Tag Archives: sexualisation

Sexualise this

5 Aug

leopard print cardigan

 

I’ve just read a piece in The Conversation titled: Sexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

Who defines what constitutes sexualisation, and using what criteria?

Examples from the article: Highly sexualised clothing (a short dress and a leopard print cardigan) or a girl in a black bikini.

To the authors of this article a short dress combined with a leopard print cardigan is a signifier of a sexually easy female, and thus highly inappropriate when worn by a young girl.

I would not view any young girl wearing these garments (or any other garments for that matter) as a sexualised object. Would you?

If your answer is yes I think there might be something slightly askew in your perceptions, and you might like to ask yourself not why the young girl is wearing those outfits, but why you see her as a sex object because of them.

If as a consequence of perceiving that young girl as “sexualised” you decide she is less morally worthy and of lesser intelligence, you probably should ask yourself why, in your moral universe, a “sexualised” female (young or mature) is less worthy of moral consideration and inevitably of lesser intelligence, than a female you perceive as free from sexualisation.

In other words, why do you hold those views, and where do they come from? Are they any different from the views held by, say, racists? Are they even, perhaps, a tad misogynist?

The sexualisation debate as represented in The Conversation article is warped. Research criteria are based on the assumed authority of a male-centered gaze, introjected by women, that continues to define female sexuality in terms of how much flesh we display and the manner in which we choose to display it or clothe it. This bias remains unacknowledged and unquestioned, and ought itself to be the subject of investigation.

Somewhere in our history there developed the notion that women who are open about our sexual desire and the expression of our sexuality are correspondingly brain-dead, and undeserving of moral consideration. It’s from these notions the concepts of sexualisation and objectification evolve, not from anything women do or wear.

Obviously the signifiers of objectification and sexualisation vary with fashion and culture: a modest 2016 swimsuit would have caused its wearer to be objectified as less than morally human in 1816. The point surely must be that we have not evolved beyond our need to define ourselves as moral beings against women and girls identified as less worthy, because they are pejoratively perceived as overtly sexual, sexualised or objectified.

Concepts of sexualisation and objectification are constructed concepts and as such fluid, always open to interrogation and contestation. They are not a given, and they do not come from any transcendental exteriority. Because Collective Shout or anyone else declares a garment objectifying does not make it so.

Nothing can make a child a sexualised object other than the warped perception of an adult. As we know to our cost, warped adult perceptions of children as sex objects are rampant, and to be found in our most esteemed institutions.  If you choose to view children through that warped perception there is, in my opinion, something unexamined in your thinking.

The fact that some adults care less about the welfare of women and girls they consider sexualised and objectified seems to my mind a much more urgent topic for investigation than chain stores selling pole dancing kits and Playboy stationery. To draw an equivalence between female sexuality and worthiness is warped reasoning, and that so many people in our society do this is cause for serious alarm.

The problem lies not with the sexualisation or objectification of young girls and women. It lies with unexamined attitudes to female sexuality, fear of female sexuality, and the ongoing desire to control female sexuality. If you are seeing children as sexualised and objectified have a good look at your beliefs about female sexuality, because you are likely part of the problem, not of the solution.

 

 

 

 

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Reist, porn and sexualisation.

11 Dec

Porn-Its-Cheaper-than-dating

 

For a long time now, I’ve wondered how Melinda Tankard Reist is able to conduct her extensive and lengthy campaign against the “sexualisation” of girls, without addressing the sexual abuse of children.

I can think of no more powerfully destructive act of “sexualisation” than childhood sexual abuse, and yet Ms Reist goes nowhere near it, choosing instead to shame various outlets into withdrawing whatever product she currently believes is causing the “sexualisation” of children.

As the Royal Commission into CSA continues to demonstrate, the sexual abuse (and inevitable real sexualisation) of children was occurring long before there was an Internet, long before there was anything like the licentious climate Reist claims exists today, and long before the creation and availability of any of the clothing, toys, music clips and magazines that she currently holds responsible for “sexualisation.” What child victims wear had and has no bearing on a paedophile’s decision to molest her or him.

