Thursday 18 July 2019

Comment: Have we become this squalid that we sexualise a mother's kiss?

Victoria Beckham kisses her daughter Harper (5)
Victoria Beckham kisses her daughter Harper (5)
Stella O'Malley

Stella O'Malley

Perhaps the loveliest thing about having young children is the unfettered freedom to enjoy hugs, snuggles, kisses and tickles whenever and wherever you want. Indeed, the way children use their bodies joyfully and freely, without self-consciousness and without sex getting in the way, is what makes them so innocent. This is why a little piece of me died when I read about the furore over Victoria Beckham's kiss on the lips to her five-year-old daughter. Have we really come to this? Has society really become so squalid that we sexualise a mother's kiss to her child?

Commentators on social media remarked that it was 'Icky', 'Gross', and that 'It looks like they're making out'. Or 'It looks like lesbians'. Really? A forty-two-year old mother kissing her five-year-old daughter on the lips looks like two lesbians making out?

Victoria Beckham Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Fashion 4 Development
Victoria Beckham Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Fashion 4 Development

Back in the day, when a glimpse of stocking was seen as shocking, women lived in fear of inadvertently awakening the rapacious urges of the sexual beast that lived within all men. But surely we have moved on from all that? Surely we can kiss and snuggle our kids as much as we want for as long as we want without fear of someone regarding our affection as something dirty?

The problem is that once an action is dubbed 'dirty' it immediately brings about a more self-conscious and guarded response. The recipient immediately feels unsure about their behaviour and, as Rory O'Neill says, suddenly feels the need to check themselves. It's an oppressive feeling and this is why the online backlash, with thousands of parents posting similar pictures of themselves kissing their children on the lips, is so clever. If we all do it, then the self-righteous trolls can't say that we're all 'Icky'.

The sexualisation of everything means that five-year-old Harper Beckham is in the middle of a sex scandal. But of course, it would be disingenuous to disregard the fact that Victoria Beckham has played no small part in the sexualisation of our world. The Spice Girls rode the wave of publicity and hype and reframed the liberating concept of 'Girl Power' into a shallow marketing ploy. And so Beckham's hangover from her role in the Spice Girls means that everything she does will forever be open to sexualisation. You reap what you sow, Posh!

The experts are, of course, divided. Some psychologists, such as the US child psychologist Dr Charlotte Reznick, believe that parents shouldn't kiss their children on the lips because the mouth is an erogenous zone (as are the neck and the toes, but Dr Reznick doesn't explore this). According to Dr Reznick: 'If you start kissing your kids on the lips, when do you stop? It gets very confusing.' However, other psychologists completely disagree - clinical psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack points out: 'That's like saying breastfeeding is confusing.'

The spurious 'when do you stop?' line needs to be addressed because this is the line that gets trotted out for all manner of joyless reasons. Drawing the line is what distinguishes humans from animals. Most of us draw the line all day, every day.

We all know the difference between a chaste kiss and a lascivious kiss and that is why we don't tend to French kiss our mothers.

All the same, the public outrage on social media about Victoria Beckham's kiss represents another very real fear that many of us live in dread of the fear of public disapproval. Parents are afraid to leave their children in their car for even a moment for fear of some busybody taking a picture, posting it online and destroying their reputation.

In my work as a psychotherapist, clients often tell me that they secretly allow their children to stay at home alone - but they never tell even their closest friends for fear of public disapproval.

Parents these days are like the Stasi in former East Germany - mingling among us, always alert, always suspicious and always ready to attack any example of less-than-perfect parenting.

But what's completely acceptable in your family could be considered completely objectionable in mine.

Some families have loud, incendiary debates at the dinner table while other families never discuss religion, politics or money.

Some families are madly affectionate, constantly giving each other great big smackers on the lips while other families are much less physical and rarely go further than a friendly nod. So what? Vive la difference!

Irish Independent

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