Monday, 6 June 2011



Am I right? This seems to be one of those rare topics that feminists and scary social conservatives agree on - at least at first glance. There have been a smattering of these over the years (Andrea Dworkin and porn censorship springs to mind), and the central theme is sex. Which is part of why feminists are painted as anti-sex killjoys.

And it worries me that some of the main victories of the feminist movement over the last few years - like the change in licensing restrictions for strip clubs - fall into this category, because are we making the world a better place for women? Or a better place for people who disapprove of others (read: women) having sex?

But we're not fighting for the same things: the day I agree with Nadine Dorries is the day I abandon any claim to morality and offer myself up to my Comrades In Ranting and beg for mercy.

And we're not fighting for the same reasons. This feminist's take on the whole sexualisation of children and/or society is: the compulsory "raunch culture" of padded bras for 9-year-olds and Playboy pencil cases and Girls Gone Wild and sexting and whatever else the kids are up to these days is limiting, in that it provides only one available model of how to be sexual: one that is plasticky, focused on the male gaze, and far more concerned with performing "sexy" than with having good and enjoyable sex. It doesn't allow for nuance, for individuality, for the idea that you can have an unkempt bikini line and a screaming orgasm at the same time; unheterosexuality is banned except for unenthusiastically kissing a hot girl in front of your boyfriend, and asexuality is invisible. So in objecting to the blanket marketing of "sexy", I'm living in hope of a better sexual culture where everyone can express their sexuality - or not - as they want. (Usual caveats of 'your right to swing your arm ends where my face begins' apply.) In short, I want sex to be better.

Whereas I get the feeling that Dorries and co just want sex to go away. If it has to happen, can it at least be behind closed doors, between one man and one woman for procreative purposes only, can we never ever talk about it and for god's sake feel a decent amount of shame. On the infamous Vanessa Show interview, Dorries talks about how much better things were in the old days when you lived in fear of your parents disowning you for having sex, when the local vicar knew your name and was always around to remind you that you were totally going to hell. That's not a call for "moral guidance", that's the frustrated foot-stamp of someone who can't understand why people don't think sex is bad anymore.

So while I'm glad that the badpornification of culture is being widely discussed at the moment, I think we need to keep a close eye on the discourse and make sure we keep questioning the underlying assumptions of the debate. For the moment, it seems everyone agrees that The Sexualisation Of Our Children is bad - but no one's saying what they mean by that (it's one of those phrases that defines, to each individual, whatever they disapprove of most), and no one's teasing out exactly why we're objecting to it. Which is urgently important. And most importantly, we need to make sure we're not fooling ourselves into thinking we're winning.


  1. I try to avoid a lot of sexual messages (TV/Movies etc... keyword being "Try")around my kids for the same reasons I avoid exposing them to a lot of religion. I'd like to know when they start taking in messages related to either subject that they are old enough to think critically about what they are being exposed to. For myself, personally, it's not a case of "Sex is bad," it's "Sex is complicated, sometimes."

  2. Definitely agreed on 'complicated', and the need to help kids navigate this stuff rather than just throwing them into the world of padded bras and heavy-breathing pop videos with a wave goodbye. My own mum's approach was to not censor anything, but always answer questions frankly, and make sure I was thinking critically about whatever I came across (at whatever level I was capable of depending on age).

    And none of what I wrote was intended as a criticism of anyone's parenting methods - none of my damn business!

  3. Good words Tipple. We need to be thoroughly questioning the apparent agreement with conservatives (small c) on this more. The Brook/FPA statement on it is good:

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