Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation


11:36 am - June 10th 2011

by Guest    


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contribution by Reni Eddo-Lodge

My four year old sister has a pink pair of plastic high heeled shoes. She also has a red scooter that she rides along the street, picking up and collecting the elastic bands that postmen drop on their rounds. She wears those shoes and collects bands just for fun.

Yet when I first saw her teetering about the house in these heels I panicked. In my grown up mind, a high heel is a shoe designed to make the leg look elongated and sexually appealing. My instinctive protectiveness made me want to snatch away the shoes, to have her running around in trainers again.

But upon more thought, I came to the conclusion that the only person sexualising her was me. By assuming she thinks the same about high heels as my adult brain does, I was thinking of her as a being with a comprehensive understanding of sexual consciousness. She’s isn’t.

At a recent friend’s family get-together, music was playing, and one six year old got into the spirit by imitating the dance moves she had no doubt seen on TV. She was quickly reprimanded by a fellow party goer who told her not to dance like that, “because little girls who dance that way grow up to be whores”. She didn’t understand why she was being told off, and started to cry.

And yesterday on Question Time, Germaine Greer saw fit to brand little girls in sequined Jordan-pink jeans “tarts”.

Over the past week, lots of concerned adults have seen fit to speak on behalf of children, caught up in the grasping fear that they are all being sexualised beyond anyone’s control.

Reg Bailey, author of the Department for Education’s ‘Letting Children be Children‘, is baffled. He finds it hard to pin down any cause, admitting “it is far from clear how we arrived at this point”. It’s almost depressingly comical to watch commentators and journalists alike repeatedly stumble over and miss the root of this dilemma.

Parents everywhere are lamenting the loss of their children’s innocence, but I think it’s worth asking- lost innocence in who’s eyes? Children are not sexualising themselves. Adults are sexualising them by projecting adult morality on to them. More often than not, that adult sexual morality is entrenched in sexist ideals.

Sexist ideals dictate to us that the way a woman or girl dances must reflect how much sex she has had, or wants. Sexism tells us that women don’t just dance for dancing’s sake- like every other female action and endeavour; it’s orchestrated for the benefit of men. Because after all, isn’t that why we function?

What happens when you project your patriarchal adult moral ideals on to pre-pubescent bodies? The judging starts. Suddenly little girls are called whores, tarts, sluts.

Morality crusaders are quick to let us know that sex is all around us, and that sex sells. But that’s a lie. It’s not sex all around us, but the objectification and consequent marginalisation of women’s bodies, commodified into accessory status. But for some strange reason, nobody wants to talk about that.

It’s easier to wail about this sexualisation of our children, all the while colluding in the myth that all of these sexualising factors are immediately permissible once the girl in question turns eighteen.

Regulation and legislation will not fix this. Equality will. Free women from these narrow, suffocating gender-fascist ideals of appearance and behaviour, and the girls will follow.


Reni blogs here and tweets from here. A longer version of this article is here.

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Reader comments


This report on sexualisation of children is nothing more than attempt by the Coalition to distract attention from their cuts which will cause children far more damage than any video by Rihanna ever could.

Sexism tells us that women don’t just dance for dancing’s sake- like every other female action and endeavour; it’s orchestrated for the benefit of men. Because after all, isn’t that why we function?

I know, right! I mean, how could anyone think dry humping on stage was sexual? (Didn’t Marilyn Manson get arrested for doing that a while back?) And what kind of puritan thinks being forcibly stripped by a coupl’a prison guards, snogging an inmate and gyrating in a thong has sexual connotations?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a debate on how this stuff affects “da kids” but it’s silly to stand round going, “Sex? What sex?”

I almost literally couldn’t agree more.

BenSix: Rihanna and Lady Gaga are ADULTS, and no one is forced to watch them. They can do what they want. If children start to imitate their more extreme antics, they can be politely informed that it is not appropriate for them.

Fashion is normally a side issue. I think we’ve become very impatient as a society and both men and women are inclined to want everything now. I always find it interesting that the debate somehow assumes that sex is this thing that men do to women. It may only be a rumour but I’ve heard some women enjoy it too!!
http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/

Ben: X do Y.
Nick: X CAN do Y.
Ben: ?

It’s not, I think, a particularly controversial point. Much of our culture – pop music, the teevee – is more overtly sexual than a pink cucumber, and it’s silly to deny that that’s going to be influential.

That doesn’t mean I want to stride onstage, throw habits o’er their heads and force ’em to stand feet apart.

Couldn’t have written this article better myself. Exactly my thoughts on the topic, well said.

