The Coalition can unite on the sexualisation of children
And David Cameron intends to do something about it.
He has been talking about this since 2006: Lolita beds; sexy dolls in mini-skirts aimed at five-year-olds; padded bras and bikinis for girls of seven; fishnet tights and high-heel shoes aimed at 11-year-olds; ‘Playboy’ bunny ears aimed at young teens; t-shirts with slogans such as ‘porn star’ or ‘babe’ aimed clearly at pre-pubescent girls.
Even Disney characters have conformed to the sexualised zeitgeist: have you compared Little Mermaid’s skimpy clothes and the cleavage of Pocahontas with the modesty of Snow White and Cinderella?
Shortly after he became Leader of the Opposition, Mr Cameron said: “The sort of country I want is one where it is not just the Government that feels outraged about the early commercialisation and sexualisation of our children, but companies should stop doing it, they should take some responsibility.”
He has consistently demanded social responsibility 'instead of businesses and media companies encouraging the premature sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood'.
And now, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, he intends to find some via media between conservatism and liberalism and legislate on the matter.
And the Coalition is conveniently placed and perfectly comprised to find precisely the right formula. For we do not want girls growing up ashamed of their bodies; or a ‘nanny state’ dictating to parents what they may or may not buy for their children; or a generation of parents and children categorised as delinquents when they are really the victims.
This is not an issue for Left or Right. And neither is it an issue which should divide the Coalition. For the problem is not so much the sexualisation of children, but the sexualisation of society. And on that, politicians of all hues will agree.
That the modern era is sex-obsessed is not in dispute; we live in a consumer society, and there is little that is marketed without a glance, a wink, a flirt, a breast, or allusions to sexual intercourse, because ‘sex sells’. If one were to judge by the media (which is more frequently a mirror to society than a catalyst for change), the fascination with people’s sex lives is now more important than politics, religion, philosophy or even Mammon. Jesus may have had to address the latter as the dominating idol of his era; his judgment was that one may not serve both God and Mammon (Mt 6:24). He did not enter into discussion on the fiscal minutiae of cash, credit, bonds, shares, loans or interest; a macro-warning not to be obsessed with Mammon was sufficient. If one were to apply the same principle to the modern idol – let us call it ‘Eros’ – it is doubtful that Jesus would address its sub-divisions (gay, bi, straight, oral, anal, tantric); he would most likely directly challenge society’s obsessive fixation with Eros, and by so doing confront both those who prioritise issues of sexuality and those in the church who presume to judge them.
But he would preserve special judgment for those who corrupt children, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.
We expect our children increasingly to behave like adults: we grant them rights and liberties; give them choices and responsibilities; permit them to acquire condoms, morning-after pills and make a quick call to the abortion clinic before lunch, all without parental consent or even parental knowledge.
Patient confidentiality, you see.
Health and Safety.
And so children are forced to grow up at an ever-earlier age, because the parental bond of authority and respect has been loosened by the state.
We have seen the normalisation of the sexualisation of children because we increasingly demand that they act like grown-ups when they should be enjoying being children.
But many parents are so afraid of being prosecuted for child abuse, or of having their children abducted by social services, that they will not discipline. They are reluctant to protect for fear of confining; they are loath to say ‘no’, lest they be accused of narrow-mindedness, bigotry or extremism, and arrested under some law by which the state has determined that all children belong to it.
The increasing pressure on parents to buy age-inappropriate items for their children causes considerable stress to parents: no-one wants their children to become isolated and ostracised by their friends if they do not have the same things as other children.
There is no joy for the child if one is dressed like an Amish amidst a gaggle of Barbies.
But research suggests that the Amish are healthy, happy and at peace with themselves, while the Barbies have low-self esteem, suffer from depression and are vulnerable to the onset of eating disorders such as anorexia.
The sexualisation of our children is nothing less than child abuse.
Childhood represents humanity’s original imaginative enthusiasm for the world.
It is for the Coalition to find the right liberal-conservative formula between censorship and freedom for nudging society back towards purity, modesty and a healthy childhood innocence.
It can’t last forever, of course.
But it cannot be right that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings come filth and expletives, where once there was joy, laughter, wisdom and goodness.
And it is heartening indeed that Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat schools minister, has appointed Reg Bailey, the chief executive of the Mothers' Union Christian charity, to conduct a review on the sexualisation of childhood. The charity says:
In 81 countries, our members share one heartfelt vision - to bring about a world where God's love is shown through loving, respectful and flourishing relationships. This is not a vague hope, but a goal we actively pursue through prayer, programmes, policy work and community relationships. By supporting marriage and family life, especially through times of adversity, we tackle the most urgent needs challenging relationships and communities.Mr Bailey has asked parents to contact him with their concerns and send him products that they regard as inappropriate. And he has promised swift action.
On this wholly moral pursuit, the disparate and disjunctive, fractured and fragmented Coalition can be united.