardly regulate anything, because their letter is virtually unfollowable. In the end, the do’s and dont’s are handed down to us by our parents and peers.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      They may not regulate anything but I definitely think the legislation has unintended effects such as making people much more sensitive to slights than they would otherwise be.

      Reply

  11. bravesmartbold Says:

    I’m all for laws protecting against sexual harassment because there’s just too much of it. However, I don’t know how much good that law will do anyway because of our society’s unspoken laws of right and wrong. As for the girls, I don’t understand that or beauty pageants. It’s not just you.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. I think one issue is whether laws protecting against sexual harassment really do reduce it or do they increase it because people become so much more sensitive to any kind of sexual innuendo. A related issue is whether laws are the best way to handle this rather than treating it as you would anyone who behaved in bad taste. Certainly, if there was more consensus on sanctioning individuals for violating norms of good taste we would not need many of the laws we have today.

      Reply

  12. aaforringer Says:

    I think the Sexual Harassment item is more about an overreaching by the Federal Government than about Free Speech. A broad definition of being offended will not fly, too vague for most juries to grasp in my opinion.

    As for the kids traveling I guess the parents do not understand.

    “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
    Clifton Fadiman

    (stole that from http://forafewsummersmore.wordpress.com/ , A fun little blog about traveling around the world.)

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      You are undoubtedly right about the Federal Government overreaching itself but significant damage can be done nevertheless As the Wall Street Journal article pointed out “Recent history gives no reason to expect that the government’s new directive on “verbal conduct” will remain confined to sexual speech.” The article went on to talk about individuals and organizations being found guilty of harassment for criticizing Islam.

      Reply

  13. Michele Seminara Says:

    Well put – and it is definitely not just you!

    Reply

  14. The Savvy Senorita Says:

    Hi Malcolm, it seems the dance produced mixed, and disturbed messages; actions speak louder than words I think. Any legislation makes little sense in a world where no-one blinks twice when children are overly sexualised daily – poll dancing kits for children?! Apparently some companies sell these!! So, what do people then expect will happen, a knock on effect in the end, where sexualisation of culture and society creates indifference. I think it is a growing concern for many parents, well, I know in the UK this is in the media a lot lately. Look at this link from The Guardian: (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/11/sexualisation-young-girls-myth-or-reality)
    Momentarily children protection agencies have called for pornography to be addressed in schools too. They see this as responsible for creating unnatural sexual and relationship ideals. I think if something is within culture, it needs addressing and facing up to, not ignoring and even accepting. Just because it is, doesn’t mean it is right. To be honest this is a pet hate of mine!! Whether this means curbing individual freedoms or not, I think advertising, promoting and marketing this behaviour, activity and so on isn’t a good thing!!!!!

    Reply

  15. maureenmadu Says:

    Hi Malcom, I must agree with you on this article and no, it’s not just you. Generally, we as a society are not practicing what we preach. Individually, most parents have instilled an understanding into the minds of their kids that they must grow up before their time in order to be where they want to be in life. So wrong. If such “art” practices could be publicly condoled then I see no reason why laws against sexual harassment on children should be taken seriously. It’s sickening.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Maureen. It is sickening but I’m also glad to have found so much support from you and others on this post. That means there is hope and we have a fighting chance to change things.

      Reply

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