Learning sex and a woman’s place from the pram

Is nursing cradle cap and nappy rash more important than nursing the ideas inside a child’s mind? As Professor Robert Winston states, “Early experience is pivotal in making us who we are as adults”.  We didn’t need a professor to tell us that what we teach our children affects their minds, right? We teach our kids moral values, we protect them and give them educational toys. We also wheel them past pornography in the local mini supermarket when we need bread and milk. The images are always women, thus providing small girls with the most vital lesson, how to master being a sexual object. For boys, this shows them how to view women. Are we happy about this? We certainly are not, but what can we do?

Child Eyes asked parents whether they feel in control of what their children see in the media and over 80% said NO! So why are parents so powerless to choose what their children can and cannot see?

The current situation in shops, supermarkets and newsagents is that they can display adult titles but that they should be out of reach of children under guidelines set by NFRN. The recommendation for ‘lad mags’ is that they should not be displayed next to children’s magazines or in the direct sight of children. Unless we are talking about children without moveable eyes or necks then this is not enough. Between the guidelines we can read that it is fine for children to see them but not to touch them. This misses the point entirely. The child could reach alcohol but the harm would be if it were to be swallowed by the child. The same premise applies here. The child cannot reach the image but it is imprinted on their vulnerable mind. Furthermore, this ridiculous situation occurs with the Daily Sport which is meant to be displayed back page up. This rarely happens. The guidelines are heavily focused on minimising complaints rather than protecting young eyes.

The question that parents need answered remains, what can we do? Well, these are only guidelines so they have no force in law. If a retailer wants to display adult magazines next to Moshi Monsters there really is no way you can stop them. You can complain, although Child Eyes supporters have done this and the result is more of the same. Out of 30 supporters asked, “Have you ever challenged a shop over explicit images? If so what happened”, only two say the images were moved. The remaining experiences show a disappointing trend of ‘who cares’ attitude. And who does care? It’s only the next generation of misogynists and sexual playthings after all.

The Bailey review into the sexualisation of childhood recommends that parents speak up when they see something inappropriate for children. This is because all parents have the time to complain about the woman bending over on the Sport that their son just saw, then to complain again the next day about the woman squatting pulling her knickers down. Missing the point yet again this totally disregards the fact that the child has already seen the offending item and the imprint upon the mind is already there. The emphasis is on the parent’s disgust rather than the need to keep these images for adult eyes only. We need to step into a child’s eyes and see what it means to them rather than what it means to us or what it means to the sale of sex. The Bailey review seems satisfied that there is enough good will in the industry to keep our little ones safe. The Government are currently stocktaking to check if our friendly retailers are exercising the good will. Sadly as our research shows there is little good will when a parent brings sexual images to the retailer’s attention. Child Eyes has evidence of many negative experiences when the display of indecent publications had been challenged;

“They apologised and changed the layout slightly. But when I returned to same shop a week later the covers were showing again in the same place as before”

“Bemusement from the staff, rejection of a man’s right to complain about these things.”

“I get laughed at and nothing is done”.

Good will was a nice idea but only works in fairy tales. This fairy tale, worse than teaching the next generation of women that the only hope is to be rescued by a man and live happily ever after, rather teaches them that their destiny is to be ogled by a man and encounter years of dealing with feelings of inadequacy if they decide against the trend of personal re-invention and cosmetic surgery.” They are taught that this is normal in a land of wonderful institutions like the Queen, a lovely cup of tea and a pouting provocative page three sex object on the breakfast table,the community centre, the ballpool and the shops.

It is clear that while parents want to be in control of what their children see, they cannot be. Sex is injected into our eyeballs and our children cannot be kept away from it. It is inconceivable that parents will have the time and energy to complain repeatedly and it is disrespectful to ask them to be insulted each time they do.

Child Eyes supporters are clear that they want to see modesty wraps and high shelves. Protectionist? Yes! but no more so than the complete ban of the sight of cigarette displays. To buy porn and sell porn is fine but there is no need to involve children in the process. Retailers had a great chance to regulate themselves but have failed. For instance, Tesco is signed up to the Mumsnet Lad’s mag campaign and will display lad’s mag’s behind other mag’s except when they don’t.  Similarly Co-op said, “The Daily Sport will be merchandised with the back page on display” except when it is not. Particular porn filled petrol stations will keep them at the top shelf, except when they point blank refuse and quote the lack of legislation as a defence. It is so hit and miss that some parents have taken to turning these mag’s and newspapers over. Seriously, do we have to do this along with the cradle cap and nappy rash.  We never signed up for voluntarily merchandising supermarket shelves when the kid was born but we did sign up to protect their minds.

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