Friday, Sept 21, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, September 21, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What changes in school dress codes tell us about massive changes in the cultural landscape
So many events, news stories, headlines cross the American landscape and so many of them do not appear to be of any great significance. Certainly not cultural shaping significance. And that's usually the case. But sometimes you see a headline, you start to detect a pattern in the media and in the culture that upon reflection is a lot more significant than might at first appear.
Just consider the issue of dress codes in schools. The presence of a dress code. The construction of a dress code, opposition to a dress code and changes in dress codes, all of these are flagged far deeper issues than the dress code itself. Mike Allen at Axios this week commented about this with a headline, One Big Thing the Drying Dress Code. The subhead, Dress Codes of Yore are Starting to Crumble in the Face of Critiques About Sexism and Racial Inequality. So here you have Mike Allen pointing to the fact that schools are under incredible pressure concerning dress codes, they're beginning to revise or at least announce their openness to revising those dress codes,, and it turns out to have a great deal to do with critiques with sexism and racial inequality. And, as we shall see, the subtext is not just pressure from students but even more importantly, pressure from parents.
Allen summarizes the news this way, "School districts in California, Illinois, and, Oregon are explicitly allowing tank tops and short shorts," that according to the Associated Press. A suburban Houston school district in Texas is reevaluating a rule banning boys from wearing make-up. School districts nationwide, he says, "Are backing off rules that forbade hoodies." As he points to what's behind all of this he indicates the significant action of the National Organization for Women, it's Oregon Chapter, which created draft rules in the year 2016 that, in his words, "Focused on ending rules," that according to now, "Reinforced gender stereotypes and minimize unnecessary discipline or body shaming." Again that's also cited by the Associated Press.
Other news points, students in Alameda, Portland and Evanston have the freedom to wear mostly anything as long as it includes a bottom, a top, shoes, and covers private parts and does not contain violent images, hate speech, profanity, or pornography. Just about anything other than those things. Vague language, we are told, in an old Alameda system policy had created confusion, which lead to, "Arbitrary enforcement." There was also, we are told as one of these arbitrary rules a three finger rule on the width of tank top straps and a ban on shorts and skirts shorter than "Mid-thigh." And also a rule against, "Low cut tank tops." Now note that the importance of all of this that the rules that are being criticized here are generally falling by the way.
One of the main issues here is that there are now accusations that are made not only by groups like the National Organizational for Women, and not only by students, but also increasingly by outraged parents, they're demanding a change, which is going to allow many different changes in the way that students are allowed to dress at school. In particular this relates to girls, and the big changes are, that given the critique that it is discriminatory to have such rules against girls. Girls are going to be able to wear far less clothing, covering far less of their bodies because the accusation is that it is just discriminatory, it's sexist, it's patriarchal, to suggest that women or girls should dress in a certain way in order to avoid problems, especially amongst the boys, the males in the same context.
The boys are certainly included in the concern about hoodies. School districts that had been forbidding hoodies are now having to rethink the policy. But in this case it's not so much because of a critique along sexist lines, but racial lines. The suggestion is that the discrimination against hoodies is a particularly racially based discrimination and so as we've seen in one major school district they decided that students may indeed wear hoodies, but they cannot cover their head with the hoodies so long as they are on school property.
Back at Axios, Allen makes another very important point when he says that many of these changes wouldn't be happening without social media, viral Facebook posts, he continues, featuring parents who are outraged by their kids facing dress code infractions, they are he says, "A dime a dozen and they put school administrators on their heels." But before looking at the deeper issues related to the dress code and what that means for the culture, we need to think about the inversion of the role, and the authority of parents in this equation. This is something that has been noted, especially over the last several decades.
If you could rewind history say just about 30 or 40 years, you would find a situation in which there was a general pattern of parents supporting school authorities even when it came to disciplinary action against their kids. It was understood to be the responsibility of parents to make certain that their children followed the rules and that they understood the consequences of not following the rules. But now the general pattern expected by so many in leadership in the schools, and this is not, by the way just a pattern in the public schools, this is something experienced by private school administrators and even Christian school administrators. Parents increasingly see themselves as legal and moral representatives for their children, rather than for the school and for the rules.
