What is a petting party in a contemporary America? What is the petting party of a new-wave feminist. This is a question I am more intimately familiar with than most feminists. I am a child of the 1940s and 1950s, and I’m in my early twenties–still in that age group when such discussions were in full swing. And I also have a fondness for the way the petting party turned into a party, a social event, that was part of my growing up experience… a time I wish I could revisit and enjoy as a child.
While I wasn’t a total child brat myself, I certainly remember the times when boys did try to get my attention. I remember when our class was in the middle of trying to build an aircraft plane that wasn’t yet constructed, or trying to find an oil patch to drill a well in the middle of snow. And I recall when my best friend went to visit his uncle when the house caught fire in our neighborhood and my parents had to leave for the next day for a church-sanctioned emergency. And, of course, I recall being on top of the tree one time as my friend’s uncle was chopping wood and accidentally stepping on the remains of his leg. But nothing had prepared me for the moment when my parents told me “you’re going to get a petting party.” And I knew what I was getting into.
I will tell my story as best I can, and I’ll be sure to make sure everyone understands that this was a small, early-1980s version of the present, where kids these days, especially boys, are raised to expect nothing more than being tamed and petted, and they’re often rewarded with the thrill of being watched and cajoled. This is all part of a larger movement that has begun to become the norm in the United States in general. And that movement is, in part, the result of a series of Supreme Court decisions enacted in response to a wave of school desegregation cases, from Brown v. Board of Education through Rochin v. California to Gonzales v. Raich. And we are certainly witnessing that movement manifest itself in the petting party that’s taking place around me as I write this.
In the early ’80s, the U.S. Supreme Court was just beginning to take on the issue of public school desegregation through school desegregation orders on the side of plaintiffs. This was a movement driven by both the civil
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