CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Sexualising our Children

Oct 12, 2006

Earlier this week the Australia Institute issued a report claiming that the corporate world is increasingly targeting and sexualising our children. Young girls especially are in the sights of many major retailers. Bras and lingerie for 6-year-olds, for example, are becoming common in our mainstream retail outlets. Fashion and gossip magazines aimed at very young girls are also becoming the norm.

The Institute report, authored by Dr Emma Rush, claimed that in the interests of making big bucks, the corporate world is stealing away our children’s innocence. And the danger of these advertising and marketing campaigns is that children will succumb to eating disorders, miss out on their childhood, and fall victim to pedophiles. Indeed, the report is titled, “Corporate Paedophilia: Sexualisation of children in Australia”.

Of course such charges have been made elsewhere, especially in the US, for some years now. For example, one important American television documentary on this whole situation was released in 2001, entitled The Merchants of Cool. My summary and analysis of that very helpful film can be found in the sexuality section of this website (“The Betrayal of a Generation”).

But it is good to see an Australian study on this worrying trend. And the report has generated a lot of controversy. Many retailers are up in arms, and the civil libertarians are of course getting all shook up.

One take on this story appears in today’s Australian. Angela Conway writes (“Young ones won’t be young for long” – October 12, 2006) that the report is indeed accurate and necessary. She too decries the marketing of padded bras to 8-year-olds: “Little girls like pretty things but do they need bras with padding? And should they learn so early that their bodies are for flaunting? More than just another nail in the coffin of childhood, these underwear trends contribute to the premature sexualising of children with cynical disregard for the consequences.”

She analyses a number of the labels in question, including Target, Barbie, Saddle Club, Disney and Bratz. Indeed, the Bratz line of products is especially troublesome: “The ambiguities of the Bratz products’ images are creepily reminiscent of the kinds of fantasies and warped perceptions of women and girls so central to pornography. Defenders of raunch culture say turning pornographic imagery into a weapon of ‘girl power’ liberates girls and women. But just how powerful will little girls be when, with pelvises thrust forward, they have learned the scripted moves and obsessions of the Bratz dolls, underwear, website and DVDs? They will take on a sexualised language they cannot possibly understand. And it will be done at their peril.”

The possible connection with child porn and pedophilia is a major concern: “The Bratz doll range echoes the fantasies and common beliefs of pedophiles researched by Kurt Eichenwald of The New York Times. He found that a core belief running through pedophile conversations on the internet revolved around children’s purported sexual autonomy, desire for sexual relations with adults and their rights to freedom of sexual expression.”

She continues, “Eichenwald reported on common preferences among pedophiles for images of children about five years old dressed in diapers or in sexually provocative, revealing clothing and lingerie, similar to many of the Bratz dolls. The animations on the Bratz website show Bratz Babyz being bathed while looking fetchingly grown-up and knowing. The similarities to Eichenwald’s description of images of nine-year-old ‘Sparkles’ in the bath posted on pedophile blogs seem striking. Eichenwald shows that much of the pedophile activity on the web has switched to porn sites masquerading as children’s modelling sites.”

Concludes Conway, “The links between search terms such as ‘little girls’ lingerie’ to pedophilia become apparent with a web search. Revealed are sales pitches such as ‘lingerie for petite little girls; watch our little models showing off sexy lingerie’. In the cold light of proliferating internet pedophile networks and child porn sites, the purveyors of raunch culture for little girls may just seem plain foolish. At the very least, they are stealing childhood for cold commercial gain. At worst, they may be contributing mightily to a grooming process that the pedophiles of this world will thank them for.”

Quite right. Child porn and the sexualisation of our young are ever-increasing problems in our sex-soaked society. We certainly do not need major retailers contributing to the problem, even indirectly. Civil libertarians will undoubtedly beg to differ. Indeed, the editorial in today’s Australian pours cold water on the Australia Institute report, speaking of “moral panic” and sexuality being in the eye of the beholder. Yet most parents know these are legitimate fears, and that our children deserve protection from such greedy marketeers.

www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20564738-7583,00.html

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9 Responses to Sexualising our Children

  • Well said, Bill. What bothers me is how many Christian parents there are who see nothing wrong with these Bratz and similar type “toys”. The frog is still in the pot and he is not far from being boiled to death!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Civil libertarians will undoubtedly beg to differ. Indeed, the editorial in today’s Australian pours cold water on the Australia Institute report, speaking of “moral panic” and sexuality being in the eye of the beholder.

