When liberal principles collide

I typically side with people on the political left these days for two simple reasons, neither of which has much to do with idealism. One is that many conservatives (although not the ones I’m friends with) categorically and blindly oppose things that don’t affect them or threaten anyone else, such as same-sex marriage (and homosexuality in general) and the availability of pornography. I’ve just never been tempted to stand in the way of things that make some people happier at the expense of nothing besides delicate, programmed sensibilities. The other reason is that I don’t like noisy, stupid people who believe in noisy, stupid things like malevolent yet respect-worthy skygods, the myth of “small government” Republicans, and the trustworthiness of Rush Limbaugh or John Boehner’s manufactured tears.

People who aren’t intelligent can’t do a damn thing about it and we’re all morons in some way or another, but I find the combination of anger, credulity and ignorance that the GOP openly panders to and nourishes to be an affront on both visceral and intellectual levels. There are smart conservatives, but almost every genuine idiot I know embraces right-wing stances, and most are essentially ineducable. Liberals have their own biases and cognitive distortions, but at least when liberals say questionable things, they say them in a way that hearkens to some familiarity with the topic at hand. Liberals tend to examine opposing viewpoints even when their minds are pretty much made up; wingnuts populate the internet in ferocious little cocoons of mutually reinforcing delusion. If I had to have any real doings with these Elmer Fudd clones in my day-to-day life, I’d probably have to resort to smoking as much pot as I could afford or manage to steal, because I can’t abide by their denialism and toxic misapprehensions.

But today I find myself disagreeing with a liberal consensus, albeit on a micro scale. This morning I was observing an online discussion in which numerous people were adamantly opposed to the idea of a six- or seven-year-old child getting a hair-dye job (“highlights and dark streaks” was the term introduced). I would expect to find such ideas being slung around on a forum for members of the Southern Baptist Convention or somethining, but in fact this conversation unfolded on a message board overwhelmingly populated by very intelligent, very liberal people and bearing a strong feminist flavor.

Understand that I’m right at home in such places. Every once in a while I pause to imagine how my life would have turned out had I been female, all else being equal. I can’t do that, so instead I imagine being one of the numerous sharp, creative and successful women I’m lucky to know in a world controlled inside and out by men (let’s not pretend otherwise) — a great many of whom are by definition ponderous morons. Whenever you hear someone express that things in an area marked by inequity “aren’t as bad as they once were,” you know that you’re dealing with a situation that’s unlikely to ever really be fairly resolved. It bothers me even now to recall my mother, who was a pretty fair softball player as a young adult in the city women’s league, didn’t have sports as an option in high school and was plainly overlooked for jobs more than once when I was young because she didn’t have the right gonads. In this realm and perhaps others, the world would benefit greatly if every copy of the Bible in existence were tossed into one of Terry Jones’ bonfires and its contents forever forgotten. That anyone today regards the social mores of its contents as anything more than disgusting is a phenomenal failure of the collective American intellect. You don’t take a book full of slavery, misogyny and genocide and try to paint it as useful unless you’re a fucking idiot.

But back to the hair-streaks. Some of the people in this discussion — a few with children of their own, others without — were appalled at the idea of a child that young getting her hair dyed because it “sexualizes” them. Girls that young, they argued, shouldn’t be trying to change their appearance to suit prevailing standards of beauty. They should be learning, in effect, that avidly pursuing physical beauty is a dead end, and that self-worth must be divorced from looks.

While there are shreds of truth in this, I see the whole argument as overly facile and reactionary. I’ll agree to the extent that if I had a six-year-old who wanted to use hair colorant, I’d balk at the idea unless I could be convinced somehow that it was well-considered. But the idea that such a thing overly “sexualizes” girls is inane.

One wonders where these reactionary accusers draw the line. Should first- and second-grade girls be able to wear dresses and skirts and grow their hair long, or is that “sexualizing” them as well? One of the interlocutors in this discussion grouped dyed hair with padded bras and thongs, which is like putting a one-mile fun run and the Badwater running race across Death Valley in the same category.

The thinking driving this opposition seems to be this: liberalism –> feminism –> opposing the objectification of women –> opposing the objectification of young girls –> opposing hair streaks because it’s a cosmetic procedure. This scheme breaks down very badly in the final step, and seems inconsistent with the idea that kids ought be be able to develop their self-identity with a certain degree of freedom. Wanting to have colorful hair because Lady Gaga does is not on a par from wanting to run around in a string bikini because she does that, too (I imagine) or get an inner-thigh tattoo.

Maybe I’m making more of this than I need to, but I see very similar conclusions bandied about in fora similar to this one (where men are regularly called “creepy” for having the temerity to post pictures of an attractive woman, even when attractiveness isn’t the motivation for the posting) and I just like noting it when I disagree with people I almost always agree with. It reinforces the fact that everyone more conservative than I am is a thuggish, gullible and Bible-bopping moron and everyone more liberal than me is a hypersensitive whiner. It really sucks being the only one I know whose opinions are well-founded and unimpeachable across the board.

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  1. #1 by runtosmile on April 30, 2011 - 6:51 pm

    I kind of agree that kids shouldn’t die their hair–under the simple theory that focusing on looks can be a slippery slope at any age, so why start so early? Obviously looks matter, for men and women. But whatever we can do to reduce the single-minded focus on looks, which is primarily the domain of women (or at least women have to work harder and/or have more opportunities to spend money and time to achieve said good looks), particularly during formative years, I figure is a good thing. Also, I don’t really think any man can possibly understand this particular plight of women, even the most blessedly liberal among them like yourself. It’s simply impossible to know the myriad ways that this ever-present pressure to look better affects every conceivable aspect of a woman’s life unless you’ve walked in our shoes IMHO.

  2. #2 by heironymous on May 2, 2011 - 9:30 am

    Speaking as a parent of a six-year-old girl, the hair dying thing doesn’t bother me. I’m not going to encourage it, but I don’t think it “sexualizes” them any more than teaching them to brush their teeth so their breath doesn’t smell sexualizes them. Now push-up bras and thongs – that I take issue with.

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