This article in The Australian by Rosemary Neill is more a report on the lay of the land than a way forward but what it does do is spell out nicely the latest split to occur in feminism. Once again the split is about sex (oh how we feminists have visited that ground a few hundred times before), only this time it involves the objectification of children rather than women. More specifically, it is the split between those feminists who think something is very amiss with marketing aimed at young girls these days and those feminists who think that worrying about the sexualisation of children symbolises a sneaky resurrection of female purity obsessions.
You probably know that I do not find myself in the middle ground on this debate. In fact you could summarise my opinion as believing that there are those who can see the bleeding obvious and those who haven’t had to shop for clothes for a pre-teen girl lately. Unfortunately, taking this side in the media debate I have found my views are more often than not represented by feminists (and others) I don’t much agree with. It can be hard to barrack for your side in a panel debate when your side are the guest wowsers and they’re busy knee-jerking and finger-wagging their way through otherwise valid points.
But surely there is a way of slamming the sexualisation of children without robbing young women (or even children) of their sexuality. I know, maybe for starters we could stop compressing children’s and adult’s identities in this debate, maybe we could resist commercial ventures to collapse childhood into a very sexualised and commodified adolescence? Maybe fully-informed agency in a fourteen year old is very different for a four year old?
Today, it’s Walter who is crash-tackling others’ complacency. She has noticed that even among her educated peers, parents are embracing gender stereotypes – girls love ballet, boys love the biff – a reflection, she reckons, of how biological determinism is making a comeback. In the second half of Living Dolls, she documents the resurgence of the view that genes and hormones can explain away everything from gender inequality in science and politics to girls’ apparent fascination with pink.
She says she is shocked by the rise of such ideas in the 21st century, even though many are based on old stereotypes rather than sound new science: “I am very uneasy about the way that the media has sort of pounced on biological determinism as the [scientific] consensus, when it isn’t.”
Cross-posted at blue milk.