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March 12, 2003

Throw the Rulebook Out


In the aftermath of the Enron/Worldcom/Tyco scandals there has been a call for switching financial accounting from a "detailed rules" approach to a more "general principles" approach. The idea is that ultra-precise rules can always be gotten around, while general principles demand that deals must always pass a “good judgment” test.

I could argue both sides of this position as regards financial accounting, but I must say that the “general principles” advocates have a strong case in at least one other aspect of human life. That’s the regulation of teen sexuality.

When I drop my daughter off at her high school every morning, I am exposed to a number of young women in tight fitting jeans, midriff-baring tops, and the occasional plunging neckline. Still, while dressing a bit more blatantly than their mothers did in my own high school days, these young women are only making a display of their burgeoning fertility—which no one could miss unless they went around in burlap sacks.

On the other hand, on my way to work I pass a nearby private high school that has attempted to deal with this issue by instituting school uniforms. This attempt to control sexual display has however, caused an Enron-like result: young women have obviously studied the rulebook carefully to see how it can be subverted. One common strategy is to wear the apparently required plaid skirt as an ultra mini. Because of traffic congestion, many of these young women are dropped off nearby and have to cross several streets to get to school; seeing them standing at the street corners, I have several times found myself thinking: Geeze, this is a nice suburban neighborhood, what’s with the hookers?

All this amounts to something of an exercise in institutional cowardice. I understand that it’s awkward to have to confront young women growing up fast and order them to dress in ways that an adult finds appropriate rather than in ways that maximize the amount of peer attention they get. But ducking the face-to-face confrontations by issuing “rules” has only ended up encouraging these girls to dress like objects in some cheesy sex fantasy. A peculiar choice of outcomes.



posted by Friedrich at March 12, 2003


Reminds me of the observation in one of Heinlein's books, that young women will dress to show off as much as older women will let them get away with.

Posted by: Jim Miller on March 12, 2003 3:59 PM

I think this has less to do with any "rules" for dress-codes than it does with the well known fact that uniforms are just plain sexier than regular dress: they bring out the fetishist in the best of us.

Posted by: JW on March 12, 2003 10:44 PM

That is the beauty of rules: once made, their main worth is to be broken.

This "rule" works for music, writing, art, and young women subverting their authority's directives.

Posted by: Felicity on March 13, 2003 12:56 AM

Mmmmm, rules. Nothing like a restrictive rule or two to bring erotic qualities to a nice boil.

Hey, ever notice how leftish/liberal political eras (Carter, Clinton) result in fewer hot sex movies than do rightish eras? As far as I'm concerned, it's one of those leftish delusions, the belief that getting rid of all restrictions will lead to groovy sex. Maybe for a day or two. Then everyone gets fat, stinky, navel-gazing and resentful, and sits around getting political while trying to come up with someone to blame for why the old pizazz has gone.

I'm a big advocate of the utility of a few well-chosen restrictions, myself.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 14, 2003 1:52 AM

You and your male gaze.

"these young women are only making a display of their burgeoning fertility—which no one could miss unless they went around in burlap sacks."

Some are. Others are merely trying to be fashionable and compete with their female friends on that level. The idea that boys, let alone men driving by in cars, would care in that way is not something they've really wrapped their minds around.

I would agree that my burgeoning fertility was apparently obvious even in sweat suits covered with dog hair and mud. But I'll point out that fertility was of no interest to me then or now, and that except for the boy-crazy minority, young females are only intermittently interested in sex.

One of nature's cruel tricks: boys think of sex every waking moment until they're ... maybe mid-twenties so that by the time women want it on demand, men are no longer as eager or able.

Remind me to fly to Spain and pick up some young men.

Posted by: j.c. on March 18, 2003 5:02 AM

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