Saturday, June 25, 2005

Kids These Days


Adults and teenagers have a strange relationship, to say the least. When teenagers express anything having to do with sexuality, adults flip out. Why? Adults are neurotic. We have our own sexual demons, many of which developed when we were teenagers. We loon on teenagers as simultaneously children, too young and innocent to be corrupted by sex; and sexual beings, strapping young lads like the lawnboy on Desperate Housewives and winsome girls like Lindsay Lohan. It freaks adults out to firmly believe that young people's sexuality is not okay while at the same time lusting over them. And we develop this complex when we are teenagers, simultaneously lusted and freaked out over.

It's not surprising, then, that teenagers are wont to push some boundaries, nor that adults are wont to overreact. That pretty much sums up what happened in Wisconsin last month, when a high school senior boy was suspended for wearing a dress to prom:

"I looked like Marilyn Monroe," [Kerry Lofy] says.

Lofy picked up [gay friend Victor] Anderson, they exchanged flowers - a pink-and-white wrist corsage for Lofy, and a boutonniere for Anderson - and then dined at the Newport Grill with three other couples. Lofy ordered beef tenderloin while Anderson had smoked salmon. They posed for photos just like the rest of the prom-goers. Then they went to the dance.

But when the 6-foot, 185-pound Lofy showed up in a dress, he was turned away by teachers, he said.

He went back to his car, put a tan-and-black plaid leisure suit over the dress and was allowed inside. Once inside, Lofy shed the leisure suit during a dance-off.

That's when the school's security guard escorted him to the door.

Lofy says that when he showed up at school on Monday, the school liaison police officer issued the $249 disorderly conduct ticket.

Link. This sounds exactly like the type of stunt I would have pulled in high school. I never got suspended, though. Did get pursued by a police search helicopter (see profile), but certainly not suspended. While it is ridiculous that Lofy got punished so severely for something so benign, the absurdity is nothing compared to Oregon middle-schooler Cazz Altomare, who got detention for hugging her boyfriend:

[A]ll the attention has caught Bend off guard. One reason is that no explicit ban on "lingering hugging" exists. Like many schools across the country, the Bend-La Pine school district refers to public displays of affection generally in its student guidelines, including the instructions: "Hugging, holding hands, walking arm-in-arm, kissing, and other public displays of affection are not appropriate for middle school. Quick hello and goodbye hugs are OK." (A hugging ban does exist at the La Pine middle school just south of Bend, where no complaints have been filed.)
. . . .
It's essential, Dr. Horner adds, to remember that kids in the US come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with very different ideas about "appropriate" behavior. Laurie Gould, spokeswoman for the Bend-La Pine school district, says most Bend natives are unperturbed by the rule. The accusing family, she points out, is "not from around here."

Link. Beyond punishing teenagers for the sexuality and affection they express, from the jokey to the genuine, adults judge teenagers' character based on image ideals we hold that are not without sexual overtones. Even that staid stallwart of American tolerance, Abercrombie & Fitch, is not above overt discrimination based on teenagers' appearance. Just ask Livermore high schoolers Shannon Nichols and Sarah Adams:

Since Abercrombie would probably jump at the chance to hire the preppy-looking Nichols, she decided to test their tolerance for someone dressed as a goth. She sprayed her sandy brown hair black, layered on the heavy black eyeliner, added a fake lip ring and bared her jeweled navel.

Nichols' Anglo poster girl pal Adams, 18, is a blue-eyed blond who looks like she just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad.

. . . .

"The most dramatic was how the Abercrombie employees treated Sarah in comparison to how they treated me," Nichols says. "As soon as she walked in, the cashier started talking to her and told her she could meet with the manager."

Adams explained that she had no retail experience, and really no job experience. That didn't matter, she was assured by a young man identifying himself as the store manager. In fact, she didn't even have to fill out a job application, she just needed to come to a group interview being held in the next two weeks.

Link. Amazingly, Nichols had a somewhat different experience:

"I waited in line to ask the cashier if I could fill out an application, and she tried to not even acknowledge I was there," Nichols says. "When it was my turn, she actually turned to the man behind me and asked if she could help him. He told her that I was first."

Nichols, putting on her best manners, politely asked for an application and told the cashier that she had a lot of retail experience and excellent references.

She was directed to an electronic station set up to take applications.

In actuality, these two could be twins:

Even their names, Shannon Nichols and Sarah Adams, sound like they were thought up by an uninventive screenwriter to label two characters who are essentially the same. At least they learned a life lesson early: in business, it's not what you know or even who you know, but how bigoted the other guy is.

Or maybe that's only when you're a teenager.

Indexed by tags teenagers, sexuality, prom, dress, Kerry Lofy, hugging, Cazz Altomare, goth, preppy, Shannon Nichols, Abercrombie & Fitch, discrimination, suspension.


Blogger Skarr said...

Most people, especially adults, are concerned over appearances.

When it comes to business, they are in for one thing and one thing only - profits. Anything that could drive a potential customer away is bad for business and what the store did was entirely predictable.

In life, very few things are fair. However, if you ask any politician, you'll probably get a different answer.

Life is about making compromises, as society demands it. There is no escape unless you choose to form your own country or private community. Even if you're successful in doing that, you'll find new rules being set in place, as people will be people and everyone is unique and different.

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