I continue to maintain that if an adult sees a child dressed in a “sexual” manner and assumes an invitation, there is something seriously awry with that adult’s perceptions. A dressed-up child is still a child, not a sexualised being, “sexualised” implying that the child’s purpose has become to provide sex by virtue of her appearance. Only a dangerously perverted thinker would make such an assumption.

Popular sexual culture is like the hydra: as soon as Ms Reist chops off one head another one grows. Which will, of course, guarantee her a career and an income. Popular sexual culture might be a symptom, but is never a cause, and sexuality is always a reliable source of fuel for moral indignation and the impulse to ideological control.

However, what has brought Tankard Reist to mind is her appearance on an ABC 2 program on pornography the other evening. In anticipation of the program, activist and academic Caroline Norma published a piece on ABC Ethics and Religion, castigating the ABC for giving a platform to the dirty business of pornography. You see the common motif: porn is dirty, and morally wrong like “sexualising” clothes and raunchy music videos, and shame on aunty for giving it airtime because we know how well repression, censorship and prohibition work for us.

One of the things that disturbs me about Reist’s opposition to porn is her definition of that genre. She and her followers are wont to wax eloquent about “true intimacy,” and “real loving relationships” etc, which to me suggests Reist considers she has somehow acquired the right to define what is “true” and “real” in sexual relations and is compelled to foist her definitions on the rest of us.

“True’ and “real” seem, in this context, to require marriage, or at the very least long-term commitment, with the qualifier that it only applies to heterosexuals.

Another aspect that disturbs me is Reist’s penchant for lumping together all kinds of porn, from snuff movies to amateur and everything in between, as being equally destructive and harmful to health, well-being, and intimate relationships. It’s like saying all food is harmful because Macca’s burgers don’t get the Heart Foundation tick of approval.

There must be no porn of any kind, and we must not have sex with anyone unless we are willing to commit our lives to them.

Personally, I would not enjoy being fucked to camera by some dude whose only asset worthy of note was a long schlong. The reasons why women engage in the manufacture of porn are many and varied, and how much choice or freedom is involved is as variable. I can’t for the life of me see how any of these variables can be addressed and redressed by forcing Coles to withdraw a Zoo magazine.

I have no doubt, however, that Ms Reist and her followers get a lovely warm glow when they do force the withdrawal or banning of one thing or another. While they are glowing, sex trafficking continues unabated. Child sexual abuse continues unabated. Sexual assault continues unabated. They are, as my first husband would say, pissing against the wind.

There are very real and very frightening and certainly criminal acts of sexual expression in which there is no consent, that no society ought to tolerate. If we are raising boys who believe they have the right to demand from girls sexual acts girls do not wish to perform, then we are raising misogynistic male supremacists, and Zoo magazine is an expression of that culture, not the cause. You can burn all the lads mags you want: it won’t stop those particular lads wanting to forcibly sexually subjugate girls.

“Sexualisation” and “pornification” take place within a context: the context of the inequalities of patriarchy, the demands of capitalism, and religious notions of what is and isn’t sexually moral. It’s only by tackling these impositions on humanity that we’ll ever make inroads into exploitative and non consensual sexual practices.

But hey, if it’s band aids you want, Reist’s website provides you with a long list of what not to buy for Christmas, and where not to buy it. But there are other ways to get a nice warm glow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you see a child as “sexualised” there’s something wrong with your vision

4 Mar

On morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s website you’ll find this breakdown of a survey conducted by Girlfriend magazine on the sexual habits of their young readers. The magazine’s demographic is girls aged between twelve and seventeen.

The survey found that 75% of Girlfriend readers are not sexually active. The reasons given:

  • Waiting to be in love (56%)
  • Not wanting to have sex (37%)
  • Feeling too young (31%)
  • No particular reason (26%)
  • Waiting to be married (17%)
  • Waiting to be the legal age of consent (14%)
  • Waiting for their boyfriend/girlfriend to be ready (8%)
  • Not being interest in ever having sex (1%)

These reasons don’t appear to differ from reasons given by young women over the last few decades. It’s also possible, though unverifiable I imagine, that over the last few decades 25% of young women have engaged in some kind of sexual activity for a variety of reasons, just as they do today.

