David Cameron is on everyone’s mind as the General Election looms ever closer. One of his opinions in particular has attracted my attention recently, that of the sexualisation of children in Britain. How we can discourage corporations from marketing inappropriate products is not a major vote swinger and is arguably just one of those topics that the Tories have jumped on to prove that they are ‘relevant’ and ‘contemporary’, such as when they changed their logo to a tree to show their new-found concern with the environment.
On the other hand, it can be seen as one of the most pernicious and frightening issues of our era, if we consider that children of today are allowed access to images and to act in such a way that could influence their future self-esteem and fundamental morals.
Products that encourage the early sexualisation of children are widespread. An example is the Bratz dolls, often given to very young girls, with their large busts, voluptuous figures, tiny waists and pouting expressions. As if Barbie wasn’t a bad enough role model, how can we expect young women to have self-esteem and to escape objectification if they learn to see Bratz as something to aspire to?
The most basic items such as makeup kits for children and crop tops instead of vests are worrying enough. Girls of six years old have no breasts to support, so why Marks and Spencer start their range at this age is beyond me. To an extent these aspects of premature sexualisation can be explained or excused. On the other hand, the sight of push-up bras for nine year olds, and clothes emblazoned with sexy messages worn by children, is frankly chilling. Children cannot be expected not to want these products, so in a society where some parents will not see anything wrong with these products and will allow their children to wear them, Cameron is right in saying that restrictions must be put on the companies that produce them.
It is self evident that products that sexualise children, such as certain items of clothing that might be marketed to them, or the front covers of ‘lads’ mags’ that are easily visible in many shops, are bound to have an effect on their psychological development and may encourage girls to view themselves as defined by their exterior. In a society where teenage girls often have incredibly low levels of self-esteem, surely we should be committed to if not preventing this state of affairs, then at least delaying it? This is not a ‘nanny state’ concept, rather it is the idea that we must fight against something that objectifies girls and could essentially encourage paedophilia. For the sake of children’s healthy psychological development, action is necessary.
Is it fair, though, for the Conservatives to establish this argument as their own, as a vote-winner? The inference is of course that other political parties are accepting of this sexualisation, and it is perhaps unfair for one political party to claim the moral high ground regarding an issue that many of us are concerned about. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are certainly not opposed to limiting premature sexualisation, even if the right measures have not yet been put in place. Cameron is all too quick to declare self-righteously that he won’t let his six-year old listen to Lily Allen as if we should all applaud him, when in fact this is surely how any sensible parent who is aware of her lyrics would act. Cameron’s recent article in the Daily Mail about premature sexualisation gives rise to the feeling that rather than being borne out of genuine concern for children, he is airing his opinions as an opportunistic device to promote the Conservatives as our ‘moral guardians’.
Not wanting children to be sexualised may be an issue close to the hearts of feminists or child protection advocates but we should be careful never to define it as a Conservative one. Some would argue it’s a key liberal issue, as giving young girls a sense of self respect could help their advancement towards equality later in life. Without question, it is simply something that should be part of everyone’s moral fabric. For once I am happy to admit that I think Cameron is without doubt right to take this stance, even if his motives are questionable. However, both Labour and the Conservatives must be careful not to turn this into a key election issue, because really there is no debate to be had. We should not have to wait for a Conservative government in order to see products that sexualise children banned. Action should be taken now, because allowing children to be children should be a matter of national consciousness that we all strive to uphold.