The current debate surrounding the sexualisation of children in the media arises from a range of aspects, from exposing children to sexual content to providing a highly sexualised celebrity culture to which children idolise, yet what particularly interests me is the idea that children are now behaving in a way that is perceived to be sexual. What I’d like to know is who decides what is perceived to be sexual?
In relation to defining who decides what is perceived to be “sexual”, I believe that it often comes down to the specific media commentators reporting on the issue. That is, they create and push the view to an audience that a particular image of a child presented is sexual or not – but – what if it was not meant to be sexual? This ambiguity of sexual presence in images can be seen in the case surrounding the Australian artist Bill Henson, and the way in which the media referred to his image of a naked 12 year old girl as ‘sexualised’.
Catherine Lumby and Nina Funnell (2011) makes a valid point in reference to this case saying that “since the great majority of viewers do not find images of naked children sexually arousing, it makes little sense to evaluate this image by looking through the eyes of a paedophile” (Lumby & Funnell 2011, p284). If the media continues to look at these cases through an almost “paedophilic” view, this may contribute to the moral panic, circulating ideas that the presence of so-called ‘sexual’ images, threatens the social norms, moral standards, values and beliefs of society.
In the May 2012 Issue of Gender and Education, Epstein, Kehily and Renold explore the various factors which come into play in this series of high-profile public debates surrounding the sexualisation of children. Whilst taking into account changes in culture, policy and dress, the section which I found most enlightening was the idea that “when it comes to boys’ and girls’ sexual cultures, children live under the burden of adult projections and desires” (Epstein, Kehily & Renold 2012, p252).
The highly contentious issue of the sexualisation of children is one that in my opinion, raises more questions than it answers, but I believe in order to fully assess the situation, the first question that needs to be answered is – What do the children think?
Epstein, Kehily, & Renold, 2012, ‘Culture, Policy and the un-marked child: Fragments of the sexualisation debates’, Gender and Education, vol.24, no.3, pp249-254
Lumby, C & Funnell, N 2011, ‘Between heat and light: The opportunity in moral panics’, Crime Media Culture, vol.7, no.3, pp277-291