May 2010: The sexualisation of children

May 2010: The sexualisation of children

When eight-year-old girls are being admitted to hospital with eating disorders, six-year-olds are asking, “Do I look hot in this?”, porn magazines are sold at child’s-eye level in convenience stores and fashion companies claim it’s for art’s sake that they’ve put abuse victim look-alikes on T-shirts, it’s time to ponder what’s happening in our culture.

When a computer rape game with multifunction play — a game where boys participate in the simulated gang rape of a Japanese mother and her two young daughters — is banned in Australia only after a citizen* complains, it might well be time to act.

Advocate, author and Canberra churchgoer, Melinda Tankard Reist, in her latest book, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex 2009), details how young girls are being targeted to buy into consumerist culture in adult ways.

The book also shows how young girls are being used to sell products; posed and styled in ways normally associated with adult women.

Tankard Reist says such objectification and sexualisation of girls contributes to eating disorders, depression, self-harm, anxiety, low self-esteem and spiritual emptiness.

The void created is supposedly “filled” through the purchase of cosmetics, fashion, magazines detailing how to titillate your boyfriend and cosmetic surgery.

“The pressure to conform to an idealised body type in a sex-saturated culture that values girls who are thin, hot, sexy and ‘bad’ is taking a terrible toll,” she writes.

Tankard Reist from Collective Shout and Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids are asking concerned people to join the fight against powerful commercial interests that know sex sells and realise minors are a burgeoning market.

They’re urging a range of actions including boycotting retailers that stock inappropriate products, discussion of media literacy resources that counter sex stereotyping and demanding that the state government review its recommendations to industry from the 2008 inquiry into the sexualisation of children.

Similarly, Natasha Walker, author of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (Virago 2010), wants small-l liberals to speak out about:

*ongoing gender inequities in pay and work opportunities, and

*how the values of the sex industry and mainstream sex culture are merging — and being falsely sold to females as empowering.

Even if you don’t think our young girls are fashion’s victims — slaves to and harmed by an increasingly one-dimensional cultural script — I’d still recommend this:

*show our girls complex, admirable women who aren’t plastic pop tarts; role models that have achieved greatly, loved justly and used their intelligence wisely to fight for equal rights.

*convince our girls they matter — not because of how they look but because of who they are.

Model true freedom.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

*This was Tankard Reist, who uses this example in her book to show the power of consumer complaint.

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