MY OLDEST SON is about to turn 11, which means he is old enough to both recognize and call out the hypocrisies of the adult world. Here are two recent examples:
- While watching an NBA game, he says that adults are always saying that boys shouldn’t judge girls by their looks, but what else are you supposed to be doing while cheerleaders are doing their moves? And what do cheerleaders have to do with basketball anyway?
- As my wife and I are singing along to old-school hip-hop in the car, he says that if boys are not supposed to talk about girls’ body parts in ways that make them feel like objects, why is it okay for this guy to sing about liking “big butts”? And why is it okay for us—his parents—to be singing along?
These questions make my wife and me squirm. Generally, we try to face things square on, but on the subject of why we tolerate certain messages in the pop culture that we like, we go mum.
But something in Molly Ringwald’s New Yorker piece this spring about watching her ’80s-era Brat Pack movies with her then 10-year-old daughter made me think more deeply about the whole dynamic. Ringwald writes about how uncomfortable she was being confronted by the racist and sexist themes in those movies. The horribly racist caricature of Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles. The under-the-table panties scene in The Breakfast Club. The casual ways boys in those movies talked about trading drunk girls as if it were normal.