The Girlfriend survey appears to contest anecdotes such as those in the article “Stealing the innocence of children” published yesterday in the Fairfax Press. Using language such as onslaught, obsession, bombardment, and phrases such as “placing the child in a sexualised space,” “increasingly sexual and sexualised culture,” “hyenas circling” our young, and “people conditioned to see themselves as ‘product,'” the article paints an alarming picture of an apocalyptically sexualised society, controlled by a terrifyingly nebulous “them.”  The closest I can come to identifying “them” are as the manufacturers, producers, distributors  and marketers of a perceived “sexualised” and “pornified” popular culture.

They are further identified in the article as  “the seamier side of humanity” which has persuaded K-Mart, Target and other retailers to provide children’s clothing modelled on the imagined uniform of sex workers.

Children’s primary carers are obliged to buy  this inappropriate clothing and give it to kids to wear, causing them to look “hot” and “sexy.”

It takes a particular kind of perverted vision to see a child as “sexy” or “hot,” no matter what the child is wearing. I do not see children dressed in “sexy” clothing as “hot.”A child dressed like an adult looks to me like a child dressed like an adult. If the child is perceived as “sexualised” or “pornified” it must be the gaze of the adult viewer defining her as such, not the clothing and certainly not the child. It is impossible to “sexualise” and “pornify” a child by dressing her or him in any kind of clothing. Only a sexualising and pornifying gaze can impose that interpretation.

Further, I’d suggest that those currently most responsible for “sexualising” and “pornifying” children’s appearance are the very campaigners who complain most loudly about it. These people are demanding that we all adopt the pedophile gaze, and interpret a child’s appearance as “hot” and “sexy” rather than seeing it for what it is: children imitating adults. There is no innocence lost in the imitation. The innocence is destroyed by the adult’s sexualising gaze.

To others less inclined to make moral judgements based on bits of cloth, children are neither sexualised nor pornified. They are children in bits of cloth, funny, silly, imitating their elders, remarkable or unremarkable, but they are children. If you think they are sexually objectified, the problem is with you.

Is there any space more sexualised than that of an institution such as church or family, in which the child is raped? Is there anymore devastatingly sexualised, objectified and “pornified” child than the child raped in the home, church or other institution outwardly dedicated to her or his welfare? When a child’s body is used to gratify adult desire, that child’s innocence has indeed been destroyed. That child has indeed been sexualised and pornified. And the number of children whose innocence has been thus stolen is incalculable.

Yet is any of this mentioned, even in passing, in an article titled “Stealing the innocence of children?” No. It is not. It is far easier to blame a nebulous “them” for the  crime of clothing and music videos.

This is bandaid stuff. What actually demands our attention is the numbers of adults only too willing to see, to describe, and to use children as sexual objects, even those who perceive themselves as being on the side of the good. Campaigners such as Tankard Reist, Steve Biddulph, Emma Rush and Steve Hambleton unwittingly reproduce the pedophile gaze with their own determinedly sexualised readings of popular culture.  The pedophile claims in his defence that  “she looked like she wanted it,” even if she was only three. The campaigners are in great danger of saying something very similar, albeit for very different reasons.

If you want to protect the innocence of children, don’t impose your sexualising vision on them. If you want to let kids be kids just do it, by recognising that they cannot be sexualised by the clothing they wear, but only by your interpretation of what that clothing signifies.

The campaigners are railing against a particular sexual aesthetic, one that given their reference to sex workers and aspects of popular culture may well be class-based. It’s not so long ago that girls who dressed in a certain way were described as “cheap.” That meant sexually easy, and the girls thus described were not middle class. Today “cheap” garments and attitudes are increasingly infiltrating the middle class, blurring class distinctions and causing what can only be described as a moral panic as those who are well used to controlling an orthodox conservative sexual discourse find themselves challenged as never before.

