The 'sexualisation of our daughters' and double standards

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Last night I decided to watch The Sex Education Show in the hope that it might provide some food for thought of a bit more substance than the recent edition of Panorama, entitled 'Too Much Too Young' focusing on the moral panic over 'girls growing up too fast', 'sexualisation' (which now seems to be the accepted shorthand for the whole phenomenon) and high street stores selling 'inappropriate' clothing.

Coverage of this issue on television and in the media has been problematic for a number of reasons. Take the comments of the mother on the Panorama documentary, who was concerned that her daughter wearing short skirts and 'showing her legs' would lead to an underage pregnancy. Or the tabloid headlines which labelled Primark's padded swimwear for seven-year-olds as the 'PAEDO BIKINI'. The fact that the outrage exclusively focuses on girls, the way they might behave or the things that might happen to them as a result of liking or wearing certain clothes or being exposed to sexual imagery, rather than addressing the issues in the ways they affect boys, looking at the wider problems surrounding the way we view sex and relationships as a society, or asking the girls themselves what they actually think about it all. The way it practically demonizes sexuality at an age where children are probably going to be having a lot of questions about it and getting a lot of messages from society which are pretty confusing to them.

As I'd expected, The Sex Education Show went down the usual track of hand-wringing about miniature heels and bras, then filming 'stunts' which involved entering and protesting at 'guilty' stores such as Primark and Matalan, something which was particularly unproductive.

What struck me, perhaps over anything else, was the huge double standard which exists in all this media coverage and all these documentaries. People are horrified that young girls might be 'pressurized' into wearing heels or makeup or padded bras or showing themselves to be sexually 'available' and 'raunchy', despite the fact they're only seven, or 10, or 12. It's taking away their innocence, leading them down the wrong path, making them focus on the wrong things. Many people interviewed about it all have said that they want their daughters to be interested in a diverse range of pursuits, like sport or science or music. This is all great.

But the moment these girls pass the point where they're no longer considered 'children' any more, everything changes. As women, they'll no longer be expected to shun padded bras and makeup and an obsession with being attractive as 'inappropriate'. It will be become a requirement. If they have small breasts they'll constantly receive messages from shops and the media that they need to look more 'curvy', 'create the illusion of cleavage' and possibly have surgery to get the perfect figure. If they show up at the office without makeup on or in flat shoes, they might be asked to do something about it. Women's magazines will tell them how they should modify their behaviour in order to attract - and 'keep' a man. There's still the ridiculous stereotype, in some quarters, that men don't like 'brainy' women.

In short, if the 'too much too young' culture is going to change, this change needs to happen from the top down.

Young girls seek to emulate famous women, their mothers, their older sisters. If they see that these women's lives are controlled to a massive extent by diets, looking conventionally attractive and personal grooming, what choice is there for them? They are learning from a very young age that our society teaches women they must live up to certain standards in order to gain approval and be a 'real woman'. Who is helping them to see through this? If they hear their clothes being blamed for negative attention or harassment they might receive from the opposite sex, where does this leave their self-esteem in the face of victim-blaming? If they're told that sexual activity and curiosity at a young age is bad, but don't receive comprehensive, careful and thoughtful education and advice about it from their schools, friends or parents, they'll only end up confused further, especially when the moral panic is exclusively targeted at one gender.

I'm sure that we're going to continue seeing a great deal about the problem of 'sexualisation' in the news and on television. What this coverage needs is a more rounded and balanced perspective on the issues involved - and acknowledgement that they will not go away unless we stop expecting grown women to live this way while condemning girls for doing the same things.

Are we suffering from Royal Wedding Overkill?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

As of today, there are just 16 days to go until the Royal Wedding. 16 days until we get to find out the answers to all the important questions we've been obsessing over for the past few months. What will the dress look like? How will Kate's hair be styled? Will she promise to 'obey' Wills and will Prince Harry get bladdered at the reception?

Before I go any further I feel I must confess that I'm severely ambivalent about both the event of the year and the Royal Family. I hope the couple will be very happy together and that they have a great day. I'm over the moon to be getting an extra day off work. It's the rest of it I can do without. Including getting in on all the twee souvenir-purchasing, bunting-hanging, flag-waving aspect of it all purely because it's the next logical step on the road to retro-patriotic materialistic heaven (see also 'make do and mend', reissues of 1950s lifestyle manuals).

Yes, you read that correctly. I've got Royal Wedding Fatigue. And with good reason.

Every day at least one of my friends from the blogging world tweets that they've had just about enough of tedious Royal Wedding-themed products and emails from PRs. You can't open a newspaper without seeing a story speculating about the big day (Kate wants to wear flowers in her hair! Camilla says "Hell to the no, you will wear a tiara and you will like it.") And poor Kate can't leave the house without someone comparing her to Princess Diana.

I can't help but feel that this is how it's going to be for the foreseeable future. Kate may be 'every inch the modern princess' but she's destined to have her every move photographed and displayed in a tabloid next to Diana doing or wearing something similar. I'm sure she's thrilled to have to live up to the example set by not only the nation's 'Queen of Hearts', but her future husband's deceased mother, who died during a somewhat dubious encounter with the press.

Okay, so it's kind of predictable that the media is going to compare the two, but let's stop it from bordering on the creepy, guys. As we were reminded last week, speculation over whether or not Diana was a virgin reached such a frenzy during her engagement that her uncle ended up publicly announcing her 'intact' status to the nation. Obviously, this prompted journalists to ask members of the public just how they feel about the fact that Kate is probably, you know, sexually active. And funnily enough, no-one seemed to care.

It's also obvious that Kate's going to have to put up with endless comments about not only her clothes, but her weight as well. The press already has knives out regarding her body shape due to the fact she may or may not have lost a few pounds in the run-up to the wedding. I'm sure the minute she gets caught on camera inclining her head downwards they'll be poking fun at the merest hint of a double chin.

I nearly spat my breakfast out the other day watching a lengthy debate - with special guests - on BBC Breakfast about the fact that William has decided not to wear a wedding ring.I'm fully aware that it's only in the past 50 years that men have started to wear them - and also that it'a particularly uncommon among upper-class men, apparently. But like many wedding-based dramas, some people are determined to make it all about 'tradition', keeping the spirit of those days when marriage was more about men possessing women alive.

"I am delighted by Prince William's decision. I have always regarded the practice of men wearing wedding rings as prissy and effeminate," wrote Harry Phibbs in (you guessed it) the Daily Mail.

He denounced what he sees as the absurb political correctness of people who expect men display their 'off-limits' status in the same way as their wives, going on to say that he hopes Kate will be promising to 'obey', so keeping the natural order of things intact.

Hopefully Kate won't let life in the limelight get to her - she's had a fair amount of practice now and luckily for her, she seems to be staying out of the sort of 'scandals' the tabloids love. It's just depressing to see that even though we never stop hearing about how times have changed since Charles and Diana got hitched, particularly in terms of press coverage, it's obvious that in many ways, things are very much the same.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via waldopepper's Flickr.

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