Monday, 7 September 2009

Sexy at Six?

‘Holy Hell! A Pole Dancing Doll?!!’ On his gossip site ‘Perez Hilton’ joins the media furore inspired by pictures of a pole dancing doll made by an unnamed toy company. The doll is undisputedly marketed at young girls, and while it is not provocatively dressed, the concept of the doll itself, that looks like a six year old girl going ‘up and down’ ‘around and around’ a pole to music, sends out a message which is igniting the rage of parents and journalists alike.

Perez Hilton quips that ‘if your kids ask for this doll this holiday season, we recommend reform school IMMEDIATELY!’ I would argue that it is not the children that the doll is marketed to that we must criticize, it is the capitalists that have created that market, and the consumers that stubbornly refuse to question market norms. We must recognize the responsibility that we each have in reproducing a culture that objectifies women; a culture that holds the stripper up as an aspirational model, as a plastic idol for our children to worship and (God forbid) emulate.

It has been questioned whether the images are fake, but the debate that has been catalysed over the commercial sexualisation of children is proving valid enough. A living breathing icon was provided when sixteen year old Myley Cyrus pole danced at the Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards this year. This was met with public outcry, but little surprise given the ubiquity of soft pornography in music videos, TV and film, which are now a dubiously cherished part of our cultural landscape. The scandal is that this is an underage girl, a teen icon, performing an X-rated act on children’s television.

But is this anything new? Sex is directly marketed to children, with WH Smith selling a line of Playboy stationary, and Abercrombie and Fitch making thongs for ten year olds. Tesco’s ‘My First Pole Dancing Kit’ pole dancing kits can be added to a shopping basket that can contain a ‘cock ring’ and lubricant in some stores. It has become normal, acceptable and even encouraged for children to be dressed as sex workers, but a minor performing a pole dance on public children’s television is apparently a wee bit too much.

80% of under 18s have viewed pornography, primarily on the internet, where it is prolific and becoming harder for parents to control. I am an extremely pro sex feminist, the more sex the better, but the problem is that the version of sex that we see in a pornography and the ‘raunch culture’ consumerism that follows it, is dictated by the primary market of pornography- the heterosexual white male.

Without going into the politics of exploitation inherent in the porn industry itself, the ‘sex education’ that children get from pornography is delivered via a pornstar who is paid to imitate arousal for profit, not explore her own sexuality. She ‘gets off on’ being dominated, spanked, impaled in a variety of orifices, excreted upon, and group sex. Not to mention lesbianism, which is largely a show for the boys before the couple’s ‘conversion to cock’.

Today, children cannot avoid having an early induction to the ins and the outs of sexuality. The problem is that it is the wrong education. Britain continues to have the highest levels of teenage pregnancy in Europe and STD levels in under 21s are rising. In a recent channel 4 show, groups of teenage boys said that they would dump a girl who did not have a ‘Brazilian bikini wax’ and the girls questioned thought this was painful but entirely reasonable. Both sexes thought that the average penis size was between 7-9 inches, and were shocked to hear it was actually a more modest 4-6.

More worrying still, recent research by the NSPCC unveiled this week that 1/3 of girls between 13 and 19 have suffered abuse at the hands of their boyfriends. The campaigning organization ‘Object’ see the ‘dehumanisation’ of women’s bodies through a soft porn culture that objectifies women for profit as at the root of violence against women and their subjection in society. With pornography as our children’s introduction to sex, pole dancing dolls and Playboy stationary on the high street, and pole dancing teen idols on TV, is it a surprise that women are seen as objects for men to use and abuse at their will?

In the age of the backlash against feminism, where objectification and pornification are rife in our culture, there is a hope in the burgeoning opposition vehemently challenging the world around them. ‘Object’ hold Feminist Fridays to take action lads mags in newsagents, and lobby the government on legislation surrounding lap dancing clubs and prostitution, and have been working with our organization, London Student Feminists, on the ‘Missogynist’ campaign against university beauty pageants.

Campaigning works. Corporations rely on profit, and for that they need a consumer market. The ‘My First Pole Dancing Kit’ at Tesco, and the Playboy stationary at WH Smith had to be withdrawn after complaints. Object succeeded in changing licensing laws for lap dancing clubs.

Let’s use the pole dancing doll, and pole dancing Nickelodeon awards as a wakeup call and show are daughters that they are worth more than this; that they can aspire to careers other than sex workers where they are valued for things beyond a market aesthetic value. This is our society and as women we must demand the real equality, the culture of mutual respect and celebration of diversity and freedom of self definition that will make ‘equal opportunity’ a reality and a guarantee rather than bureaucratic concession.

Next Saturday, 12th of September we are holding a Feminist Activist training day at SOAS with workshops from groups including Object, Abortion Rights UK, Reclaim the Night and self defense classes to build a network of loud proud feminist advocates working together on strong, clear, creative campaigns. See the blog for a full timetable and email for more information, registration and access requirements. Come along, bring everyone you can and most of all, bring your daughter (especially if she has just asked you for a pole dancing doll).

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