In another article titled “Save your daughter from the wild-child syndrome,” Steve Biddulph states ” If a girl is going to go wrong, it will be at 14.”  If a girl is going to go wrong? This binary of good and bad girls, right and wrong girls, is at the heart of the sexualisation and pornification panic. “Good and right” girls are increasingly indistinguishable from “bad and wrong girls” in their clothing choices. Hell, these days everyone’s looking like hookers and pole dancers! Clothes, once a primary signifier of middle class status and morality, now make  “good” girls look like they’re “bad.”

The conservative middle class, whether secular or religious, prescribes a morality that condemns the perceived sexually “easy” girl or woman. There remains, even among the non religious, a code of sexual manners that frowns upon any perceived flaunting of female sexuality.

The morals campaigners are of course never going to question their dogma about how girls and women should express our sexuality. In feminism’s second wave, we learned the folly of unquestioningly accepting the authority of the orthodoxy, and the unnecessary suffering involved in attempting to adjust ourselves to its man-made rules. We need a similar revolution in which we vigorously contest the domination of conservative sexual morality on our culture. Indeed, perhaps such a revolution is already underway, and the current moral panic is the outraged and fearful reaction.

Confusion: just because a girl wears a short skirt doesn’t mean she’s asking for it. On the other hand, the short skirt sexualises, pornifies and objectifies you so if you wear it, you look like a girl going wrong, and asking for it.

The bizarre marriage of radical feminism and right wing religious activism, occasioned to contest that other bogeyman, pornography, is an example of how the desire to censor and control is not confined to the religious. Russell Blackford considers this in his piece on Iceland’s recent initiative to ban certain types of pornography. “You can’t assume that secularism in a country’s population will solve all problems of moralism, anti-sex attitudes, and a general wish by governments and electorates to interfere with people’s lives” Blackford observes. While we know Melinda Tankard Reist comes from a Christian fundamentalist background, and Steve Hambleton is a devout Catholic, their conservative sexual politics are shared and promoted by the non religious as well.

When religious beliefs can’t be invoked to substantiate moralities, psychology, psychiatry and regurgitation of received knowledge is often as, if not more, effective. All of these traditionally accept an initial cultural premise: that there are particular ways of behaving and expressing sexuality that are unquestionably right, and veering from them is wrong. The stranglehold this perspective has on society is currently under great pressure, nowhere as evidenced in the rebellion of the young,who’s collective determination to clothe themselves like porn stars, as the horrified adults would have it, is breaking all the rules of sexual propriety and class.

The extreme manifestation of this propriety is manifested in remarks such as those made by Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who famously declared that the virginity of his three daughters was the greatest gift they could offer anyone and he hopes they’ll wait till they marry to bestow it.

I recall a sex talk given to us fourteen year olds by the Mother Superior, in which she advised us that we should not be like cream buns in the bakery window. Who, she asked rhetorically, wants to buy a cream bun from which someone else has already taken a lick? It’s only in retrospect I can see the bawdiness of that analogy, and I’m sure Mother Dorothea had no inkling. However, her advice does indicate there were enough girls being cream buns, even several decades ago, for us good girls to be warned of the perils that entailed.

There are, of course, real causes for concern. Five year old girls ought not to be so obsessed about their weight and appearance that their mental and physical health is threatened. I suggest that’s a separate issue from the “sexualisation and pornification”   claims, but it is a habit of these campaigners to conflate all the issues (as is exemplified in the Fairfax article)  into an “ain’t it awful” catastrophic expectation, won’t somebody think of our children who will save our girls meme.

I can’t watch shows like “Biggest Loser” because of their cruelty,and their commitment to fat-shaming, treacherously disguised as concern. No wonder little girls are scared to death of gaining any weight. They’ve got the message: everyone will hate and shame them if they aren’t reed thin. Many of them have close adult females who angst over their weight, teaching little girls that their lives will be good or bad depending on how much they weigh. I suggest this is far more insidious than any piece of sparkly skimpy cloth K-Mart has on its shelves.

