Beware the “Sexualisation” Bogeyman

After the publication last week of a French government report on the sexualisation of children, the Guardian called for readers’ thoughts on the topic for their People’s Panel series. My submission wasn’t among those selected for publication, but I thought I’d share it with y’all here.

When the sexualisation of girls hits the headlines, various concerns emerge and are merged. These include the imposition on children of rigid gender stereotypes; the media’s relentless regurgitation of a “pornified” idea of female sexuality, to the exclusion of other models; and the impact on kids of being targeted as consumers. While these issues are interconnected, “sexualisation” is a misleading banner.

Firstly, it creates a narrow, sensationalist focus: cue push-up bras for pre-teens. Putting “sex” and “children” in the same sentence guarantees some tabloid moral panic. Phenomena such as the pinkwashing of girlhood, virtual disappearance of gender neutral toys, and perpetuation of gender stereotypes within education settings, cause less outrage. The sexualisation bogeyman distracts from the harmful effects – on boys and girls – of everyday gender socialisation.

Secondly, “sexualisation” suggests that sexuality is the problem. The rhetoric of sexualisation fits a socially conservative agenda centred on protecting “innocence”. I’m wary of this framework, which implicitly situates sexuality in the realm of guilt and shame, and skeptical that it best serves the interests of girls. I’d favour a debate on how we best support children to grow into adults with a healthy sexuality: one that develops at their own pace, grounded in a sense of self-worth and mutual respect with others.

A good starting point would be holistic, age-appropriate sex ed that explores gender and incorporates media literacy. It’s unlikely that companies will spontaneously stop targeting child-consumers, or the media be purged overnight of its inclination to titillation and widespread sexism. Kids need to be equipped for the world they live in, and encouraged to question it. Rather than fixate on what we can ban and regulate, let’s think about how we teach and nurture.


5 Comments on “Beware the “Sexualisation” Bogeyman”

  1. Nicole says:

    I totally agree that it’s all about education and nuture. Change your perspective change your world – which the dutch have proven: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/25/sex-education-dutch-children

  2. Althea says:

    Another great post Kathy, I wish the Guardian had picked it up as it’s much more coherent and sensible than most of the posts below the line on that article!

    • Thanks, Althea, I’m glad that you agree with my perspective on this whole sexualisation debacle. For the People’s Panel the Guardian seem to favour entries that give more of a personal/anecdotal point of view on the given topic. As for below the line, it’s usually a mixed bag!

  3. link says:

    An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing somewhat evaluation on this. And he the truth is bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to debate this, I feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If potential, as you turn into experience, would you thoughts updating your blog with extra details? It is highly helpful for me. Large thumb up for this blog post!


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