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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Power of Symbols: The Hoodie and the Short Skirt

Like bloggers everywhere, I cannot help but weigh in on the Geraldo Rivera comment that Trayvon Martin's hoodie was "as to blame" as his assailant, George Zimmerman, for his murder.

I hope it's not really necessary for me to say I disagree.

But Rivera does bring up a point -- albeit ham-handedly -- about the power of symbols in our culture.  In sociological terms, everything is a symbol.  Words are symbols.  They stand for things.  What *do* hoodies (and pants worn below the butt, and baseball caps worn backwards, and...) symbolize to many people?  

In a word, danger.

It's not fair.  As Glenn Fleishman (@GlennF on Twitter) tweeted today: "Hoodies kill kids just like halter tops cause rape." 

Indeed.  Saying the hoodie is to blame for Trayvon's senseless killing makes about as much sense as saying a girl wearing a short skirt who gets raped was "asking for it."

It's precisely that obvious parallel that gives me pause, because -- as a white mother to a teen white girl -- I am deeply conflicted about what I allow my daughter to wear.

On the point that Rivera made -- that he tells his sons not to wear hoodies, not to wear pants "down to their ankles" -- I find myself nodding my head.

Not my academic, sociological, analytical mind.  But my parental, over-anxious self.  The part of me that wants to do everything possible to keep my girl safe.

For while I want to say that my child should dress however the hell she pleases (and, she pretty much does), I cannot help but worry that some outfits give different messages.

Different outfits are different symbols.  

Jeans, long-sleeved shirt, flats?  Nicely dressed teen girl.

Short skirt, bare legs, flats, top that shows a little form?  *I* still think "nicely dressed teen girl" but I'm afraid others may see something along the lines of "loose" or "asking for attention."

It's surely a sign of societal sickness that parents everywhere have to worry --- with good reason -- about what their children wear.  That parents of minority boys may, in particular, be wary of whether or not their sons are perceived (wrongly!) as "thugs."  That parents of girls (of any race) may be rightly worried whether or not their daughters are perceived (again, wrongly!) as "asking for attention."

But make no mistake:  a 130 pound kid with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea -- hoodie or no hoodie -- did not deserve to be killed (or even bothered by) by a 250 lb neighborhood "watch" man who carried a *gun*.  

And if anything ever happens to my daughter, I'll personally strangle the first person who says that her attire was "as to blame" as her assailant.

But we ignore *at our peril* the kernel of truth to Rivera's worries.

Sometimes, we do need to be aware of how we are perceived.

Even if the person doing the perceiving is -- clearly -- the one who is wrong.