Sexualisation in the city

24 Sep


This extended stay in the city has brought me into much closer proximity with many more human beings than is normally the case, living as I do in a tiny village in a rainforest girt by sea and the mighty Clarence river.

Even living at Bondi Beach doesn’t do as much as one might imagine to relieve the constant pressure of humanity and its leavings, given the domination of buildings and people overwhelming the landscape, but even so I’d rather be here than inland.

Sometimes at home, sitting in my feckin Swedish chair in my peaceful work room from which at night I can hear the sea, I wondered if the entire sexualisation of women and girls moral panic might be passing me by, simply because I didn’t see enough. I was protected from intrusive advertising in public spaces, and most of all, from the observation of women and girls in great numbers going about their daily lives dressed as they saw fit.

Perhaps it’s because Bondi, but there’s a lot of very tiny very tight shorts  about. What I think when I see them is oh my gods, that must hurt you are cutting off the blood supply your lady bits will atrophy what about thrush there’s no air in there doesn’t it chafe when you move…and then I remember in my twenties and thirties lying flat on my back on my bed so I could zip up jeans that sat just as snugly. I remember wearing very short skirts and midriff tops even in a London winter. I remember a period of shoe fetish when I teetered about on stilettos holding babies, a practice that ought to be forbidden for the babies’ sakes. It was fun. It was costuming. But it wasn’t “sexualising.” “Sexualising” was what was done to me as a child through sexual abuse.  There is a world of difference.

There’s a good piece on what sexualisation is and isn’t here by Ray at the Novel Activist blog.

Young women in revealing clothing are not “sexualising” themselves.  They may indeed wish to look sexy. Whether they succeed or not is entirely in the eye of the beholder but the desire to look sexually attractive is perfectly normal for a young woman. How she performs her sexual power is largely dictated by the dominant social customs of the day, and I don’t think those customs have changed dramatically in the last few decades. They remain as restricted and unimaginative as ever.

To the moral campaigners a display of flesh signifies their concept of  a prostitute, and to them, there’s little worse than a prostitute. They fail to see that displaying flesh is not automatically offering that flesh for sale or use, and in their failure, they mimic the consciousness of rapists and sexual abusers. Healthy people don’t assume that a young girl wearing short shorts is offering herself for sex. Healthy people know there’s a good deal more involved in navigating a sexual encounter than mere apparel, and they know that mutual and agreement are the key words, no matter what a woman is wearing.

What the moral campaigners want is that women take responsibility for controlling male sexual desire by not provoking it with our flesh. They’d be more useful if instead they put their considerable energies to work in campaigns that focus on educating boys to become men who take responsibility for their own sexual desires, and how they enact and gratify them.

If it is true that young women feel obliged to sexually service young men to a degree previously unheard of, then surely we need to be better educating our boys in sexual manners, rather than wringing our hands about our girls’ short shorts.

Sex is everywhere and why that should surprise anyone I don’t know. It is a powerful, dominating human force. Of course it is everywhere. Of course the majority of humanity is interested in sex. Of course sex sells. Of course women and men want to be sexually attractive. I mean, get over it.

In my utopia we’d be educating girls and boys about sex at school and at home as soon as they showed an interest. We’d be preparing them for the overwhelming nature of sexual feelings and emotions. We’d be accepting the role sex plays in our own lives and passing that acceptance on to our young, and we’d be doing it without guilt and shame.

Covering the female body is not going to achieve a thing. The campaigners are very noisily barking up the wrong tree, and from what I can see around me, nobody much is listening to them.


36 Responses to “Sexualisation in the city”

  1. Ray (novelactivist) September 24, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Thanks for the link Jennifer. You might also like this Dr Michael Carr-Gregg making a fool of himself yet again. Yes folks, fabric prints can sexualise girls!


