The kids are alright

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
July 13, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

Feminists often wake up with some very strange bedfellows under their doona. Not so much the snorers or sadomasochists or sexsomniacs – which each provide their own entertainment – but rather those folks using feminist arguments to justify anti-feminist viewpoints. I’m thinking here of the sexual conservatives.

My first book was about sexist advertising. In it I bemoaned a dodgy self-regulator and lamented the deluge of young thin white female models. I wrote about a public policy double standard of images that would be sexual harassment in an office being strangely acceptable on the side of a bus. The book was released and a small handful of Liberal MPs phoned me. Apparently it gave them a new way to spotlight sexualisation. Me? A muse for the conservatives? Oh no, I won’t be having that.

Protesting sexualisation and objectification is not the same thing as insisting girls keep their knees together. It’s not the same thing as telling women to wait until they’re married and it’s certainly not the same thing as advocating morality.(Whatever morality means). For conservatives to find comfort in the words of feminists is amusing. It’s also deceitful and quite frankly desperate. But it’s no push for equality.

“Won’t somebody please think of the children?” is the wonderful catchcry of Helen Lovejoy. In The Simpsons, her hysterical pleas mock a fear-mongering, overzealous approach to parenting which has infiltrated policy debates in Australia. Somehow the kind of politics that any sane person would consider conservative are being passed off as feminist. Wrongly, but hey, let’s not let accuracy interfere with rhetoric!

Be it push-up bras for pre-teens or T-shirts with suggestive slogans, be it a Lady Gaga concert or a whiffy Lynx commercial, scarcely a week goes by without mouthpieces from family groups wailing that the sky is falling. And I’ve had a gutful! I was born in 1980. I learnt to program the VCR before Sesame Street taught me the alphabet. I was raised on television. Somehow, amidst all the Madonna I listened to and strange foreign sex I watched on SBS, I turned out kinda okay. And I don’t want to be told what I can and can’t watch. And I certainly don’t want conservatives calling for regulation in my name.

Pester power relies on a number of factors. Strategically placed chocolate bars at checkouts and obnoxious children playing with gendered plastic on morning TV. Notably it relies on pestered parents playing ball. I’ll be upfront: I have child-bearing hips without the children. So I wouldn’t dare give parenting advice. What I will do is throw out a radical suggestion of saying “no”. Flat-chested eight-year-old wants a padded bra? “No”. Chubby twelve-year-old wants liposuction? “No.” I was nine-years-old when Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” came out. All I wanted was a giant oversized cross. (“Fashion”, not religion, but I digress). My mother said no. I survived.

Along with too many people deeming Helen Lovejoy as inspiration are all those wowsers keen on outsourcing parenting. I’m not referring to childcare or nannies or exploited grandparents, but rather to the state. Apparently the state should somehow intervene and tell retailers what they can or can’t sell. Apparently the state should decide what apparel isn’t too suggestive. What kind of parenting is this?

Of course, such Lovejoyness is nothing new. Cast our minds back to the erectile dysfunction quacks and their giant billboards. Women in bikinis advertising car insurance and apparently we don’t really care. Dare display the text “Want Longer Lasting Sex?” and the human race faces annihilation. Why? Oh, because apparently a few uptight parents don’t want to explain the birds and bees to their offspring. Best let the state pretend nobody’s doing it. Best stick our heads in the sand.

A slew of books about the sexualisation of girls have hit shelves in recent years. The title that unsettles me most is Girls Gone Skank. Sexualisation is a problem. Of course it’s a problem. Women hating their bodies and feeling guilty about every calorie is a problem. Equally is it a problem that anyone thinks its okay to use a word like skank. To think that it’s okay to dub clothes skanky. That it’s okay to dub behaviour skanky. And there I was thinking feminists fought for women not to be punished for their sexual choices!

Any inference that a girl looks like a skank or that her attire markets her as jail bait is an inference that she is responsible for what’s in the minds of passersby. That she’s responsible for the behaviour of criminals who want to have sex with her. To pretend that her donning a twinset and pearls will somehow fix what’s wrong with paedophiles is delusional. And victim blaming. And in no way feminism.

Adults may look at a girl in a push up bra or a giant cross or a short skirt and think she looks cheap. Think she looks trashy. Think she looks skanky. And she quite likely thinks she’s just playing with fashion. If parents don’t want their daughters to dress that way, then don’t cash them up and send them to Supré. But it’s not the state’s role to lay out her clothing the night before. And it’s nobody’s job to toy with a girl’s self-image by telling her she looks skanky. Feminists didn’t fight for this.

© Lauren Rosewarne