Ben, my point is that dressing up with high heels or wearing sequins is not anywhere near the same thing as deliberately simulating sex on-stage. There isn’t a spectrum of dressing “provocatively” towards simulating sex – wearing stuff has different meanings in different contexts. So the activities shouldn’t be elided, and they are only elided in the minds of some adults (children might just like the sequins and think high heels are cool for whatever reason).

Nick –

…wearing stuff has different meanings in different contexts…

Oh, fair point. I wouldn’t go along with the sort of people who see a girl playing with lipstick – or, in Greer’s case, somewhat perplexingly, kissing their father – and scream “harlot” in the tones of Helen Lovejoy. My point is more that if “we”‘re going to help the kids who do feel compelled to advertise their nascent libidos (and, considering the rates of teenage pregnancies n’ so forth, many clearly do) it’s silly to deny how over-the-top-edly sexual much of pop culture is.

(It’s hard to phrase the latter point without sounding like Peter Hitchens but I’m not sure it’s deniable. And not even sexual in an interesting way. Just like someone spiked the LA water mains with viagra.)

One minor point that might be relevant here, the fact that people seem to be assuming childhood is a definable and automatically innocent state. If childhood is taken to mean sexually immature (presumably the only viable definition in this debate) it still ignores the fact that sexually immature does not mean sexually unaware.

I also think we should perhaps point out the dangers of fetishising sexualisation and making it something forbidden – and therefore making sex a dangerous area. Surely that is the antithesis of sanity?

10. Mr S. Pill

Well thought-out OP, pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter as well.

11. the a&e charge nurse

“narrow, suffocating gender-fascist ideals of appearance and behaviour” – fascist ideals – is it really that bad?

And is it OK for daughters to give their Dad a goodnight kiss? – there have even been rumblings on Mumsnet over this controversial tradition.
http://www.netmums.com/coffeehouse/general-coffeehouse-chat-514/news-current-affairs-topical-discussion-12/590247-germaine-greer-question-time-flirting-daddy.html

A deliciously sane OP but why the continuing exclusive focus on clothing for young girls as though their sexualisation is the only issue?

What is the government proposing to do about this in terms of active and effective policy or is it just another of those prompted media distraction exercises to cover over the concerns about the failings of Osbornomics and bonuses for bankers who won’t deliver on the Merlin Project loan targets on additional loans for SME businesses?

What of paedophile abuse of young boys by Catholic priests or doesn’t that matter?What of whether violent video games promote aggressive behaviour by youth – as some academic research suggests?

Sexist ideals dictate to us that the way a woman or girl dances must reflect how much sex she has had, or wants. Sexism tells us that women don’t just dance for dancing’s sake- like every other female action and endeavour; it’s orchestrated for the benefit of men.

It’s not so much that, it’s more that the attitude is that is a woman enjoys sex she’s a bad person. In patriarchal societies[1] this is a bad thing because it gives a woman more autonomy, making her of less value to her owner (i.e. her father).

1. By which I mean societies that really are patriarchal, such as Saudi Arabia, where men have legal control over their adult daughters, as opposed to societies like Britain where they don’t.

14. Richard P

Aren’t there health reasons for avoiding high heels? If so, might we not wish to discourage young girls in the same way that we discourage other unhealthy activities?

@ Richard P
Believe me, I’ve tried. Thankfully she doesn’t wear them very often. Her shoes of choice are usually those kiddie crocs…

Very well said, especially regarding the sheer creepiness of people ranking children in terms of their whorishness.

@14 – Yes, but part of discouraging children from any dangerous behaviour is accepting that they may try it anyway and hurt themselves. See also hundreds of articles blaming modern society for wrapping children in cotton wool, being hysterical about the hysteria surrounding pedophilia, etc.

17. the a&e charge nurse

14 I remember my sister-in-law purchasing high heeled shoes for my niece, I think the whole outfit was supposed to be a Cinderella/princess character.
Children have been imitating adult behaviour forever, that’s how they learn and that’s where there is a crucial difference between the pretend play of my niece and some of the sexualized behaviour we now see. I doubt if the children fully understand the meaning of the behaviour, this comes as they get older, but much of it has been commercialized specifically to sell products.
I don’t know whether the products which encourage sexualized behaviour, or use it as a sales pitch, will have a harmful affect in the long-term, but I would suggest that it will play a large part in determining what those children think of themselves in adulthood.

@ the a&e charge nurse

That is terrifying!

steveb,

I don’t know whether the products which encourage sexualized behaviour, or use it as a sales pitch, will have a harmful affect in the long-term, but I would suggest that it will play a large part in determining what those children think of themselves in adulthood.