Just about any school administrator having to take disciplinary action against a student now faces a likely response and reaction of opposition from parents. Not just the parents of the affected student by the way, but other parents as well. And this is where Mike Allen is absolutely right, that social media has begun to fuel and accelerate the situation. And it has now reached the point where an outraged student with an outraged parent can create an entire tidal wave of outrage in social media which does immediately and directly get the attention of school administrators. But let's remember that when we're talking about dress codes we're not talking just about clothing, we're talking about the larger context of personal presentation and that takes us to the most interesting of the recent news accounts.
It emerges from Pearland Texas. The headline in the story from WKRC is this, Texas School District to Reevaluate "Sexist" Dress Code and Ban on Boys Wearing Make-Up. As the news story tells us Alvin Independent School District is looking at changing its dress code to accommodate boys who want to wear make-up. Now as you look at a story like this, an immediate question that should come to mind is just how many boys in Alvin Texas actually want to wear make-up? Well hold that question for a moment, the story continues with one student, Jasmine Richards saying, she's a girl by the way at least by the implication of the story, she says, "I'm not actually a huge make-up person." But we are told, she believes a good male friend who routinely wears make-up should be able to do, including at school. Jasmine Richards said of the young male, "He has the same rights as any girl to wear make-up if he wants."
Now every once in a while you need to look at a sentence and just figure it out. This is a very simple English sentence. It's not complicated in its grammar or its syntax. Again, let me just read the words it's very short. He, speaking of this male student, has the same rights as any girl to wear make-up if he wants. Okay, let's look at it. He, this identifies a presumably male student, considering the fact that he still has any meaning. He we are told has the same rights, here you see the rights talk that has so infected every dimension of our culture. It's no longer possible really to talk about right and wrong in so many contexts. All you can do is talk about individual and group rights. It's just what Mary Ann Glendon of The Harvard Law School calls The Devilosulition of Rights Talk.
But here is the phrase, same rights, now that implies that a girl in school has a right to wear make-up. That might be debatable, but the larger issues is the argument that a boy should have the same right as a girl to wear make-up. But then the last words, if he wants. It turns out that moral mandate here is simply what an individual wants. Every single individual, every male or female individual or by extension in the modern age, any individual regardless of how that individual defines him or herself, or as something other than him or herself. Back to the news story from Texas. "Right now under current Alvin Independent School District Dress Code rules, he doesn't, that is the boy, doesn't have a right to wear make-up." And the policy says that it specifically states, "Boys may not wear make-up." Again, that's real simple English we really do understand all the words. Boys may not wear make-up.
But then the story continues. That's something Richards said her friend wasn't necessarily aware of when he recently got sent to in-school suspension. Now this is something else that simply deserves to be attended to here. In no previous epic you could imagine of human history was it necessary for a public school district in Texas to have a policy that says that boys may not wear make-up. I'll stake a reputation on that. I don't think you'll find any school district, hardly anywhere in the world, but let's just say in the United States that until recently would have considered the need for such a policy or even the thought of such a policy. But in doing worldview analysis we need to understand that we are looking at the intersection of some massive changes in the cultural landscape and our societies belief system.
They might at first appear not to be connected, but upon reflection, they are connected. Consider the fact that one of these is the autonomous individualism that so infects everything now and redefines what it means to be a human being, to be a citizen, to be a student, to be a boy, to be a girl. But there's the second big issue which is the gender revolution which suggests that any kind of different policy for boys and girls, even references to a distinction between boys and girls is suspect on its face and must be discriminatory because after all, it is making discrimination's between boys and girls, males and females. But here's where Christians understand that the word discriminate means to choose and to make distinctions. That's exactly what society must do. Every society and every sane individual discriminates the question is on the basis of what principles?
We understand that discrimination can be on the basis of a wrong criterion. But we also understand that an elimination of discrimination means opening all the jails, making clear there's no distinction between someone who's a lawbreaker and someone who's a law keeper. We make discrimination's all the time. The question is what kind of discrimination is legitimate. Throughout virtually all of human history it has been understood that a discrimination between a boy and a girl, a distinction between male and female was not only natural but necessary. A third issue we see here is the rights talk a fourth is the subversion of authority. So here you have school administrators who really aren't doing much administrating. They're really not expected to, perhaps not even allowed to. Instead administration becomes a public negotiation in a context of social media in which public pressure becomes the determining issue not any kind of basic educational decision based upon something so now woefully outdated as right and wrong.
