I haven't been in a Toys R Us (or any other toy store) for years. Not because there's a lack of little people (or not so little people, for that matter) in my life for which I'd like to buy toys, but rather that toy stores seem to have given up carrying anything I can identify as a toy. Everything on the overflowing shelves is branded – an extension of some over-marketed, brain-draining tv show, video game or social media fad. Most of what is being direct-sold to today's children is desensitizing, morally degrading and educationally bankrupt.
It was an article on that theme that introduced me to Peggy Orenstein. Her clear writing voice and obvious personal investment in her topic drew me in so, despite her noticeably feminist leanings, I picked up a copy of her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter from the local library.
It proceeded to completely consume my brain for several days. Not, perhaps, in the way the author intended, however.
Although Ms. Orenstein has a wonderful writing style, contagious passion and some excellent points to make, something else entirely stood out to me: the futility of trying to redraw the line.
In her corner of California, Ms. Orenstein is surrounded by fellow liberals and feminists (not my judgment – she says as much). Over the course of her book, they all slowly and agonizingly give themselves ulcers measuring and re-measuring their every decision against the vague, precipitous standards of feminist theology. They want the best for their children – everyone does. But as adults and more specifically as parents, they are terribly, terribly lost in the world of shifting sands that they have created. How do you lead someone else when you have no solid guideposts yourself?
The same idea resurfaces in shifting forms and across examples throughout the book: where is the line? We all feel sick disgust watching Toddlers & Tiaras because we inherently know that it's wrong. Righteous anger flares when we see middle schoolers dressing like tramps and trashy, moral-destroying movies pitched to kids. We examine complicated issues like social media use and educational curricula critically, but struggle to find any answers because we've moved the line, but cannot figure out how to redraw it.
Whether you're Christian or not, you have to admit that when God laid down the standards by which mankind should live, He did a really good job.
Seriously, think about it. Can anyone argue that waiting until marriage to have sex is a safe, wise plan? Have you ever met anyone who was harmed or degraded by following that standard?
How about Titus 2 or Proverbs 31 as standards for what women should seek to be? Have you ever met a Titus 2 or Proverbs 31 woman and said to yourself “wow, what a doormat”? Of course not! Kindness, good work ethic, respect for others, good judgment, strong communication skills, self-confidence – these are things we all want for our daughters!
When women like Ms. Orenstein and her compatriots buy into the lie that everything traditional is bad and repressive, they automatically toss out the very standards and guidelines they need to shape the kind of powerful, beautiful and confident girls they want to raise.
One cannot create something beautiful without consistent, intentional shaping and vision for what the end result should look like. The standards by which humans build solid connections and successful lives do not change just because some people, like a resentful teenagers, want to disobey them solely for the perverse pleasure of spiting authority.
Though Orenstein has searched the world over and tried to maintain a positive tone, one cannot leave her work without clearly understanding the message she did not intend to send: the line cannot be arbitrarily redrawn.
The chilling question then becomes: are we willing to sacrifice a generation of children on the altar of our spite rather than humble ourselves and accept the gift of wisdom freely given to us so long ago?
For all our sakes, I hope not.