Many Americans were disappointed when President Obama devoted a Saturday radio address to a celebration of the progress of women in society. Most of us were more interested to hear about the progress (or lack of it) in dealing with the crisis that threatens to become a new war in Libya.
The president was excited about a new White House report on the status of women, the first such report in 48 years. John F. Kennedy assigned Eleanor Roosevelt to explore the subject on that occasion.
Obama told us that women earn more high school diplomas and college degrees than men, and the number of women in the workforce almost equals the number of men. But they still don't hold as many power positions.
You might not have noticed this report's significance, however, since it was issued just before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, the U. S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Samantha Power, a senior director of the National Security Council -- three of the most powerful women in the Obama administration -- effectively persuaded the president to put America into the coalition against Moammar Gadhaffi.
It was a throwaway speech but dear to the president's heart. He wants to see his two daughters grow up in a world "where there are no limits to what they can accomplish." Fair enough -- but the growing problem for the female sex in this country is less political than cultural, and it starts in the home, not the White House. We're talking image rather than achievement.
The problem that needs our undivided attention could have fit under a chapter head in Betty Friedan's celebrated '60s best-seller, "The Feminine Mystique." You could call it the "The Sexual Sell." The sexual sell is seen first in little girls who graduate overnight from demure princess dresses to party dresses with what they imagine is cleavage, from playing dress-up in mom's shoes to wearing their own spike heels.
Superficial sophistication is no longer a way for a child to try on different adult styles for size, but rushes young women into a false feeling of safety that is sexually enticing, disarmingly seductive and potentially explosive.
The slinky dress on the preteen may be "cute" when she's hanging out with her girlfriends, but it quickly becomes "hot' on a teenager hanging out with boys, blurring the boundaries between innocence and sexuality.
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