The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has published guidelines for tackling the “sexualisation of children” as the Government releases a review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of children. David Cameron ordered a review by Reg Bailey, the chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, following a series of examples of leading retailers using “sexual or inappropriate” branding on children’s products. The report was entitled “Let children be Children” and can be found here.
Whilst I am sympathetic to the report’s findings, and join the flock of moralists who squawk at the idea of Tesco’s selling padded bras and thongs to under 12’s, I also find the underlying moralistic nature of the argument worrying.
It strikes me that we have a responsibility to protect not just children, but also adults from a soft sexualisation and the objectifying of individuals. As such, I strongly welcome some of the recommendations such as:
- Make public space more family-friendly by “reducing the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.”
- Stop the process where companies pay children to publicise and promote products in schools or on social networking sites by banning “the employment of children as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing.”
Yet, I do not feel that simply trying to hide away the sexual nature of adult life until a child turns of age (12,14,16,18?) is an effective strategy. For example, one of the recommendations was, “Ensure children are protected when they watch television, are on the internet or use their mobile phones by “making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material” across all media”. The problem in my mind is not children seeking out sexual (and/or political) material. This is a natural process of growing up. The problem rests in the soft, day in day out, objectifying of bodies and relationships.
As cultural dictator of the UK government I would slap restrictions on crass soap opera story lines, ban Rihanna and have a ceremonial burning of all our tabloids. These do great damage to our children’s understanding of identity and relationships.
There is a serious point here, and I do not think the recommendations pick up on it. There is a difference between the slow soft sexualisation of children that leave them with bizarre, unattainable understandings of sex, relationships and (as the review blurred sex and politics so can I) politics and the naturally inquisitive nature of children who are on a path towards adulthood. However you define adulthood, I hope you would agree that it is a process, one that children will start on at a variety of stages.
As such, I am would welcome more liberal access to pornography, but would condemn the “soft core” magazines such as FHM. I know parents who wouldn’t even hesitate at leaving a FHM magazine lying around, but would be horrified at the idea of their child watching porn. As perverse as it seems, I honestly believe the everyday battering of images, sounds and experiences children receive is far more damaging than the over 18 only stuff children purposely seek out.
This report is a big step forward for protecting childhood from the fierce marketing world but it borders dangerously close to ineffective moralistic impositions.