Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Sexy Kids

By Euclides Montes @Gatulino

Last week one of the strangest occurrences took place in my household: David Cameron came on whilst I was watching the evening news to talk about something and just as my partner was getting ready to stop me from throwing my shoes at the TV again whilst foaming at the mouth and shouting expletives, she actually found me nodding along to what the Etonian darts-lover had to say. And although it would be difficult not to agree with him on this one at face value, my ponderings this week have been giving it a good go anyway.

The issue out of which he was trying to build policies was what he called the ‘sexualisation of children’ from an early age. You know, giving little babies t-shirts with sexually explicit words on them, allowing young girls to wear padded bras or listen to Lilly Alen. That kind of thing. And that’s why I say that, at face value, it’d be difficult not to agree with him. I’m sure not many of us would like others to see our children as sexual beings and even more, we’d prefer our kids to feel free to be children for as long as they want before getting entangled in complicated world of sexual politics.

This was made clear to me a few months back at my nephew’s birthday when a similar issue came up. My partner and I [childless] bought him for his 3rd birthday the most beautiful miniature Arsenal kit. As he proceeded to put him on, I could see the other [child-bearing] guests dropping their humus-covered carrot sticks disapprovingly as we ran around playing in the playground. But you could see their point. Parents perhaps shouldn’t bring their own habits, likes and beliefs into their kid’s lives. In an ideal world, they should grow up in a well grounded environment where they’ll have enough tools to make their own decisions on their own. So whether it is an Arsenal kit or an ‘I’m a future WAG’ t-shirt, adults shouldn’t be providing children with these adulthood entrapments that could define their lives, right?

Well, not quite really. Childhood in itself is defined by a constant lack of self-awareness that leads to scraped knees, broken windows and that general sense of ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuck-ness’ that kids possess. Just by wearing an Arsenal kit, my nephew is not guaranteed to be an Arsenal supporter when he grows up. Heck, it doesn’t even guarantees he likes football! By that same token, allowing little girls to sing along to Rude Boy won’t necessarily define their lives and ensure that when they get old they become, erm, singers*.

So, what does this mean? Is this simply the politicisation of children-wear? Not really. I think that it’d be a far too harsh assessment on Mr Cameron’s words. I believe some of these concerns are very real and we need to be talking about them more often. But I don’t believe that moving to ban pre-teen magazines and chase the bib-making industries is the way forward? Surely it’s better for kids to be prepared for their adult lives by not being patronised and instead take control of the conversation? I don’t know about you but sexual-related stories welcomed me when I joined primary school and I believe that maybe I’d like to know what myths and facts my kids are picking up? And who should be in charge of that? Do we really want the government taking the lead? My gut feeling is that the responsibility for this one should land right on the parent’s laps. However, I reckon I could be persuaded.

Or maybe I’m really missing the point. By thinking that kids are either unaware or uninterested in the connotations of Rihanna’s song, I’m doing the argument a disservice and I should really be worrying a bit more about it?

*Particularly telling that coverage of this particular item of news focused almost entirely on ‘girls growing up too fast’ and I didn’t really see the sexualisation of boys covered anywhere. Hmm… I don’t have enough space here to run on one of my feminist rants now though so if you picked up on this as well, drop a comment below!

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  1. Hmmmm. I believe that the sexualisation of children is perhaps consumerist capitalism's greatest scandal. Essentially the act of redefining childhood to suit the homogeneous tastes and products churned out by an insatiable market. Adults are infantilised while children are sexualised, so that both mother and daughter can wear the same "I give blow jobs for sausages" top (or whatever the kids are wearing these days. What a bloody insult.

    We need to teach our young people the importance of autonomous identity. How? No idea.

    Nice ponderings.

  2. Kids are sexual but without any particular gaol orientation and early cultural socialisation is intended to ensure overt sexual displays are checked until an approriate age. This 'sexualisation' of young girls, which I presume means endowing them with potentially active sexual attributes, violates that pattern. Questionable adult behaviour is transposed, redefined reproduced in young malleable girls, providing a lucrative market and a firm affirmation of sexual exploitation.

    Yes the argument usually focuses on girls growing up too fast because girls in general don't have access to the sexual, masturbating circles of freedom that boys are more likely to enjoy. The double standards of prudish or sluttish behaviour attributed to young women aren't applied to young men in the same way. For boys sexual behaviour can remain contained within their group, girls are constantly challenged with impossible images of feminine beauty, willfully flaunted.

    And Euclides, have you ever tried to buy some clothes for a little girl that is not pink?

    Mothers need to stop buying all this stuff.

  3. There's a feature about this on right now on The One Show :)