Suzanne Fields

Two little girls I know, age 6, showed up the other day at a public pool in Washington for a swim. They were excited by the prospect of escaping, if only for a little while, the heat pushing the thermometer close to 100.

Alas, they were wearing the only bathing suits they had: bikini bottoms, no tops. No go, they were told by the pool manager. There was a dress code, and no one was allowed to dress "inappropriately in a way that may offend others." Did I say these were 6-year-olds?

"Don't worry," their grandfather said. "They're boys."

The enforcer at the gate was not amused. Rule-enforcers, as a rule, rarely are.

The enforcer told the disappointed little girls they could wear their dresses in the pool, or she would find inflatable tops that children who can't swim wear so they're covered up "up there." The little girls knew how to swim, and they didn't want to ruin their dresses. They left in tears.

I've heard similar stories about rigid dress codes for small children at pools, and I've been surprised that many adults are so terrified of perverts and molesters that they applaud such harsh rules. I understand the fear, but have we gone nuts?

Our "liberated" culture, drenched in anything-goes sex (or "gender," for those who regard the very word as something as scary as a topless 6-year-old) now demands that we cast a dark shadow over genuine innocence in the name of protecting children. We must send innocence underground, robbing children of their incorruption.

I thought about all this the other night watching an episode of "Mad Men," the television drama enthralling millions, set in the long ago, the early 1960s. The ad men and their clients argue about how to sell Jantzen bathing suits. The ad men prescribe a "sexy" campaign for a "two piece" -- not a bikini. The Jentzen folk want to maintain modesty; the ad men want to sell bathing suits.

We've changed a lot in six decades, and not always for the better. At its best, television drama holds up a mirror to a reality we can measure ourselves against, for better or worse. The appeal of "Mad Men" is its drama-in-costume, entertaining us with retro-fashion trends. But it's also a reminder of how sexual mores operated in a more repressed time, before we made everything illicit explicit.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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