  2. helvityni September 24, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    As people are getting bigger and bigger all over the world, I’m worried that we will not have enough fabric for even for shortest of shorts, mini-est of the skirts…may we’ll end up with just a loin cloth and those Hawaiian style skirts made of grass or something….


    • Hypocritophobe September 24, 2012 at 9:47 am #

      ..and the plants will wither and die in the shade of their enormous shadows…

      We might run out of air to inflate all the tyres to cope with the extra load!
      And imagine the greenhouse gases produced in digging them giant holes when we bury them.
      (It will have to be done by diesel guzzling behemoths!)

      I wonder if the new race of bloatoids will wear leopard skin trackie dacks?


  3. helvityni September 24, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    …my second laugh today, first pithomne, and now you Hypo…my Jack Russell looks up puzzled.


  4. Sam Jandwich September 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    “…campaigns that focus on educating boys to become men who take responsibility for their own sexual desires, and how they enact and gratify them.”

    Yes! But they would first need to establish how to do this effectively, given the markedly different forms of sexual politics we see in the under-23s these days. Can we trust these people to look impartially at such an evidence base and develop responsible approaches that don’t just point out how dirty and disgusting men’s sexual desire is?

    I just think, rosaries and ovaries are never going to sit well together, so I expect this will be a constant battle.

    Still, isn’t it all such good fun!-)


  5. Ray (novelactivist) September 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    “If it is true that young women feel obliged to sexually service young men to a degree previously unheard of, …”

    I’m not sure that’s true. I used to think that was the case until an assertive younger woman assured me that, at least in her circle, women were expecting a lot from their men.

    I think there may be sub-cultures – with some retreating to macho behaviour, but with others being much more open and relaxed; and fluid. With more men prepared to explore gender options, bisexuality, etc. Then there is the phenomenon of the ‘fuck buddy’ and the ‘booty call’. Friends you can call if you feel lonely or horny but don’t want to form a ‘relationship’.

    I think it is related to class and how progressive the parents are. I’ve met some remarkably mature and sensitive young men and some sexually assertive young women.

    I rather suspect that this is what really scares the conservatives – boys and girls who break out of the narrow stereotypes.


    • Hypocritophobe September 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

      “I rather suspect that this is what really scares the conservatives – boys and girls who break out of the narrow stereotypes.”

      I think you can safely add ‘envy’ to that list, Ray.
      Plenty of “I wish it were me’s”, too stuck up to admit it.


      • Ray (novelactivist) September 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

        Yes, I agree. Much of this is about controlling women. That is, other women controlling women – with envy playing a role.


  6. Ray (novelactivist) September 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    “In my utopia we’d be educating girls and boys about sex at school and at home as soon as they showed an interest. We’d be preparing them for the overwhelming nature of sexual feelings and emotions. We’d be accepting the role sex plays in our own lives and passing that acceptance on to our young, and we’d be doing it without guilt and shame.”

    Yep, that’s my utopia too. Especially the bit about preparing them for the emotional roller coaster. Teach them emotional intelligence.


    • Sam Jandwich September 25, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      Er, would it be inappropriate to say that my utopia would be really quite singularly different from this 🙂


  7. Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Did sex just get invented?


    • Hypocritophobe September 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      No,it’s just that the BACWAs have rediscovered it, and now want to control it with church approved guidelines so it can licensed and then outlawed for non-monagomous,unmarried heteros and non-hetero’s.The licensed sex practitioners will have a sex diary and sex will be limited to baby production,to keep the BACWA population on the rise.
      It’s to stop non-BACWAs from enlisting quadrupeds and vegetables as sex slaves.
      Ask Bernardi et al.

      Also remember this,if the clothing ( and or the animals stripes or spots) does not suppress sexual desire (which should be reflected on the product label) the wearer is obviously either a slut or a potential victim of rape, and it is all the fault of big retail.

      Kind of head spinning, isn’t it?


      • September 24, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

        Didn’t they used to put trousers on the legs of chairs and pianos in the Victorian era while the gentlemen were out shagging anything that moved?