Why? You seem to be equating feelings of self-worth or identity with sexual behaviour, an equation which is normally meant to make people feel guilty about their sexual behaviours.

In fact, if people are less concerned with sexuality (in any aspect), surely the way in which we think of ourselves in adulthood will be less shaped by sexuality, which might just be considered like running or painting or something else that we do. The problem I see with the ‘sexualisation of children’ debate is it is assuming that sex is something bad, that should not be an open part of adult life (and therefore something children see and copy), but this position seems to be a lazy assumption, not a point of view established on any logic at all.

On high heels, for what it’s worth, pretty certain I walked around in them occaisionally as a child, because it’s the sort of thing children do (regardless of gender). Can’t say that was a sexualising experience of any sort though.

20
I’m not equating sexualized behaviour with feelings of self-worth, I don’t know which part of my post gives you that idea. My concerns are the commodification of behaviours to sell products, y’now like partially undressed women on car ads, or physically fit young men to sell aftershave.
Objectification does come into it and the sublime message is that you should be like this or that to succeed, my point is that it’s now being used on children who will model themselves on this.
Straw man agruments are one thing totally misquoting me on the basis of your own views, is totally another.,

22. Chaise Guevara

“And yesterday on Question Time, Germaine Greer saw fit to brand little girls in sequined Jordan-pink jeans “tarts”.”

Did she now? What an unpleasant human being. And I don’t think much of your fellow party-goer either.

I can understand why people get freaked out about this stuff, but it does seem that we’re projecting pretty hysterical fears onto kids who have no idea what the issue is. The list of clothes they want to ban is bizarre in places – underwear that’s the wrong colour (I suppose it’ll be red shoes next), and clothes with “gendered” writing on (it’s unclear whether that includes, say, a t-shirt for a baby with “It’s A Boy!” written on it).

Good article.

23. Charlieman

@9. Watchman: “I also think we should perhaps point out the dangers of fetishising sexualisation…”

An unfortunate assembly of two words at the end.

I thought tories did not believe in state interference.? And I thought that tories believed that it is the role of parents too decide about their children.

So what have we learned? apparently tories don’t trust parents. This has been another fascinating and hilarious insight into tory libertarianim.

25. Charlieman

@22. Chaise Guevara: “Did she now? What an unpleasant human being.”

Chaise, you don’t know enough about Greer. I’m too lazy to present an argument but here are a few words from Wikipedia:
“In 2003, The Beautiful Boy was published, an art history book about the beauty of teenage boys, which is illustrated with 200 photographs of what The Guardian called “succulent teenage male beauty”. Greer described the book as an attempt to address modern women’s apparent indifference to the teenage boy as a sexual object and to “advance women’s reclamation of their capacity for, and right to, visual pleasure” (Greer 2003). The photograph on the cover was of Björn Andrésen in his character of Tadzio in the film Death in Venice (1971). The actor has been quoted by journalists as complaining about the picture’s use.”

26. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 Charlieman

“Chaise, you don’t know enough about Greer.”

If she called those girls tarts, I think I’m justified in calling her unpleasant. I admit that her remarks could have been taken out of context, so my statement only stands insofar as they can be taken at face value.

I’m generally ambivalent about Greer herself. In person she seems quite, well, personable, but I’ve read some real nonsense written by her. She seems to be one of those people who’s always looking for something to be offended by. You know the old can’t-win situation: if men and women are treated differently, that’s sexist (in a way that automatically is more offensive to women than men); if men and women are treated the same, that’s women being expected to conform to masculinity.

Really good OP. I’m almost half inclined to say that those padded bras for young girls that make the likes of Jon Gaunt rage shouldn’t be such a big deal either.
I won’t go that far though, but dressing up and wanting to look like your older sister or mum even, is pretty innocent in the eyes of the person doing it. And we adults shouldn’t freak out about that. I remember in an Irish town several years ago, as the schools turned out, many of the girls were wearing their white socks high over the knee and had shortened their skirts, and I thought it was all rather sweet. No one paid them any notice, and it wasn’t really for adults to be looking at. Particularly guys like me as old as their fathers. Because it was a small country town in the west of Ireland, it felt that they were safe and it was of no consequence.

28. Chaise Guevara

@ 27 damon

With that in mind, I’m baffled as to why everyone thinks this is a new phenonemon. Kids always want to be adults, and girls have always upset their parents by wanting to wear short skirts etc. at an age younger than their parents are comfortable with.

