Below is an excellent and interesting critique of the recent announcement by Dave (Cameron) et al that said that we need to halt the over-sexualisation of our young girls. Dave et al are backing several proposals (from a Christian organisation, it’s worth noting) that aim to protect children from sexual imagery (e.g., by selling top shelf magazines in brown sleeves). In predictable Tory fashion, Dave said that such change is about "social responsibility, not state control". The conservatives are always keen to giveth autonomy with one hand and to very quickly taketh it away with the other. Whether it’s their plan or not, any measures introduced to combat over-sexualisation of young people will, inevitably, result in greater state control. But that’s an aside (for now).
Now, don’t get me wrong – over-sexualisation of young girls is a very serious issue and is unavoidably an aspect of our patriarchal objectification and sexualisation of women, and the impossible centrality of their physical appearance (they must be attractive but not too attractive because that’s inaccessible, they must be thin but not too thin because that’s emaciated, they must be curvy but not too curvy because that’s slutty and/ or fat, they must be lightly dressed but not too lightly dressed because that’s also slutty, etc. etc.) In short, they must be perfect but not too perfect because then they’d never bang you. These norms are communicated to our young people everywhere they look, alongside the image of women as (available and willing) sex objects. So, should we do something about all of this? Yes, we absolutely should. Though we should be honest about it. If it’s about addressing the issue of pervasive sexual imagery and messages, that’s one thing; if it’s a cover for something else entirely, though, then we have a whole new problem. Laura Woodhouse from the f-word unpicks what is really going on with this conservative policy.
… the real problem with thongs and padded bras being marketed at young girls and pop culture being defined by women writhing around half naked is that it encourages children and teenagers to have sex.
For these right-wing, often conservative Christian types, the commercialised vision of sex being thrust in kids' faces is dangerous because their view of "normal" has no place for anything other than sex between one man and one woman, bound together for life, who are willing to accept the tiny wee bundle of a consequence that may result. Sex for pleasure, sex outside relationships, sex that results in abortion - any sexual activity that deviates from their norm - is a sinful, threatening act that tears another rip in the moral fabric of a fading social order they are doing their darnedest to resurrect. This kind of sex is dark and dirty, while children are pure and innocent. By bringing the sinful world of sex into childhood, we defile our children.
So is it about saving our children’s innocence, protecting them from the horrid world of the patriarchy, and teaching them that they don’t have to subscribe to these messages? Or is it just that the right-wingers don’t want anyone (apart from a happily married man and woman) having sex? I’m inclining towards Woodhouse’s argument. Nadine Dorries, for example, is notoriously anti-abortion. By and large, if I may generalise, anti-abortionists are also anti-non-marital, non-procreative, sex-for-the-hell-of-it sex. But here’s the rub: sex is “normal”, teenage sex is “normal”, teenagers are horny little rascals, teenagers are walking frickin’ sexers. Teens have been having sex for as long as anyone’s been having sex. Teenagers living in a vacuum would still have sex.
Yes, girls need to know that they don’t have to be anything for anyone, that they don’t have to do anything for anyone, that the messages they see every day present a patriarchal view to which they do not have to subscribe, but if Dave’s new bandwagon is about preventing sex and little else, then the conservatives are once again barking up the wrong tree.