The mall is not my friend as a dad to two children, not hospitable to raising healthy human beings. Sure, it provides clean and supervised play areas as well as interesting food courts with carousels but the rest of the place is a damn hazard. And not because it is the temple of all things consumer – in fact, you don’t have to buy a thing there to pick up something far worse. A simple stroll through the mall sends enough devastating messages to distort our character and wreck our moral imagination. I can sift, sort and discern my way through this as an adult, but my kids simply absorb it all.
Maybe I’ve been been able to filter this out before, could be I’m becoming an old fart, or likely it’s because I’m dad to a daughter, but a recent walk through a local mall left me unsettled by the siren images in so many of the store-fronts. Call me a prudish, Victorian, censorious, stuffy prig but I was shocked by the brazen sexuality on display in that mall (and I feel like I’m not easily shocked). So many of the female models wear little clothing and the most prominent thing they do sport is a receptive open mouth, a come-hither gaze, or a coquettish pose. If there is a male-female couple in the image, the female is usually draped over the male, pretzeled into a seductive embrace. And this is not only the strategy of secretive Victoria but includes shoe vendors – even a children’s clothing store wickedly (I use that word with precision) hawks their goods with images of kids vogueing with faux seductive looks and poses.
I’m a fool to take my kids to the mall for an afternoon. Strolling through this marketing gauntlet, my daughter is trained in what it means to be a woman in our culture: “Let your appearance be flawless; live up to an impossible standard of physical beauty; don’t bother with your character, intellect, or heart – your greatest asset is your body and it is a sexual tool – flaunt it. Discretion limits you – the way to find worth is through seduction. Buy that perfect blouse, the right dress and you will be acceptable.” And my son, already able to pick up most every nuance of any message, is discipled into what our society considers manhood by these images alone: “Women are for your pleasure – viewing pleasure, sexual pleasure. Don’t engage them as real persons; they are beautiful bodies. Keep them abstracted in your imagination as creatures of desire. Dominate them, wear them like clothes that can be discarded when they are tired or out of style.”
Don’t misunderstand my ranting. The human body is a glorious thing of beauty; sex is a spectacularly great gift of God; we are sexual beings. But the whole of human is so much more!
I track this out ten years from now: what do I tell my daughter after all these messages have sunk deep into her anxiety-riddled psyche and she tells me how much she hates how she looks? How do I help my son, bombarded with titillation and innuendo, to see women as far more than how hot she is?
Maybe you think is just me, a guy struggling with his own repressed sexuality, importing all my “stuff” into innocuous images in a store window; if so, give Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia a read. Or check out this brilliant, moving video of slam poet Katie Makkai called “Pretty” (and again, if you find the f-bomb offensive, this video has one use of it. Sorry, two of those in one day).