Likewise, the idea of someone dressing a baby in a shirt bearing the slogan “All Daddy wanted was a blow job” is my idea of over-sharing. I’ve never seen such a shirt, though I don’t doubt they exist.

Children have always been born into a “sexualised space.” Planet Earth is a sexualised space, sex is a powerful human drive that everyone encounters, one way or another. Children are sexual beings, and understand from an early age that there is something profoundly mysterious in the adult world that is forbidden to them. Naturally, they want entry into that world, and one of the ways they achieve a semblance of belonging is by imitating adult appearance and behaviour. What kind of a mind construes this imitation as reality, and demands that the rest of us do the same?

What we need to do is really see the children, and not take flight into a moral panic that they cannot understand. There is a child at play inside the “hot” “sexy” clothes. That child shouldn’t have to choose between being a good girl or a bad girl, between going wrong or going right. Adults are responsible for the paucity of role models on offer for children to emulate. If we really care about the children, this is what we’ll address. But that’s going to be a lot harder than blaming K-mart.

innocence

Mumbrella & the morals police

19 Apr

At the Mumbrella website you’ll find blogs and discussion about “everything under Australia’s media marketing and entertainment umbrella.”

You’ll also find an article titled “Stop making sex objects of women and kids,” written by morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist in November 2011. This article is “one of the most commented Mumbrella has ever published” and as a consequence, Tankard Reist has been invited to speak on her topic at the Mumbrella360 conference  in June 2012.

In the title of Reist’s article we see immediately the manipulative conflation Reist and her campaigners make with adult women and girls. As I’ve argued many times, we have two very separate issues here, on the one hand the alleged “objectification” and “pornification” of adult women, and on the other the alleged “sexualisation” of children. Reist and her followers make no such distinction and this is the first reason to suspect their claims are less than rigorously addressed.

Reist and her followers seem to offer an outstanding example of the “third person effect,” that is, they inhabit a psychological space in which they perceive advertising as having far more effect on others than themselves. While they can argue that themselves and their children are somehow exempt from an unwilling transmogrification into pornographic sex objects by viewing mass media advertising, everyone else outside their circle of friends and like-minded colleagues is unable to resist this hypersexualised state, resulting in a mortally crippled society in which everyone (except them) is either demanding sex  or offering sex 24/7, including children. In short, only Reist and company manage to retain agency, while the rest of us lose ours at the first glimpse of female flesh.

I say this because every time I read one of Reist’s fanatical rants, I ask myself who is she talking about? She is not describing anyone in my circle of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours, extended family and community. I may lead a comparatively sheltered life, on the other hand I do get out. I’m also middle class and perhaps Reist’s demographic in danger exists in another milieu? Is Reist in the process of creating a class of deviants and their children who unlike her and hers (and me and mine) are infected with hypersexuality through their inability to resist the unrelenting assault of advertising, and are thus eroding the very foundations of our society?

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHERE CAN I FIND THEM AND RE EDUCATE THEM BEFORE WE ALL DIE IN SEXUAL SQUALOR?

I have heard distressing reports of teenage girls feeling obliged to provide boys with blow jobs, however I attributed this more to Bill Clinton who changed the definition of sex for generations of young people when he declared fellatio was not really sex, and therefore one ought not to feel guilty about it.

There’s no doubt that there’s a great deal more flesh about than when I was a teenager. Though watching the Brady Bunch the other afternoon, I noted that the skirts the girls wore to high school were little more than pelmets, and they also sported high heels, footwear they aren’t allowed to wear to school today.

It’s also true that the representation of female sexuality in advertising is a narrow one, and we ought to be railing about the lack of variety the industry offers. Reist and her followers would no doubt argue there should be no such representation at all, and trying to work out just what they would find acceptable is a pointless task. To them it’s all “sexualised.” But as I argued here in an essay titled “How to induce a moral panic about sex ” there’s a big difference between “sexualised” and sexy:

According to the American Psychological Association’s definition (I don’t trust them about much, but they’re helping write the book on this so they’re a primary source) “sexualizing” women means denying acknowledgement of anything other than our sexuality, according us value only because of our sexual appeal to the exclusion of all our other characteristics, constructing us as “things” for sexual use rather than seeing us as people with the capacity for independent action, and inappropriately imposing sexuality upon us.

