by Lorrie Irby Jackson featured in Briefing an Edition Of The Dallas Morning News
She was tall, thin and matronly, with cat’s-eye glasses and a helmet of salt-and-pepper curls. Her name was Lola Garrison, and she was my sixth-grade teacher.
A sweet, soft-spoken woman who rarely raised her voice, Mrs. Garrison once chastised a flip-at-the-lip female classmate of mine by uttering, in a sharp tone that she rarely used, a gem of advice that has stayed with me ever since: “All ladies are women, but not all women are ladies.”
And over the years, that mantra has guided how I conduct myself, my style of dress, the tone I use and the words I speak (at least when I’m not navigating traffic). Sure, I did my share of clubbing and dating back in the day, but did anyone ever catch me — on film or otherwise — draped across a random dude, simulating sex on the dance floor while drunk or half-naked? Never.
And today, women who are insistent on doing all of the above are usually unable to shake their “down-for-whatever” reputations for years to come, thanks to smartphones that are capable of spreading instant public humiliation via Twit Pics and YouTube.
In the “sex sells” and “dysfunction pays” culture that we dwell in, it’s a daily challenge to keep my daughters and son on the path to being ladies and a gentleman — thanks to “too-grown” clothing styles and hedonistic fantasies set to music with accompanying violent or soft-porn videos.
When I was Darius’ age, for example, BET was a positive network that featured news programming, shows like “Teen Summit” and music videos by performers who emphasized soul over smut. But since founder Robert L. Johnson sold BET to Viacom in 2005, the channel’s enthusiastic emphasis on raunchy rap and shallow, stereotypical content keeps us flipping past it on the cable guide.
And as much as Nia enjoys Beyoncé, she’s prohibited from viewing the performer’s super-sexualized videos, wardrobe and choreography. (Was writhing around in transparent lingerie really crucial to the story line of her latest video, “The Best Thing I Never Had”? I doubt it.)
Even something as routine as buying clothes can expose the inappropriate images children are constantly inundated with. Just weeks ago, Calvin spent half an hour shopping for Nia’s swimsuit, adamant that if it had to be a two-piece, the garment would cover her tummy and backside and not mimic a Sports Illustrated-worthy thong bikini.
“Cutie Pie” and “Daddy’s Girl” are T-shirt descriptions I can tolerate, but “So Many Boys, So Little Time” is a bit much. Innocence is to be preserved, not plundered, so the only time my 5-year-old wears heels and exposes her legs above the knees is when she’s wearing tap shoes, tights and a leotard in dance class.
All signs indicate that Layla and Nia will mature in a male-dominated and not quite post-racial society, one that will attempt to marginalize their talents and intellect while judging their skin tones, hair texture, facial features and “bootyliciousness.” They will encounter other girls wearing too much make-up, too-tight jeans and too-high heels who will chide their choices — and teenage boys who will wonder why they must gain approval from a wary big brother, an uber-protective father and a shrewd mother before enjoying the pleasure of their one-on-one company.
Adolescent hormones and persistent peer pressure will, more often than not, cause our daughters to fume that their mother and father are unhip, unreasonable and working … on … their … last … nerves.
But while they pout, Calvin and I will stand firm, understanding that pebbles are common, but diamonds take time to cultivate. And we parents have the honor and the duty to polish up a pair of sparkly and shining ladies.
Lorrie Irby Jackson is a Garland freelance writer and a member of the Briefing Moms Panel. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.