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.