So are the researchers confusing sexualization, which according to the APA’s definition is pathological, with sexy? The definitions of which are: arousing or intended to arouse sexual desire, and being sexually aroused, neither of which are, I hope, considered pathological by anyone. There is a world of difference between the two terms. Sexualization we may well get upset about, as a particular form of dehumanization. But sexy?

Is it a case of having failed to successfully demonize the sexy, a pathological disorder is the next step in the reactionary battle to control expressions of female sexuality?

The danger is that while sexy is a description of normal human pleasure, replacing it in the vernacular with “sexualized” throws any possibility of female sexual representation out the window. Every public display of female sexuality is interpreted as sexualized, and therefore pathological.

What kind of a lesson is this to teach our girls about their sexuality?

One can only hope the Mumbrella conference will offer its audience balance, and invite a speaker who will challenge Reist’s moral rhetoric with some common sense and research-based counter arguments. At the very least, Reist needs to make it clear just who it is she is talking about, rather than continuing with sweeping generalisations about “women” and “kids.”  Perhaps she could tell us how she herself avoids the pernicious influences of the advertisers to maintain her sexual integrity, and how she protects her children from objectification, pornification and sexualisation. This could be really helpful, because no matter what outside influences a child must deal with, the tools for survival are acquired in her or his family.

While Reist spends an awful lot of her life viewing (and, bizarrely, reproducing on her website for others to view) images she finds unacceptable, it seems she is unaffected by them. Why then should she claim the rest of us will be damaged, when she (and her followers) remain apparently unscathed?

The “adultification” of childhood: the questions some feminists will not ask

3 Feb

Slow Down, Children. By Steve Voght via flickr

Being a Disney princess doesn’t cut it anymore for some little girls and their mothers. Being “hot” does. This means mini adult clothes, high-heeled slippers, the raunchy swing of the infant bum, bras long before there’s the least need for them, lip gloss and worse, and the emulation of adult sexual behaviour in the pursuit of being “cute.”

All of this is currently known as the “adultification” of children.

It’s horrible. Anybody who’s seen footage of the two year old girl toddling down the catwalk in full make-up and wearing a mini sized version of Madonna’s iconic cone shaped bra, can judge for themselves how horrible it really is.

You’ll find this and other nasty images on Melinda Tankard Reist’s website, where there are examples of “adultification” that make wet hair stand on end.

I do have serious disagreements with some of MTR’s positions, but there’s no denying she is certainly doing a thorough job of raising awareness of this particular cultural development, and somebody must. I acknowledge her vigilance in this.

The weaknesses in the arguments.

I don’t agree with her analysis, however. Reist and other feminist commentators hold the media, and the apparently perverted sexual appetites of adult men, responsible for this situation.

They take a swipe at men in general in the mistaken belief that “the patriarchy” is a term applicable to anyone with a penis, plus their collaborators, that is, women with a pr*ck in their heads. Or “pro male women,” as the Reist people prefer to put it.

As sociology Professor Raewyn Connell described it in her book, Masculinities, (1995, Allen & Unwin) hegemonic patriarchal masculinity is but one expression of the masculine in Western culture. Men who do not identify with that dominant expression are frequently vilified or ignored by the mainstream group. Connell’s work exposes the weakness of any argument that depends on male stereotypes.

Tarring all men with one brush is as offensive as stereotyping women. I wish the feminists engaged in this process would stop it, because it isn’t helping anyone and it doesn’t add anything to the debate. Indeed, it puts so many people off side the debate is at risk of losing what would otherwise be a sympathetic audience.

Let’s go deeper than claiming all men are the same. We’re capable of that.

Capitalism, the market and the media

Hegemonic masculinity is a category generally well represented in the pursuit of profit. Captains of industry, masters of the universe, dominant alpha males, and their female cohorts, tend to set the tone in popular culture when they perceive that there is money to be made from it.

