exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

why babies in bikinis is not the problem

by Jen at 5:37 am on 5.06.2011 | 2 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

so david cameron is launching a campaign to purportedly help protect children from exploitative, hyper-sexualised commercial targeting by retailers, advertisers, and various media forms. the “let children be children” measures will include:

• Retailers to ensure magazines with sexualised images have modesty sleeves.

• The Advertising Standards Authority to discourage placement of billboards near schools and nurseries.

• Music videos to be sold with age ratings.

• Procedures to make it easier for parents to block adult and age restricted material on internet.

• Code of practice to be issued on child retailing.

• Define a child as 16 in all types of advertising regulation.

• Advertising Standards Authority to do more to gauge parent’s views on advertising.

• Create a single website for parents to complain to regulators.

• Change rules on nine o’clock television watershed to give priority to views of parents.

so for the sake of simplicity, let’s set aside the problems about using “morality” campaigns to divert attention from things like service cuts and the floundering economy (taking a page out of U.S. Republicans’ playbook there). and let’s set aside the idea that for someone who derided the “nanny state” that Britain had supposedly become under Labour, this is pretty direct government intervention in the arena of parental control.

what is most problematic about this initiative is this: it does absolutely nothing to address the root cause of the problem, and in fact, only amplifies an existing hypocrisy. this whole thing is just a big red herring. because the problem is not that children are being targeted for “sexy” clothing, or exposed to too many pelvic thrusts before 9pm (and if that doesn’t smack of “Elvis the pelvis” 1950s retrogression, i don’t know what does).

the problem is we’re not talking about children – we’re talking about *girls*. and the reason we are talking about girls, is because as a society, we expect girls to become gender-conformant and gender-performing women. women who must learn to be sexy, but not actually have (or god-forbid enjoy) sex. women who should wear high heels and padded bras and makeup, but never be seen as teasing or provocative, lest they incite men. women who must demonstrate sexuality, but never use it. women who must learn to measure their value by their perceived attractiveness, because that is what they will always receive the most reward and attention for. women who must never rebuff lewd remarks or glances from strangers on the street, even when they feel intimidated or violated. women who must aspire to look like the photoshopped plasticine images used to sell beer and cars and diet sodas, even if it’s physiologically impossible, and if they can’t achieve that, they are defective or deficient in some way, so they must never stop trying even if it requires surgical modification or starvation. women who must learn not inhabit their bodies, because their bodies do not belong to them – their bodies belong to the advertisers and pornographers and media to manipulate and sell for profit.

it takes a lifetime to learn to walk that fine line, even with the continuous bombardment of cultural reinforcement on a daily basis reminding us of what a sexy woman should be, what a woman must and must not do. we cannot possibly hope for young girls to understand the multitudinous nuances that society will expect of them as they mature. and god knows, the boys must learn it too – otherwise, how else will they know how to help the girls conform?

you see where i’m going with this, i’m sure.

the problem is, always has been, and still remains: until we stop sending this insane message, until we stop wrapping women’s worth in a tangled mess of conflicting and impossible sexual mores, until we stop valuing females based on their appearance and perceived availability as sexual objects, girls will never stop having to try to learn it and live it – and advertisers/media/entrepreneurs will never stop trying to sell it.

but people rarely stop to think: if it’s a problematic message for children, why isn’t it a problematic message for adults? it’s easier to pretend we can censor it, or control it, until kids are “old enough” to learn to handle it.

so my question is: at exactly what age is any of that bullshit appropriate?

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2 Comments

  • 1

    Comment by charlotte

    5.06.2011 @ 07:17 am

    YES! Yes, yes and yes.

    I don’t feel old enough to handle it and now I’ve got to guide two girls and a boy through the crap. I used to find objectification and using women’s bodies to ship products faintly amusing, but the older I get, the more creepy, invidious and threatening I find it. I think that as the patriarchy sees its end in sight, it holds ever more tightly onto its controls and ships ever more submissive images of women.

    I’m going to have to teach my kids to see it all through skeptical-coloured glasses.

  • 2

    Comment by Jen

    6.06.2011 @ 04:57 am

    it’s crazymaking, isn’t it? i feel awful for parents who have to raise kids to think their way through this complex stuff. and the government notion that somehow just banning it all will make everything okay, is such a facile and backwards tactic. ugh.

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