    I worry about you, Bill, if you think The Australian–the paper that has backed the Howard Government to the hilt on sedition laws and other laws that curb the civil liberties of Australians–can be described as “civil libertarian.”

    The Australian is an uncritically pro-big-business newspaper, and its reaction to the Australia Institute report needs to be seen in that context.

    Arthur Vandelay, Perth

  • Thanks Arthur

    But the Australian is conservative on some issues, and libertarian on others.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The sexualisation is a major worry, I know of many parents who also let their 5-6yo children watch video hits on Sat mornings because it gives them a sleep in! We need to stop being lazy parents by letting the media and business set the boundaries for our children. To act like parents of our children and not try to be their best friends and giving into their every whim.

    Andrew Forbes, Melbourne

  • Thanks Bill for your response to the Australian research publication. Its been a concern for me over recent times and I support both the research findings and commentators like yourself.

    Don Still

  • Arthur has it wrong again. Some of our media can indeed give the appearance of being conservative but usually only on ecomomic and law & order type issues. On the issues usually labled social/moral type issues, such as sexuality, censorship, etc., there exists an almost unanimous liberal bias within the popular media.

    Anyway, who said the Howard government was conservative? Terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” are relative. How can Arthur who apparently has no belief in God and therefore has no objective standard by which to measure such concepts, make assertions about such things?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • But the Australian is conservative on some issues, and libertarian on others.

    Perhaps, but this doesn’t really address my point.

    How can Arthur who apparently has no belief in God and therefore has no objective standard by which to measure such concepts, make assertions about such things?

    Evan: given that there is no evidence for the existence of God, I see no reason to believe in God’s existence. (And no, the Bible doesn’t count as evidence.) Just as I see no reason to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

    And God is no more an “objective standard” by which to measure things than is Santa or the Tooth Fairy. Sorry.

    Arthur Vandelay, Perth

  • Arthur. There is much evidence for the existence of God. You are confusing evidence with proof. The fact that we are having this conversation is evidence of a creator of some kind. That is unless one believes in evolution but the evidence for evolution is no more credible (even though it is believed by many people) than that which supports the existence of “Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy”. (I know I am making a bold assertion here and for the sake of brevity I will not elaborate save to say that just two examples of insurmountable problems for biological evolution are the impossibility of abiogenesis and a lack of information gaining mutations.)

    Having ruled out naturalistic evolution on the grounds that it is both implausable and impossible, the law of the excluded middle leaves only the option of special creation. The question then becomes: “Who is the creator?” This question is best answered by comparing all the competing worldviews and testing which one best fits with the reality of the world around us. In short this is where the Bible wins out.

    So if the Bible is the only viable option and its claims about itself are to be believed (in the absence of a credible alternative) then it should indeed be considered an objective standard since it claims to be the Word of the Creator God.

    When we speak of such concepts as “right and wrong”; “good and evil”, we are in effect presupposing the existence of a higher moral authority/law because such terms can have no meaning without one. Morality is a concept that cannot exist in a world that evolved by chance random processes – there is just cause and effect.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • You’re spot-on Bill. The Bratz empire has had me flummoxed ever since they hit the market. They have the “lolly-pop” figure (big head, skinny body) typified by annorexics – and we thought Barbie was unrealistically proportioned!
    Go to any Westfield, and you can see girls clothes are not girls clothes anymore. They are mini replicas of adults clothes – eg. mini skirts, knee high boots, high heels. You can even buy string bikinis for babies!
    On the subject of music videos, have a look at the PussyCat Dolls. I’m no prude, nor do I have kids, but I am a practitioner and student of marketing communications, and they raise something far more insidious than a need for increased censorship. The machines responsible for bringing outfits like the PussyCat Dolls into our consciousness are deliberately and transparently targeting primary school age girls, presenting them with former burlesque dancers under the guise of “strong female role model”. I think not. The last girl band to set a halfway decent example for young girls was probably the Spice Girls, who were by and large, asexual and innocent.
    What is the equivalent of premature sexualisation for young boys? Violence?
    Colette Webber

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