A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Sexy Clothes for Tweenies to Be Banned from the High Street

Disturbing? Vogue Magazine Shoot
A year or two after I arrived in England, I had been out for dinner at a local hotel and when I exited to go home, I heard a voice call my name. I looked over my shoulder and there was a very young girl that I knew. She had full make-up on,  a strappy tank-top and a tight skirt and heels and she was carrying a shoulder bag with a huge sparkly Playboy logo on it. It was well after ten at night. I was rather shocked to see her in this garb and walking about late on a school night.  "Oh, Molly, (not her real name) what are you doing out so late at night?"  She beamed, "Well, it's my birthday, and so I was out meeting some friends."  There were no friends in sight. "Oh, your birthday, " I managed to stammer, "So, how old are you now?"  She looked at me and said, "Well, I'm 11 now." I looked again at this girl, dressed so provocatively, wandering around the street of a good-sized city by herself much too late on a school night. Where were her parents? Why on earth was she dressed like this? I wouldn't have ever let my child wear clothing that was suggestive much less let her out of the house like that at such a tender age. Before I could say anything, she waved goodbye and said she "had to run"... to where, I have no idea.  Normally, if I had been in America, I would have taken that child and put her in my car and driven her straight home to her parents after giving her a lecture on the dangers of wearing clothing like that and being out so late at night. But I was not in America, I was in Great Britain where girls often grow up much too fast. And had I done something like that here, I would have probably been put in jail for some ridiculous reason like "not being licensed to interact with a minor without police clearance." (Which, by the way, is not far off the beam here where you need to be vetted for any work with children...and at one point, the government wanted to run a criminal check on you if all you did was to pick up your child's best friends and chauffeur them home after school to help out their parents.)

You need to understand that as I write this, I am aware that I am considered a "prude" by some here in the UK and that  I would probably be labeled "against women's rights to free expression". Why? Because a girl and/or woman should be able to wear whatever they want without having to worry about a man's reaction. Why is it (is the argument) that women have to curb their own dress or creativity to stop a man from being predatory? That's all well and good in theory and if we lived in a society where men were taught to respect women at an early age, in a society where sexuality was considered a normal expression of two consenting mature people, in a society where men were not glued to their internet pornography (and basically anaesthetizing  themselves with sexual images more and more at an early age), or if we lived in a society that was...well....utopian....then I would not make one jot of a fuss. But unfortunately, this is not the society we live in. We live in a society where it is okay to be a predator, where it is okay to violate women, where it is okay to watch hours upon hours of mind-shuffling pornography. Let's be clear here,  the actual law does not state that being a predator or to be violent against women is right by law. That's not what I mean.  But try to prove as a woman that you have been violated and immediately, you are the one on trial not the perpetrator. The law is one thing, the law as it is interpreted is quite another.

I relate this story because high street shops are facing regulations that will ban them from selling suggestive clothing to youngsters. The sexualizing of very young girls is a huge problem in this country and this movement toward modesty has been spear-headed by the Mother's Union. It is appalling to see padded bras and underwear with slogans like "Dive In" being marketed to "tweenies" which are six to eleven-year-old girls. There are shirts with "Future Porn Star" and "Too Hot for You" on them. Thongs (!) are being sold to underage girls as well.

In a world that is so celebrity and media obsessed and where girls learn through the same media that one way to be "famous" is to be "sexy" it is no shock to me that these sorts of clothes are proving so popular. Large chain stores such as Marks and Spencer, ASDA George and Debenham's are among the stores that are set to comply with the new rules.

I think this is a good move. But is it enough? Are we tackling this issue at the root cause? Or are we just strapping another bureaucratic regulation bandage on something?

This is a deep-rooted problem. That parents would even consent to buy this trash for their children is beyond me. That they live through their children in beauty pageants where they are primped and Botoxed and learn so early that being objectified is being "beautiful" is also disturbing. Our society continues to reinforce these stereotypes. It's as if Gloria Steinem and the women's movement never existed. It's as if the years of marching in solidarity and burning bras has just given way to bigger bras, bigger implanted breasts and the cult of the "sexy tweenie".

According to Holly Dustin, a 2010 YouGov poll for the End Violence Against Women coalition found that 1/3 of girls in the UK schools had experienced unwanted touching and 33 percent (NSPCC study) found that 1/3 of girls aged 13-17 had experienced sexual violence from a partner. Those are alarming statistics.

I am glad that these regulations are being put into place. But the problem goes much deeper and will take a lot more than just banning suggestive clothing from shops. Boys need to learn to respect women at an early age. Most don't. Violence and verbal abuse seem to be the norm now. It's "cool" to call  your wife/girlfriend a "stupid cow" or a "slagging b-tch".  I watch as people look the other way when women are so blatantly being abused. Even in this day and age, people think: "Hmm...I wonder what she must be doing....for him to behave that way."  By the way wife-battering was fine by law in Great Britain until the last century. (Why am I not surprised?) 

There has to be a dialogue in schools that addresses the issues of learning to understand each other from a point of view other than a penis and a vagina.  I actually remember what it was like to have a band of friends, both boys and girls that I could hang out with after school and though there were small flirtations between all of us, the great and glorious happiness was that we were all united in friendship.

Ban the clothing, yes. But teach all children how to love each other from a point of power and not of abuse. Most of all, teach young girls to value themselves first and that love isn't about getting a man or wearing tight shorts, it's about learning to know that they are great beings within themselves.

Can we enact a regulation for that?