  8. hudsongodfrey September 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Well first I guess we have to say that it describes behaviour that for the most part seems to have most to do with how people respond and interact with culture. How they dress, what music the listen to who they choose as role models etc. Without cultural context as such it makes no more sense for us to worry about whether young girls in Bondi go about topless than it does to tribes in parts of Africa or South America. Something about that idea seems to me that it might be interpreted in different ways.

    One is to say that the difference between Western and some tribal cultures as far as either sexualisation or sexual availability goes are negligible even if some of the cultural signals are different.

    Another is to say that sexualisation and signals for sexual availability are set within a cultural context, and therefore that a standard of appropriateness has to exist.

    I think both of the above are true and that they don’t contradict simply because they’re about different kinds of things. The problem of course with sexual appropriateness is that it can mean anything from saying we abhor rape or experience sexual jealousy to an ultra-conservative position that tends towards limiting sex to procreation only. But I think we do have a cultural context for it, and that a separation between attraction and permission is pretty much a constant in the reasoning for why people have concerns about the appropriateness of certain behaviour. But this is also a concern that it is important to address by acknowledging that understanding the difference between attraction and permission isn’t optional. It’s the kind of knowledge that as adults we’re required, often by law, and encouraged, usually by social pressures, to respect with very good reason.

    Going on Ray’s definition of sexualisation as taken from the APA report the idea seems to be that we can be sexualised to be either overtly sexual, or to adopt certain stereotypes, perhaps even by repressing sexual behaviour. In fact it is widely acknowledged that we humans are sexual beings, so we’re probably all sexualised one way or another, often by choice as part of our sexual development. What is criticised is only that which is imposed rather than expressed naturally. So when Collective Shout et al use the term in sexualisation, connection with their ideas of what is appropriate, their real failure in my view is where things like “slut shaming” are condoned on a justification that fails to separate attraction from permission. If nothing else is clear here then that separation is the one thing that reliably delineates the inadvertent from the deliberate act of sexual “inappropriateness”.

    We’re also averse to taking on unwelcome assertions that somebody else’s view is uniformly right even if they do claim to have our best interests at heart. The cultural definitions of sexual appropriateness are far too wide ranging for “sexualisation” to be argued as if these assertions hold universal truths anyway, and to go so far as to say that sex might lead to dancing (or was that the other way around), is to propose at least one unsupported conclusion in a way that takes a very dim view of dancing (or sexualisation), often for no really good reason.

    Whatever the case banning clothing deemed to be inappropriately sexy can only have a deleterious on some other form of sexualisation (a view to purity perhaps) that is neither here nor there in relation to some vague assertion that sexiness is in any way like a gateway drug to sexual assault of any kind or at any age. To say that it is not just slut shaming, it’s embodying it with an implicit grant of permission to offenders. And that’s where the actual line of sexual appropriateness can and should be drawn, against somebody else messing with the rights of others to negotiate theirs’ or their children’s sexuality according to their own informed choices as opposed to being forced to live in a society that puts us all in their little gilded cage and tells us it’s for our protection.


    • Ray (novelactivist) September 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      The problem is with the term sexualisation. This used to be called sexual socialisation. In which case, all children are socialised into the sexual norms of their society and/or sub-culture (ethnic, religious, socio-economic).

      What this is really about is the old conflict over what those norms should be.


      • hudsongodfrey September 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

        Thanks Ray,

        I guess if I’m going around in circles a bit then it is because my interest is in focusing on what I’m quite sure it shouldn’t be even if I’m not as sure that I’m articulating it very well.

        I don’t know if those who’ve looked at these ideas longer and more closely than I will think I’m getting at the right reasons why I think groups like Collective Shout aren’t supplying the right answers. It would seem too simple to say that solutions which favour prudishness are wrong because…. and then just list what we don’t like about prudishness. In my opinion these norms don’t just exist because of likes and dislikes, there has to be reasons as to how cultures vary, and choices that these point to about why we’d want to change ours.

