Mind & Meaning: Moral majority were so right to fight this
Published 26/04/2010 | 05:00
'Paedo heaven on our high street', screamed the headline in the Sun. Coming from a paper whose stock in trade is sexualising women, the sudden outrage may seem a little hypocritical.
Hypocrisy or not, outrage was appropriate, since its source was the realisation that a number of high-street stores were selling sexually provocative clothes for little girls.
Padded bras, panties emblazoned with 'you've scored' and low-cut diamante bikinis were on the shop floors in popular stores.
Primark apologised and removed any offending items from its shops, promising to donate the profits from sales of these items to children's charities.
Blood money, some might say, and with justification.
It is difficult to comprehend the sales pitch that considers 'come-hither' underwear as appropriate for seven-year-olds. And what of the parents who buy these garments? Do they believe it acceptable to dress their children like tarts?
What answer do they give when their darlings asked what 'scoring' meant or how do they explain the t-shirt caption: 'So many boys . . . so little time'.
Does the prospect of a paedophile leering at these child-adult hybrids not appal them?
Were we not horrified at the reverse image -- an adult, the pop star Christina Aguilera, dressed as a schoolgirl with her shirt unbuttoned, licking a lollipop, in an advertisement for trainers?
The important question is what, if any, are the effects of this on girls? Are the concerns nothing more that the rantings of prudish grandmothers or religious fundamentalists?
Should it not be left to parents to decide what their children should, and should not, wear rather than having a particular moral perspective imposed by interfering outsiders.
The answer is simple -- if some action is harmful to a large number of people, themselves vulnerable, in this instance because of age, then society has a duty to speak up.
There is ample evidence that the sexualisation of young girls is harmful, confirmed by a task force established by the American Psychological Association, which reported in 2007.
Visual images are very powerful and those that are relentlessly focused on a particular attribute, such as sexual allure, are easily absorbed and incorporated into the psyche of the young person at a crucial time in their development.
Seeing one's value only in the image that is conveyed can ultimately lead to unhealthy sexual development and potentially early initiation into sexual activity.
In addition, valuing beauty and attractiveness as the main goal for young girls carries the risk of ignoring their other attributes, such as intelligence, competence, thoughtfulness and so on.
There is also concern that eating disorders, most commonly beginning in the early teen years, are increasingly the result of unhappiness about the body size and shape that these stereotypical images convey, although of course other factors also play a role.
Girls have always been interested in lipstick, nail polish and high heels. Dressing in their mother's clothes has been part and parcel of a little girl's childhood for eons and it is sweet and amusing.
But this has to happen at the child's pace and not be imposed as a caricatured mass market, driven by money and profit. It is no exaggeration to say that the appeal of a young girl, Lolita-like and provocative, to a paedophile, with his distorted sexuality and his belief that his victim acted consensually, is likely to be enormous.
The headline in the Sun was accurate, just a pity that it has come from a paper whose stock in trade for decades has been devoted to promoting a sexualised image of women.
The paper would say that the market wants this but this is the same market that also tolerates Bratz dolls, the fish-netted, mini-skirted mannequins that outsold the more conservatively dressed Barbies.
The current drift into the sexualisation of young girls is the culmination of decades of similar attitudes to women in the name of laddishness or liberation from traditional sexual mores.
Parents need to assert themselves for the sake of their children. Perhaps the outcry that Primark was confronted with is the beginning of the parental fight back.
But it shouldn't end there. The objectification of any human, whether a man or woman, child or adult, carries the potential to damage mature relationships.
That the market tolerates it is no excuse.