I would go so far as to argue that the entire “adultification of childhood” process is driven by a market in search of more and more ways to increase profits, as fashions and fads quickly fall by the wayside and offer less returns.

Then there’s the media. The media has a complex role to play in the game. They simultaneously promote and critique cultural trends, sometimes in the same couple of pages. The media bears its fair share of responsibility for the creation of our desires, and the fact that those desires are so frequently deliberately contradictory and unattainable.

Even MTR throws up unacceptable contradictions. How many more people have seen the appalling French Vogue photo shoot featuring five and six year olds in adult clothes, and blatantly sexually posed, since she put those very same photos up on her website, complete with sharing facilities?

Not, however, with a link to French Vogue so we could dash off a condemnatory email.

I’ll never understand that move. Protest, by all means but perpetuate the children’s abuse? Non, merci.

The elephant in the room

In the frantic outpouring of blame for the sexualization and adultification of little children, and the tortuous self-questioning about “how did this happen?” one thing seems to be consistently overlooked. Perhaps the most important thing of all, and that is the market.

The market is mothers. It is overwhelmingly mothers who buy this merchandise for their little girls. It is mothers who dress their little girls in these inappropriate ways. It is mothers who train these little girls to pout, and strut, and wiggle. It is mothers who paint the little faces, highlight the infant hair, and whiten the baby teeth.

Mothers are the market. If they weren’t interested, if they didn’t buy the merchandise, if no mothers thought it was good for their little ones to look “hot,” there would be no market. Last time I looked infants weren’t out there in droves buying make up and tiny sexy clothes. And neither were blokes, patriarchal or not.

Some women, an increasing number it would seem from the unease that’s around, are acting out their own fantasies and desires through their little girls. The market has sussed out this development and pounced, because that’s its job. Once making kids look like little big girls was confined to those crazy American moms and their children’s beauty pageants. Now, apparently, it’s pre-schoolers all over the place.

The sexualization of children is becoming normalised at an earlier and earlier age. Little boys come home from kindergarten and tell their sisters they’ve got “sexy butts.”  Where does that come from?

The mother in that instance explained that “sexy” wasn’t an appropriate descriptor for a little girl, or for a little boy to use about a little girl. It was adult language, she said.

Children start to apply pressure as more of their peers show up to school in inappropriate clothes, and nobody wants to stand out as different. The market rubs its hands, and sees only profit. It’s a vicious cycle.

Almost everyone thought French Vogue went way too far. But it can’t be denied that the magazine operates within a general climate in which it is increasingly acceptable for little girls to be sexualised.

Don’t blame the mothers

Because that won’t help anyone. Rather, we need to look at what is driving more women to sexualise and “adultify” their very young daughters.

How has the concept of “beautiful little girl” become transmogrified into “hot little girl” in some women’s minds?

Who do they believe these tarted-up little girls really appeal to?

Without any evidence to substantiate my gut feeling, I strongly suspect it is the mothers themselves. I have enough faith left in humanity in general to recoil from the notion that these women are actually thinking of their little ones as sexual fodder and sexual eye candy for adult males.

I suspect there is considerable dissonance between how some feminists perceive this tragic form of theatre, and how the women involved perceive it.

The exploitation of these little girls, intentional or otherwise, is perpetrated primarily by the mothers. The market both caters to, and promotes this exploitation.

And I’m really at a loss to see how railing against the stereotyped and supposedly perverted sexual appetites of adult males, and railing against the media, will on its own do anything much to address the situation.

As long as there is a profit to be made from it, all forms of the commodification of childhood, including the sexualisation and “adultification” of young children will continue, and the media will not take a stand against it. If there is no market, interest will very quickly fade away.

Mothers are the key. Go to the source. Don’t blame, but do hold responsible.

Adult women can be held responsible for our choices, and we should be. Nothing will deeply change for us until we accept that.

One of my lasting memories of my grandmother is her scolding me for turning cartwheels without my knickers on. I don’t know what she would make of the way some of the little girls I’ve seen out and about lately are dressed.

There are so many years when we have to be grown up, and so few years to be a happily grotty kid.

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