This news story from Texas also shows us exactly how the public political pressure works. The female student, outraged that the male student could not wear makeup has drafted a change.org petition to try and get the dress code changed. According to the news report the petition got close to its 1,500 signature goal within just four days and then the obvious statement, "It also got the attention of Alvin Independent School District leaders." The school Assistant Superintendent, Daniel [Combes 00:13:57] said, "The dress code is not set in stone, the dress code is reviewed every of years at the most." The Assistant Superintendent told the media that he had already met with both the female and the male student along with other friends and they had discussed boys wearing make-up and plans to get, now listen to this, "Input from parents, students and others before recommending possible district wide changes. And we are told there are already mixed opinions."
But you'll notice here exactly how this kind of public pressure is now brought and you see an administrator who simply has to respond. And let's remember, we're not talking about Manhattan, we're not talking about Seattle, we're talking about Texas. And here you already have an Assistant Superintendent basically back peddling because of public pressure saying, "The dress code isn't written in stone, we can reevaluate anything, honestly, just watch us." Yes, that difference of opinion shows up in two different comments offered by two different citizens, thinking about the potential change in the policy. One of them is named Luke Perry, he said simply, "I don't know, if it was my kid, I wouldn't want him wearing make-up to school." But another citizen, this time a woman said, "We're in an environment these days, that we should embrace everyone." Yes, everyone. In this case embracing everyone is clearly meant to imply the fact that we have to allow boys to wear make-up to high school.
The unrelenting revolution: Consumer brands seek to capitalize on opportunity brought about by gender confusion
Now considering next just how deep this issues is in the culture I turned to an article that appeared, not just in recent day, some different school districts around the country, but to a major article that appeared on the front page of the Style Section of The New York Times just yesterday. It comes with photographs, not to be believed. The headline of the story, The Market Embraces Fluidity's Allure. Guy Trebay is the reporter for the Times, he writes, "They are the new beautiful people and their pronouns are they, their and them. Fashion courts them, publishers pursue them, corporations see in them the future of consuming as generations come of age for whom notions of gender as traditionally constituted seem clunkier than a rotary phone." Why settle, he asks, for being a man or a woman when you locate yourself more exactly along the arc of gender identity. Then an individual known as Terra Juano is quoted as saying, "It's all about letting go of gender so you can be everything in between."
This individual is identified as "A model with 100,000 Instagram followers who track the booming career and amatory antics of this androgynous Mexican-Filipino beauty with a shaved head, a mile-wide smile, an affection for cowboy hats and uninhibited tendency to go top free." Now in case you're wondering where this is headed, let me just read from the article. "In the evolving language of gender expression Terra Juano, though assigned female at birth identifies as non-binary. And in business as in life TJ a native of Stockton California has lighted out for a new territory. It is one in which the conventions of both homo- and heteronormative expression are called into question daily."
Another statement from this person, "In the past, whether you were straight woman or a gay woman it was like either you were supposed to be hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine." But we're told all that is simply over. The big importance of this article is that we are being told that the fashion industry, that's what's referred to in the headline as, The Market, that refers generalized, we could say, to the entire economy, is beginning to see the future of America and the future of consuming in this kind of gender confusion. Deliberate, pervasive gender confusion. Breaking the rules of the old gender binary of male and female.
We looked yesterday at the world view issues arising from the claim that we can raise children without reference to gender. But here we're talking about yet another step. And of course when you think about the dress code story, this immediately is linked to the fashion industry story which came in today's New York Times. In both cases, there's even something more important we need to note. Normally on the briefing I would attempt not to discuss issues in this depth related to the same theme one day after having discussed similar issues just the previous day. So why did I do so today? It's simply because that has to make the point. I am not turning to these issues because I find them of personal interest, I'm turning to them because this is the constant barrage of the main stream media.
This is exactly what Mike Allen of Axios points to as a pattern in the larger media and culture. This is exactly why we have to talk about it. It appears on the front page of the Thursday style section of The New York Times. The revolutionary simply will not let up in their revolutionary ardor or energy and furthermore I simply have to say that the photographs in this article are beyond shocking and what you have to understand is that those photographs are to make us embarrassed if we are shocked. We are to be shamed by the context of this article. The text and the photographs and understanding we should see this as the new normal. We should like this. We should celebrate this, but of course, as we try to understand these issues from the basis of a biblical world view, what we're looking at here is a confusion and a rebellion of such a depth that it can scarcely be estimated.
