Dear Abby, You Missed This by a Mile

Re:Lost For Words In Florida’s letter to Dear Abby from The Beacon News on November 28, 2009.

Dear Abby weighed in with a genuinely TERRIBLE answer which caused one of our staff to react:
Are you kidding? “Stop trying to have an adult conversation with an 8-year-old”???? On what planet is an 8-year-old incapable of having a rational and intelligent conversation?? Since when did being 8 automatically make you a moron??

The Original Dear Abby Q & A is as follows:
Dear Abby: My 8-year-old granddaughter has posed a question that stumped me, and I hope you can help with an answer: Why be neat and well-groomed?

She doesn't care what people think of how she looks. She sees no problem wearing clothes that are torn, etc. I am concerned that by the time she reaches adolescence she won't care how she looks when she leaves the house.

Her hair is extremely curly. It can't be combed or it gets wilder and frizzier, which adds to her unkempt appearance. Her hair may improve as she gets older if she's motivated to spend the extra time.

I am challenged by her question. How can I answer her? -- Lost For Words in Florida

Dear Lost For Words: Please stop trying to have an adult conversation with an 8-year-old. Where is this child's mother? Why is she permitted to go around in "torn, etc." clothing? It's time to talk to your son or daughter about helping their child with her grooming. The way your granddaughter looks is not only a reflection on herself, but also the adults whose responsibility it is to care for her. While she may not care how she looks, her parents should.

Children’s Advocate Roger Hyde gave the following alternative to Abby:
The Case of the Girl With Problem Hair:

Start by listening to the child, how it looks as HER problem:
*She doesn't care about others' opinions about her looks.
*She wears torn clothes, etc. without concern.
*She has "extremely curly hair" that defeats normal management.

Diagnose this with a crumb of objectivity from the child's perspective:

The things the "other kids" do to manage their appearance are not accessible to her. She has a daunting extra obstacle in the way if she wishes to keep up the median, regular standards of her group; and she has the apparent extra burden of having adults in her life who might have the resources to compensate for her inborn characteristics which might be unfashionable, but who blame the child for bad self management. We could make a case for that being child abuse.

The child is loaded with ostracism at school, etc. and blame at home. There's a recipe for optimism and healthy motivation, right? If you're an isolated, ostracized geek being proud of THAT seems like a decent and reasonable defense. I'll be ME and everyone else can be whatever they want. I'll just be me and wait until I get out of Duckville and find the swans who will embrace me as a beautiful one of them!

So what do we do to actually help the girl solve the problems? Give her good information and the resources to act on change.

It seems that the hair is a crucial issue and would be a key symbol of empowerment if she were given support to manage it. Hair is malleable in skilled hands. It can be made to do what people want. Try a couple of hairdressers, call a local beauty college: get the tools that are correct for the task. Help the child do this. We do not expect children to choose their own schools and doctors. Find competent help for the child.

The fact that the girl feels defeated is a reasonable response: she HAS BEEN DEFEATED in the task of managing the look of her hair. Once she has been given (repeat: GIVEN!) the means to cope with this, there is the matter of giving her the chance to choose to use the tools as others do. She will be motivated in a healthy way ONLY by seeing the attraction of being able to use the tools: She can Look the way SHE wants to look, when she wants. She can use the communication devices of looking casual, formal, fetching, aloof, practical,.... at her own discretion. Everyone of every age understands social power and its value. She will not neglect this if she is offered it as a choice she can make. If she is lectured about her duty to conform, the healthy thing probably is to refuse to submit to being a puppet of the adults. Let them dress themselves up if THEY want.


Restraining Orders - Women Are Not Lying Or Faking It

Recently Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, whose attorneys work on the front lines helping victims get restraining orders, brought to our attention an article in the Santa Monica Daily Press titled "Many men should ask for help sooner"" by David Pisarra.

The article made us sick to our stomach by giving a blatant and misleading depiction of restraining orders as obnoxious tools used by women having relationship squabbles to get the upper hand. He also insinuates that if only men weren't so embarrassed to ask for help they would get more restraining orders to defend themselves from these antics.

As an agency that works regularly with women in fear for their lives who go through the exhausting process of applying for a restraining order to try to keep themselves from getting killed, we were anxious to respond. So we teamed up with the LAFLA attorneys to write the letter to the editor you see below.

The reality of the situation


Re: What's the Point, "Many men should ask for help sooner," Nov. 3.

At the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), we disagree with Mr. Pisarra's assertion that restraining orders are issued instantaneously at the Santa Monica Courthouse without good cause. As seasoned family law attorneys, who are on the frontline every day working with victims of domestic violence, these cases tell us otherwise.

LAFLA's attorneys staff a domestic violence clinic at the Santa Monica Courthouse where we handle more than 600 cases of domestic abuse every year. Abused victims often arrive at the courthouse exhausted, many live in constant fear and have not slept, and some have fresh bruises. Others have spent the night at the hospital. All of the women are scared and arrive with frightened children in tow.

Even before these women can see a judge, they have to go through many steps. At the domestic violence clinic, staff attorneys assess the cases and ascertain whether the facts are sufficient to state a claim before completing the thick stack of forms. The entire process can take two to three hours. All the while, waiting victims are worried about losing their job, picking up their children from school or how to pay the rent and the bills without their spouse's salary. Victims are frustrated, because Mr. Pisarra has made getting a restraining order sound like a process that takes only as long as saying "Welcome to Santa Monica." At the end of the day, the victims are exhausted, hungry and scared. Although plans are made to return to complete the process, the person threatening to kill her has found her, or taken the child or children out of school and disappeared, or disabled her vehicle.

We know that most women have the courage to come to a clinic or court only after years of abuse, or after their teenage sons become old enough to get hurt protecting them. Many don't complain after being set on fire, or threatened with being killed and buried in the desert. Sometimes it is months and months of living in fear, seeing the same face waiting for them outside the apartment, peering out from a parked car, night after night long after the relationship has been over. Lost pregnancies, slaughtered pets and forced sex are all parts of many victims' histories.

On the other hand, men come to the clinic reporting a few days of bothersome phone calls, sometimes three to five in a week. They tell us that the calls are not threatening, but they worry that the wife or girlfriend will lure him into attacking her and he wants to "protect himself." Perhaps men should ask for help sooner, but in our experience very few men experience the terror and fear of living with domestic violence every day. Statistics show that 86 percent of victims are female. Both female and male victims face trauma and fear, which must not be denied and minimized.

Patricia Butler, director Sojourn Services for Battered Women and their Children. A project of Ocean Park Community Center; Minty Siu-Kootnikoff, staff attorney; Susan G. Millmann, senior attorney Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Office
November 17, 2009