        The other interesting thing about organisations like Collective Shout is that while they give a very good reason for wanting change, claiming that it is to stop abuse or sexual assault, but then they propose a solution that seems transparently tacked onto a preference for a certain kind of social norm rather than working backwards from the crime to the motive with an open mind. Yet it seems to many that their intuition could be right in part perhaps because society does reinforce certain norms. So in order to effectively gainsay their concerns we’re made to work fairly hard against their social conditioning in order to persuade people to change their minds about the nexus between their use of sexualisation and slut shaming.


        • Ray September 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

          I have no doubt that some in CS have been misled. The problem lies with some key people who have interpreted sexualisation to mean sexual. It’s easily done. It must also be remembered that MTR came to the issue late – beginning her life as an anti-abortion activist and then an anti-porn activist. Thus she defines sexualisation to mean inappropriately sexual and makes a link between pornification and sexualisation.

          It’s just that this isn’t what the APA report says. Not that it is all that clear anyway.

          The central problem is ‘objectification’ and the internalisation of external pressure to conform to an ‘imposed’ ideal. If the external ideal conflicts with the individual’s authentic self, then this will cause stress, trauma and all the consequences of low self-esteem (poor body image, self-doubt, etc).

          It can cut many ways. If a naturally asexual person is pressured to act in a sexual way then that will cause conflict. Similarly, if a naturally sexual person is pressured to suppress their sexuality, same results. Or, if a LGBTI person is pressured to conform to heterosexual norms, same results. Which is why so many gay kids suffer depression.

          The problem is that MTR and co, expect girls to conform to a conservative, good girl stereotype. They do not acknowledge any child who exists outside that narrow norm. I have never seen MTR or CS speak up for LGBTI kids – ever. No doubt these kids would be told they were not good role models.


          • hudsongodfrey September 26, 2012 at 9:47 am #

            Thanks Ray,

            Yes the LGBTI thing is a great insight into the real differences we have in thinking about sexualisation as the APA correctly uses the term and the cultural construct that CS are referring to. I struggle not to call it prudishness for lack of a better word because I know that is taken as an epithet, and I do think that their rhetoric is a somewhat more sophisticated than that, but I suspect they’re nevertheless attracting a cadre of followers whose tendencies lean towards that sensibility.


            • Ray (novelactivist) September 26, 2012 at 10:01 am #

              When you listen closely enough to their language then you hear that they are concerned about the sexualisation of society in general.

              I think prude is a fair term. It’s the same old, same old ‘moral’ concern. Only this time they believe that this sexualisation causes demonstrable, objective harm and they use the APA report as evidence. Except that the APA report doesn’t take a moral stand and the Scottish report clearly warns that moral conservatives have hijacked the sexualisation debate.

              In fact the Scottish report points out that there have been a couple of moral panics over the sexualisation of children in the past and this is just a return to the same debate.

              Their real concern is the social impact of the sexual revolution.


              • hudsongodfrey September 26, 2012 at 11:30 am #

                Yes well the sexual revolution is a big subject. It can be viewed as the extension of a longer arc of social progress, but also I think more recently as embracing medical advances that have allowed us to control both disease and fertility far better.

                You would have thought on the descriptions I gave earlier of cultural context for sexually appropriate behaviour that social change would have been more uniformly impacted by the sexual revolution. After all means to take advantage of sexual hygiene products and contraceptives are by no means denied anyone.

                It does seem that it requires an instrument of resistance to social change in order for these misgivings about the sexual revolution to persist. And the obvious one is religion, making a critique of most of our religious institution’s attitudes to sex being hardly even necessary. Yet the attitudes of CS, while they neither explicitly support any given church nor deny their faith, are it seems argued from anything but an overtly religious kind of thinking. Either they say that this is a social construct that they simply don’t like in a visceral kind of way that they can’t explain, or that there are real reasons not to like it as relate to human well-being.