Trebay writes about the revolution in fashion related to this gender confusion by writing, "It took a while to get here and yet three years after gender fluidity purportedly went pop and almost five decades after academics first theorized that gender is performance the market has awakened to burgeoning commercial viability of people such as Terra Juano." Wow that paragraph's really, really important. A lot more important I think than even Mr. Trebay probably recognizes. Let's look at it again, it took a while to get there and yet we are told it's just three years after gender fluidity, again a term that previous generations wouldn't even have understood. Just three years after gender fluidity purportedly it's putting quotation marks went pop. What does, went pop mean?
It means has entered popular culture. But it's not only the fact that this gender fluidity has entered the popular culture. What this really means is the trumpeted announcement that gender fluidity is now the popular position in popular culture. But then he says, this is almost five decades after academics first theorized that gender is performance. Wow, that's even more important because now we're being told that what happened in academic five decades ago, the argument amongst the intellectual elites, especially those influenced by critical theory and post modernism that gender is performance. That gender itself is simply a social construction that must now be deconstructed in order to liberate humanity. Those ideas that were so radical amongst academics a half century ago are now well pop as in popular culture.
That should remind Christians as a very humbling realization that what takes place in the elite hallways and classrooms of academic doesn't stay there. What's published in the journals of critical theory and philosophy and history and literature of all kinds of critical theory and Marxist interpretation and deconstructionism and post modernism it doesn't stay there. It eventually becomes mainstream in the culture. There are a few more frightening realizations than that.
Before leaving this article, there's so much here that deserves attention I want to cite an authority quoted in the article, Aaron Rose, identified as a trans-gendered diversity consultant for clients including Columbia University and the Consulting Company, MacKenzie and Company, he said this, "But you can also think about this, the emergence of a marketplace in terms of people looking for socially acceptable ways to bust out of gender constrictions. And one way he said to do that is to enjoy consuming gender non-conforming experience." That's exactly what's going on here, making this mainstream, trying to make it attractive. Trying to make it attractive. Making it appear to be the inevitable consumer future making any opposition appear to be mean spirited and backward and patriarchal and wrongfully discriminatory and harmful and simply deeply uncool.
Before leaving these issues I also have to note that another common theme here is the intentional destruction of any conception of modesty, particularly of female modesty. But of course we're a society that no longer believes in any form of modesty and certainly not in any modesty that might be qualified with female. Because, after all, we're being told there is no distinction, there is no real reality such as male and female, much less boy and girl. It's all a matter of a state of mind and if you or anyone has a problem with that, well you're the problem, that's the message we're getting here. And parents are being told your role is not to protect your children, specifically certainly not to protect your daughters by means of any concern about dress, merely it is to protect your child's right to be whatever your child wants to be to wear whatever your child wants to wear no matter how un-modest or immodest it may be, and not matter if it ends up with boys wearing make-up. If we even know, in this world view, what a boy is anymore.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, army of first responders and disaster relief teams represent major societal achievement
But finally, over the course of the last 24 hours I have spent time in both of the Carolina's and one of the most moving scenes that I have observed is the fact that there are so many first responder teams from states far from North and South Carolina who have been here for days, both in preparation for hurricane Florence and in helping communities here deal in the aftermath of the massive and very wet storm. It has been very moving also to see disaster relief teams on the ground and I have been so pleased to see the disaster relief teams that are associated with the Southern Baptist Convention with state conventions across the SBC and with the North American Mission Board.
Just a couple of final thoughts. We need to understand the existence, the service, the courage of all of those first responders, all of the equipment they had and the systems that are now reflected in their sophistication. That represents a civilizational achievement. It takes a massive connected committed community and a community of communities. It takes a very sophisticated civilization to produce that kind of systematic first response team. When someone tells you that all societies, all cultures, and all forms of government are equal, well just consider asking yourself the question where you would rather be if a massive disaster or weather event like hurricane Florence should happen. If you just answer that question honestly, it will refute a great deal of our modern and postmodern confusion.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.