There’s an argument to be had over whether or not a “good” parent lets their teenage daughter go out in a skimpy outfit, but it’s certainly not a new thing. When I was a teenager, my female friends would leave the house looking modest and then convert the outfit once their parents were out of sight.

As for getting freaked out because a young girl wants to wear the same thing as Britney when she’s too young to realise the implications… that’s ridiculous. They’re just emulating what they see as “cool”. By all means prevent them from doing it, but it’s not worth getting upset over.

Abolish the monarchy

Legalise and tax narcotics

31. Chaise Guevara

Implement the suggestions given by Cylux and Chris above

32. Chaise Guevara

(We appear to be engaged in synchronised trolling and should probably stop)

33. Charlieman

@26. Chaise Guevara: “I’m generally ambivalent about Greer herself.”

Me, I distrust her. Always. Eternally. She is not always wrong, but you could probably set a clock by her incorrectitude.

34. Chaise Guevara

@ 33 Charlieman

I misread you, I think: I thought you were defending Greer and using the quote about male attractiveness to prove that she’s totally right-on. I now suspect that the fact she was using pictures of *teenage* boys was supposed to be a hint in the other direction, but to be fair “teenage” could mean 13 or 19, and the implications are very different.

35. Chaise Guevara

@ Charlieman

“The photograph on the cover was of Björn Andrésen in his character of Tadzio in the film Death in Venice”

In retrospect, I also should have paid much more attention to this reference, given the book’s subject matter.

36. Charlieman

@34. Chaise Guevara: “I misread you, I think…”

No fret. I have never felt threatened by Ms Greer either, but I think that she is dismissive of male sexuality when she, as an older woman, gawps and thinks: “Is that all there is?” A winky on a Michelangelo.


Is all that all there is?

Lieber und Stoller. Peggy Lee. There is always much more beauty than contracts deliver.

37. badstephen

@24 Sally

You point out the intellectual incoherence at the heart of Conservatism.

The party of small government tells us that legislation and regulation cannot solve problems like poverty, workers’ exploitation, you know, stuff they don’t really give a toss about. But when you get an issue that the right does actually care about, the solution is…more legislation and regulation.

There have been two examples this week. That de facto Tory Vince Cable warned the unions to behave or to face yet more rules and restrictions governing ballots. Surely a genuine small government would leave labour and capital to fight it out on a level playing field. No-one insists on a turn-out threshold for boardroom votes.

Secondly, there has been this utterly pointless knee-jerk reaction to the Mail’s hot flushes over X Factor. OK, so you ban Tesco from selling padded bras? What next, a law to stop girls making their own tissue and cotton wool padding, as they have done for decades?

The issue bears out once again Marx’s point about the incompatibility of traditional family values with market capitalism. The sex industry is one of the few unqualified beneficiaries of the last 30 years of neoliberal lunacy. Mrs Thatcher inadvertently made the pornographer Paul Raymond the richest man in Britain. If the right is genuinely concerned about the sex industry then, yes, the answer is Government action – but it is Government action to improve the life choices facing impoverished young women.

good!thank you for sharing


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation http://bit.ly/ivsojD

  2. Reni Eddo-Lodge

    Me on @libcon (shorter version) Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qpwc2vT

  3. Stuart Connick

    Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation http://bit.ly/ivsojD

  4. Olly Treen

    @ShortyMcStompy Don't know whether you've seen this? http://t.co/cI6PKNM

  5. eva destruktion

    Me on @libcon (shorter version) Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qpwc2vT

  6. Lauren Reid

    Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy by @renireni http://t.co/JPqzAVR via @libcon

  7. Little Emma

    Good article about the "sexualisation" of kids RT @ohnoitsollyt: @ShortyMcStompy Don't know whether you've seen this? http://j.mp/iwtmaK

  8. Mark Townsend

    'Leave them kids alone': Some excellent points on the sexualisation of children. http://t.co/eo23TZ2 via @libcon & @renireni

  9. sunny hundal

    Me on @libcon (shorter version) Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qpwc2vT

  10. sunny hundal

    Me on @libcon (shorter version) Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qpwc2vT

  11. Rothley Pillowcase

    Me on @libcon (shorter version) Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qpwc2vT

  12. Phil McDuff

    Link: Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation http://j.mp/jaFX45

  13. Ros Ball

    Me on @libcon (shorter version) Leave them kids alone: on sexualisation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qpwc2vT

  14. Leave them kids alone: On sexualisation « No comment

    […] A shorter version of this post is available on Liberal Conspiracy […]





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