                Far from believing that the kind of reasons and research they quote are valid what I guess I’m concerned about is how and why we can say so. We can certainly look at their theories and to the extent that they’re falsifiable poke holes in them, rather successfully. But when it comes to something other than a visceral sense that we’re right but which we can’t explain then I’m not as sure as I’d like to be. The question becomes, is liking the social impact of the sexual revolution enough?


                • Hypocritophobe September 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

                  Ananolgy:”If it aint broke….”

                  The ‘social’ engineers,CS et al, are telling us it’s broke and so it must be fixed.
                  The problem is no-one has seen their engineering qualifications, their license/registration documentation or any of the formal engineering reports(as supported by their independent engineering peers).

                  Like you,I am not convinced ‘it’s’ broke.Until we have some reason to rebuild/renovate/demolish,I vote they stay well away from our precious foundations.


                • Ray (novelactivist) September 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

                  The religious suspicion of sex still runs deep in society. The sexual revolution has been uneven.


  9. doug quixote September 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Vis a vis the discussion between HG, Ray and Hypo : the control of sexuality, and in particular female sexuality, is at the heart of all religions. The raising of children to share the values and beliefs of their parents is critical. As the Jesuits say,

    “Give me the child until he is
    seven and I care not who has him thereafter.”

    The control of education at primary level and the influences on the weenies through advertising TV etc are the critical areas. If the religious are to dominate the debates as they would like, they seek inexorably to control the education of young children.

    That is the real battlefield.


    • Hypocritophobe September 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

      And if you see how slanted the BACWAs are towards the child side of the womens/girls trough, and education, that is exactly what the plan is.
      Add school chaplaincy, willing governments implementing their policies(both majors), political lobbying,senate submissions,online petitions,etc, etc.and the feet are well and truly in the door.

      And still we have deafening silence on the matter of a parent who dared to challenge Hetty Johnston’s B/Hearts position, and why the 2 relevant stories at the ABC were given such short shrift.

      Don’t worry DQ the kids are locked into the cross hatches of conservative Christian control freaks.


      • Ray September 26, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

        Hetty Johnston’s position on what pray tell? She’s another dark figure.


        • hudsongodfrey September 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

          Yes well Hetty, in assuming the mantle of oracle to tell people how they’re expected to raise their children, attempts an otherwise socially unacceptable intrusion into family life. She is in my view overzealous in advancing the pretext that it is necessary to protect children from abuse. Which is to say that we’ve managed to give ourselves such permission to hate the crime of child sexual abuse that any claim no matter how baseless is scarcely questioned if it seems sincerely to hold out the hope of effective protection against it.

          Even the law presumes innocence, but in her case it is difficult to justify the degree to which she wants to peremptorily “raise awareness” at the expense of belaying our suspicions in the absence of evidence.

          The common thread shared with anti-porn campaigners and other sexual conservatives is the presumed knowledge of what is best for others, and thus the assumed imprimatur of moral superiority.

          And yes Hypo, all this and more might have appeared in the ABC website if only they hadn’t shut down the comments prematurely.


        • Hypocritophobe September 27, 2012 at 12:20 am #


          She did a comeback which closed with under 40 comments I think,


          • Ray (novelactivist) September 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

            I see, well Hetty is an amateur and somewhat paranoid. Fortunately more professional organisations are forcing groups like Bravehearts to tone down the fear mongering. The child abuse ‘industry’ is recovering from a period of serious craziness.


    • hudsongodfrey September 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

      Sure Doug, but religion is theoretically in the background to the substance of what is being argued by the advocates like CS of arguments to the effect that sexualisation refers to an evil we need to protect our young from. They’re not making theological arguments in any direct sense, and nor is it necessarily that case that their supporters are more particularly drawn to implied religiosity than a reflection of their own socially conditioned attitudes towards sexuality.

