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Searching for Modesty, and Finding Obscenity at Wal-Mart

While in Target this morning, to grab one of their super-duper-on-sale-cheap netbook computers for my teenage son’s Chanukah gift (I got one of the handful they had delivered overnight, whoo hoo!), I cruised through the girl’s department as I do each time I’m in the store, in search of an appropriately modest skirt or dress for my 10-year-old daughter.

It is no easy thing to find a long-ish skirt or dress with some semblance of sleeves for a tweenager these days.

Everything I see — in department stores, big-box-stores, boutiques, catalogues and on-line — is mini-skirt short. If the skirt length hits below the knee, then the top is sleeveless, even in winter.

What is a mom with a growing Girlchik to do?

She needs something appropriate to family weddings and holiday dinners at Bubbe and Zayde’s. She has a couple of hippie-ish long flowy skirts, but they’re made of summery fabrics, and she needs something more fitting for winter weather. I’m about to suck it up and go to one of those stores in a frum Brooklyn neighborhood that sells only tznius (modest) clothes, and praying that I find something besides gray, black and navy-blue uniform skirts.

At Macy’s (dozens of holiday dresses, all of them sleeveless) and Daffy’s (no dressy skirts, even, in Girlchik’s size) and Target (where everything sequined and dressy was tunics with leggings) and H&M (ditto) and Old Navy (ditto) I feel culturally out of step when I ask if there are any longer skirts or dresses in the back. The answer is invariably no.

I feel almost — gack — conservative.

It brings to mind Jane Eisner’s recent Sisterhood post looking at choices she’s made as a mother that seem to make her more conservative than Sarah Palin.

Parenthood has done that to me, too.

Back in the 1980s, when Tipper Gore famously established the Parents Music Resource Center, the idea that anyone “in charge” would put warning labels on compact discs and videos letting people know that they had mature content struck me as censorship-like.

Now, as a mother, I appreciate the heads-up, though of course it’s still up to me to monitor what my kids are listening to and watching both on TV and on-line (which is why the TVs and computers in our house remain in the most public rooms, and out of their bedrooms).

I don’t want them seeing things that I consider obscene or violent.

Those are my calls to make, of course.

The country’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, has its own policy. The company refuses to sell recordings or publications that it regards as obscene. In their case, though, this includes anything with references to abortion or homosexuality.

Then again, I think the real obscenity is that, even as it bans references to gay life, Wal-Mart openly sells guns.

And of course, when I’ve been in Wal Mart stores, the only girls’ skirts I’ve seen have been super-short. Not a one to be found that hits below the knee.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is an award-winning journalist, author of the book “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant” (Jewish Lights), and a Contributing Editor at The Forward.

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