      I think Ray’s right in saying that the sexual revolution isn’t some kind of universal social constant. But nor am I a believer in the notion that morality requires divine authority. I suspect the social values anti “sexualisation” campaigners are concerned with probably reflect something else that either comes from deeper within our social history, or is perhaps even respond to some evolutionary logic. Either way as preferences go they’re every bit as valid as the preference others have for sexual liberation. Which is to say just about equally valid but by no means authoritative when it comes to telling other people how to conduct their lives.


      • doug quixote September 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

        They can have their morality; but they want to impose it upon everyone else, that is the heart of it.

        The banning and censoring wowser agenda.


        • hudsongodfrey September 27, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

          Yes I agree, but it isn’t that simple. The question is about what they want to ban and why.

          If the object of their ire was murder on the definition that we all understand and agree to under the law, then the claim would be utterly uncontroversial, as indeed it is, which is why the subject just doesn’t come up. Nobody who has the slightest instinct for self preservation is going to justify murder.

          But what they want to ban instead are expressions of sexuality that they think are bad and link to harm in a rather vague way. It seems that guilt by association with distaste is enough to justify anything. The fact is that some share their distaste and others do not, either because they have opposite tastes or just empathise with their concerns to various lesser degrees. So their attempts to impose measures that restrict others’ enjoyment of their preferences would be one clear reason for controversy about their agenda when their reasoning is unsound.

          I’m not sure in that light whether we wouldn’t be as happy to defend our preferences for sexual liberation once the matter of unsound reasoning is settled. Doing otherwise or simply condemning their campaigns out of hand don’t present a vastly better case than they do if we simply agree on the negatives. There are just too many more positives about what we prefer to fail to mention them.


          • Ray September 28, 2012 at 7:26 am #


            It can be settled by stating that matters of taste are personal. They are free to dislike whatever they wish, so long as they tolerate others liking what they dislike.


            • hudsongodfrey September 28, 2012 at 10:45 am #

              Sure Ray, I agree. If we’re able to demonstrate that it just comes down to taste as I think we probably are, then on one level we ought to be saying “choose your own adventure”, but I kind of feel that since others seem intent upon limiting our choices, then reminding people of what they’d be missing might be appropriate.

              For example I got riled at one of the Articles on the ABC Religion site and Dashed off something that Russell Blackford was unsurprisingly able to vastly improve upon…


              Little wonder that the likes of Ms Reist and her CS cadre don’t want to engage. These kinds of defences of the sexual revolution are to my mind eviscerating of their agenda.

              My far from perfectly crafted example was among the quickest and easiest things I’ve ever had occasion to write, and maybe it shows. Surely I’m far from unique in saying we basically have a command of this knowledge and can bring it forth instantaneously. It ain’t rocket surgery to know that our lives are enriched in a number of ways that religion and their colleagues at arms length want to lay ruin to. What I loved about Catherine Manning’s contribution and the whole Slutwalk campaign was taking ownership of something we’re often cowed into timidity by. It’s fun, liberating and ought in my view to happen more often 🙂


  10. hudsongodfrey October 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    How do we tell these people that they have the question wrong? There seems to be a very poor basal assumption here that being a slut or a “little tramp” is something to be ashamed of!


    • Hypocritophobe October 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      By the time the comments section is closed,you will see what mentality you are trying to sway HG.
      Not pretty.

      Skank is in the eye of the beholder.It is strange how having one child automatically endows some writers with an all-knowing insight into all children,all parents,all corporations.More than one child and they become Gods of knowledge in their own mind.If the kids are all female they attain omnipotence X infinity.

      And according to the author Gillard must be a highly erotic and desirable sex kitten.
      “There is not a sphere of life where being sexy is not the ultimate achievement of a woman, nor a place where how she looks is not the most important thing about her,” Dr Smith says.

      Another gob doing the the women girl $$$ trough circuit and full of shit as per usual.


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